Bar 3 BBQ & Smokehouse
Barbecue is about as red, white and blue as American cuisine gets, but let’s first get one thing straight. Merely throwing meat on a grill is not barbecue, at least not in the traditional sense. So where did the term barbecue originate from? Historians, etymologists, culinary anthropologists and the like, can all agree that it evolved from when the Spanish landed in the Caribbean. They used the word barbacoa to refer to the natives’ method of slow-cooking meat over a wooden platform. By the 19th century, the culinary technique was well established in the South; pigs were prevalent in that region and pork therefore became the primary meat at barbecues.
Barbecue varies by region, with the four main styles named after their place of origin: Memphis, Tennessee; North Carolina; Kansas City; and Texas. Locals defend their region’s cooking style with the sort of fierce loyalty usually reserved for die-hard sports fans. Memphis is renowned for pulled pork-shoulder doused in sweet, tomato-based sauce. North Carolina smokes the whole hog in a vinegar-based sauce. Kansas City natives prefer ribs cooked in a dry rub, and Texans ... well, Texans dig beef. In the western segment of the Lone Star State, you’re likely to find mesquite-grilled brisket. This happens to be my favorite and what I look forward to whenever I am lucky enough to visit some of my family in Texas.
So, where in this region can you find some southern barbecue? Bar 3 is a restaurant with two locations; one on North 7th in Bozeman and the other in Belgrade across the railroad tracks from the Belgrade Lounge. The owner and founder of Bar 3 and the man behind the operation is Hunter Lacey. In 2001, he opened Bar 3 in the Bozeman location, and expanded to Belgrade in 2004. The business has been very successful and also provides catering to parties, weddings, and events. The Belgrade location also features a brewery, where they currently have 13 beers on tap and will have 20 once they expand to a new location. If you have been spoiled and are often missing some good barbeque like I do, then head on over to Bar 3 Barbecue.
Jessica Lewis: What made you want to get into the restaurant business?
Hunter Lacey: My grandmother I think; at least she inspired cooking in me. Aside from the short term as a kid, wanting to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a cook since I was 12 or 13 years old.
JL: How was Bar 3 Barbeque conceptualized? How did this place come about?
HL: I grew up in a ranching family, and Bar 3 was our cattle brand. A good friend of mine, for a long time, ended up being my business partner. We both really enjoy barbeque, and we thought that it was something that would be well received in Bozeman. I didn’t really know a whole lot about barbeque, but I went to college for restaurant management and went to cooking school. I knew how to cook a lot of things but wasn’t necessarily an expert on barbeque. We jumped on a plane and went and toured a bunch of places in the South. We got a crash course on different styles of barbeque across the southern U.S., and we found the things that we really liked. Certain areas are known for certain things, and we tried to incorporate the best parts. So, we have a little bit of Texas influence, some Carolina influence, and kind of everything in between.
JL: What do you enjoy the most about being part of the Bozeman area?
HL: I grew up here, and all of my friends couldn’t wait to get out and I was kind of that way too. I lived out of town for awhile, and I kind of began to realize all of the things that I took for granted. It’s a unique area with somewhat metropolitan type things but still being relatively rural. We have great restaurants, but can still go out of town in 10-15 minutes and escape. It’s a unique place and provides a lot of variety and is still a wholesome place to raise a family.
JL: What makes Bar 3 unique in the Bozeman region? What do you offer that other places don’t?
HL: We try to stick with barbeque. When we first opened in 2001, there had been a few barbeque places in town prior. Even at that point though, not a lot of people knew what barbeque was. A lot of first customers would ask for hamburgers and steaks, so there was an education period of hamburgers and steaks aren’t barbeque. Barbeque is something where generally tougher, fattier, economy cuts of meat are cooked for a long time to make them tasty and more edible. And the whole thing about barbeque is long cooking periods at low temperatures, with the addition of smoke. Despite the requests for hamburgers and steaks over the years, we still do just barbeque. We’re in the middle of moving our Belgrade restaurant into a bigger spot in Belgrade, and we are maybe expanding the menu a little bit to include burgers and steaks and that kind of thing. I don’t think there’s anywhere else that you can go in town and have barbeque that’s all made there. We use a handful of things we don’t make from scratch, ketchup for instance, but we bring in everything else like whole spices that are ground and we use them. As far as concepts that are at a price point where we are, you’re hard pressed to find people that are really making things from scratch. A lot of that comes from my cooking background; I realized the difference in quality. There’s a lot of great products that you can buy premade, but none of it is really like grandma’s cooking and homemade. That’s the part of scratch cooking that you don’t get out of a box. I think that’s one of the things that we feel strongly about and will never change. We make everything that we can.
JL: What do you want people to experience here when they step through your doors?
HL: We’re a casual place and we want you to come in. It always smells like smoke in there and that’s kind of how it is. It’s a barbeque joint. I’ll never forget one day, years ago, we had just opened and I was in line at the bank and there was a little girl and her mom behind me. The little girl said “Mom it smells like bacon in here” and of course that’s me! I think a lot of our staff take a little bit of barbecue home with them every night. It does permeate the air, but when people come in I hope they’re experiencing what it’s like to walk into an authentic, southern barbecue pit. We try to just give great food, without any pretentious surroundings.
JL: When I go to Texas to see my family, I always just want to eat barbecue the whole time I’m there!
HL: Where in Texas are you from?
JL: I’m from Montana, but some of my family lives by Lubbock and the San Antonio area.
HL: That’s really how it is; the best barbecue joints in those areas are little holes in the wall. There’ll be a little guy out there flipping the briskets you know, kind of like in a backyard. I think one of the reasons barbecue is kind of a southern identified cooking process is they can stand outside and cook barbecue year round. We can’t do that here, so naturally it’s not really something that evolved around here. And lack of hardwoods is a big thing; all of our wood has to come in. Fortunately, we have a good supplier recently, but for years it was challenging sourcing the wood. The closest place is Oklahoma that you can even get it.
JL: What kind of wood do you use?
HL: We use only hickory. At first, before we opened and were up and running, we tested a lot of types; apple, hickory, walnut and mesquite. We all agreed that hickory kind of imparted, don’t get me wrong I like mesquite, but hickory was more of an appropriate flavor.
JL: Are there any upcoming events or specials you want people to know about?
HL: We have daily lunch specials; we do great family packages which are a great option for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s a good assortment of food; it’ll certainly feed what it says it’ll feed and provide some leftovers. Anything more significant would be our move of our Belgrade location to a bigger brewery and bigger dining room.
JL: What made you decide to go into brewing?
HL: Well, barbecue and beer are such a match made in heaven, so it was a natural progression. I’ve always appreciated food on so many levels, and you go through cooking school and there’s an emphasis on food and wine. Over the last decade or so, there’s definitely been an explosion with craft brewing and people are beginning to learn that beer can sometimes be a better accompaniment with food than wine, especially with barbecue.
JL: What’s your most popular dish here right now?
HL: Green Chili Cheese Grits, it’s our most notable side dish. They’re really good! And after that, the ribs.
I took some friends with me to Bar 3 Barbecue to enjoy some barbecue and beers, and we quickly found out that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs! You get more than enough, plus some leftovers to take home. We stuffed ourselves with fantastic green chili cheese grits, brisket, and five different sauces. Bar 3 Barbecue is currently offering tailgating specials, with three options to choose from, and is serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9a.m.-1p.m.. If you have been spoiled and often miss some good barbecue like I do, then head on over to Bar 3 Barbecue.