Each month, Evan Caplan speaks with a chef of a Georgetown-area eatery. Earlier in June, he chatted with Jon Snedden, chef-owner of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company. Rocklands, which opened its first location at 2418 Wisconsin Avenue in 1990, is still serving juicy, wood-smoked meats at that original spot. Snedden founded the company, later opening two Northern Virginia locations. Most days, he still finds himself at the Wisconsin Avenue restaurant, overseeing operations, refining recipes and going at the business whole hog.
What is your specialty and why? How did you come to do BBQ?
John Snedden: My specialty is cooking with wood for barbecue and grilling. It’s a passion that’s been part of my life from an early age. As I’m one of six kids, our family grilled out most nights in the summer to give my mom a break in the kitchen.
What’s your favorite dish?
JS: My “go-to” item is the whole barbequed pork butt that we have to make chopped pork for sandwiches and platters. When that 10-hour-smoked piece of meat comes off the pit, oh my — delicious. It’s like butter.
What’s the best part about working in the food industry?
JS: I’ve always liked to cook because I love to experience the flavors and textures of eating and drinking. To take a piece of fish, meat or vegetable and make it into something delicious is very satisfying. Plus, the industry is about people and relationships, on both sides of the counter.
What does it mean to you to cook in Georgetown?
JS: Washington, and Georgetown in particular, is a very vibrant community that’s family-oriented and diverse. Our guests include locals, tourists, diplomats, students and government leaders — all bringing a sophisticated culinary experience and expectation to bear.
Tell us about your famous sauce.
JS: Oh, the secret sauce! I developed it through my high school and college years. I say it’s a cross between a Carolina and Florida sauce. It’s made using a tomato base with a vinegar presence, four types of pepper and sautéed onions. Most sauces lean on the sweet, which we do not. It’s delicious on everything, like pork, beef, chicken, vegetables and fish, and my wife even puts it on her eggs at breakfast.
We hear your recipes have been used in the White House.
JS: Yes, we have given the White House chef our recipe and method for grilled jumbo Gulf shrimp served with a horseradish mango chutney. It’s a delicious dish, and I know it was served at the first state dinner in the Clinton administration.
What is something no one knows about you?
JS: Barbeque is still my favorite food and I can eat it virtually every day.
What should people try at your restaurant? What makes it unique?
JS: Our use of only wood to cook, grill and barbeque meats, fish and vegetables really creates a delicious meal. My favorite items are our spare ribs, beef ribs and chopped pork.
What makes a great chef?
JS: The great chefs I know and love are passionate about creating a great bite — given whatever medium or product that is. It’s about focus, attention to detail, hard work and creativity.
When you’re not cooking, what do you do?
JS: Spending time with friends and my family. I have three kids, ages 16, 19 and 21. We like to stay active outdoors, so biking, running, hiking and skiing. Most anything with a ball.