While I was on the road earlier this year, I got into a streak were I just seemed to crave barbecue all the time. I was in Columbia, MO for an appointment one day and I cranked up the GPS to see if there were any barbecue joints in the area. One that came up wasn't far from where I was at the time - Buckingham Smokehouse Bar-b-que. I thought I'd go find the place and see what it was all about.
It turns out the owner of Buckingham Smokehouse - Mark Brown - has a pretty interesting back story as to how he ended up doing barbecue. In the early 70's, a band out of Springfield, MO - the Ozark Mountain Daredevils - became a popular band in Southwest Missouri. In 1974, their first hit "If You Wanna Get to Heaven" became somewhat of a hit song hitting number 25 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. The next year, "Jackie Blue" made it all the way to number 3 on the charts. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were suddenly rock stars touring the nation.
Mark Brown was a buddy of the guys in the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and was working for the City of Springfield at the time. In 1976, the OMD's road manager called him one evening and basically told him, "We need you to come on the road with us. We just had a roadie who broke his leg. There's a prepaid ticket to L.A. for you at the airport." He flew to Los Angeles in the morning and became an equipment guy for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
When the Ozark Mountain Daredevil tour ended later that year, Brown found himself building stages for the Eagles on their Hotel California tour. And when that ended a year later and the OMD's going nowhere but down after their earlier successes, Brown ended up back home in Springfield wondering what he was going to do next.
He knew a guy in Nashville who leased tour buses to rock and country stars. Giving him a call, Brown was asked by the owner if he would like to drive a band around on a bus. Brown needed a job and he readily agreed to go to work driving tour buses for the company.
His first job was to drive from Nashville to Hollywood, FL in May of 1979 to ferry around the Moody Blues on the second part of their "Octave" tour. The band played 17 shows in 22 days. After three years of riding around on tour buses, Brown found out that he really liked driving the bus.
Over the next 20 years, Brown drove tour buses for the likes of Kiss (he's still friends with Gene Simmons), Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Elton John, Prince, Stevie Nicks, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead. Brown met his soon-to-be wife while on tour - she worked rock tours, as well. They married and while she worked nine months out of the year, Brown continued to work around the calendar going wherever he needed to drive a band or performer.
Brown and his wife had a couple kids and, quite tragically, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1996. Knowing that he had to raise his children who now had no mother, Brown got off the road and wondered what he was going to do with his life. He didn't want a job where he had to punch a clock, considering he was pretty much living a high lifestyle for so long. He could always cook, so he decided to open a barbecue place in Springfield.
The name "Buckingham" and the logo with the cowboy riding the pig came from rock guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, a personal friend of Brown's. Buckingham's grandfather once had a produce farm and he showed Brown the logo of the "bucking ham" (or pig) that his grandfather used. Brown was trying to come up with ideas of names for his place in Springfield and he asked Buckingham if it was OK to use his grandfather's logo for his new restaurant. Buckingham thought it was a great idea and that's how Buckingham Smokehouse Bar-b-que came to be.
In 1998, Brown opened up his first Columbia, MO location in a leased space on the north side of town. With most of the growth in Columbia - business and residential - going to the south of the main part of the city, Brown eventually bought a building on Buttonwood Drive in 2006. (see map) Today, in addition to two locations in Columbia, MO, there are five locations in and around the greater Springfield, MO area.
With a back story like that, one has to figure that the barbecue is pretty good at Buckingham Smokehouse. I was certainly going to find out. It was around 1 p.m. when I got into Buckingham. I was seated by a hostess at a booth near the front door and given a menu. Not long after, my server Taylor came over to greet me.
The menu at Buckingham is your typical barbecue fare - smoked meats such as brisket, pulled pork, ham, turkey and sausage links. Interestingly, they didn't do chicken at Buckingham Smokehouse. They had baby back pork ribs, but nothing along the lines of beef ribs. Sandwiches featuring brisket, pulled pork, turkey and ham were available. The sides were somewhat interesting, however. They included the staple pit beans and fries, but they also had horseradish cole slaw and deep fried corn-on-the-cob.
They smoke their meat on-site at Buckingham. They have a large walk-in smokehouse in the back of the restaurant with a large pile of wood just outside the doors. I couldn't tell what kind of wood they had, but I'm guessing it was oak that they were using at Buckingham Smokehouse. Oak is becoming a very popular choice for barbecue places in the Midwest mainly because it's cheaper than hickory and mesquite, and it lasts longer in the smoking process than most other smoking woods.
The good thing is that they had combination meat platters at Buckingham allowing someone to try up to four different types of meat, or a half-rack of baby back ribs with one smoked meat selection. Whenever I see that on the menu I always opt for the brisket and pulled pork. Two sides came with the combo plate. I knew that I was going to get the baked beans, but I deferred to Taylor as to what I should get for the second side. "A lot of people like our cole slaw," she said. I was leaning that way, anyway. They also had a great selection of beer at Buckingham Smokehouse. There's nothing better than a cold beer with good barbecue.
Taylor brought out my two meat platter with side bowls of the pit beans and horseradish cole slaw. They had two different types of barbecue sauce - a thick sweet mild barbecue sauce and a hotter barbecue sauce that had a nice little spicy kick on the backside. As I'm usually prone to do, I mixed both sauces together to get that spicy sweet flavor.
The brisket was thinly sliced and I didn't get much of a smoked taste with it. Actually, it reminded me more of deli-sliced roast beef than a good smoked brisket. It was all right, but it was certainly lacking that true brisket type taste and texture.
The pulled pork, however, was excellent. The pork had a good moist consistency with a hint of a smoky flavor. Along with the mixture of the sweet and spicy sauces, the pulled pork was just outstanding.
Normally, I like to add barbecue sauce to the baked beans at most barbecue joints. I really didn't need to with the pit beans at Buckingham Smokehouse. They were good on their own. But even after adding the mixture of sweet and spicy sauces and mixing it all together, I thought the beans were outstanding.
However, the highlight of the meal - to me - was the horseradish cole slaw. It had a hint of spicy fresh ground horseradish mixed in with the sweet taste of the slaw. The combination of tastes with each fork full of the cole slaw sent me over the top. I wished after the meal was over that I had gotten a double order of cole slaw even though the pit beans were excellent in their own right.
I came away pretty darn impressed with the overall meal at Buckingham Smokehouse. The brisket was somewhat disappointing, but the pulled pork, the pit beans, the beer menu, the barbecue sauces and - most importantly - the horseradish cole slaw more than made up for it. Even with the sub-par brisket, I can't complain much about anything else regarding Buckingham Smokehouse. I may have to try one of their locations when I get back down to Springfield at some point.