Few topics outside of politics and religion get people as riled up as barbecue. Just mention your favorite barbecue joint, and the odds of violence ensuing are not negligible. As is the case with pizza, barbecue can be a very volatile subject. And yet, it’s so misunderstood.
When most of us talk about barbecue—as in, “We’re having a barbecue on Memorial Day—we’re talking really about grilling: cooking steaks, burgers, fish and such, quickly, over high heat, usually on a gas or charcoal grill. But there’s another kind of barbecue: real barbecue. As Smoke & Spice authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison put it, “Real barbecue is bragging food.” It is food (usually meat) cooked low (at modest cooking temperatures, typically 200 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit) and slow (a minimum, usually, of five hours and as long as an entire day and night). The food is usually cooked using a combination of hardwood and fruitwoods such as cherry, apple and such, which “smokes” the foods.
The reason the Jamisons called barbecue “bragging food” is that serious barbecue cooks each have their own secrets for making great barbecue, ranging from special rubs, sauces and marinades to actual cooking techniques. Barbecue competitions across the country showcase these skills and dole out cash prizes and trophies: bragging rights.
The guys behind R&R BBQ, twin brothers Rod and Roger Livingston—hence, “R&R”—know a lot about barbecue, and they’ve acquired bragging rights of their own. Among them are first-place awards at various barbecue competitions, including SLC’s Rock ’n’ Ribs contest, and invitations to cook at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Not bad for a couple of beach boys from Huntington Beach, Calif. In fact, at age 14, Rod was involved in a very different sort of competition: He was the U.S. Junior Surf Champion.
Well, having been on the barbecue competition circuit for a number of years, the Livingston brothers have finally got a barbecue joint to call their own. R&R Barbecue is located in the space that formerly housed Hayai Zushi, in a strip mall on 600 South. You can smell the smoke from blocks away.
R&R is serious barbecue. Frankly, I haven’t tasted better in Utah. No, wait: I haven’t tasted better anywhere. As my friend Joy Tlou (of the musical duo Joy & Eric) put it: “You can’t find Texas barbecue better than this in Texas!” And Joy would know, since he’s a competitive barbecue cook himself. In fact, he lost to the brothers Livingston at the Rock ’n’ Ribs competition a few years ago. As for me, I don’t claim to be an expert on barbecue, but I am certified to judge barbecue competitions sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts.
“Falling off the bone” is a phrase that makes me crazy when it’s used to describe barbecued ribs. If the meat falls off the rib bone while biting, that’s an indication that it was probably overcooked. At competitions, cooks are docked points for this. As my food-writer colleague Mary Brown Malouf said, referring to well-made barbecued ribs, “You need teeth to eat them.” And, although they are oh-so-tender, you do need teeth to eat R&R’s spare ribs. They have a subtle, smoky flavor and, like most great barbecue, don’t really need a sauce. However, R&R does provide customers with three barbecue sauces: original (my favorite), sweet and hot. When the R&R boys say “hot,” they mean it: The hot sauce is incendiary.
Barbecued chicken at R&R is another thing of beauty: rosy pink meat (pink from smoke, not from undercooking) that is juicy and tender, not dried out like so much foul barbecued fowl. You can get a quarter chicken plate for $8.25, which comes with a side dish and choice of dinner roll or hushpuppies, or a half chicken for $9.35. By the way, the hushpuppies are made from scratch and are incredible.
But so are most of the sides at R&R. They aren’t an afterthought, like at too many barbecue joints. The best, aside from the hushpuppies, are the lightly battered-and-fried okra poppers. If you think you don’t like okra (normally I don’t), you must try these; they are addictive. I also really like the red beans & rice with chunks of sausage, and the housemade potato salad is excellent, too. Skip the bland mac & cheese, though.
You can buy meats at R&R—pulled pork, brisket and spare ribs—by the pound, by the rack (in the case of the ribs) or as part of a combination plate. Combo plates feature a choice of one, two or three meats, plus a side dish, priced at $11.99, $13.99 and $14.99, respectively. The portions are generous.
The pulled pork is juicy and takes especially well to the sweet barbecue sauce. I do wish R&R offered Carolina-style (mustard- and/or vinegar-based) barbecue sauces. But, hey, you can’t have everything, and R&R primarily serves up Texas-style barbecue. The best example of that tasty Texas twang is in the beef brisket. You won’t find brisket that’s better than this, period. As soon as I saw the beautiful pink smoke ring running just under the bark on the top of the brisket slices, I knew this was the real thing—and it is, so tender, moist and delicious, it seems almost criminal to smother the bodacious brisket in sauce. So don’t.
R&R also offers chicken wings (six for $6.50, or 12 for $11.99) that are first smoked, then deep fried, with a selection of sauces to choose from: Naked, Buffalo or Friggen Hot. And there are burgers, too, but has anybody ever ordered one? I doubt it. Not with R&R’s barbecue to brag about.
307 W. 600 South