One of the newest food trucks in the Triad is the result of two college friends reconnecting.
Smokiin’ Mac started rolling across the Triad in December and has become a regular fixture in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and elsewhere.
Owner Jamal Taylor, 29, met chef Brent Pridgen, 31, years ago at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro. Both drummers, they bonded while working the drum line in the school band.
After school, Taylor, who grew up in Fayetteville, stayed in Greensboro. An entrepreneur, he eventually started a solar energy company and got into motivational speaking, life coaching and hypnotherapy.
Pridgen found his passion in the kitchen. After getting a dishwasher job at P.F. Chang’s to make extra cash during college, he worked his way up and learned how to cook. He worked in several restaurants and was a chef at High Point Country Club.
He had just started a job as head chef at Steak Street in High Point when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020. Soon, he was out of work.
Just a few months before, Pridgen had run into Taylor at N.C. A&T’s 2019 homecoming. The two hadn’t seen each other for years. But Taylor had an idea.
Earlier that year, Taylor had been searching for his next business venture. He found a food trailer on Facebook Marketplace. It needed work but the price was right, so he bought it. “I had an idea to do something with it. But I’m not a chef, so I sat on it,” Taylor said.
But when he ran into Pridgen at homecoming, an idea came to him.
“I had been on Facebook and seeing what he was doing with food. I was really impressed,” Taylor said. “I could see his passion for food, so I pitched the idea to him.”
Taylor joked that Pridgen blew him off at first. But a few months later, when the pandemic left Pridgen out of work, the two talked again, and Pridgen went to look at the trailer.
“My first thought was it needed a lot of work,” Pridgen said with a laugh.
Still he was intrigued, and he started thinking what kind of food he might want to serve.
“I was going to do barbecue or some kind of grilled or smoked meats,” Pridgen said. “But then a friend said, ‘You make the best mac ’n’ cheese I’ve ever had. You should make a menu off that.’”
Thus the concept and menu for Smokiin’ Mac was born — mac ’n’ cheese with a fusion of smoked meats. The extra “i” in the name was done on purpose, to distinguish it from other businesses.
Smokiin’ Mac has a menu of about half-dozen different mac ’n’ cheeses. The Original mac ($12) features Pridgen’s four-cheese sauce plus mozzarella, cheddar and crispy bacon.
That sauce is the base for all of Pridgen’s mac dishes, supplemented by additional cheeses as well as meats and other items.
He makes each mac ’n’ cheese to order. Each order starts with his four-cheese sauce and cooked pasta in a sauté pan. Pridgen favors cavatappi – a corkscrew, tube-shape pasta – in his dishes. He likes it not only because it’s different, but also because it holds the sauce better than some other shapes.
Once Pridgen tosses the pasta with his cheese sauce and other ingredients, he tops it with additional cheese – depending on the order – and runs the whole thing under the broiler to melt the cheese and crisp the top.
He said that his best-seller has changed from month to month. “The first couple of months, it was the lobster, then it was surf and turf, and now it’s the Carolina chicken — those are the top three,” Pridgen said. “But you also got a lot of people who like the brisket — I go through two whole briskets every shift.”
The Carolina chicken mac ($13) uses chicken breast that Pridgen smokes with an indoor smoker right on the truck. He says he cooks the chicken just a little underdone in the smoker before finishing it in the sauté pan – to make sure the meat stays moist. The chicken also gets a sweet and spicy glaze.
The smoked brisket mac ($15) includes bacon and gorgonzola. The surf and turf ($16) combines brisket and blackened shrimp (with optional lobster for $2 extra).
The lobster mac ($17.50) includes lobster with garlic butter and Old Bay cheese sauce, topped with fried lobster bites and sweet chili glaze.
There’s also a vegan mac on the menu, and gluten-free pasta is available on request.
The truck has a few appetizers: Cheetos-crusted mac ’n’ cheese bites (3 for $6.25), loaded mac ’n’ cheese fries ($8) and fried green beans with chipotle ranch dressing ($4.25).
The original and chicken macs are available in kids’ portions for $6 and $7, respectively, and Pridgen offers homemade funnel-cake bites for dessert.
In Winston-Salem, Smokiin’ Mac has made repeat appearances at Foothills Tasting Room on Kimwell Drive and the Hemp Source store on Jonestown Road. In Greensboro, people often can catch the truck at Doggos Dog Park and Pub, Tractor Supply Co. and American Furniture Warehouse. Other spots include Brown Truck Brewery in High Point, Gypsy Road Brewing and the Brewer’s Kettle in Kernersville, and Potent Potables in Jamestown.
Locations are posted on Smokiin’ Mac’s Facebook or Instagram page.
Taylor said he plans to add online ordering to the company’s website. The company also offers catering.
The truck is usually rolling four days a week, Wednesdays through Saturdays. But, Taylor said, business “has been blowing up fast,” and he’s getting more requests to operate Sundays, too.
Pridgen said he’s grateful to see so many people enjoy his food — the reason he was drawn into cooking years ago. “I just enjoy it when I see people enjoying my food,” Pridgen said. “I’m always going for that cheese pull — when you get that long pull of cheese. Everybody loves to see that.”