By CARTER BRANTLEY
USFSP Student Reporter
GULFPORT – The city of Gulfport may be small, but it has a barbecue restaurant that serves a sandwich with 12 pounds of meat.
This place is Smokin’ J’s, and the sandwich is part of a gimmick called the “Texas Challenge” (or the “Smokin’ J’s BBQ Challenge”), where customers can attempt to eat the sandwich and sides in an hour.
If they meet the formidable challenge, they get the food for free. If not, it’s $49.
The owner, John Riesebeck, says he started the challenge because so many other places had food challenges and it seemed appropriate to start one of his own.
“Everybody’s got a challenge sandwich; I wanted a Texas-sized challenge,” said Riesebeck, who according to his website started cooking barbecue as hobby in Dallas.
So far, eight people have attempted the challenge, with only one completing it and another coming a half-rack of ribs and a piece of bread short.
“He was close, but I guess when you know you’re not going to finish it, you don’t want to put yourself through the pain,” Riesebeck said.
The customer who met the challenge was named Nathan Figueroa. He did it in June 2017 on his second attempt.
Figueroa has a YouTube channel to tout his fitness regimen and food bingeing, and he came to Smokin’ J’s from his home in Coral Springs.
On his YouTube video, Figueroa eats the enormous sandwich step by step.
He starts with the jalapeño on top of the sandwich. “Starting with the jalapeño wasn’t a wise choice, because now my stomach is burning,” he says.
He then works his way through each layer of food – pickles, onions, sliced brisket, pulled chicken, pulled pork, sliced sausage and a boneless rack of ribs.
Along the way, Figueroa takes sips from both a water bottle and a cup of lemonade.
For meeting the challenge – in 59 minutes and 56 seconds, he says – he won a $250 gift certificate, a T-shirt and a “case of beer.”
One customer, Zach Sirois of Redington Beach, said he was intrigued by the challenge.
“I would have to see what 12 pounds of meat would actually look like,” said Sirois. “But if you climb the saddle, be ready for the ride.”
The restaurant, at 5145 Gulfport Blvd. S, also offers food of the normal portion variety. You can order any number of sandwiches, plates, sides, or desserts.
It has homemade pickles and ice cream that are definitely worth a try (although maybe not at the same time). The ice cream flavors vary greatly, even including a CBD-infused flavor.
The Smokin’ J’s name comes from the owner’s sons all having first names that begin with the letter J.
The restaurant offers live entertainment, with a singer-songwriter known simply as Hector performing there twice in October (“Always a good time when HECTOR is playing in the house,” according to his website).
Three times between 2014 and 2017, Smokin’ J’s was issued warnings by state restaurant inspectors for violations that included failure to keep certain foods cold enough. Since then, the restaurant has met inspection standards.