- Alex Springer
Even before Utah found itself in the grip of a pandemic, my summer barbecues were all about ordering takeout from one of our many local pitmasters and holing up with my family. I'm guessing that the more social barbecue fans might be finding themselves in a similar situation this year, and I'm here to help. I've compiled a list of trusted barbecue operations from around town, along with the most crowd-pleasing dishes on their menus. If your summer is incomplete without the aroma of smoked meats, but you want to keep socially distancing, this list is for you.
Pat's BBQ (155 W. Commonwealth Avenue, 801-484-5963, patsbbq.com): It was during a visit to this South Salt Lake barbecue flagship when I learned that my reflexes can be quite impressive when expertly made ribs are on the line. I had ordered one of Pat's combo platters ($15.99 for two-meat, $18.99 for three), which are piled high and mighty as they come to your table. One of my ribs was placed in a precarious position, causing it to wobble and fall as the server placed the plate on our table. My arm shot out like a bullet and I caught the meaty baton before it hit the ground—because if you can prevent a work of art from crashing to the floor, you just do it. The ribs at Pat's are the kind of food that inspires you to dig down and discover the hero inside you. Each bone is thick with slow-cooked meat, and they offer just the right amount of toothsome texture with each bite.
For something a bit less traditional, Pat's smoked meatloaf ($14.09) is an unexpected treasure. The actual techniques that go into making this outwardly unassuming dish belong to the Pat's team alone, but it's about as close to real magic as one can get. Like all meat cooked low and slow in a smoker, the meatloaf gets a lovely charred bark all over the outside. The bark alone is packed with a galaxy of balanced flavors, but once you slice through and sample the meat itself, the entire bite just melts into a sumptuous celebration of barbecue greatness.
R&R BBQ (Multiple locations, randrbbq.com): What began as an upstart in Utah's barbecue scene has expanded to eight locations throughout the Wasatch Front—and they owe all of it to their brisket tacos ($9.99). Early on in my food writing career, I watched the R&R team dominate local culinary events and competitions with this Tex-Mex homerun. They're anchored by the quality of R&R's brisket, which is a staggering work in the field of barbecue: crisp, smoked bark on the outside, sinfully tender and full-bodied flavor. This lovely brisket is stuffed into a corn tortilla, topped with slaw, sprinkled with cilantro leaves and served with a homemade salsa verde.
Another unexpectedly tasty option at R&R is the pulled pork. Much like pizza, cheesecake and Asian dumplings, pulled pork is always good, but R&R has conjured up some manner of black pepper devilry with their offering. It starts with top shelf pulled pork smoked up with an inflection of pastrami, and it always takes me by surprise when I put it in my mouth.
Kaiser's Barbeque (962 S. 300 West, 801-355-0499, saltlakebbq.com): I know ribs and brisket are the superstars of the barbecue world, but a barbecued sausage will always be number one on my list. I love the snap of the casing and the salty, slightly spicy cure of the meat after it's been smoked to turgid perfection. Kaiser's is a one-stop shop for any of your barbecue favorites, but I go there specifically for the sausage plate ($8.49). The sausages at Kaiser's are served up in generous links and come in regular or spicy varieties. I only go for the spicy version when I need a good ass-kicking, but that sucker burns real nice. I think the reason I prefer the sausage at Kaiser's is that their team doesn't treat this barbecue staple like a D-lister. The flavor, texture and variety of sausages at Kaiser's sets it apart from the other pitmasters in town.
I also have fond memories of experiencing Kaiser's stuffed jalapeños ($1.50) for the first time. They're not always on the menu, but if you happen to swing by on a day when they're up for grabs, you won't regret it. They're made from decently sized jalapeño peppers that have been hollowed out, stuffed with sausage, wrapped in bacon and capped with a mushroom before getting slowly smoked. Once they're out of the smoker, they get hit with some cheddar cheese that gets nice and melty in the process. The sheer ingenuity behind these barbecued snacks is what caught my eye; it takes some creative know-how to engineer such a mélange of different barbecue territories. They're spicy, smoky and incredibly fun to eat—which is what good barbecue is all about.