When Brett and Candi Schreyer decided to take a road trip from their home in Stevensville to Philipsburg, little did they know it would change their path in life. Candi spotted a small building being renovated and said that would be a great spot to open a little barbecue joint. As Brett would say, the rest is history.
Within a week, they were in the process of renting the building and making the moves to get a barbecue eatery going in Philipsburg (or P-burg as the locals call it). By October 2012, UPNSmokin BBQ House was open for business.
Brett had recently ended a 20-year stint in the custom glass business, so seeking out a new venture was in the cards. Their love of barbecuing started with shadowing Candi’s uncle, Brent Walton.
Walton, who has since passed, was a competitor and winner of many barbecue championships throughout the United States. The Schreyers launched a catering business on the side, as well as spending their vacations competing in regional barbecue cook-offs. So the idea of opening a permanent barbecue joint fell into place naturally, spurred on by finding a great location.
In 2016, Brett moved from his tiny eatery to a beautifully renovated historic building one block away, with ample seating and a few video games to entertain the kids. Trophies and ribbons from his various barbecue competitions fill the windowsills.
Brett downplays the fact that he not only competed in the World Barbecue Food Championships in 2013, but he took eighth place for his ribs and came away 31st in the pulled pork category. Initially, there are 12,000 competitors in the field, which gets narrowed down through qualifying competitions to a mere 100. Philipsburg can boast it is the home of national award-winning barbecue, adding yet to another reason to spend time at this well-loved Montana destination.
Now it’s my turn for a road trip to Philipsburg to check out UPNSmokin BBQ House. I pull up near to the front door, and as I step out of my car, I can already catch a whiff of that enticing, smoky aroma of barbecue.
Brett is sitting by the window of UPNSmokin and naturally, I’m sizing him up as I make my way to the table. He has the persona of a biker dude, with his full-on rugged beard, a shaved head and a tattooed arm emerging from his black shirt. Truth be told, he is a biker and is giving some thought to setting up a catering trailer at the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota. Brett is a no-fuss, no-muss kind of guy, very likable, but telling things straight up as he sees them.
Brett is giving away his biggest secret to barbecue. “It’s patience. People don’t want to spend the hours needed to smoke beef, pork or chicken, which is necessary for succulent barbecue.” We’re talking six hours for spareribs over low heat, and 10-12 hours for brisket. All of his meat is smoked over wood or charcoal, keeping it authentic, in Brett’s view.
Brett’s barbecue is in the Pacific Northwest style, meaning the meat or chicken is treated with a dry rub prior to smoking, then a sauce is added. While he is not going to give away his recipes, he does share that a sugar base added to the sauces, such as Pepsi or root beer, makes a difference. Traditional barbecue sides include potato and pasta salad, coleslaw and baked beans. He doesn’t serve anything that comes from a deep fat fryer, so it’s a no-go on French fries.
UPNSmokin doesn’t serve alcohol, but if you need a beer to wash down your barbecue, it’s perfectly acceptable to carry your plate of food down the block to the Philipsburg Brewery.
UPNSmokin uses a digital photo menu on a big screen, versus a printed menu. As Brett explains, “Our menu changes throughout the day, depending on what we are smoking, so this is the best way for folks to see what we are serving at any given moment.”
Options for today include baby back ribs, tri-tip sandwich and chicken. I’m watching his right-hand man, Kyle White, who has been with him since Day One, assemble a healthy plate of pulled pork nachos in plain view of me. Brett is keen on an open kitchen — wanting everything to be transparent to the customer in how their food is being prepared.
While waiting for White to dish up some brisket for me, a local named Neil and his son stop in for lunch. Before long, I’m hearing their story of plans to build some rental cabins on the backside of Discovery Basin where they currently have a cabin.
Another customer walks in and quickly volunteers she is new to P-burg, having just moved from Seattle. In the space of five minutes, I have her life story. The vibe of small-town life isn’t lost on me at UPNSmokin. The fabric of Philipsburg is woven together with the people who live there. Sharing their lives, their stories are more than just knowing everybody’s business. It’s what makes the fabric strong, strands interwoven and dependent on each other. UPNSmokin is clearly part of that fabric.
What has surprised me the most during my visit is the fact that Brett still lives in Stevensville and commutes to Philipsburg every day. I have to ask, “Seriously, dude, why wouldn’t you just move to P-burg?”
Brett shrugs his shoulders and says, “Well, we really like Stevensville. And Candi has a full-time job in Missoula.” Asked if they considered opening a business closer to home, Brett says, “We are toying with the idea of opening a second joint in that neck of the woods.”