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Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque's barbecue legend

Pete Powdrell, Albuquerque’s legendary barbecue king

If you believe in forever
Where baby backs are never bland
If there’s a barbecue heaven
Well you know Mr. Pete is lending a hand, hand, hand.

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon depicting St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” A quarter of a century later, I can imagine St. Peter asking Pete Powdrell if he brought the secrets to his extraordinarily tender brisket.  What the legendary Kansas City barbecue giant Arthur Bryant was to sauce, Pete Powdrell was to beef. Albuquerque’s indisputable king of barbecue was called home on December 2nd, 2007, but he left behind an indelible legacy that extended far beyond serving some of the best barbecue in the west.

Pete was a second-generation sharecropper who in 1958 escaped the small town racism of Crosbyton, Texas to start a new life in Albuquerque. Fifty years later, Pete’s circle of friends and mourners included most of New Mexico’s political power brokers as well as tens of thousands of customers who loved his barbecue and the gentle man perpetually attired in overalls who prepared it.

Powdrell’s restaurant on Fourth Street is on the National Historic Register

To chronicle Pete’s life (and someone should) would be to celebrate the sheer determination and drive of a man whose greatest of many gifts may have been perseverance. He literally had not much more than the clothes on his back when he arrived in Albuquerque with his wife and eleven children, but he was determined to make a good life for his family.

Since 1962, the Powdrell family has operated several barbecue houses in the Duke City. Their initial restaurant venture, a take-out diner on South Broadway, launched four years after the family relocated to Albuquerque. The inspiration for Pete’s original, authentic Southern-style barbecue was family recipes he began perfecting during backyard and church cookouts in Texas. Those recipes dates back to the 19th century near Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his grandfather Isaac Britt began the Powdrell family legacy of incomparable barbecue.

Salad with blue cheese dressing

Salad with blue cheese dressing

The word “institution” is bandied about too easily these days, but in Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, Albuquerque has a bona fide institution that continues to stand the test of time against the formidable onslaught and riches of corporate pretenders, many of whom fall by the wayside while Powdrell’s continues to thrive.  Drive by Powdrell’s and the wafting fragrance of hickory smoke literally invites you to step inside and partake of old-fashioned barbecue.  Not coincidentally, Pete’s son Joe will tell you his father was much like the hickory wood used at the restaurant–hard, stubborn and consistent.

The reason for Powdrell’s continued success–some of the very best barbecue in the west served by a warm family in welcoming milieus.  East side residents frequent Powdrell’s on Central Avenue between Eubank and Juan Tabo while west dwelling citizens visit Powdrell’s on North Fourth where barbecue is served in a stately brick home on the National Historic Registry.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ann Powdrell, who was eleven years old when the family traversed the winding Route 66 in their move to Albuquerque, takes care of the kitchen in the Fourth Street restaurant.  She is a sweet, gentle woman with a raconteur’s gift for enthralling guests with stories about her fabled family.  On an infrequent slow lunch hour, she might even show you the veritable museum collection of family memorabilia upstairs.  More than likely, however, she’s in  the kitchen preparing the dishes which help make Powdrell’s the legendary barbecue restaurant it is.

Powdrell’s hasn’t been a local secret in a long time, but it’s a claim to fame of which we’re all proud. Over the years Albuquerque’s finest gift to Route 66 barbecue tradition has garnered a lot of recognition from beyond the Duke City.  In 2004, Sunset magazine published an article celebrating the west’s best BBQ. Calling the west a “barbecue frontier,” the magazine trumpeted Powdrell’s baby back ribs slathered with tart, spicy sauce.  Culinary sojourner Michael Stern, co-founder of the Roadfood Web and publishing dynasty loved Powdrell’s beef, proclaiming that “it isn’t the extraordinary tenderness that will make you happy; it’s this meat’s flavor.”  In his thematic tome, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! author Ray Lampe hits the road and introduces America to the best barbecue in the fruited plains. Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House was one of only four New Mexico venues singled out by the self-professed Dr. BBQ.

The combo platter

The combo platter

My first impression of this very special barbecue was formed in the late 1970s while living on the south side of Central Avenue not more than three hundred yards from Mr. Powdrell’s. With the most faint of breezes, the aroma of succulent meats smoked low and slow wafted toward my cramped quarters like an irresistible siren’s song. It was a tantalizing temptation no one could resist. The genesis of the olfactory arousing aroma was indeed hickory smoke-saturated meats, the memory of which imprinted themselves on my taste buds with an ineffaceable permanence. In Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House, barbecue Nirvana beckoned and I answered.

Over the past few decades my travels have allowed me to experience barbecue from the four American epicenters of barbecue excellence: Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. Though I have found barbecue that is more lauded, only Mr. Powdrell’s has the taste of being home.

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

Chicken Dinner-One half pound of barbequed chicken

The stately brick home on North Fourth street which houses Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House still looks very much like the family dwelling it once was. From the built-in china cabinets to the hardwood floors, it is an inviting setting for dining, an invitation infused by the provocative hickory smokers near the parking lot.

