Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2017 - 56
Jason Pass is an electrician by
trade, but he employs no electricity
whatsoever when he barbecues. Gas
is out of the question, too. Barbecue at Mike's means hickory wood,
smoke and fire. Mike Blevins once
told me, "If you don't see smoke,
you're not eating barbecue. If you
see gas or electricity, you're not eating barbecue."
For Pass, changing the name of
the business was never an option.
"A lot of times when you change
the name of something, everyone
assumes it's different," he says.
"Mike had a well-established business here."
Little has changed at this home
of real barbecue in the northeast
corner of the state. The barbecue
pit Blevins designed still stands up
to the heat. The garden hoe that he
used to drag racks of meat out of the
pit is propped against the wall.
Mike Blevins shared his knowledge and recipes freely with Jason
and Codi Pass. His most valuable
piece of advice was to keep Jeff Tester on the payroll. When he's not
watching over prisoners as a guard
at the Northeast Correctional Complex, Tester tends the fires at Mike's.
Of his talented pitmaster and for56 BlueRidgeCountry.com
Jason Pass holds a tray of freshly sliced pork butt at Mike's in
Mountain City, Tennessee.
The barbecue tray at Mike's features classic sides.
mer high school classmate, Jason
Pass says, "He's the best meat smoker I've ever seen anywhere."
Tester watches those Boston
butts, also known as pork shoulders,
until as late as three or four o'clock
in the morning, taking an occasional short nap in his pickup truck. The
barbecue method he uses is indirect
smoking. Flames never really touch
Pass recites lessons about barbecue and barometric pressure to me
almost verbatim as I remembered
them from a 2005 conversation with
Blevins. Pass says low barometric
pressure is ideal for cooking barbecue
because the smoke stays low to the
ground and infuses the meat more
deeply. And the temperature is more
"When you slice our meat, you
can see the smoke ring penetrating
it four to six inches deep," says Pass.
That pork meat is chilled for
about 36 hours and then hand-sliced
by Trish Royall. Alongside the grill at
Mike's is a pitcher of water, a simple
but important element in the serving of barbecue for sandwiches and
trays. The sliced pork is reheated on
the grill and then steamed with water underneath a pan lid.
The sauce at Mike's is a 19-ingredient concoction passed down to the
new owners by Mike Blevins. Jason
Pass describes it as "sweet, ketchupbased, with a little bit of heat to it."
The color is dark reddish-brown.
The exceptional shoulder sandwich at Mike's consists of five and a
half ounces of meat on a five-inch
bun, with that East Tennessee-style
sauce and Codi Pass's homemade
"When she started making it, we
had Mike come by and taste it," Jason
Pass tells us. "He said, 'That's a wonderful slaw. It'll help your business.'"
He was right. Slaw sales at Mike's
Rolls, fries, and slaw are expected
elements at a barbecue joint. The
surprise at Mike's is the popularity of
the Italian sub, served cold with six
large disks of pepperoni, three slices
of provolone cheese, five ounces of
deli ham, lettuce, tomato, onion, seasoning, and oil, all on an eight-inch
Most customers say half that
sandwich makes a full meal. "One
lady from Ashe County, North Carolina, comes in and buys anywhere
from five to 11 subs at a time,"
Royall tells us.