The popular former Sabraton roadside BBQ joint is embracing its Kansas City roots in new digs on Cheat Road.
In the spring of 2020, WoodBurn Shanks quenched the fires at its tantalizingly smoky roadside barbecue pit in Sabraton for the last time. It was one in a string of restaurant losses Morgantown suffered in the early months of COVID-19.
Now, though, WoodBurn Shanks is back—and better than ever, with indoor seating and a bar. The beloved Kansas City–style BBQ joint has taken over the space formerly occupied by Smokin’ Jack’s and, before that, Schmitt’s Saloon, and it opened February 23 with owner Derrick Shanks as pitmaster and Matt Cavrich back as assistant pitmaster.
It wasn’t just COVID-19 that shut the Sabraton pit down.
“By 2019, we had outgrown the spot so much that I was working 7 days per week and selling everything we made,” says Shanks. In early 2020, the pandemic was making things complicated, and his lease was running out. “We saw it as an opportunity to find something bigger and with better parking.”
Shanks used the downtime productively—for example, heading home to his native Kansas City for research and inspiration.
“One thing that stood out is, you can’t go to a barbecue restaurant there and buy a burger.” WoodBurn Shanks used to turn its brisket trimmings into burgers, but no more. “We’ll be using the trimmings to get creative with barbecue: sausages, meatloaf, things like that.” Another menu change that came out of the barbecue tour is the addition of mac ’n’ cheese topped with meat. “I don’t remember ever seeing it when we lived there. But we ordered pulled pork mac ’n’ cheese for our son, and that was the thing everybody at the table liked the most.”
Yet another revelation relates to ribs. Shanks did baby back ribs in Sabraton because that was what fit his small smoker. But what he found in Kansas City was spare ribs. “They’re longer and meatier—what most people associate with a rib. I’m not limited by size now, so we may add in some spare ribs.”
Other upcoming changes include the addition of collard greens and, at some point, brunch. And once WoodBurn Shanks has its liquor license, the location’s much-enjoyed 17-tap bar will offer standard favorites and craft beers, Shanks says.
Many of us have heard great shows on the stage in that space, and that may return at some point. “Live music is part of my personality—me and my wife have always gone to see shows and festivals,” Shanks says. “If I can find a way to mix barbecue and larger shows, we will. But I can see having something more like Black Bear, one musician playing during dinner. And we’ve talked about doing maybe a comedy open mic. We’ll start with small ideas like that and go from there.”
If you stop by this weekend, Shanks recommends the sliced brisket, baked beans, and mac ’n’ cheese. You may also get to try some cornbread experiments, he says—including a family recipe. “My sister taught me how to make my grandmother’s skillet cornbread last week, an old-fashioned cornbread made with a little bacon grease. It starts on the stove, and the edge of the cornbread gets fried. So when you pop it in the oven and then pull it out, it’s got a crust. That may be floating around here this weekend, too.”