By David R. Cohen | firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Marks has loved barbecue for as long as he can remember.
As a kid in Columbia, S.C., he spent summer evenings around a barbecue pit with his dad and two brothers. Marks loved cooking so much that he studied hospitality and restaurant management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island but wound up running a logistics business and settled in Atlanta in 1992.
It took one chance email to set him on a path back to his barbecue roots. Now the Congregation B’nai Torah member has launched Keith’s Corner Bar-B-Que (www.keithscornerbbq.com), the first kosher barbecue food trailer of its kind in Atlanta, and has turned his longtime passion into a career.
“When I was operating my logistics business, I felt a void because I wasn’t cooking,” he said. “There was an email that went out from B’nai Torah that Temple Beth-El in Birmingham needed teams for their kosher barbecue competition. So I got a few guys together, and we went and competed in 2011. That year we didn’t win any awards, but in the offseason we started re-creating our recipes together, and that’s what really sparked Keith’s Corner Bar-B-Que. I knew at that point I was going to end up going full force.”
The team of Marks and fellow B’nai Torah members Brian Mailman and Matt Dixon started competing on the kosher barbecue circuit. Before long, the crew had taken home trophies from several major contests in the United States, including grand champion at the 2013 Long Island Kosher BBQ Championship and reserve grand champion in Birmingham in 2013.
The team’s love of barbecue led it to spearhead the first Atlanta Kosher BBQ Competition at B’nai Torah in 2012. The next edition of the event will be Oct. 18, under the auspices of the Hebrew Order of David, with Marks, Dixon and Mailman serving as chairmen.
In the summer of 2014, Marks took the leap with his plan to create a barbecue trailer for catering at festivals and private events while also using it to compete in barbecue competitions nationwide.
“We live in an area where there are so many barbecue lovers,” he said. “I’m here to help the community in learning what kosher barbecue is about. A lot of people think barbecue is about sauce, but what it’s really about is letting the meat stand for itself. It’s all about balance.”
At over 26 feet long, the Keith’s Corner Bar-B-Que trailer features a 30-gallon freshwater tank, three sinks with running water, air conditioning, and a Stump’s gravity-fed smoker that can cook up to 60 racks of kosher beef ribs or 30 whole briskets at a time.
The trailer was completed in October. To haul it, Marks had to trade in his GMC Yukon for a 2015 Ford F-150.
The trailer isn’t always kosher; Marks will do pork products for clients. But on request, he can deliver glatt-kosher food.
In May, the Marcus Jewish Community Center sponsored Food Truck Thursday at Brook Run Park in Dunwoody for the first time, and the event featured a variety of kosher vendors. Marks was there with his trailer and partnered with Jason Adler, the mashgiach of Congregation Beth Tefillah, to kasher it for the event.
To be approved, the smoker was heated to a temperature of 650 degrees for an hour. Marks also wrapped tefillin inside the trailer with Chabad Rabbi Levi Mentz before the event to make it official.
“The JCC food truck night I consider as my grand opening,” Marks said. “I sold out of 100 pounds of kosher beef ribs there in an hour and a half. Now I have people that are booking me through January and people who are looking into bar and bat mitzvahs a year down the road.”
Despite holding his grand opening at a food truck event, Marks is quick to say that his trailer is not a food truck, and he is focused on catering festivals and events.
The high cost of kosher meat, he said, makes guessing how many customers to cook for a gamble. “When I do a private event, I know exactly what my numbers are.”
Besides his kosher meats, Marks offers two signature sides: a vinegar-based coleslaw and cowboy caviar. The barbecue pitmaster also can cook up different styles of smoked meats.
“I like to offer to my guests whatever style of barbecue they like,” he said. “I can do Carolina style. I can do Texas. If they want Kansas City style, that’s what I’ll make. When I’m dealing with customers and figuring out what kind of barbecue they are going to like, that’s what kind I’m going to make for them.”