MARYSVILLE – The NFL season is upon us, and that means Jeff Knoch will be feeding the Seattle Seahawks again.
In the past two years, Knoch has fed his Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ to the team six times.
“It’s kind of hard to say no to them,” said Knoch, who opened his restaurant on State 2 1/2 years ago.
Catering the Hawks is no small task. He prepares 80 pounds of brisket, 45 racks of ribs, 40 pounds of smoked turkey and 40 pounds of homemade sausage. There’s also the brisket baked beans, Texas red brisket chili, mac and cheese, creamy coleslaw and potato salad. It’s all made fresh. And that’s not all just for the players. They feed the coaches and staff, too – about 240 people.
Knoch said he can relate well with the older coaches and staff, but the players, “They’re so young, kids.”
Despite the big order, Knoch said he and his employees don’t work extra days to fill it. “We mix it in with what we do” at the restaurant, he said.
The reason they got the gig at all was someone in the Seahawks organization came to the restaurant and liked the food so much it was recommended to the Seahawks executive chef. “They eat a lot at the V-Mac,” Knoch said. Their connection runs so deep that Knoch even sells a Seahawks Tray at his restaurant.
The Seahawks aren’t the only ones who love his food. Locals love it, too. Even though his restaurant hours say open until 7 p.m., this summer he has often sold out of meat by mid-afternoon. The restaurant’s popularity increased even more this summer after Food and Wine magazine listed his barbecue joint as the best in the state. Not bad for somebody with no culinary training.
Knoch was born in Ohio and lived in Arizona, California and New Jersey before coming to Washington when his wife, Kim, got a job at Boeing. He was a 34-year-old singer-songwriter and recorded a few albums in a style similar to the legendary James Taylor, along with working in computers, as a machinist and other endeavors.
In 1995, Knoch performed at a music festival in Austin, Texas. That’s when he got his first taste of Texas-style barbecue, which is now his passion.
He got some smoked meat on a tray with butcher paper, and he asked for sauce. They replied they did not offer sauce, and that if the meat was smoked correctly it did not need sauce. They were right, and he loved it so much he purchased different types of smokers and started experimenting at home. “No sauce is boss,” is a slogan he likes to use. “Sauce can cover up a lot of mistakes.”
Melt-in-your-mouth brisket is his specialty. And he has developed quite a philosophy regarding that “ornery piece of meat.”
Just like Paul Masson won’t “sell no wine before its time,” the same goes for Knoch and his brisket.
First, he buys certified Angus beef, “Whatever the best brisket out there is.” He trims off the fat but leaves just enough to add to the taste. He rubs in salt and pepper.
“Black pepper is a food group in Texas,” he has said.
At 6 a.m. six days a week he lights a fire in his 10-foot-long smoker he affectionately calls, “Bertha.” He uses Post Oak logs for the fire he gets for $1,000 a cord from Texas. He puts in the brisket at 7 a.m. It gets smoked for 4-6 hours. “Every one is different,” he said of brisket. “They are treated individually. Let them be what they want to be.”
He said there are so many variables in smoking brisket: its size and shape, the wood itself, the temperatures, the time, etc.
“It’s not set it and forget it,” he said of the cook.
Meat is served the old-fashioned way, like the 1880’s butcher shop. It’s cut in front of you, and put on butcher paper. “It’s nothing-to-hide barbecue,” he said.
Knoch has been asked to franchise his business, but he won’t do it. “Nobody is going to care as much as me,” he said.
When he first started his business in January of 2016, he said he tried to train a backup cook, but it didn’t work. “I want to cook, not train people,” he said.
He added, “I’m the only one” who cooks it just the way I like it, although he gets a lot of help from all of his employees in all parts of the process. “I still learn every day; trying to perfect the process,” he said. “You can’t rush it.”
Knock on competition
Knoch isn’t one to compete in barbecue competitions. He said he doesn’t like competitions at all. Even his award for top BBQ in the state. He said that’s one opinion. Everyone has one. Everyone has different tastes and perspectives. Why can’t they all be good?
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I just try to make the best barbecue I can every day.”
Knoch makes his own sausages. He got the recipes online. “It’s been an evolution, trial and error,” he said of making sausage. “My name’s on the sign. I can make it how I like it.”
He also makes the chili. When he first sold it, it was too fiery hot. “It would melt the customer’s face,” he joked, adding he’s backed off on some of the peppers on that side dish.
Speaking of recipes, Knoch said he shares them with anyone. He’s not worried about anyone taking his place.
“Do they really want to work one-hundred hours a week?” he asked, adding because if they don’t, they won’t get the same results.
Putting in the time is what makes his meat special. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do,” he said. “I get to be around fire, sharp knives, and I love my customers. Why would I want to be around a computer?”
Also a singer-songwriter
With all the hours he puts in, he doesn’t have time for much else.
He did get to perform for the first time in a long time recently at a bistro in North Seattle.
He said he didn’t even have time to practice.
But he did write a song just for that show, which he has done often in the past.
“There are a lot of throwaways,” he said. “I write them for fun, then never sing them again.”
Knoch can thank his wife of 34 years for helping him start the career he loves at age 54.
Boeing had transfered her to Wichita, Kan., but they didn’t like it there.
“She was always the stable, steady one” when it came to work, he said. “We’re a good match, but I think I’ve had more fun.”
She got transferred back to Everett, and he ended up having a miserable commute once they moved to Granite Falls, so he quit his job.
“What are you going to do now?” he said she asked him.
When he didn’t really have a good answer, she came up with one. “Open your barbecue joint.”