It’s a matter of definition, not to mention a question of taste.
“Barbecue” can variously mean a cuisine, a method of cooking and a kind of backyard gathering. When a lot of folks talk about “barbecuing” this summer, they really mean grilling with gas or over charcoal.
Grilling is great for cooking burgers, knockwurst and chicken breast rapidly over direct high heat with the lid off… but that’s not barbecuing. Barbecue is cooking food slowly over indirect heat with the lid on. It imbues food with some smoky flavor.
However, once you’ve tasted chicken, seafood, vegetables or virtually anything edible cooked long, low and slow in a smoker, you get hooked. Whether its hickory, cherry or mesquite, wood smoke infuses into food and gradually tenderizes tougher, cheaper cuts of meat.
That primeval flavor compels me to visit the expanding roster of top-notch local purveyors of barbecue. Colorado has yet to develop its own distinctive barbecue style, but the best of Texas, Missouri and other bastions of ‘cue are easy to find. Barbecue is a big tent. Take a day and some friends and go on the following educational, progressive barbecue taste tour.
Wayne’s Smoke Shack, Superior: Item for Texas-style menu item, this is my favorite local barbecue establishment. Nothing compares to the rich-tasting wonder that is Wayne’s smoked pork belly. My advice: get there before the place opens. When they run out of brisket, pork shoulder and sausages — all sold by the pound — the day is over. The good news: Wayne’s recently expanded both its seating and its smoker capacity. waynessmokeshack.com
LuLu’s BBQ, Louisville: Texas white oak smoke flavors LuLu’s great burnt ends, the very best part of the rib. Another bestseller is the smoked tofu, especially tasty with the house garnish: minced onions, sport peppers and pickles. lulus-bbq.com
Cafe UR Way, Aurora: Ronald and Louella Brooks built a cult-like following for their Creole-style barbecue fare dished in their Aurora backyard. They just opened a brick-and-mortar location to serve their stellar slow-smoked brisket, ribs and chicken along with wings and even a smoked meat pizza. Don’t miss the sweet potato pie. 10941 East Colfax Ave.
Georgia Boys BBQ, Longmont: These folks serve the best pulled pork I’ve sampled — moist, tender and smoky and great with a shot of mop sauce. I’d also stop in just for the skillet of cornbread. georgiaboys.com
U Turn BBQ, Lafayette: Hickory provides the smooth smoke that makes the chicken — both on-the-bone and pulled — hard to resist. This is Boulder County’s only barbecue joint with a drive-up window, where you can pick up pulled pork, smoked beans and a sixer of canned craft ale. uturnbbq.com
The Rib House, Longmont: When most folks rave about barbecue ribs, they are talking about pork spare ribs. The secret attraction at this spot tucked away in the Prospect neighborhood is boneless beef short ribs. They are leaner but low, slow smoking over hickory wood makes them fall-apart tender. Top sides include cheese-y corn, red skin mashers and carrot cake. theribhouse.com
Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que, Denver: I stop by this stellar, chef-run establishment for its inspirational barbecue rarities: Colorado bison back ribs, Colorado lamb shank and bison green chile sausage impeccably smoked over pecan and oak. roamingbuffalobbq.com
GQue Championship Barbecue, Westminster: The ribs are the thing here. They have a smoke ring, a sign that the Missouri hickory smoke has infused just the right amount of smokiness into the juiciness. The meat doesn’t fall off the bone nor does it need GQue’s good sauces — just Texas toast, a pickle spear and house-pickled onions. gquebbq.com
A June full of barbecue
The ultimate barbecue experience in Colorado this summer is Heritage Fire by Cochon555, taking place June 16 in Snowmass. Fifty chefs apply global grilling, smoking and roasting to great heirloom ingredients. Locals include Nate Singer (Blackbelly Butcher), Bill Miner (Il Porcellino Salumi), Steven Redzikowski (Oak), Daniel Asher (River and Woods) and Kelly Whitaker (Basta). cochon555.com/us-tour/2018-heritagefiresnowmass … The 25th anniversary Colorado BBQ Challenge is June 14-16 in Frisco. This is the state’s top barbecue competition, nationally sanctioned, as more than 70 teams go for individual titles for ribs and such and the top prize: Grand Champion titles. friscobbq.com … The inaugural Denver BBQ Festival June 15-17 at Mile High Stadium features barbecue pitmasters from across the nation serving their smoked specialties. Colorado’s GQue Championship BBQ will serve smoked-then-fried chicken wings and Smoked Salmon. denverbbqfest.com … Boulder’s Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers a grilling class for home cooks, June 9. escoffier.edu … McGuckin Hardware hosts the free Grillapalooza 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on June 9, including tastings and demos by grill masters and local chefs. mcguckin.com
Taste of the week
Most products that purport to add a smoky flavor to dishes — without actually exposing them to real smoke — taste terrible. Liquid Smoke — burnt twigs in a bottle — is the prime offender. The exceptions are a couple of new items from the Savory Spice Shop. The company burns wooden staves from whiskey barrels to add a nice amount of natural smoke to finishing sugar and cracked peppercorns. The crunchy sugar can be used in barbecue sauces and marinades and as a captivating sprinkle on baked goods. Adding a sprinkle of the smoked sugar to my morning mug of French roast gave it that nostalgic campfire coffee taste. The smoked pepper is a versatile addition to grilled meats and vegetables. I recommend grinding it a bit or plan on a major hit of pepperiness when you crunch them. Combine the sugar and black pepper with Savory Spice Shop’s alderwood-smoked sea salt for a barbecue seasoning trifecta.
Words to chew on
“Eating highly seasoned food is unhealthful, because it stimulates too much, provokes the appetite too much, and often is indigestible.” — Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1846)
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org. Comments: Nibbles@boulderweekly.com