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Caterer switches to take-out barbecue in Whitefish

by Bret Anne Serbin Daily Inter Lake
| August 4, 2019 2:00 AM

After serving the Flathead Valley barbecued meat for 15 years as a mobile caterer, Ed McGrew has transformed his business into Ed McGrew’s BBQ joint on Spokane Avenue in Whitefish.

The physical location is a notable change from his roaming catering service, but for McGrew it seems like business as usual.

“Catering’s a young man’s game,” McGrew said, explaining his main reason for settling down in the new space. Despite opening the walk-in barbecue joint, McGrew said catering remains the largest part of his business. He said he still regularly serves, “parties of 40, 50, 60. If they call a week ahead of time, it’s no big deal.”

He expected considerably more walk-in business than he has seen in the first few days since the shop’s opening, but he also admitted that advertising isn’t part of his smoke-master repertoire.

Even so, he said the community response to his new establishment has been, “tremendous.” Customers, many of them loyal followers from over the years, have been especially “happy they could come and get it any time they wanted,” McGrew said.

The shop doesn’t include seating, but the take-out counter offers pulled pork, ribs, brisket and tri-tip, as well as sides of coleslaw, beans and macaroni and cheese. McGrew admitted to making a few small changes to his offerings since retiring from the mobile barbecue business.

“I used to do 80 percent pork, 20 percent beef. That’s completely flip-flopped,” he said, in response to what he feels are the community’s changing tastes. These days, he specializes in tri-tip above anything else. “Tri-tip is the new brisket,” he said.

Beyond the beef, he has also refined the side orders that accompany his popular smoked meats. “I’ve been working on my mac ‘n’ cheese recipe for the past few days, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.” A lighter option is the watermelon salad special. It isn’t available every day, but when it is, McGrew said, “people go nuts.”

His new operations have also allowed him to start “cryo-packing” his meats as soon as they come out of the smoker, a practice that he thinks has revolutionized his business. Even though he had a vacuum sealing machine for many years, he never used it before moving into his new Whitefish shop.

Now he vacuum seals cuts of meat to keep them fresh and prevent them from drying out. “It’s the smartest thing I ever did,” he insisted. Customers can reheat the meat by simply placing the vacuum bags in hot water for about half an hour before serving. “It tastes like it just came out of the smoker,” McGrew promised.

As for the smoking itself, McGrew claimed not to know why his particular preparation has captivated local meat-eaters for so many years. He uses a Southern Pride smoker, whole cherrywood logs and a rub that he has expertly whittled down from 22 ingredients to “four things and it’s exactly what I want.” But he insisted, “Deep down inside, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just lucky.”

The Oklahoma native developed his love of barbecue while on a childhood visit to his Uncle Joe in Colorado. He originally came to Whitefish to help his brother remodel his house.

“You come for the lifestyle and stay for the people,” he said. Now that he has settled into Ed McGrew’s Barbecue, he promised, “I ain’t leavin’.”

Ed McGrew’s BBQ is located at 669 Spokane Ave in Whitefish, behind the Lake Stream Fly Shop. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at or 758-4459.