Right on ’Cue

Kat Nielsen takes the lead as Oak & Apple’s pitmaster.

Smoked platter with organic chicken, Pig Crafter’s pulled pork, and pork spareribs.

Photography by Fred + Elliott

When Kat Nielsen started cooking at barbecue competitions five years ago, it was just a hobby. Back then, she was sous-chef at Postbellum in Richmond, part of the Historical Restaurant Concepts group, which also runs Station 2, Root Stock Provisions, and, as of June, Oak & Apple—where Nielsen, 28, has since moved into her new role as head pitmaster.

 “My family brought me into smoking,” she says. “My stepdad and I started experimenting with a Big Green Egg, and then later on, we participated in a few competitions around Virginia. It became a really big thing that I enjoyed doing, so I started going with it—I was just in it.”

As Nielsen honed her skills at the pit, she found a lot of inspiration in the barbecue community, including from big names such as Richmond’s own Tuffy Stone and ZZQ’s Alex Graf, whom she credits as influencers. “People on the competition circuit are always there to help you,” Nielsen says. “It made me realize how deep barbecue runs in Virginia.”

Deep enough that when she started bringing some of her own pit barbecue back to the restaurant, executive chef Kevin Church and his partners began developing the concept for Oak & Apple—oak, for the woodsmoke used to coax the meat’s natural flavors, and apple, for the extensive cider program featuring Virginia-made beverages as well as unique imports from France and Spain.

In addition, all of the menu’s pork and beef is sourced exclusively from Virginia farms such as Seven Hills Food, Pig Crafters, and Papa Weaver’s, and sausages are made in house. Barbecue sauces represent a range of flavor profiles—“I feel like Virginia is right in the middle of a lot of regional flavors,” Nielsen says—including traditional vinegar-based sauce, mustard-based sauce, and a sweet and sticky variety.

The restaurant, which is located on Main Street in the heart of Shockoe Bottom, features a traditional barbecue menu with a few twists from Church, such as a barbecue chicken fried rice and pulled pork tacos. The primary vision for the restaurant, however, draws on that same embracing community that Nielsen encountered on the competition circuit and brings it home to downtown Richmond.

“This neighborhood is very community driven,” Nielsen says. “People are very loyal to being in this part of town. It’s a great location and easy to access from neighborhoods and other parts of Richmond city, so we really hope to bring people together around this love for barbecue.” OakAndAppleRichmond.com

Customers dine outdoors at Oak & Apple.

Pit Stops

More of the newest BBQ joints in RVA.

Fatty Smokes

Led by pitmaster and chef Mike Lindsey, the menu features dry rubbed pork, brisket, smoked wings, St. Louis-style spareribs, and all the Southern sides you can dream up this side of the James. FattySmokes.com

Pig and Brew

Serving up Carolina-style barbecue—plus some serious Hillbilly Fries and cocktails like the Dead Pig—Lamarr Johnson and pitmaster Lamont Hawkins opened this joint in Manchester last spring. PigAndBrew.com

The Pitts

Lisa Ann Peters’ second Southside restaurant is open early and late. This so-called dive dishes up favorites for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nighttime eats, so you can get your ’cue fix whenever. ThePittsDive.com

Black Market Barbecue

Chef Michael Hall’s barbecue restaurant in The Fan features a signature sauce that is made from sweet potatoes and chipotle—and it is also bottled for sale.

This article originally appeared in our Smoke + Salt 2019 issue.

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