Aug 19, 2022 - Food and Drink

Redemption BBQ is one of best examples of Virginia barbecue

A man holds a tray with bbq food on it
John Vest at Redemption BBQ. Photo: Ned Oliver/Axios

If you're looking to try Virginia barbecue, some of the best in the state can be found in a Short Pump strip mall at Redemption BBQ, (as well as Old Original Ronnie's), Richmond-based food writer Deb Freeman tells Axios.

What's happening: Redemption owner and pitmaster John Vest opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant in January, two years after he launched his Richmond food truck by the same name.

The intrigue: Vest's roots are far from Virginia and far from cooking. He grew up moving around a lot, went to college in Houston and found himself in seminary school — and later serving as a pastor — in Chicago.

  • It was there on his balcony on the South Side that the lifelong barbecue lover started teaching himself to cook it.

In 2015, Vest and his family moved to Richmond for a four-year teaching fellowship at Union Seminary, and it was here, Vest tells Axios, that he learned about Virginia barbecue, inspired in part by discovering his family's ancestral roots in the state and from reading "Virginia Barbecue: A History."

  • When the fellowship ended, Vest left his career as a pastor and started work on Redemption.

Zoom in: In many ways, Vest says, he was accidentally cooking using Virginia techniques in Chicago — he just didn't know it. Those include:

  • The meat — pork, ideally locally and sustainably raised (at the restaurant, Vest only sources from Autumn Olive Farms).
  • The equipment and technique — something that replicates the pit in the ground with nearly direct heat — and mincing or slicing the meat.
  • The sauce — butter, lard, spice and vinegar. Vest makes his own, called "Old Virginia."

Vest brings it all to the menu at Redemption — the barbecued pork shoulder sandwich, the spare ribs, the chicken and even the vegan barbecue (made with smoked jackfruit).

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