Asheville's 12 Bones Smokehouse a favorite of president

Mystery Diner • Mar 4, 2013 at 10:04 AM

The dine-around bunch took a little trip last weekend. We’d gone over to visit Asheville, N.C.’s excellent Farmers Market, for my dining partner to collect a fifty-pound sack of Kennebec seed potatoes and me to grab a pound or two of wasabi peas from the Amish Honey Lady.

As we were lugging our treasures back to the car, the subject of lunch came up. Our Retiree had heard of 12 Bones Smokehouse, a rib joint that counts President Obama and family among its multi-visit clientele. Though the River Arts location was closed Saturdays, a quick look on Google confirmed another location not far from the Farmer’s Market. Fifteen minutes later we were pulling into the parking lot of 12 Bones Smokehouse in Arden, just south of Asheville.

The Arden branch of this eminent institution occupies an old Pure filling station that appears to have undergone a minimal overhaul from its previous occupation. In this spartan but clean location, the 12 Bones Smokehouse folks concentrate all their skills on producing some of the best pork ribs in the area. They do their own smoking, use family recipes with simple ingredients and take their time preparing your meal.

Getting a table is a challenge.12 Bones does not take reservations. You stand in line to order, and heaven help you if you forget what you want by the time you get to the counter.

We all ordered platters, mine being the Pulled Chicken ($7) with a side of jalapeno cheese grits and a black bean salad. The Retiree’s was Pulled Pork ($6) with mashed sweet potatoes and the back bean salad. My dining partner ordered a half rack of Baby Back Ribs ($11.50) with corn pudding and sour slaw.

The Dieter had the Wedge Salad with four ribs ($9), which intrigued the Carnivore, who ordered the same thing.

With orders placed, only then can you find your table. This can be a chore as the restaurant personnel are all busy working on your order or serving other patrons. In time the Carnivore found a table for us, and we had just been seated when our order arrived.

My pulled chicken was breast and thigh meat, both having a light smoke flavor and very tasty, what there was of it. The jalapeno grits were just spicy-hot enough, and the black bean salad, though good, could have used a bit more vinegar zing. The Retiree’s pulled pork platter was better, though again there was that skimping problem with the portion size. The mashed sweet potato was a good match with the pork.

The Carnivore and Dieter each enjoyed their Wedge salad, a quarter section of iceberg lettuce topped with sugar-cured bacon crumbles, sliced cucumber, tomato, a big stack of thin-sliced, deep-fried onions and four of 12 Bones’ excellent pork ribs. It was those ribs, along with my dining partner’s half-rack of baby back ribs, which proved why the president stops by when he’s in town.

12 Bones’ baby back ribs are sizable with plenty of meat on the bone, and slowly smoked. For spicing, you can get them “nekkid” with just salt and pepper, “dry rub” (a heresy to this Tennessean, but there you are) or “mopped,” as in basted with one of 12 Bones’ proprietary sauces. The Carnivore and Dieter chose a brown-sugar baste that was quite good. My dining partner’s Cherry Chipotle baste was better.

12 Bones also does desserts. I was fortunate enough to get a (the last?) slice of their pecan pie, loaded with pecan halves and baked in a thin and fluted crust, just the thing to finish off your meal. 12 Bones does a good trade in meat by the pound, and their sauces and rubs are bottled for take-home.

How does 12 Bones Smokehouse stack up against our local Tennessee barbecue? If it’s any indication, our Carnivore was whistling “Hail to the Chief” as we walked back to the car.

12 Bones Smokehouse — South

3578 Sweeten Creek Road

Arden, NC 28704


Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Carry-out open until 6 p.m.


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