HANCOCK, Mich. (WJMN) – What happens when you combine a love of southern barbecue with a side of family support? You get a full serving of The Forge in Hancock. Owner Rich Smith has been serving up his own brand of BBQ officially since 2020.

“Before I even got the truck, I did a few caters to test it out and the reviews were just like, we’ve been to Texas and other southern barbecue states and they were like, you’re up there. We’ve waited in line for hours and what you gave us was better or just as good. Once I had that, I knew I was on to something with barbecue and I stuck with it,” said Smith.

Smith opened The Forge as a food truck in 2020.

“So that fall was my first outing. We were out for two and a half months, and it was really great. I didn’t plan on running it in the winter. It can be a little rough up here. I tried to go out for Winter Carnival, but we had a blizzard the next day. The next spring was full on. I got more efficient and better at what we were doing that fall. I learned a lot.”

By November of 2022, he found a home on Market Street on Hancock, where he can keep the business going year-round.

Smith grew up in Menominee. He spent some time stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. That’s where the fire for barbecue was sparked. While this is his first food industry business, running a kitchen is in Smith’s DNA.

“My mom was a great cook. She ran a restaurant kitchen for most of her life. The flavors she brought, influenced me.”

True barbecue is a time intensive labor of love. Smith is smoking a variety of proteins, but beef brisket is the one that takes the longest. From start to finish, a whole brisket can take 16 hours to prepare.

While meat is the main attraction, there’s plenty to keep your taste buds happy. The Forge is firing up in house nearly everything on the menu. Mac & cheese, brisket chili, all their sauces, even the buns for their burgers come from The Forge kitchen.

Each batch of their chili is made with 5 pounds of brisket.

We tried the pulled pork loaded tater tots. The tots themselves are also made in house. Each one is the size of a golf ball. A little time spent in the deep-fryer gets them crispy and golden on the outside and tender inside. Add a little cheese sauce, pulled pork, barbecue sauce and some green onions. It is a meal in itself. Those are worth the drive from Marquette or further.

Loaded pulled pork tater tots!

“I think I’m really good at the little steps like seasoning before during and after cooking. It all adds up to a really good food experience.”

The Forge is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

You can find their full menu here or follow The Forge on Instagram.