Woodstock & Smoke: Volkswagens Transformed into Smokers Create Great Barbecue Hit the Road In Southwest Michigan

        If you missed the 1960s, remember it fondly, and like great barbecue, Tim Carrigan, owner of Woodstock and Smoke, a food fleet of food trucks with a groovy vibe and his son, Max, have a treat for you. A few years back, they started with one old Volkswagen Beetle (also nicknamed in the 1960s as VW bugs), painted it green, removed the chassis, and inserted a large smoker. Oh, and they painted the exterior with flowers just like the Love Bugs of that era which were supposed to represent peace and, you guessed it, love. The term referred to cutely painted VW Beetles which were so popular that two movies were made centered around the concept—Disney’s 1968  “The Love Bug” a comedy about a Love Bug that comes to life starring Dean Jones and Michele Lee and a sequel titled “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

        To complete the look of that era, the chefs often wear brightly colored tie-dye Woodstock and Smoke t-shirts.

        Garrison says it started off as one of those I’m bored type of things—though with working as a chef at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles in Southwest Michigan, catering, and teaching culinary classes at Buchanan Public Schools it’s hard to figure out how he had time to be bored—and decided to something with the smoker and VW he had.

        “I always loved Volkswagens,” he says. “I had a Volkswagen and a grill and so I drew one up and had someone do the fabrication. Then it sat out in a field  for a year. Someone saw it sitting there and asked if they could use it for a graduation party. It was a hit.”

        Now there are six with four more in the works. One of the existing ones is a pizza Love Bug that reaches temperatures of 600° and can bake a pizza in four minutes.

It’s not easy finding cheap Volkswagens but necessary to keep costs down. Carrigan has sourced them from as far away as Warsaw, Indiana, and Jackson and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then they fix them up. And some sure do need fixing. One, he says, had a tree growing through it, another’s roof was crushed by a falling tree.

        “We find them in sheds, barns, fields, wherever,” says Max who completed his culinary degree at Grand Valley State University; his father’s degree is from the culinary program at Grand Rapids Community College.

        The smokers, at five-feet tall and six-feet long, take up all but the hood and back of the VW. The  use apple and cherry wood to produce the heat needed for a day at a site like Watermark. They also have to pack enough wood to keep the smoker going all day long.

        On a busy Memorial Day weekend, the Love Bugs were busy smoking and grilling throughout Southwest Michigan. Watermark Brewing Company has them booked for every Saturday and Sunday and that’s where Max was when I stopped by to taste their smoked Brussel sprouts. I was disappointed to see that they were sold out of a lot of items including the sprouts.

        “I’m waiting for more food to arrive—we’ve been so busy I called for more,” Max told me.

        Fortunately they still had their slow roasted pork which is then shredded and piled high on a bun. Max made up a sandwich for me and then gave me a sampling of sauces so I could decide which one I wanted as a topping for the pork. I almost declined a sauce as the meat was so tender and tasty. Plus there were so many choices—including Blueberry Habanero (which they sell by itself because it’s so popular), a classic red barbeque sauce, Carolina Gold—apple cider vinegar, chili pepper flakes, and a tad of local honey, spicy strawberry, and a cherry barbecue sauce. It was hard to decide. My favorite was  a white sauce made with mayonnaise, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and fresh garlic.

        “It’s mayo based,” says Carrigan. “You can find it in some of the southern states but it’s rare.”

        I arrived earlier the next day so I wouldn’t miss out on the Brussel sprouts and was surprised to see so many people ordering them including Richard Russell who kindly allowed me to photograph his pulled pork with sprout. When I said I was surprised they were so popular (my husband thinks they’re akin to poison) he said he thought many people were served the overcooked mushy ones that didn’t have any flavor.

        “I was always in the kitchen growing up,” says Carrigan, who brought Max into the business when he was 14.

        “I learned to cook from my dad,” says Max, as he was loading up 250 pounds of meat for the following day. “In the summer we cook around 300 pounds.”

        Not only do they grill meats and Brussel sprouts,  big pans in the smoker are filled with the family recipe for baked beans and other fishes such their deluxe macaroni, a cholesterol-defying dish, is made with three types of cheese and meat such as their smoked pork put on the top. The meat comes from various local butchers including Lowry’s Meat & Groceries on River Street in Buchanan, a place that’s been in business for more than 50 years. There’s also teriyaki, smoked corn beef, grilled local asparagus when in season, and Max is serving Korean pork and barbecue at Watermark.

        You can find one of the VWs at the Bridgeman Farmer’s Market on Sunday, downtown New Buffalo on Thursday night, Green Stem in Niles and the South Haven Farmer’s Market on Wednesday. They also recently rented a family restaurant on the southeast corner of U.S. 12 and Red Arrow Highway in New Buffalo and though they’re not serving food there (or at least not yet), that’s where they do their food prep and load up the Volkswagens.

        “We also do car shows, food festivals, concerts for the St. Joseph Symphony Orchestra, wineries like Lemon Creek Winery, and parties,” says Garrison. To check out where they’ll be, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WoodStockandGrill

        “I’ve always been fascinated by all aspects of cooking,” says Carrigan, who with his team create recipes. It was Steve Gargis, who has been with Carrigan’s catering company for seven years and is now also doing Woodstock and Smoke who came up with the Blueberry Habanero Sauces and also has a jalapeno sweet corn that’s very popular. They also make desserts such as brownies, fruit buckle,

Others involved in the business include Melanie  Hutchinson who coordinates events and has been with Carrigan’s JML Catering for 13 years.  JML represents the first initials of his three children. Carrigan married his high school sweetheart Kaylene who works as a nurse though she helps out when things get really busy. Like Max, the other two children grew up in the business. Jayla, the oldest daughter became a nurse but helps out as does his youngest, Lexi, who is studying to be an audiologist at Grand Valley State University. Son-in-law Dough Zundel helps train new hires on how to use the smokers.

Carrigan describes himself as liking to keep things simple (though we don’t really believe that) and notes that he still lives in the same house he grew up in.

Like I mentioned earlier, Love Bugs used to be about Peace and Love, now we can add barbecue as well.

Sidebar: Alabama White Barbecue Sauce     

Tim Carrigan said white barbecue sauce was unique to the south and hard to find even there.  A Google search showed that white barbecue sauce originated in Alabama around 1925 at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ located in Decatur, Alabama. Gibson’s now bottles the sauce and people use it not only on barbecued meats but also as a dip, on pizza, and anything else you want. It can be ordered from the restaurant’s website, bigbobgibson.com or, of course, Amazon.

There’s even a “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Legends from a Legendary Barbecue Joint: A Cookbook by Chris Lilly,” the great-grandson-in-law of Big Bob and executive chef at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ.

Big Bob’s White Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
  • ½ half teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

The following recipes are courtesy of Woodstock and Smoke

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

  • 3 pounds Brussel Sprouts
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Toss the sprouts with the oil and add in additional seasoning. Place in the smoker for 30-35 minutes or till done.

Pork Butt Rub

  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • ½ cup granulated garlic
  • ¼ cup pepper
  • ¼ cup granulated onion
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup dry mustard

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container until ready to use. Rub on the pork butts and let them rest in the refrigerator a few hours before putting them into the smoker. Cook until fork tender and meat shreds easily.

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