Smoke Chef Jeff’s Hambone Opera Barbecue Is Available at Trenton Farmers Market
BEST BARBECUE: “Barbecue is so popular because it tastes good — it’s true American cooking. When it’s done the right way, slow-cooked with hard wood logs, it tenderizes, flavors, and adds a unique property you can’t get anywhere else.” “Smoke Chef Jeff” McKay (center), owner of Hambone Opera in the Trenton Farmers Market, is shown with staff members Amber Tomlinson (left) and Christine Brennan.
By Jean Stratton
“It tastes great, it smells great, and it’s fun to eat!”
This observation was recently made by a young visitor to Hambone Opera at 960 Spruce Street in the Trenton Farmers Market.
Opened in 2013, it has become a favorite of barbecue fans all over the area.
“People come in and tell me there’s no barbecue like mine,” reports owner “Smoke Chef Jeff” McKay. “It’s my ingredients. I use nothing but cherry wood logs in an offset fire box. Slow cooking is the key.
“To have authentic barbecue, you must have full-size hardwood logs in an offset fire box. Our barbecue is Texas-style, and we cook it 12 to 13 hours at three different temperatures. I also have my own original recipe for the BBQ sauce.”
Smoke Chef Jeff has a long history with barbecue. Originally from Michigan, he enjoyed watching his mother cook. As he says, “Ever since I was a kid, I had my head over the grill!”
He later spent 17 years in Texas, where he honed his barbecue skills. “It was there I learned how to smoke a barbecue. Also, later I worked with Billy Bones, the BBQ legend in Michigan. He was my guru.”
Smoke Chef Jeff came to New Jersey in 2009, and decided he wanted to bring his special brand of barbecue to the Garden State. After opening in 2013, success came quickly, and, he notes, beyond his expectations. He continues to make new fans — and friends — all the time.
”Most customers are familiar with barbecue, and some others are new to it. When they are first-timers, they always come back for more. They are all ages, including family and kids. Many are regulars and even come more than once a week.”
Variety of Favorites
The customers like everything, adds Smoke Chef Jeff. He offers a variety of favorites, including pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back ribs, chicken, his special smoke house beans, and coleslaw. Available in sandwiches and platters, everything tempts the taste buds of new and old barbecue aficionados alike.
He emphasizes the freshness and high quality of all his ingredients, noting that the meat comes from the Amish country in Pennsylvania. In addition, as he points out, “It’s all the love and care that I put into it. I love what I’m doing!”
Open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Hambone Opera is popular for take-out and a big-time favorite lunch spot, with seating for 20. Prices start at $8 for sandwiches and $10 for platters. All the specialties are also available by the pound.
Catering has also become a big part of the business, reports Smoke Chef Jeff. “We typically cater within a 50 miles radius, but we’ll go anywhere. We do any kind of event any time! Wedding receptions, graduation parties, birthdays, anniversaries, and such, as well as fund-raisers and block parties. And all sizes of events.”
Smoke Chef Jeff can add an extra dimension to these events with the inclusion of the Hambone Opera Band. The three-piece band, with Chef Jeff on drums, specializes in blues, classic rock, and country, and has a 200-song repertoire.
“We’ll also do live karaoke where everyone can join in,” he says.
In addition, on Friday, customers can enjoy the band’s live music at Hambone Opera from noon to 1 p.m.
Music is important to Smoke Chef Jeff, and in fact, the name Hambone Opera originates from the time he played in a band with buddies years ago.
He adds that he is very pleased with the location at the Trenton Farmers Market. “This is a very popular place, with lots of people here all the time.”
And the savory, smoky aroma, an enticing anticipation of the tasty treat in store, will invite everyone into Hambone Opera, where samples are often available.
In addition, the Western decor adds to the atmosphere, compete with boots, saddle, reins, and Western artwork, painted by Chef Jeff himself.
He is proud that Hambone Opera is such a success, receiving accolades both from food critics and the public. “We have been so welcomed by the community. People come in again and again and say how much they love our barbecue. The best barbecue is what I do, and I want to continue to offer the best barbecue there is — the real thing!
“That’s what I want people to know. We have great word of mouth, and I look forward to growing the business. I want to share our great barbecue with everyone, and to introduce even more people to all our Texas-style specialties.”
(609) 325-7357. Website: www.hamboneopera.com.