Photography by Robert Merhaut
TALES FROM THE PIT
JULES FOEAMAN OF JULES BBQ
BY CORBO ENG
When Jules Foeaman was growing up in Suriname, a Caribbean nation on the northeastern coast of South America, cooking outdoors over wood was the norm.
“Our village was laid out with unpaved roads,” Foeaman says. “It had kind of a suburban feel but wasn’t as fancy as here.” In his village, there were cinder block buildings, a communal spigot and no gas stoves.
“Cooking over wood gives food more flavor anyway,” says Foeaman, whose mother cooked stews in a cast iron cauldron over fire. The smoke, created from local hard woods, permeated the food.
When he immigrated to the United States, Foeaman gravitated toward the wood flavor that shaped his food memories and had become synonymous with the act of cooking itself.
It’s not surprising he heard the call of barbecue.
Barbecue, after all, is derived from barbacoa, a word with Caribbean roots that, once incorporated into the American lexicon in its slightly altered form, eventually came to refer to food cooked in a pit over wood coals.
Foeaman, the proprietor of Jules BBQ, a roadside stand operating in Loudoun since 2009, is partial to such coals—hickory, specifically, which approximates the wood used in his homeland. It yields a pleasing smoke that is an integral part of the ribs that he sells, as well as his jerk chicken, a Caribbean favorite that’s unique amongst the county’s cadre of barbecue vendors.
The chicken is the beneficiary of a signature marinade Foeaman ages for a week with 16 ingredients, including rum and Scotch Bonnet peppers, distinctively Caribbean in character, mixed with sage, thyme and allspice.
His meticulous preparation of the ribs starts with a day-and-a-half soak in a salt-sugar-vinegar brine. The ribs then bathe in a marinade of paprika, brown sugar and oregano, among other ingredients, before being smoked over hickory for eight hours.
Photography by Robert Merhaut
Dwarfed by open farmland on three sides and traffic whizzing by on Route 15 on the other, Foeaman can be found at Brossman’s Farm stand in Lucketts. Signs announcing Jules BBQ are set up along the shoulder of the road. More likely, the sight of a bright red-orange canopy and the tease of smoke from Foeaman’s metal cooker attract passersby.
Foeaman, rugged with a clean-shaven head and a stubble beard, is dressed in his usual attire: blue jeans with shirts of varying lengths in the warmer months and layered sweats with a flannel Russian trapper hat during the winter. The latter gear is lumberjack hearty and worthy of a man who works year-round, unlike most of Loudoun’s roadside vendors, even when the weather is brutally cold and when, in most people’s minds, barbecue season is over.
Foeaman stands at attention behind a makeshift counter—a folding table—with his smoker, opened to reveal the ribs and chicken behind him. Minding the store as a one-man show, he goes back and forth between the two stations, turning around within arm’s reach as needed to grab a hulking slab of ribs with a pair of tongs.
Plopping down the slab, he cuts the ribs, charred and mahogany, with an eight-inch stainless steel Chinese cleaver. Thwap, thwap. A sticky smear of tangy sauce is left behind on the otherwise-pristine white cutting board.
The ribs themselves pull off the bone easily and are remarkably moist and tender. Of course, the smokiness is there, but so is something else—the seasonings and spices. “They are essential,” Foeaman says.
He employs an exacting process that individualizes the constituent spices in his rubs. He layers them and regulates their relative proximity to the heat source to maximize their flavors as the meat cooks in the smoker. It’s his way of recognizing the unique qualities inherent in each spice. “It’s like when you’re cooking with garlic and onions,” he says. “There’s an order to it. You don’t just put everything in the pan all at once.”
He recognizes as well that beyond the food, there are the people he’s serving. “We’re all connected,” he says. It was connecting with others and not merely maximizing flavors that was his initial motivation. “Cooking is a way to make people happy, and I wanted to make people happy.”
He remembers the very first time he cooked something. He was 7.
“My father was sick, and he asked me to make peanut soup,” says Foeaman. “He told me how to make it. I poured water into the pot and stirred as he instructed me to do. But by the time my father woke up from his nap around 6 or 7 in the evening, the soup was ruined. Seven hours had passed as I kept stirring. I started around noon. It was supposed to cook for an hour.”
Although he couldn’t have foreseen his future at that point, something akin to barbecue’s mantra of low and slow had played itself out in that first attempt at cooking. This less-than-favorable outcome didn’t discourage him. It was merely the beginning of a larger narrative arc where food—and cooking it—would become the basis of his career. “Food is one of the most sacred things,” he says. “It’s an integral part of our lives.”
Get it: Jules BBQ
Menu highlights: ribs, pulled pork, jerk chicken, barbecue chicken
Found at 14740 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg; Open Fri.-Sun. year-round