“It was Kansas City but it was North Carolina I wanted;
whole hog smoked low and slow over fruit woods and doused liberally with a vinegar-based sauce.
It was North Carolina but it was Texas I wanted;
king beef sliced into juicy brisket prepared over post oak and glistening with a sweet tomato-molasses based sauce.
It was Texas but it was Memphis I wanted;
unctuous pork slow smoked over hickory and served “wet” in a tomato and vinegar-based sauce.
It was Memphis but it was Kansas City I wanted;
a medley of magnificent meats smoked over a variety of woods and dusted generously with a dry rub.
It was all of America’s four dominant barbecue regions, but it was New Mexico I wanted;
applewood-smoked meats of all types imbued with the piquancy of red and green chile sauces.
My search is over. ABQ BBQ is here!”
For years, the promotional machines behind America’s barbecue have been telling us there are four distinct and dominant barbecue regions across the fruited plain. This assertion has been repeated so long, so loud and so often that most of us accept it as gospel truth. Culinary historian and food writer Robert F. Moss decries the absurdity of such a notion, declaring on The Local Palate that “claiming America has four major barbecue styles is like saying there are four major kinds of music: rock, classical, rap, and elevator.” He acknowledges there are “countless sub-varieties” including “a lot of notable styles.”
“Regional styles,” he explains “are defined by the types of meat used, the style of pits on which they are cooked, and the wood used to fire them. It includes the sauce that accompanies the meat and the dishes served alongside—recipes and techniques handed down from one cook to the next over the decades.” By that strict definition, it would be hard to argue that there has ever existed a truly distinctive New Mexico barbecue style…at least one that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Nor has there been any uniqueness to the type of meat, style of pit, type of wood or sauce used across the Land of Enchantment…at least not in any traditional fashion (unless you’re willing to cede members of the Zia Pueblo roasting prairie dogs as a style of barbecue).
Albuquerque Chef Jon Young is hoping to change all that with the June, 2018 introduction of New Mexico-style barbecue that showcases the roasted flavor and piquancy of the Land of Enchantment’s official state vegetable, chile, in both its red and green varieties. Sure, other chefs have added chile to their barbecue sauces in the past, but none have made it the cornerstone of their barbecue. This not-at-all-secret ingredient is the differentiator for Chef Young who spent months developing and polishing his recipes. For many of those months, a housemade red chile BBQ pulled pork sandwich has been a mainstay at Fresh Bistro, his other restaurant, and it’s been flying off the menu to significant popular acclaim.
ABQ BBQ is located in the Los Ranchos space which previously housed Marley’s BBQ, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant. Other short-lived tenants at the location include Taste of Himalayas, Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Dining Cuisine and Annapurna Ayuredic Cuisine. It’s a pristine and capacious location, but it has no real street storefront presence or prominent signage. The telltale sign that you’ve reached your destination may well be the siren-like plumes of smoke that waft into the air. That smoke is irresistible. You get a lot more of it when you enter the New Mexico themed space, the cynosure of which is an overhead balloon gondola from which colorful fabric fans out in all directions. The colors of the fabric are also New Mexico-centric—red and yellow for the state flag and orange to represent our spectacular sunsets.
Great barbecue is truly a sum of all its parts. Every element—meats, smoke, wood, pit, sauces—has to work together in perfect four-part harmony. Chef Young has mastered them all, none moreso than the unique sauces. You’ll find six of them on the caddy at your table. Sauces are categorized as either “original” or “local.” All of them have red and (or) green chile. Local means the sauces have more piquancy; they’re made with local tastes in mind. There’s even a “Christmas-style” sauce which, as New Mexicans know, means it’s made with both red and green chile. Chef Young confided that some of the volcano-eaters among us have complained that even the local sauces don’t have enough heat so he’s developing a sauce he’ll call “Muerte,” the Spanish word for death. Unlike barbecue at some restaurants, the sauces aren’t lacquered on during or after the smoking process. You’re in complete control as to what sauce you use (though you will want to try them all).
Within days of its launch, ABQ BBQ received high praise from two highly credentialed critics. Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, declared on his Yelp review “Chef Jon Young has for some time dreamt of marrying traditional BBQ techniques with New Mexico’s favorite chiles, and the result is sure to knock your socks off. Jon _never_ oversalts anything–just enough to make the other flavors pop. This new venture is the third jewel in Jon’s crown (Fresh Bistro and Fresh Mobile Bistro are just down the street, and both among my very favorites). ABQ BBQ is already a favorite.” Gary West, the long-time and excelsior proprietor of The Smokehouse, a much-missed Rio Rancho barbecue institution, posted on Facebook “Just got done eating some excellent New Mexican BBQ @ ABQ BBQ! The Ribs, Brisket & Wings we’re lightly Smoked as to compliment all the different sauces that Jon has made up to try! The Pinto Beans, Potato Salad and the Green Chile Cornbread were to die for! Do yourself a favor and go check out this new place with a New Spin on Local New Mexico BBQ!”
With rousing endorsements from two highly respected barbecue aficionados, I just had to try ABQ BBQ for myself—even though my Kim was out-of-town and would be sorely disappointed at not having visited with Chef Young and his beautiful bride Melissa. The menu isn’t especially large—four plates (pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, pulled chicken and chicken wings), tacos (a half-pound of meat served with lettuce, tomato and queso fresco), sandwiches (a half-pound of meat served on a green chile Cheddar roll with pickled red onions), desserts and sides. For larger appetites, there’s the “El Cochino,” (Spanish for “the pig”) a behemoth sandwich with two pounds of slow roasted pulled pork and other toppings. Dessert-lovers will love the Chingon (Mexican slang for really great) dishes—six ounces of cherries, blackberries or peaches sautéed in butter, brandy and brown sugar and topped with roasted pinon crumble. There are “all kinds of sides,” most of which showcase New Mexico chile.
To ensure my Kim wouldn’t completely miss out, I ordered two plates—a half-pound of applewood-smoked and slow-roasted pulled pork and a half pound of applewood-smoked, herb rubbed and slow roasted brisket, both of which were accompanied by one side. Both of the meats had a light smoke which meant smoke didn’t overpower the meats. My favorite of the two was the brisket which was moist, tender, delicious and lean with just enough fat for flavor. Experimenting with the different sauces was a fun experience though it didn’t take me long to determine the “local” sauces suited my masochistic tendencies best. The “Christmas” sauce was especially bold, a melding of green and red chiles in a sauce that clearly was a barbecue sauce and not a salsa (though it would be great with chips). How Chef Young concocted this alchemy is a reflection of his talents.
Instead of thick and thin tangles of pork pulled with a fork or by hand, ABQ BBQ’s pulled pork has a very light, almost snowflake-like texture and uniformity. The pork on the plate is like an Ivory soap commercial of yore in that it is 99 and 44/100% pure with none of the fat or sinew that sometimes gets mixed into pulled pork. Because of its delicate flavor and texture, the less assertive sauces—the original red, for example—work best. It went very well with the green chile cornbread, so buttery and moist that nothing else is needed. My favorite of three sides was the roasted street corn topped with queso fresco and a lime crema.
Should New Mexico-style barbecue someday be acknowledge as a unique barbecue region with an incomparable style, perhaps the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque should change the last portion of its name to “Albarbecuerque” with Chef Young as its mayor.
7520 4th Street, N.W., Suite A
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Brisket, Green Chile Cornbread, Roasted Street Corn, Red Chile Macaroni and Cheese, Local Christmas Sauce