“Beam me up Scotty. There is no good barbecue on this planet.”
~James T. Kirk
Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the United Starship Enterprise never actually uttered those words, but had he visited Rio Rancho between June 22nd and August 2nd, 2013, he would have found NO barbecue–good or bad–in Rio Rancho. No barbecue in the City of Barbecue…er, Vision, is akin to no Subarus in Santa Fe. Rio Rancho, after all, is home to the annual Pork & Brew, the state barbecue championship sanctioned by the prestigious Kansas City Barbecue Society. Rio Rancho has also been the home–for nearly a quarter of a century—of the legendary Smokehouse.
When the Smokehouse shuttered its doors on June 22nd, its loyal patrons were torn between wanting to fly the flag at half-mast or flying it upside down as a sign of distress. The Smokehouse’s affable proprietor Gary West urged calm, assuaging those of us whose blood is the color of barbecue sauce with news that we would be without barbecue for only a short while. He told us a competitive barbecue team called Rub-N-Wood would be filling the void soon. Having sampled Rub-N-Wood’s ‘cue, Gary was excited that Rio Rancho would be well served.
Rub-N-Wood (no double entendre intended) opened its doors on Friday, August 2nd. Though it’s not normally a good practice for critics to visit a new restaurant until it’s had a chance to iron out any start-up problems, the intoxicating aroma of barbecue wafting through the air was too irresistible. My willpower lasted a whole day and things went so well, I returned the following day. It will take a while, however, before the number of visits to Rub-N-Wood will equal the one-hundred plus visits I made to the Smokehouse over the years.
Rub-N-Wood is the brainchild of Roger Bell who’s been smoking meats since building his first barbecue pit in high school. He’s a veteran of Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew event, consistently placing in the top 25 with an 11th place finish in chicken in the 2012. It’s not every competition barbecue team which will succeed with a storefront operation, but Roger and his family have the right attitude to make it big. They want their restaurant to be a place where friends congregate for good food, good friends and good fun.
There are a number of cosmetic changes that differentiate Rub-N-Wood from the Smokehouse. One is a touch of modernity with a flat screen television over the counter where you place your order. The menu is replete with familiar favorites such as brisket (whole, sliced or chopped), ribs (baby back, St. Louis or spare), smoked sausage, smoked turkey (whole, legs and breast), pulled pork and some of the very best sides served at any barbecue establishment in the Duke City area.
3 August 2013: If the smoked chicken at Rub-N-Woods managed an eleventh place finish in the chicken category at the Rio Rancho Pork & Brew, the top ten must have really be something. This is an excellent smoked chicken! It’s half a bird of moist, meaty, magnificent deliciousness. Deep-penetrating smoke imbues even the interior flesh with that addictive smoked flavor. This chicken needs no amelioration, but the sauce does pair well. The sauce combines tangy and sweet elements and has a nice viscosity.
15 August 2013: Rub-N-Wood lends credence to stereotypes of barbecue lovers being hearty eaters with the “Bubba Platter,” your choice of three meats and three sides. The Bubba Platter is the best way to sample most of what the menu has to offer. Finish a Bubba Platter for lunch, however, and you probably won’t have room for dinner. The Brisket is moist and tender, two characteristics not always ascribed to brisket, a notoriously tough dish that requires meticulous care and patience to prepare and is prone to dryness. The pulled pork is plentiful and makes for a great sandwich or by itself.
15 August 2013: There’s only one thing better than a Bubba Platter. That’s two Bubba Platters and someone with whom to share all six meat choices. You might not want to share the smoked turkey which became my favorite of all the Smokehouse’s meaty offerings. You won’t find turkey of this caliber on most Thanksgiving tables. The Flintstonian sized pork ribs are meaty and messy, a combination barbecue aficionados don’t mind at all. The sausage has personality with a spicy flavor profile you’ll enjoy. Rub-N-Wood’s barbecue has a pronounced smokiness. It’s not wimpy smoke as too many barbecue joints offer, but an adult R-rated smoke.
It wouldn’t be a barbecue restaurant without sides and Rub-N-Wood has several stand-outs. My early favorite is the beans with green chile which have notes of seductive smoke. The green chile is a bit on the mild side, but it has a prominent roasted flavor. Also notable is the fried corn, golden niblets of buttery corn that has been lightly fried.
18 March 2014: On Saturday, February 8th, 2014, twenty-six of Rio Rancho’s best restaurants participated in the fourth annual Taste of Rio Rancho, a celebration of the city’s best restaurants. Held in the Santa Ana Star Center, the Taste of Rio Rancho gave guests the opportunity to sample more than seventy-five mouth-watering dishes ranging from decadent desserts to piquant chiles, sumptuous sandwiches, prolific pizzas and much more. The award-winning appetizer was a pork rib from Rub-N-Wood. Appetizers were the first category judged during the event so it took great willpower on the part of the judges not to consume the entire rib (it was very tempting). A very assertive rub is applied copiously on these ribs, giving them an adult flavor not for the faint of heart. The Flintstone-sized ribs are very meaty and tender.
21 December 2014: During the Christmas season, Rub-N-Wood added smoked tamales to its menu. Strictly a seasonal item, the tamales are excellent, much more moist than you might imagine. Generously engorged with seasoned pork marinated in red chile, the tamales are a godsend for New Mexicans who don’t consider it to be a true Christmas season without tamales.
Desserts include a traditional Southern favorite–cobbler. Rub-N-Wood features peach, cherry, apple or blackberry cobbler as good as it’s made in the Land of Enchantment. You know it’s good cobbler when you don’t need a scoop of ice cream on top. The blackberry cobbler is more fruit than pectin with a flaky, buttery crust you could enjoy on its own.
Rio Rancho’s skies are brighter and its citizens happier now that it’s been graced with a barbecue restaurant. All is right with the world again in the City of Barbecue.
4000 Barbara Loop, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 March 2014
1st VISIT: 3 August 2013
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Bubba Platter, Smoked Turkey, Sausage, Pork Ribs, Brisket Smoked Burger, Smoked Chicken, Fried Corn, Beans with Green Chile, Blackberry Cobbler, Coleslaw, Pork Ribs, Smoked Tamales