The Smoke House 

04 May 2024

10 years later, a fledgling idea turns into three Smoke House locations

By Judy Royal  »  Photos by G. Frank Hart

Troy Knight moved to Southport in 1999 with his North Carolina-born wife Tabitha and started Generations Church in 2005. He was focusing on his pastor work and family when his hobby of smoking meats on his back porch started to take on a life of its own. By 2014, he found himself owning a restaurant “on a whim” in addition to his full-time career.

The Smoke House at Southport is now celebrating 10 years in business, but within that decade Knight has opened two additional locations – The Smoke House at Leland in 2020 and most recently The Smoke House at Monkey Junction in southern New Hanover County last fall. The restaurants specialize in wood-smoked barbecue and homemade sides in a casual environment.

“I had no restaurant experience at all,” Knight says. “I just had a passion for barbecue and brisket anad had cooked it most of my adult life.”

A Texas native, Knight is particularly fond of beef brisket, but his menus also include pulled pork, chicken, sausage links and ribs. All the non-fried sides – like potato salad, mac and cheese and two kinds of slaw – are homemade. For the fried items like hush puppies, fires and okra, Knight seeks out quality ingredients.

“If it’s average, we don’t want it on our menu,” Knight says. “We want to keep it simple. We’re going to try to do less in terms of the number of things on our menu, but we want to do it better than anybody who does it.”

The goal is to make “the best brisket in the world,” he says, using hickory wood-smoked meat with a simple rub of coarse ground pepper and kosher salt, just like they do in central Texas.

“I think we do brisket better than anybody around this area,” Knight says. “We work really hard at it and are always tweaking it to make it better. Our goal is to be consistent. That’s one of our core values. Every time you come in, it’s going to taste the same.”

Like many famous barbecue restaurants in Texas, workers at each Smoke House location load up the smoker the night before, smoke the meats for 12 hours and sell them until they run out. Knight says the Southport restaurant often sells out of brisket during dinner hours.

“We don’t cook and freeze meats,” he says. “When it’s sold out, it’s gone.”

In addition to brisket, top sellers include pulled pork, white slaw, baked beans and buffalo chips. Each restaurant offers seven different homemade sauces, something for everyone no matter where they’re from: “Sweet” is a Kansas City version. “Spicy” is the Texas version. “Tangy” is Virginian. “White” is a mayo-based sauce popular in Alabama. “Eastern” is the North Carolina vinegar and pepper version. “Lexington” is from the Piedmont region of North Carolina. “Mustard” is based on what you’ll find in many South Carolina barbecue joints. There is also a toppings bar with accompaniments such as pickles, onions and jalapenos. 

After taking a leap on the second location in Leland, which ended up coinciding with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Knight wasn’t really looking for a third restaurant. If and when he was ready, he had Shallotte in the back of his mind. However, Knight realized a lot of people from Wilmington were driving to the Leland spot, so when the old Dickie’s Barbecue Pit location in Monkey Junction became available, he decided to go for it.

“I loved the wood walls, and it just looked like a barbecue restaurant,” he says. “We weren’t looking in that area, but financially and in a lot of other ways it just made sense, so we jumped out there and did it. We’re just trying to do it great every day, and hopefully people will give us a try and give us feedback.”

Knight admits owning three restaurants while heading a large church is challenging, but he said having a great team makes it easier to balance everything.

“I’ve become good at delegating,” Knight says. “I stay in my lane at what I’m good at and I trust good people to run the day-to-day, and it’s worked out well. We’re kind of all in it together. We treat each other like family, and we do things outside of the restaurant. We try to stay in constant communication and on the same page. We want to make money, but there are some things more important than making money. Having relationships and doing something bigger than us is pretty important.”

5120 S. College Rd, Suite 104 Wilmington, NC

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