WOODSTOCK – Joe Domek of Wonder Lake first happened upon the tantalizing smell of BBQ King Catering’s moist, barbecued pork while attending the McHenry County Fair.
“I got a pulled pork sandwich, and about five minutes later, I walked back and got another one,” Domek said.
That was about five years ago. Domek has been a fan ever since, and his story is far from unique. In fact, the several-years-old catering business had such a following that by the time owner Jason Szmurlo opened the BBQ King Smokehouse in Woodstock in July 2012, customers lined up.
The Calhoun Street joint’s fare includes 14-hour slow smoked brisket, 12-hour slow smoked pulled pork, a house-blended sausage, ribs, chicken and more. Its fan base is so enthusiastic, supporters even caught the attention of TV show producers.
Szmurlo – who, along with being a caterer and a restaurateur also is a full-time firefighter in Schaumburg, a husband and father of two young children – was invited to participate in Ribfest Chicago in June. There, he was filmed for Food Network’s “Food Fest Nation,” airing at 8 p.m. Monday.
“It was really exciting,” Szmurlo said, adding that the past 24 months have been a whirlwind.
“From the time we opened our doors, it’s been basically crazy every day for two years,” he said. “We get to the point sometimes where we run out of certain things or where I can’t take any more catering orders.”
Szmurlo said the Woodstock restaurant employs about 15 people, and goes through 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of meat each week.
“We cook everything the night before. We make all of our own rubs and sauces,” he said, adding that his BBQ King Smokehouse Original Sauce, available to buy at the restaurant, soon also will be in limited distribution among area mom-and-pop shops.
A resident of the Sonatas in Woodstock, Szmurlo said the business would be nowhere without the help of his wife, Nicole, and brother, Kyle. Both in their 30s, Jason and Kyle Szmurlo spent about two years renovating the space at 125 E. Calhoun St. before the restaurant opened. Kyle and Jason Szmurlo also trade off overseeing day-to-day operations.
“I did the woodworking,” Kyle Szmurlo said, eyeing the barn-wood walls, hand-crafted signs and tables. “We bought a big trailer full of wood and built it out how we wanted it to look.”
Nicole Szmurlo said the business has involved sacrifice. But she has stepped back from her initial days of spending hours helping onsite, and now spends more time with the couple’s children, 5-year-old Gavin and 2-year-old Giulianna.
She also makes sure that balance is in the mix for her husband.
“He’s such a go-getter,” she said. “If he puts his mind to it, he accomplishes it … but Tuesdays, the smokehouse is closed, and if he’s not at the firehouse, that’s family day.”
About BBQ King Smokehouse
Location: 125 E. Calhoun St., Woodstock
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays; closed Tuesdays; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays; and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.*
Information: bbqkingsmokehouse.com; 815-338-3477
*Kitchen closes one hour before establishment closes Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and two hours earlier Fridays and Saturdays.