May 14, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Lake Orion smelled and savored his nationally acclaimed meats last weekend at the Flower and Art Fair, slow cooked to perfection.
National champion pitmaster Steve "Bubba" Coddington dished out 125 slabs of ribs and 60 lbs. of sausage and pork in 18 hours, on top of more than two tons of meat cooked throughout the week at Lockhart's BBQ of Royal Oak where he works.
He is looking forward to opening another Lockhart's BBQ in the Lake Orion Village Hall later this fall or winter.
"We just came off probably our best week of existence last week," he said of the BBQ business in Royal Oak, open for four years.
The recent burst in business is accredited to Bubba's newest claim to fame.
He was named 2013 "BBQ Person of the Year" at the National Barbeque Association Conference in San Marcos, Texas in early March.
"I've gotten quite a few local interviews from the newspapers, a lot of air time, BBQ of America ran a story in their premiere issue. Business has gone through the roof to say the least," he said.
He was approached by hundreds of those attending the downtown Flower Fair asking when the new downtown restaurant will open.
Mostly everyone was excited for another restaurant option downtown, Bubba reported.
The Village of Lake Orion is working with SA&A Architects of Lake Orion to design a plan for the new village hall to be located on Church St. so Lockhart's can move in and begin renovating.
Conceptual plans include outdoor dining at both entrances, a bar on each level of the building and dining throughout.
"The most important thing for us is getting the exact same quality and consistency in Lake Orion from day one," Bubba said. "I can't wait. It's going to be awesome."
Customers flock to Lockhart's BBQ from all over Michigan, and travel from Ohio, Indiana and Canada seeking the "best brisket north of Texas."
Bubba has no secrets.
"BBQ is not done by time, I do a lot of it by feel," he said.
On average, Coddington's meats are cooked between 12 and 15 hours. Ribs slow cook for four to five hours, and the chicken is cooked low and slow for three hours.
Pork and beef bake at 195 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
"I use my thermometer like a probe. When it slides in like butter I know those meets are done," Bubba said.
Mostly a Texas-styled pitmaster, Bubba also cooks with Kansas City and Memphis influence.
His pulled pork is a Carolinas style, his ribs are a Memphis style with a little bit of glaze, and the burnt ends are a Kansas City style.
Lockhart's differs from other BBQ restaurants because everything is cooked over wood, he added.
Traditionally BBQ takes the worst and toughest cuts and cooks them slowly on low heat to tenderize the meat, unlike Bubba and his assistant Claudio at Lockhart's.
"We like to start with a quality piece of meat, normally a marmalade," Bubba said.
All sauces are made in house and left off of the merchandise.
Squeeze bottles are provided at each table to allow customers a choice: Bubba's signature BBQ sauce, a sweet version and Fire on the Red, for the spicy aficionados.
The signature BBQ, which was served at the Flower and Art Fair, is tomato based with honey, molasses and spices, "no secret ingredients" Bubba said.
"I'm all about actually tasting the smoke in the meat itself. Sauce is just a compliment of the meat," Bubba said.
The BBQ trailer
Bubba's techniques and flavor profiles flourished in a trailer
He was originally a builder, but when the economy took a spin in 2007, he lost his job.
For two years he entered BBQ competitions on the side. Following his passion, he bought a used car hauler, converted it into a BBQ trailer and sold roadside BBQ.
Lockhart's owner came to his trailer once and when Bubba heard they were looking for a pitmaster, everything came together "naturally."
Owner Drew Ciora is from Texas, and Bubba was baking Texas styled BBQ at the time.
"The greatest thing about getting this job back then is he (Ciora) allowed me to come in and bring my styles, techniques and profiles. Everything I learned cooking for family, friends and roadside I turned into the restaurant menu," Bubba said.
And so Bubba's passion turned into a career.
He has always dreamed of baking alongside famous BBQ pitmasters, but actually doing it, becoming the BBQ person of the year and serving as a national representative, was just a dream.
Yet he is thinking his next stop will be TV on BBQ Pitmasters.
"There are a lot of up and coming BBQ series coming up that we've been contacted for," Bubba said.
But first he has Lake Orion appetites to contend with. Maybe he will return this summer for Dragon on the Lake.
"Anything is possible now," he said.