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Britain: Near the 'Downton Abbey' castle, barbecue for the ages

October 16, 2013|By Catharine M. Hamm, Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Sal's Smokehouse inside the Lion pub in Newbury, Britain, serves ribs, pulled pork and more as American-style barbecue.
Sal's Smokehouse inside the Lion pub in Newbury, Britain, serves… (Catharine M. Hamm / Los Angeles…)

Think of the castle depicted in “Downton Abbey” and your mind immediately springs to … barbecue?

Yes, if you’re a barbecue aficionado, but only for a little longer.

Ever since “Downton Abbey” began seducing U.S. viewers with its mix of the travails of British aristocracy and the troubles of the working class, Highclere Castle, in the lush green hills of Berkshire county, has been a draw.

The series is shot partly in the 200-room castle and has proved such a tourist draw that it’s practically impossible to get tickets to tour the house. Those who do will see copious artworks, one room with leather-gold lined walls, others with breathtakingly beautiful rugs and china. It’s all gracious and beautiful and proper.

Everything, in fact, that barbecue is not.  Which may explain why it’s such a delight to find a barbecue place just about nine miles from the castle.

Sal’s Smokehouse is a barbecue place — it’s tempting to say “joint” but it’s far too clean for that — inside the Lion pub in the heart of the town of Newbury. Steve Lane left the pharmaceutical industry after more than 20 years and “did a bit of research” before settling on opening a barbecue eatery, which he estimates is one of maybe 10 in Britain.

With help and inspiration from John Hargate, who runs his own barbecue place in Brighton about 95 miles away, and a smoker from Oklahoma, Lane founded Sal’s Smokehouse (the "Sal" is Lane’s initials — Steve and Anthony and Lane) inside the Lion Pub, run by Tony Sellers and his wife, Sarah Peterson. The pub owners will celebrate their first year of business on Oct. 26.

On Oct. 27, Lane will serve the last of his barbecue plates and sandwiches in the Lion. Running the business that allows others to consume copious amounts of pulled pork, spicy sausages, ribs and chicken wings has almost consumed him, he said.

But that’s not the end of Sal’s, he says of the place that he hopes taught Brits that barbecue is  more than burned burgers in the backyard. You may find him bottling and selling his sauces (I was taken with his peach and jalapeño sauce) or find him selling his wares at festivals.

Which gives the barbecue aficionado hope in a land known more for fish and chips than sauce and smoke.

When I stopped by on a recent Thursday, my sister and I plunged right into the Pigout (about 22 pounds, or about $35, which serves two or three), copious amounts of the aforementioned meats served with a generous portion of coleslaw and fries. 

It clearly demonstrated one of the primary tenets of good barbecue: patience. “It will not be rushed,” Lane said of the meat. “It’s ready when it’s ready.”

We trust Lane’s food will resurface when he’s ready. Which we hope won’t be too long.

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