Ray Ray's braves the winter months to bring barbecue to loyal fans

Story by Bethia Woolf l Photos by Jodi Miller

Central Ohio's chill is hard on mobile food vendors. But even in the depths of winter you'll find people lining up outside Ray Ray's Hog Pit, braving sub-zero temperatures for a taste of hickory-smoked heaven.

One of the most popular food trucks in Columbus, Ray Ray's is also one of few able to operate year-round. That's thanks to a winterized truck and a loyal local following that has made it into something of a Clintonville institution.

Ray Ray's is owned and operated by pit boss James Ray Anderson, a self-taught BBQ guru inspired by his professional-barbecuer dad. Anderson has run restaurants in the past, but he prefers the simpler life of mobile food vending. He keeps the menu small and consistent so he can focus on doing what he does at the highest level possible.

What makes Ray Ray's so special? Well, everything, from the quality of wood Anderson uses to smoke the best meats he can find, to the thought he puts into the recipes for his rubs, seasonings and sauces.

Ray Ray's beef brisket takes 12 to 14 hours to cook. That's a lot of care and attention, and it's worth it. The result is barbecue you think about days after eating, long after the lingering smell of smoke and sauce has left your fingers.

Where to find it:

The Ray Ray's truck parks in the lot of the Super Food Market at the corner of Pacemont Road and High Street in Clintonville.

When to go:

Ray Ray's is open from noon to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday--but "when it's out, it's out!"

What to get:

Brisket is Ray Ray's most popular item. On Sundays only they also offer 100 percent grass-fed brisket. Word to the wise--it generally sells out.

Anderson's advice for newcomers is to start with a half pound of brisket and a half slab of Memphis dry-rub ribs. The hickory smoke flavor really comes through in those pork ribs, which are so tender the meat pulls right off the bone.

You'll also find pulled pork and occasional specials, like smoked turkey or burnt ends (charred, crunchy scraps of brisket with an intense smoky flavor).

On the side:

Sides are mac and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans and greens. Ask each person in line and they'll name a different one as their favorite.

The greens, a mixture of kale and collards, are perfectly cooked so they retain their texture rather than turning into mush. The mac and cheese is creamy and comfort-foody. The coleslaw is a refreshing counterpoint to the piles of meat, and the beans are saucy, sweet and spicy.

Through the winter months, you may also see special sides like skillet butter corn, green beans and red skins, and red beans and rice.

Don't forget...

The barbecue sauce. Out of the four sauces offered, the habanero is the most popular, and it's not as hot as it might sound. It's a well-balanced sauce with a nice kick.

Bethia Woolf, owner of the tour company Columbus Food Adventures, blogs at streeteatscolumbus.com

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