Is metro Detroit’s best brisket smoked in Royal Oak’s Holiday Market?

An unlikely barbecue hotspot

Mar 9, 2023 at 4:00 am
click to enlarge Mouth-watering brisket is priced by the pound at Royal Oak’s Holiday Market. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
Mouth-watering brisket is priced by the pound at Royal Oak’s Holiday Market.

Metro Detroit doesn’t turn out much in the way of smoked brisket worth mentioning. It’s hard to top the region’s rib tips and ribs, and there’s plenty of smoked chicken, but the best brisket I’ve found in town has been made in friends’ backyard smokers, and I rarely bother when it’s on a local menu. It’s a real hole in the region’s barbecue repertoire.

But there’s one exception to the rule, and it’s in an unlikely spot — Royal Oak’s Holiday Market. An upscale grocery store in Royal Oak doesn’t conjure the kind of vibe or atmosphere that one would think produces excellent brisket, but about five years ago Holiday hired chef Kirk Churchill, who previously worked at J-Bird Smoked Meats in Keego Harbor.

Churchill was looking for a day job so he could spend more time with his kids, found a fit at Holiday, revamped the menu with his own recipes, and The Smokehouse went from a place where you go to grab a smoked chicken to nibble on for the week to a place to go for real barbecue.

The brisket has always been on point in recent years — not a flaw to report, as it’s moist, smokey, flavorful, and the fat content is just right. But somehow it got even better in recent visits. Churchill asked if I noticed anything different last time I tried The Smokehouse’s brisket.

“Was it richer?” he says.

Yes. Churchill’s brisket is among the richest I’ve ever eaten. Decadent, even. How does one achieve that?

Churchill won’t reveal his secrets, but says he recently learned from a Michelin-starred chef about an ingredient that can be rubbed on brisket to impart a deep richness. It’s something natural and, after learning about it, Churchill and his crew experimented.

“We were like ‘Dude!’” he says of the revelatory moment when they tasted it for the first time.

The secret ingredient boosted the richness 10-20%, Churchill says, and, yes, my dudes — this is serious brisket. And if you really want to go over the top, try the burnt ends, an amped-up version of a portion of meat that was extremely rich to begin with.

Churchill smokes the brisket for 14-16 hours using Michigan hardwoods from a local tree guy. He says he doesn’t try to do any stunt barbecuing by using weird woods or trimming all the fat. “I respect the meat,” he explains. He is a traditionalist, and says he likes to buy up old church cookbooks and similar reads to find recipes and tricks.

Beyond the brisket and burnt ends, The Smokehouse offers a full menu that’s longer than what you would find in many barbecue restaurants. It had three kinds of ribs on a recent visit, and the baby backs held plenty of fall-off-the-bone tender meat that was a balance of smokey, sweet and tangy, and a tad rich. The Smokehouse first rubs it with French’s yellow mustard, then adds the chicken and pork rub.

The smoked chicken also pops — it’s rubbed the day before it’s smoked for a few hours to get the flavor deep in the meat, and a half-smoked bird provided the foundation for meals for three days. The smoked chicken wings with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce were only second to the brisket.

Most everything is made from scratch, including the mac and cheese. My notes on it say “rich, find different adjectives,” but, look, it is rich. It comes coated with a layer of cheese and wet in a thick cheese sauce. The Smokehouse first sautees then purees onions and orange bell peppers that are added to the mix to ratchet up the richness.

We also liked the queso and loaded baked potato tots, even if they’re one of the few things not made in house. Don’t forget dipping sauces and to grab a jar of bread and butter pickles.

Everything is carryout, though the brisket is cut-to-order. Some of the grab and go items are cold, some are warm. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that Holiday holds one of the region’s best kept barbecue secrets. It has made a point of developing an excellent catering business and its bakery is among the better in the region — if the rich brisket doesn’t stop your heart, the rich cake might.

Location Details

The Smokehouse in Holiday Market

1203 S. Main St., Royal Oak Oakland County


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