The scene behind Holy Smoke BBQ's newest location in Gahanna is pretty much what you'd think it would be: Two smokers, one massive, one less massive. A couple of tables. And an ax. Yep, an ax. And foot-long tree-trunk sections waiting to be split.

Stan Riley of Holy Smoke BBQ

Age: 34

Years cooking barbecue: Started as a dishwasher at the business in 1993; bought it in 2002

Fantasy barbecue plate: Ribs, cole slaw, greens, cornbread

What's in the dry rub? For brisket, just chili powder, salt and pepper

The scene behind Holy Smoke BBQ's newest location in Gahanna is pretty much what you'd think it would be: Two smokers, one massive, one less massive. A couple of tables. And an ax. Yep, an ax. And foot-long tree-trunk sections waiting to be split.

Holy Smoke owner Stan Riley, a 34-year-old guy with intense, close-set eyes and a little soot on his cheekbone, hoisted the ax and swung it behind his back with both hands, horror-movie style. One smooth motion and the shagbark hickory trunk was deeply injured. Several more hacks and it was split into fragrant quarters. He yanked a piece from the middle. The scent was sweet, fresh, comforting.

Riley's technique seems melodramatic until he explains that freshly chopped wood gives the meat more flavor; less of the wood has been exposed to the air, he says, so less of it has faded in potency.

Riley's "barbecue in 40 minutes to an hour" tour included a prolonged stop at the smokers to unload the brisket and pork that had enjoyed a 12-hour hickory sauna.

The big cuts of meat, held with tongs, emerged from the smoker virtually bouncing: Sinew pulled, juices beaded, melted collagen appeared between fibers. Riley deposited them in a massive food container but just three at a time.

"There's all that lovey goodness in there, and if I squish 'em, it all runs out," he said.

This is a typical morning for Riley and his kitchen staff. After the big pieces come out, the small pieces ribs, half chickens, chicken wings, go in for a quick two-hour smoke.

Just about two hours later, photos of lacquered chicken and ribs arrive over text message. The burnished skin binding a chicken thigh to the leg has burst in one photo, revealing pale meat.

"Look what you and I made!" was the message.

Riley started washing dishes at Yoho Cafe and Catering in 1993. Art Yoho's barbecue technique long, slow smoking in a commercial smoker - was unique to Columbus at the time, but smoking has become the standard locally. Riley bought the business in 2002, at the tender age of 25. He frequently eats at his own restaurants (the older location is in the North Market), and he savors the daily challenge of controlling the most primal of variables: time and heat.

"We cook whole animals with whole trees," Riley said. "That's as close to earth as you can get. You get the right wood, and that's alchemy."