Smokin’ sides and tender barbecue star in new ‘12 Bones’ cookbook

Corn pudding: The recipe for a favorite 12 Bones Smokehouse side dish is in the restaurant’s new cookbook.
Corn pudding: The recipe for a favorite 12 Bones Smokehouse side dish is in the restaurant’s new cookbook.

Whenever I visit friends in Asheville, North Carolina, we have at least one lunch at 12 Bones Smokehouse.

I usually opt for the pulled pork (with equal parts of the tangy red “Q” and the vinegary mustard sauces), but 12 Bones is known for its ribs with blueberry chipotle sauce. Deliciously smoky meat, a variety of good sauces — it’s just hard to go wrong there.

I’m not the only one who thinks that. The owners, who have just published a cookbook, devoted two pages of it to the First Fan, Barack Obama, who has eaten there on several occasions during his presidency. Media reports say he goes for the ribs. And no, I have never run into him.

What sets 12 Bones above other ’cue places, at least for me, are the side dishes — corn pudding, smoky baked beans, jalapeño cheese grits, mac and cheese, collard greens and more. The menu even offers a meal of four sides plus cornbread.

Best of all is the smoked potato salad — mmmmm, so good. Every time I came home from Asheville, my plan was to smoke some potatoes on the Weber and see if I could duplicate that salad. I never have, though, because I was so intent on the wonderful smoky flavor of the potatoes that I never quite figured out what went into the dressing. “I’d kill for that recipe,” I told more than one friend.

The restaurant saved me the trouble, publishing that and a collection of other recipes in the new 12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook. I turned immediately to the potato salad recipe. Ah-ha! The secret ingredient was cilantro. I could hardly wait for the weekend.

But the smoked potato salad I made from the cookbook recipe didn’t taste anything like the potato salad I’d eaten at 12 Bones’ picnic benches.

I would have thought it was my fault, or that they’d changed the ingredients since I ate there last July, but the recipe was clearly flawed. For one thing, it made almost twice as much potato salad as the cookbook said it would. Plus it was a very wet salad — a high proportion of dressing — while the potato salad at the restaurant is much drier. And the taste was way off.

Then I encountered problems with several other recipes.

My conclusion: No one tested these recipes after cutting them down from restaurant-size batches, or the recipes had never been written out before. The fact that the restaurant changed hands in 2013 also may have played into it.

If the 12 Bones kitchen had tested it, the recipe for Smoky Tomato Basil Soup wouldn’t have said, “Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients to the pot, and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes,” then instructed me after that to add the cream and Parmesan. Wait a minute — didn’t you say to add the remaining ingredients 30 minutes ago? It wouldn’t have called for a tablespoon of hot sauce — at least not without mentioning that only an asbestos palate could have withstood the heat.


The recipe for Tres Leches Strawberry Shortcake wouldn’t have told me to whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla seeds, but neglected to say what to do with the mixture. They would have discovered that a cake made with only three eggs wouldn’t be spongy enough to absorb all the milky liquid, and that the cake top needed to be pierced all over before the milk was poured over it.

And the book wouldn’t have called for eight English cucumbers — about a foot long each — for cucumber salad for eight people, or five pounds of potatoes for Smoked Potato Salad for six people.

In all, I tested nine recipes from the cookbook: chicken spice rub, the tangy tomato Q sauce, smoked brisket, smoked chicken, smoked potato salad, cucumber salad, corn pudding, smoky tomato soup and tres leches strawberry shortcake.


Some were perfect: The smoked chicken (tender and moist and full of spicy, smoky flavor even with no basting), the corn pudding, the smoky tomato soup (I added only a half-teaspoon of hot sauce, and even then it was pretty spicy). The tomato Q sauce was excellent, and the spice rub was good.

The cucumber salad, after we cut it down to four cucumbers, was good enough that a friend asked me for the recipe (secret ingredient: pesto in the dressing). The brisket was dry and tough, but we’ll put that down to my inexperience with smoking brisket — this was my first time.

But the tres leches cake, after sitting in the milk mixture for eight hours, was still swimming in it. I poured off about 1 1/2 cups of liquid before I topped it with strawberries and served it.

And the potato salad — well, my high hopes were dashed. The first day, after it sat for about six hours, the strong taste of vinegar overwhelmed every other flavor. You couldn’t even taste the smoke in the potatoes. The next day, after it mellowed a little, the dominant flavor was the mustard.


None of this has put me off eating at 12 Bones. I’ll visit Asheville in the next few months, and lunch at the smokehouse will, as always, be near the top of my list. I’ll be rolling each mouthful on my tongue, though, puzzling out the ingredients so I can doctor the recipes in their cookbook for my own table.

They ought to do the same — test the recipes as they appear in the book and make the necessary repairs.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying their recipes and recreating that great food. But if a recipe’s instructions are confusing or the ingredients seems a little out of whack, proceed with caution.

I’m not going to wait till my next trip to work on the potato salad, though. I’ve already replenished my supplies of new red potatoes and wood chips, and have a plan for revising the dressing. I really don’t want to have to kill anyone for the right recipe.

By the Book is an occasional feature that checks out recipes from new cookbooks. Marjie Lambert is travel editor of the Miami Herald and author of eight cookbooks. She recently tested braises for By the Book. Follow @marjielambert.

More info

“12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook,” by Bryan King, Angela King, Shane Heavner and Mackensy Lunsford; Voyageur Press, $25.

12 Bones Chicken Rub

This spice rub is enough for several chickens, but it isn’t just for chickens. It’s used in other recipes including the smoked beef brisket and Smoky Tomato Basil Soup.

1/2 cup paprika

1/2 cup granulated garlic

1/4 cup granulated onion

1/2 cup fine-ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne

4 teaspoons whole dry basil

1 tablespoon cumin

4 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning

4 teaspoons dried sage

1/4 cup dry English mustard

1/2 cup iodized salt

8 teaspoons chili powder

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Store unused rub in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Source: “12 Bones Smokehouse” by Bryan King, Angela King, Shane Heavner and Mackensy Lunsford; Voyageur Press, $25.

Smoky Basil Tomato Soup

This recipe calls for a tablespoon of hot sauce, which to me means Tabasco or similar. That’s a lot of heat. I’d add the hot sauce a few drops at a time and taste each time. Makes 4 servings.

12 Roma (or plum) tomatoes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves chopped garlic

1 14-ounce can tomatoes in juice

2 cups pork or chicken stock

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon 12 Bones Chicken Rub

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven, grill or smoker to 300 degrees. Core and cut the tomatoes in half. Toss them with just enough vegetable oil to coat. Roast or smoke the tomatoes, skin side up for 15 minutes. Remove the skin while the tomatoes are still hot.

Melt the butter in a medium pot. Add the onion and garlic and sweat on low heat until soft. Add the tomatoes and remaining ingredients except cream and Parmesan and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the cream and Parmesan and remove from the heat. Stir until the Parmesan has melted. Taste for seasoning.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender or use a stick blender to puree until smooth.

Source: “12 Bones Smokehouse” by Bryan King, Angela King, Shane Heavner and Mackensy Lunsford; Voyageur Press, $25.