One of my Psychology professors cautioned students about the danger of “amateur diagnosis,” the practice of assigning specific psychoses and neuroses to people we meet solely on the basis of our cursory familiarity with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He explained that it often takes an experienced practicing psychiatrist several sessions to arrive at a diagnosis and many more sessions before treatment proves effective. His point–a little knowledge can be dangerous–applies in virtually every arena of knowledge in practicum. Reflecting back on all the times my rudimentary conclusions were ultimately proven incorrect, it’s a point well driven.
When my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick, Dazzling Deanell and Beauteous Barb decided to pursue Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) certification, the words of my Psychology professor resonated in my memory. Sure, we’d all been eating barbecue most of our lives, but how much did we really know about passing judgement on barbecue? Not much, it turned out. Over the course of several hours, our KCBS instructor imparted sage knowledge and proven techniques to help us understand thee three most important and very nuanced elements of competitive judging: taste, texture and appearance. Much like getting a Psychology degree, obtaining KCBS certification gave us a modicum of knowledge. Applying what we learned in such competitions as Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew built upon that knowledge.
Recently when Larry and Deanell rhapsodized poetic about the barbecue at the Stack House BBQ in Rio Rancho, my first questions were “how would that barbecue rate in a KCBS barbecue competition?” Larry gave it nines in taste, texture and appearance. Deanell one-upped Larry, indicating the Stack House BBQ’s ‘cue warranted all tens (and she knows what it is to be a ten). They invited me to discover for myself whether their ratings were hyperbole or justified. Alas, during my inaugural visit, I was suffering the ravages of a bad cold which rendered my taste buds untrustworthy and enfeebled my olfactory senses. You can’t judge barbecue if you can’t imbibe its aromas and taste its subtle flavor qualities.
Having a bad cold tends to exacerbate my desire for chile, the more piquant the better. In the throes of even the most egregious colds, I’ve been known to drive to Santa Fe for some of the Horseman’s Haven‘s combustible chile. The Haven’s Level II chile, affectionately known as “El Diablo” is about the only thing that can quell the stuffiness of a head cold. While the Stack House doesn’t offer anything quite as incendiary as El Diablo, the menu does include two pepper-infused items: Frito pie and jalapeño sausage. From what my compromised palate could surmise, both were probably quite good though it would take a return visit or ten to know for sure.
My return visit transpired exactly one week after my inaugural visit, so eager were my Kim and I to experience the bodacious barbecue about which Larry and Deanell had raved. We had the great fortune to spend time discussing all things barbecue with proprietor-pit master Greg Janke. Like me, Greg is an Intel alum, having toiled at the technology giant for 23 years, five years longer than I. Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Greg left Intel in April, 2016 and five months later–on Friday, September 23rd–he launched Stack House BBQ.
Greg’s transition from technologist to restaurateur wasn’t as challenging as one might think. In fact, Greg admits, working at Intel prepared him very well to own and operate a restaurant. Even in such technically demanding areas as Automation where he rose through the ranks, Intel employees have the opportunity to hone their business and customer orientation skills (not to mention the discipline to work long hours). There is, of course, nothing in the semi-conductor arena which translates directly to the mastery of smoking meats in the low-and-slow manner. Greg began smoking meats at home several years ago, eventually earning praise from friends and the confidence to enter the arena of competition.
In each of the past two years, Greg has competed at Rio Rancho’s Pork & Brew, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event. In 2016, he finished seventeenth overall in a field of thirty-one, faring especially well in the pork category where he placed eleventh. As much as the judges in the blind taste foodfest may have enjoyed his barbecue, it was event-goers who convinced him to launch his own barbecue restaurant. In each of the event’s two days, he sold out–every morsel of magnificent meat–well before day’s end. Moreover, many of them lavished praise and encouragement, essentially convincing Greg that he belonged in the barbecue restaurant arena.
Just seven months previously, Rub-N-Wood had shuttered its doors, leaving the City of Vision without a barbecue restaurant. Now, Rio Rancho without barbecue is akin to Hillary not wearing a pantsuit. It just doesn’t and shouldn’t happen. Barbecue became a Rio Rancho tradition in 1983 when the great Gary West launched Smokehouse BBQ at 4000 Barbara Loop, a location which would henceforth become synonymous with great barbecue. He owned and operated the stately home of seductive smoke for nearly a quarter-century before moving on. With Roger Bell at the helm, Rub-N-Wood moved in and pleased palates for nearly three years. The hazy smoke plumes which had so long emanated from 4000 Barbara Loop resumed on a lazy, late September day when Greg assumed the role as Rio Rancho’s proprietor of the pit. It was a day warranting celebration.
As had transpired during the Pork & Brew, Greg sold out his first few days of operation. Barbecue aficionados quickly embraced his Memphis meets Texas approach to smoking meats. What’s not to love! Greg uses a combination of oak and cherry woods to impart a unique flavor to his barbecue. He developed a rub that includes some twelve ingredients that penetrate deeply into the meats and imbue them with flavor-boosting, crust-forming properties. Not only that, the Stack House BBQ restaurant is an inviting milieu for meat lovers. It may well be the most pristine barbecue restaurant in which you’ve ever set foot. If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, Greg is probably being fitted for a halo as you read this. In addition to the immaculate nature of the premises, service is friendly and attentive (another Rio Rancho tradition exemplified by the terrific staff at Joe’s Pasta House among others).
