Bryan Furman, B’s Cracklin BBQ
“When I got there that morning, I was like, ‘Somebody burnt me down,’” says Bryan Furman. Behind him, in his outdoor barbecue pit, a hellfire visage adds drama to his line of reasoning: a monstrous steel barbecue grill, bleeding heat and smoke like a steam locomotive engine, neon-orange coals peeking out from the two opened vents of its furnace. The ribs and pork butt inside are crisped and blackened — just like his first barbecue joint, the original B’s Cracklin’, that morning about a year ago. He had just been ranked among the best barbecue restaurants in the South by Southern Living. “The paper published a story about us being ranked fourteenth in the top fifty Southern barbecue joints and titled it ‘B’s Cracklin’ Smokes the Competition.’ Title like that, and we burn down the next week.”
I ask him what happened. Furman plays with his hands, tattooed with burn scars, one finger heavily taped. “They said it was the Coca-Cola machine. Firefighter said when [Coca-Cola] came out to service it, they over-charged it with Freon. It basically boiled and made a bomb and blew up. That’s why we got Pepsi products now.”
Furman’s is a story of the roller-coaster American dream, accomplished by way of hard work, character, meat, fragrant smoke, heat and time. His mom taught him to cook, with particular attention to the topic of family-recipe, Southern-style sides. His dad taught him the basics of barbecue — on purpose and inadvertently. “He taught me never boil your meat, put everything on raw and slow cook it. But he didn’t have patience for stuff like butts, which take forever. They’d always end up tough. I’d always be like, ‘Hey Dad, you need to leave that on a little bit longer.’ He’d be like, ‘Naw, it’s ready.’ Then he’d put it back on the smoker.”
“These ribs right here, they’ve been cooking five hours. They’re ready when you can sink your fork into the thickest part.”
tFurman grew up and became a laser operator and a welder, but the seeds had been planted. In 2010, he cooked a half pig for his daughter’s birthday party. He couldn’t stop. He brought his barbecue to work one day, and his coworkers asked him if he’d sell it. So he did. He started catering. He cashed in his 401(k) and bought the original space for B’s Cracklin’. He started selling, and he started making a name for himself — started smoking the competition.
Then, Murphy’s Law, by way of the damned Coke machine.
Barbecuers from all over the South flowed into town to help out their fellow man. There were fundraisers and hog roasts and hour-and-a-half-long lines to pay up and get a young prodigy back on his feet. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support of the community,” Bryan’s wife, Nikki, told a local paper, Business In Savannah, when they opened their new location.
That Furman is here now, chattering away about barbecue, is indicative of a few moral platitudes. The standard stuff: the hard work; the refusal to give up after the world deals you a big kick in the groin; the character to take it all and not let the gleam of positivity in your eyes dwindle and die. But what about the benchmark for his meat that’s never wavered, that’s allowed him to reach the apex of a beloved Southern cooking style, get tossed off the cliff and haul himself all the way back up again?
It’s simple. “To me, food’s done when it’s done,” he says, hard-eyed all of a sudden. “There is no time with barbecue. Once you start making shortcuts, that’s when you start messing up. A lot of customers get mad. At 6:30 we start running out of ribs. I’m like, ‘Dude, they take five hours. What do you want me to do, go back there and rush you some ribs?’ Nah. We all outta ribs.”
He throws open the smoker like an 18-wheeler’s hood. “These ribs right here, they’ve been cooking five hours. They’re ready when you can sink your fork into the thickest part.” He applies his tongs to that very spot, and they slide in like a boot into the salt marsh.
A young man in a B’s Cracklin’ uniform meets us at the smoker to check on the meat. He looks at Furman, then at the camera, then at me. “Make sure you mention how he’s helped a lot of us young black men,” he says. “I’m a military vet. At one time was homeless; he made sure I was all right.”
He goes back in and it’s just us again, bathing in the sweet oak and cherry smoke, sweating in the meaty heat. “That’s what it’s all about,” Furman says. “Giving back. People done took care of me, looked out for me, helped me out. I feel like the only way you get blessings is by giving them back.”
Then we go inside, and Furman blesses us with his ribs. When the waitress asks what I’d like to drink, I decide to skip the soda altogether and just have a water, please.