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Up in Smoke: Big Joe’s beefs up menu with homemade pastrami (video)

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail photos
Joe Guilfoile of Big Joe’s Bar & Grill opens up his electric smoker which sits outside of his bar on Capitol Street. He smokes meat for several hours before using it to make lunch sandwiches.
Joe Guilfoile shows off his signature pastrami sandwich.
A homemade pastrami sandwich at Big Joe’s Bar and Grill.
Homemade, New York-style cheesecake is the dessert of choice at Big Joe’s on Capital Street.

If you trace the smell of kindling wood chips along Kanawha Boulevard East in downtown Charleston, chances are you’ll wind up at the front door of Big Joe’s Bar and Grill on Capitol Street.

It’s there, on the sidewalk, where owner “Big Joe” Guilfoile uses a four-foot electric smoker to prepare pork butts, ribs and briskets for his menu.

“We smoke our own pulled pork, we smoke our own ribs, we smoke our own pastrami,” Guilfoile said.

It’s a lengthy, sometimes complex, process, but one that Guilfoile is more than willing to endure.

“Everything’s from scratch because that’s the only way I want to do it,” he said.

“We make our own chicken salad … the soups we make are homemade, the sides with the ribs — the baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens, the mac and cheese are all house-made. There’s not a whole lot on there [the menu] that we don’t personally make.”

On our app? Click here for video about making pastrami

Big Joe’s has been open for almost five years, but Guilfoile’s only been serving lunch for about six months.

“We’ve always done food, but it was bar stuff, like wings and burgers, in the evening,” Guilfoile said.

He decided to open earlier and expand the menu as a way to offset slower business on weekday evenings.

“The people that do come here come back again and again so I know the product’s good,” Guilfoile said. “It’s just a matter of getting them in here.”

The pulled pork is Big Joe’s bestseller, but it’s the pastrami that is the most time-consuming, and for Guilfoile, the most rewarding.

“The thing I’m proudest of is that pastrami because it’s a two week process to make,” he said.

The first step, the brining, takes the longest amount of time.

To begin, Guilfoile submerges brisket flats he orders weekly from Buzz Food Service in a brining mixture composed of pickling spice, salt, Prague Powder [pink curing salt which prevents bacteria], brown sugar and lavender and stores it in the walk-in cooler.

“That’s at least 10 days out of the two weeks,” Guilfoile said.

Once brined, the brisket (now corned beef) is rinsed, covered with cracked peppercorn and cracked coriander seed and smoked for about three to four hours.

Then, it’s removed from the heat and allowed to rest overnight before being sliced and vacuum-sealed for freshness until it’s time to use.

“When we bring it back out, we put it on the flat top and steam it, and then put it on traditional rye bread with Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard, but people can get it any way they want,” Guilfoile said. “There’s been a great response.”

Big Joe’s Bar and Grill is located at 10 Capitol St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (later on the weekends). Visit for a menu or call 304-400-4643 to place an order. Lunch delivery is available in the downtown Charleston area.

Reach Dawn Nolan at, 304-348-1230 or follow @DawnNolanWV.

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