There are hard, unavoidable truths in the restaurant business that longtime couple Lance Kingston and Chrissy Sperduto learned in the first week with Wicked Smoke in Waterloo.
Truth One: There are only so many hundreds of pounds of chicken, pork and beef that Lance can smoke in a day on the two smokers that take most of their allowed space out back. And once it’s sold out, they are done for the day.
The word got out quickly in Waterloo, where they live.
“At 11 o’clock every day, we are just slammed,” said Chrissy, hours before opening at 951 N. Illinois 3. “We just can’t keep chicken here; we’re out by 5 o’clock” despite adding chicken to the smokers again after lunch.
Sometimes burnt ends are the last to go, and sometimes it’s the brisket, but chicken is always the first to sell out. They have been running out of meat and closing between 6 and 7 p.m.
Chrissy loves the spot for Wicked Smoke — just off Illinois 3, where 48,000 cars pass a day, and close enough for the smoke to entice a nearby discount store’s customers.
“They walk out of Walmart and the smoke smacks you in the face,” Chrissy said.
That smoke is a blend of hickory and cherry woods, which Lance oversees from about 1 a.m. until closing six days a week. The restaurant itself has the feel of a place decorated over time, but it was all Chrissy’s plan.
“It took a lot of hard work; it was a Chinese place,” Chrissy said. “They left all their Chinese decor.”
None of that remains.
The entry wall features chalkboard paint with the menu hand-lettered near the register, where customers place their order and receive drink glasses. It’s similar to how BBQ joints in Memphis serve, Chrissy says, and the wait staff often has food on the tables right at the same time the customers have arrived with their drinks. Bottles of original, sweet and spicy sauces are on the tables for customers.
“A lot of people tell me they mix the sweet and spicy together,” said Chrissy’s mom, Rose Michael, who frequently helps out at the restaurant along with Chrissy’s Dad, Terry, and aunt, Carol Snodgrass.
There’s one thing not on the menu that Chrissy keeps hearing about.
“We have no pork steaks. That is a huge deal around here,” she said. Pork steaks need to be finished on a grill, the restaurant has only the smokers.
The Memphis influence is clear throughout the restaurant, from the meats cooked with dry rubs to the fried options on the menu.
Fried green tomatoes are served with an herbed cream cheese and raspberry jam; fried Oreos are dusted with powdered sugar.
Sides, like macaroni and cheese and creamy coleslaw, are made fresh in the morning. Chrissy says it took her eight months to perfect the macaroni and cheese recipe; the trick was to get it cheesy without being oily.
While Chrissy worked on the sides, Lance was learning the art of the smoke. He started with a tiny Weber grill, and has worked up to the giant smokers at Wicked Smoke. He is fastidious about the smoke, rubs, meats and heat. He goes through four cords — which are 8 feet long, 4 feet high, 4 feet wide — of wood a week. He pulls 150 to 200 pounds of pork a day, and that’s just getting started.
He cooks 20 pounds of beef brisket, 40 full racks of ribs, 100 pork butts — at 10 pounds a pop — and between 700 and 800 wings a day. And, of course, the 150 to 200 pounds of chicken leg quarters — yet they still run out of chicken.
“Even if we had another (smoker) this size, we’d still run out,” Chrissy said.
The goal is to make each and every item exactly the same, every time, Chrissy said. Consistency is absolutely the key to restaurant success, they say, and one reason Lance has such trouble handing over the mitts that shield his hands and arms.
“I put in some hours, but at least I’m doing something I enjoy doing,” Lance said.
- Address: 951 N. Illinois 3, Waterloo
- Phone: 618-939-2271
- On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wickedsmokebarbque/
- Dine in/Carry out/Catering
- Sandwiches are served with one side, and the most expensive is the “Pitmaster” of pulled pork, brisket, two ribs with bone and one side for $15. Regular-sized pulled chicken or pork are $9.50, with large sandwiches $11.
- Platters are served with two sides and range from the $12 regular order of pulled pork or chicken to the $16 large brisket.
- A half slab of ribs with one side is $16; a full slab with two sides is $25.
- Sides include french fries, mac ’n cheese, cole slaw and fried green tomatoes.