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Tasty barbecue rolls into the valley

Barbecue master Scott Knapp hopes his new culinary venture will soon be traveling the country.

Conestoga wagon.

Parked at a former gas station on Crater Lake Avenue, the trademark vehicle of Smoke-N-Man Barbecue is actually a self-contained kitchen. Knapp serves up chicken, ribs, brisket and turkey drumsticks ' all soaked in a secret sauce ' from the miniature prairie schooner.

Watch out 'The Colonel,' 'cause here we come, Knapp said.

It's Texas-style barbecue with a Northwest flair. Instead of using hickory or mesquite, Knapp slow-cooks meat over maple, cherry or apple wood. Knapp closely guards his sauce ingredients but will say the recipe emerged when, barbecuing at an outdoor event, he ran out of fresh water and was forced to use a vat left over from boiling corn on the cob.

— Wow, what a taste, Knapp said, adding that some whiskey accidentally fell into the resulting mixture.

The 34-year-old Medford native started cooking at festivals, first volunteering in a chicken cart at Veneta's Oregon Country Fair. Realizing that barbecuing made him truly happy, Knapp ditched a career servicing restaurants' grill hoods. He traveled the fair circuit for a time but missed feeding folks back home.

After a brief stint at Jacksonville's Back Porch BBQ, Knapp opened his first Smoke-N-Man wagon last week. A second wagon is in the works, Knapp said, and intended for a west Medford location. He's open to franchising and hopes to see Smoke-N-Man go nationwide within 10 years. Sponsoring a local amateur barbecue contest also is in the future, Knapp said.

There's a lot of other smokin' men out there ... and women, Knapp said. We call 'em smokin' chicks.

But first, Smoke-N-Man will become Southern Oregon's first drive-through barbecue as of next month, Knapp said. Customers literally will circle the wagon to order and pick up their food before exiting on Stevens Street.

Next month, patrons should look for smoked turkey sandwiches on turkey Tuesdays. Deep-fried turkeys and whole smoked birds injected with orange juice and rum will be available for Thanksgiving. Tri-tip tacos and buffalo ribs also are on their way. Smoke-N-Man is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

I think people will come rain or shine if we're out there on a regular basis, Knapp said.

The rapid success of mobile coffee stands convinced Knapp ' who tried one in Twin Falls, Idaho ' that the concept could work with other food items. Smoke-N-Man's portability will allow Knapp to stay visible in the ever-changing restaurant industry. Freedom from an expensive lease and elaborate infrastructure helps him maximize his profits on meat, a costly commodity, Knapp said.

Knapp said he established his location at the former Union 76 station for less than &

36;3,000. Friends and family chipped in to paint. Potted plants were donated from a local nursery. A few metal-legged tables complete the decor.

Knapp said he has no plans to take the cooking indoors, which would nullify his classification with the county health department as a mobile food unit. Because the county requires him to move the wagon overnight, Knapp simply pulls it into the old gas station garage.

The station's former pump lanes provide al fresco dining, where Mike Edmondson, a 46-year-old television service technician, lunched Thursday with co-worker Rob Henson, 20. The two devoured 10-inch-long beef ribs, coleslaw and baked beans for &

36;8 apiece.

For ribs ... it's reasonably priced, and you get enough to fill you up, Edmondson said.

Gotta try it.

One man still waiting on grub hollered at a happily munching friend to slow down.

This cow never had a chance, he yelled back.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail Tasty barbecue rolls into the valley "slemon@mailtribune.com.