In describing the west’s barbecue as “unburdened by the orthodoxy of such hot spots as Texas and the Carolinas,” Sunset magazine may have well been describing Powdrell’s where the menu has a whole lot of Texas, a little bit of Memphis with a touch of Kansas City for good measure. In other words, the menu has a bit of everything then some.

Powdrell10

Chicken Wings Powdrell’s Style

Being unburdened, Powdrell’s can serve such non-traditional starters as mushrooms prepared in butter as well as all the favorite fried appetizer favorites.  It also serves some of the best blue cheese dressing in Albuquerque, a dressing ameliorated by just a bit of feta with some very high quality blue cheese.  It’s perfect–neither too thick nor too thin and runny, not too strong or sour.  It’s the blue cheese dressing Goldilocks would choose.

The menu includes a veritable smorgasbord of sumptuous sandwiches generously engorged with smoke-infused meats slathered with a tangy sauce. The sandwiches are excellent, but most diners queue for barbecue dinners, all of which are served with two sides and Texas toast.

Babyback Ribs with French Fries and Texas Toast

The combination platter (pictured above) features a pound or more of some of the best Mr. Powdrell’s has to offer–chicken, ribs, sausage, links and some of the very best brisket in the world.  The brisket is the pièce de résistance, indisputably the very best in town (and nothing else is even close). It is smoked at low heat for eighteen hours and when done is refrigerated then heated again. The process somehow imbues the brisket with an uncommon tenderness that belies what can be a leather-tough cut of meat.  Michael Stern is absolutely right in declaring the flavor of this meat to be your source of happiness. This is an absolutely delicious brisket that would convert the most staunch of vegetarians.

If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding chicken wings in Albuquerque, Powdrell’s will make a believer out of you.  These wings are imbued with a hint of smoke before being deep-fried to seal in that smokiness and flavor while melting off that layer of fat just underneath the skin.  They are then glazed with a tangy, spicy barbecue sauce so unlike the sauces wings restaurant describe as “inferno,” “nuclear” and the like, but which don’t deliver.  Powdrell’s sauce has the zesty tanginess of orange peel, the pleasant piquancy of peppers and the sweet-savory goodness of ingredients that work very well together.  The wings are moist, meaty and utterly delicious.

Special of the Day: Catfish, Brisket and two sides (Fried Okra and Corn on the Cob) with Texas Toast

The perfect accompaniment for those wings is a dish of black beans and rice quite unlike what you might see at a Cajun restaurant where such a dish isn’t prepared with smoked sausage, celery and a tomato sauce base. Ann Powdrell describes it as one of those dishes her mother created out of whatever was in the refrigerator. You’ll describe it absolutely delicious.

Not even the very best restaurants do all things well though the great ones tend to come close. At Powdrell’s as at most restaurants in Albuquerque, the Achilles Heel seems to be catfish. It’s the one dish I’ve enjoyed least at Powdrell’s and that’s not solely because of my eight years in Mississippi (America’s catfish capital) helped me appreciate the qualities of catfish done well. The coating on the catfish made it very difficult to cut into, normally an indication the inside is dry (it was). Fortunately the catfish was offered as a special of the day along with another meat. The brisket was as wonderful as the catfish was disappointing.

Broiled Trout

Much better is an entree of broiled trout which is as tender and moist as the catfish is tough and dry.  Two delicious filets are served with two sides and Texas Toast.  The filets are brushed lightly with butter and served with a nice char.  A squeeze of lemon or a small application of tartar sauce and you’re good to go.  The only drawback to eating broiled fish, no matter how good it may be, is being surrounded by the fragrant bouquet of bodacious barbecue.  You may want some of Powdrell’s barbecue sauce on the trout, too.

Powdrell’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that it’s NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that’s, in part what Duke City diners have loved about Powdrell’s for generations. It’s a bit sassy and a bit imperfect, but always comforting and delicious.

The Rockin’ Po-Boy

In 2010, Powdrell’s East Side location was selected by Duke City voters as the inaugural winner of the city’s “rock this restaurant” challenge, qualifying for a complete make-over.  It’s a testament to just how beloved this bastion of barbecue has become over the years.  In honor of its selection, Powdrell’s introduced an “everything but the kitchen sink” sandwich called the “Rockin’ Po-Boy,” a beefy behemoth that would test the mettle of a professional gurgitator. Available in six- or twelve-inch sizes, this sandwich is engorged to its spilling point with beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw slathered with barbecue sauce.  There’s obviously no need for sides because they’re inside the sandwich.  You’ll be hard-pressed to finish this hard rockin’ sandwich.

Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue House
5209 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 345-8086
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 28 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 13
RATING: 21
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Brisket, Chicken Wings, Rockin’ Po-Boy, Babyback Ribs, Okra, Corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw


View Mr Powdrell’s Barbeque House – 4th St. on LetsDineLocal.com »

Mr. Powdrell's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

  • Jim says:

    Well, the only time I ate there, we were very disappointed. The ribs were quite fatty and what meat there was on some ribs was charred beyond the point of being able to eat them. This was before I read this review. I am willing to try one more time – perhaps with the combo platter. I have eaten at many places – especially on the east coast and still hunger for the fantastic ribs at O’Brien’s in Rockville, MD

    March 1, 2009 at 6:00 PM
  • T L Toulouse says:

    I have been eating at Powdrell’s Barbeque my entire life. I grew up slurping their sauce before I had teeth. This is certainly the best barbeque in the nation, hands down. I’ve lived on the East Coast and travelled extensively and I still crave my favorite – the large BBQ pork sandwich with fries and a side of collard greens. Their wonderful homemade cobbler is a family recipe from Catherine Powdrell, the wonderful woman behind the man.

    This family and their barbeque, not to mention the service, is second to none. On any given day you can find Rita, Mike, Catherine (granddaughter) or the rest of the family visiting with patrons in the dining rooms. I can’t wait for the Central Ave. location to reopen – it’s close to where I work & I’ll be back regularly.

    Thanks to the entire Powdrell family for years of ribs, greens and BBQ that can’t be beat!

    August 6, 2009 at 5:10 PM
  • Chris says:

    While in Albuquerque on a business trip, a co-worker (also visiting) set out to eat some good ol’ Mexican food. My co-worker saw the BBQ sign and said “turn around, I want to try that BBQ place.” Boy, we were not disappointed. After requesting the sweet tea (very good) we decided that one would order the rib dinner and the other sausage combo dinner, so that we could eat a little bit of both.

    I’m originally from Kansas City and know what BBQ is supposed to taste like. Trust me when I say “it tastes right!” The ribs were falling off the bone, while the sauce and taste of smoke lingered around for the after taste. We plan to eat dinner there tonight and try the chicken and pulled pork.

    Honestly, I rate this restaurant a 10 on a scale 1-10. You will not be disappointed!

    My only suggestion is to have a combo meat plate; two, three and even four different types of meat.

    P.S. The warm welcome made it even better. The waitress was very polite, while a gentleman (we think to be Author’s son) struck up a conversation about football. He teased me saying that he had some Denver Bronco cupcakes in the back, after figuring out they were my team. I’m still waiting on those cupcakes.

    Thanks and enjoy,
    Chris

    December 9, 2009 at 8:05 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Besides all the YumYums analyzed by Gil, at least once a month for the past several years, I opt for the BBQ Beef sandwich and side (e.g. corn on the cob, cole slaw) combo for take out at the 4th St. location. (BTB, this is between gas stations at Griegos (best price) or Montano, where you can regularly gas up for 5-10 cents/Gal. less than most other places around town.)

    For you far NE Heighters, the 11301 Central NE location re-opened late last year after the remodeling due to the fire a while back.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:27 PM
  • Lynn (NM Enchantment) says:

    One of my longest visited, most favorite ABQ restaurants. Powdrell’s bbq sauce is a staple on our Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. :)

    July 2, 2011 at 1:24 AM
  • Rachel says:

    Went for the first time on Saturday based on Gil’s recommendation. Sweet Jesus, it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

    July 5, 2011 at 8:55 AM
  • RB says:

    As a UNM grad, I’ve eaten at every BBQ place in town, and I can confidently say that Powdrell’s has the best beef ribs! The 4th St. location is homey and the family works hard to bring you the very best. For pork ribs I prefer Quarters, but that’s just me.
    Watch out for that cobbler, it’s SUPER SWEET!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:37 PM
  • Nate D says:

    This place continues to serve great BBQ. As Gil correctly points out, the brisket is a must have any time you visit here. The chicken and links are also fantastic. They could increase the portion size of some side items, but the food is definitely great.

    July 30, 2011 at 8:48 PM
  • chuck carter says:

    My two-bits. We used to be in ABQ a lot in the 70s and came to love Powdrells. High light was visiting with Pete-even got complete tour of the place-he was a true gentleman. I take pride in having BBQ wherever and whenever I can and Powdrells is some of the best ANYWHERE!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:07 AM
  • Sr Plata says:

    Love it! Joined friends Beal and Sensei and had Beef Ribs (sauce on the side as usual) which are hard to find and best in the city. Sensei shared some chicken wings with me; they seemed both fried and smoked and were wonderful. Good corn on the Cobb and F. F. I believe the owner came out and gave Beal a hug, very cool. Great meal with great friends, wasn’t the same without boomer though…

    August 10, 2013 at 9:12 AM
  • Foodie Star says:

    I had a great lunch at Powdrells on 4th street. Their smoked wings are among the best wings I have had. Their cooking process keeps them moist with just the right amount of smoke, while the outside is crispy. I have it with the sauce on the side so they stay crispy until I dip into their sauce. I love me some Powdrells wings!

    Their sauce is my favorite BBQ sauce in town – I use it as my house sauce as they sell it in bottles.

    A salad with their magnificent (perhaps best in the city) blue cheese dressing and a bowl of collard greens rounded out my meal.

    It’s become a place where I meet fellow former Intel co-workers on a regular basis. They were all happy with their meals last Friday as well.

    January 22, 2014 at 10:25 AM

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