Cooking Up Greatness

Family-based Bourbon Hills BBQ finding traction in Tennessee and West Virginia

Despite the pandemic and the horrendous toll it took and continues to take on the world, there was a lot of good that came out of it, from businesses learning how effective working from home can be to folks discovering or reawakening their passion for the outdoors.

One development from 2020 that’s close to home for Ritchie County residents – especially those in Smithville – was the creation of Bourbon Hills BBQ. 

The brainchild of Sam and Venessa Halls’ family, Bourbon Hills was the culmination of a long time spent behind the grill and smoker.

“We’ve been at this for a while now,” Sammy Hall said. “We’ve hosted parties with 100-plus people and have always gotten great feedback. We enjoy the process and seeing people love it is the best feeling. We half-heartedly talked about making it a ‘thing’ for the past few years and finally we just did it. It started as an Instagram page; six months later we’re getting ready to be rolling smoke at the West Virginia State Folk Festival.” 

Sammy, a 2013 graduate of Ritchie County High School, earned a scholarship to play football at the University of Charleston before transferring to East Tennessee State to finish his collegiate career.

Although the culture in Northeast Tennessee is similar to Ritchie, Sammy notes the outdoors side of him saw the most growth while in Johnson City.

“I can be on a good trout stream or be hunting on the public lands of the Appalachians in about 20 minutes, which is not the case where we come from in Smithville,” he said. 

The other thing Johnson City has is access to delicious barbecue. This helped establish the Tennessee branch of Bourbon Hills, driven by post-college football experiments. Sammy has seen the growth of Bourbon Hills through the smiles on his friends’ faces, regardless of in Tennessee or West Virginia. 

“Pretty even,” Sammy said of interest in BH between its branches. “My old teammates from ETSU love it. One of my favorite things is tailgating season here, which gives me a reason to cook an obnoxious amount of food and have some cold ones with the old Bucs. People from home have been great as well. Especially with just spreading the word and overall support. The cliche is that it brings a smile to people’s faces and brings us together.”

But what sets BH apart from the rest?

“We just try to do everything big while hitting the basics,” Sammy said. “You can get pulled pork about anywhere and a majority of the time it’ll taste the same. We do a lot of research/trial and error to try to give a more bold and unique taste. It throws some people off but 9-times-out-of-10 they’ll say, ‘Dang, that’s good!’ 

“We like being different while keeping a majority of the people happy, if people are into the same old stuff we’re probably not for you and that’s OK.” 

Sam concurs. 

“We take ordinary barbecue and put our own twist on it using some of the best rubs, sauces and spices you can get,” he said. “We love seeing people happy, smiling, and enjoying themselves. There’s too much negativity in the world and this provides us a temporary escape.”

Freddy, the youngest of the team, highlights the family aspect of it, too, as setting the brand apart. 

“We are family operated and are willing to smoke anything from sweet treats to wild meats,” he said. “It’s all home-cooked food and there are so many things you can barbecue. It’s always fun experimenting with new barbecue and having the group together getting it fixed up right.”

Speaking of wild game, Freddy has the hunting, fishing and foraging side of the operation locked down. Though Sammy and Sam also partake, Sammy notes his brother is “a beast” when it comes to this. But it doesn’t start and end with the changing of the seasons – Freddy is as dedicated as any true hunter, working on his property year-round to make sure he’s growing healthy wildlife populations.

“The hunting brings a variety of wild game to the table that provides food for many folks,” Freddy said. “It also interests people that aren’t so much into the smoked food, if that’s even possible. 

“We have been putting year-round work into our property, creating a healthy deer herd and giving them everything they need from food and water to bedding. The work has really paid off the past few seasons with great results, and a handful of great deer harvested. We have built us a nice getaway cabin that we all gather at – it’s used as a hunting camp mostly but also used as a place to go to get away after a crazy work week. The property is only getting better and we are looking forward to the success in the future.” 

And what does the patriarch think of all this?

“It’s exciting and has been a lot of fun,” Sam said about the barbecue journey with his boys and wife. “There’s nothing Vanessa and I would rather do than spend time with our sons. Sometimes it gets a little competitive between the boys and I, but my wife Vanessa is the rock that keeps everything in check. 

“Sammy’s knowledge of smoking meats and Freddy‘s knowledge of everything outdoors has really opened my eyes and made me step up my game.” 

All of the family’s hard work has paid off. Their Instagram account, operated by Sammy, is pushing 2,000 followers and they’ve met up with renowned wild game chef Jeremy Critchfield. 

“I purchase rubs from him and he invited me up to his restaurant and butcher shop,” Sam said. “Spent about four or five hours with him; showed me his smokers and his operation. We have a lot in common, the love of barbecue and the great outdoors. We hope to do some hunting with him this fall.”

And all the hard work wouldn’t be without the group figuring out their favorite meals. 

Sammy likes working with pork butt – “There’s a ton of avenues to go down; sweet, spicy, wrap, no wrap, sandwiches, nachos, etc.” – while Freddy likes to cook cream of mushroom rabbit soup and Sam likes anything with bacon on it. 

“Bacon-wrapped Oreos, bacon-wrapped Pop-Tarts, bacon-wrapped pineapples,” he listed, laughing. 

So what’s next for Bourbon Hills? From June 18-19, the team will be at the Glenville Folk Festival outside of The Glenville Pub on Lewis Street. 

“We’ll be there all day into the night for the post-festival fun,” Sammy said. “This will be our first ‘official’ event as Bourbon Hills. Nothing is on paper yet but we plan on doing a weekend pop-up at Dodd’s Sporting Goods in Ellenboro within the next few months as well. We have a few more events we’re looking into through the fall, follow our socials to see where all we’ll be headed.” 

To follow the Halls’ barbecue journey, you can find them at “Bourbon Hills BBQ & Outdoors” on Facebook or Instagram @bourbonhillsbbq. 

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