The Stack House menu is rather limited. Meats–brisket, chicken or pulled pork–are available by the half or full pound. Also available are sausage, jalapeño sausage, half-a-chicken and baby back ribs (available in quantities of three, half a rack or a full rack). You can also opt to have your meats on a sandwich. Then there’s the aforementioned Frito pie. Sides are pretty much what you’d expect at a barbecue joint: potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, chile, beans, mac and cheese and fries (including chile cheese fries). A baked potato, with or without meat, can also be had. Limited applies solely to the number of items on the menu board, not to how great they taste.
7 October 2016: You won’t mind getting your hands dirty handling the baby back ribs on which Greg’s magical rub is liberally applied. These ribs are messy and they’re magnificent, each meaty morsel pried away easily from the bone. They’re not fall-off-the-bone tender, having just the right amount of give that signifies the perfect degree of doneness. Make no bones about it, these baby back ribs are (as Larry would say) competition-worthy, needing neither sauce nor amelioration to improve upon them. The sauce, by the way, is terrific, a sweet and tangy complement to the richly satisfying smokiness of the ribs.
7 October 2016: With the emphasis on pork and brisket, chicken is often a sorry afterthought at some barbecue establishments. Not so at the Stack House where the full-flavored half-chicken is a main-event item. Quite simply, it’s fantastic, some of the very best we’ve had in New Mexico! Peel back the blackened skin (delicious in its own right) and you’ll be rewarded with moist, juicy and delicious white and dark meat chicken…and there’s plenty of it. A nice-sized half-chicken (breast, thigh and leg) won’t leave much for sharing–not that you’ll want to. Update: Because the half-chicken didn’t always sell out, Greg decided to offer chicken thighs instead. Aside from being the most moist part of the chicken, chicken thighs don’t have to spend as much time on the smoker as half chickens.
In November 2016, Stackhouse began offering daily specials from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday’s child is a pulled pork sandwich. On Thursday, it’s a chicken sandwich. Friday features beef back ribs (a whole pound) though you’re well advised to get them early. When we attempted to order beef back ribs on December 2nd, 2016, Greg apprised us that on that very date, my friend Sr. Plata ordered two portions for lunch and took home another for dinner. Sr. Plata enjoys the Stackhouse’s beef ribs so much, he may move in…at least on Fridays. But I digress. Saturday’s special is three baby back ribs while Sunday, it’s Frito pie. All daily specials are value priced.
2 December 2016: New Mexico’s contribution to Health.com’s “50 Fattiest Foods,” a state-by-state hall of infamy, was our ubiquitous Frito pie. The version low-lighted in the article contained a pants-popping 46 grams of fat and 14 grams of saturated fat. Still, it’s hard to resist the Land of Enchantment’s most egregious fat-offender, especially since it sometimes looks like a healthy lettuce and onion salad when prepared by some restaurants. Underneath the lettuce and chopped onions, however, is a mound of ground beef covered in chile and cheese surrounded by Frito’s corn chips. At the Stack House, Greg dispenses with all the offending lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Instead, this Frito Pie is constructed with only the good parts–lots of Fritos corn chips, ground beef, chile and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese. The chile has a nice bite, just enough to get your notice. This is a fat-fest all New Mexicans will enjoy.
2 December 2016: For a veritable meatfest, your best bet is a three meat platter (pictured above). Kim, my carnivorous better-half will vouch for the brisket, chicken thighs and pulled pork. Though a half chicken would be her preference, the chicken thighs make for a good consolation prize. They’re moist, tender and delicious with a light smokiness. The best of the three may well be the brisket which is shredded and pulls apart easily. As with brisket in Central Texas, the cradle of Southwest barbecue, this isn’t the most lean of brisket. It’s got just enough fat for flavor. Tender tendrils of deliciousness define the shredded pork, a tangle of white and dark meat. All three meats are lightly smoked and are perfect vehicles for the Stack House barbecue sauce.
2 December 2016: My Kim has often threatened to take away my man card, especially when we prepare steak at home or order it at a restaurant. While she immediately–and with great zest–attacks the steak, my focal point is usually a loaded baked potato with plenty of melting butter, sour cream and shredded cheese. The Stack House does one better than local steak houses. First, the baked potatoes are smoked–lightly impregnated with hickory-cherry smoky goodness. Secondly, you can load them up with the aforementioned baked potato suspects and with your choice of smoked meat. The pulled pork is a magnificent choice for the smoked baked potato. You’ll wish all your baked potatoes were similar endowed.
7 October 2016: Great barbecue restaurants know that to provide an excellent full-meal experience, smoked meats must be accompanied by worthy sides. Stack House has a two-tiered pricing model for its sides, the most expensive being three dollars. Sides are served on Styrofoam vessels and are generously portioned. The potato salad may evoke memories of picnic meals long gone. It’s a mayonnaise-based potato salad with a pleasant mustardy-vinegary tang. Alas, the green beans could use a few bits and pieces of smoked meats and maybe a pinch of salt. Much better is the cherry cobbler, replete with whole cherries and a crumbly and delicious crust.
Stack House BBQ may ultimately become yet another destination restaurant in Rio Rancho, a port-of-call for barbecue aficionados from throughout the metropolitan area, if not the entire Land of Enchantment. With its September launch, all is right in Rio Rancho once again.
Stack House BBQ
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 2 December 2016
1ST VISIT: 29 September 2016
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Half Chicken, Cherry Cobbler, Apple Cobbler, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken Thighs, Frito Pie, Smoked Baked Potato