The Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant (CLOSED)

My friends Paul "Boomer" Lilly and Bruce "Sr Plata" flank Gary West, owner of The Smokehouse
My friends Paul “Boomer” Lilly and Bruce “Sr Plata” flank Gary West, owner of The Smokehouse

The very best restaurants–those we’re proud to call our favorites–aren’t always the swankiest and most elegant venues.  They’re not even usually the restaurants you visit on special occasions.  They’re our favorites because for the duration of our meal, all our cares dissipate and our faith that everything will be okay is restored as we’re fed comforting, delicious food by servers we know and trust.  The Smokehouse has been such a refuge to hundreds of Rio Rancho area residents for nearly two and a half decades. 

The Smokehouse’s last full day of operation was Saturday, June 22nd, 2013.  Then on Sunday night, June 23rd at 6PM, owner Gary West invited guests to a farewell soiree where he  exhausted his remaining food inventory: amazing smoked turkey, ribs and so much more.  There wasn’t  a charge for the meal though Gary jokingly had a jar in which guests could contribute to his retirement.  Gary will be leaving the desert climes of New Mexico for Hawaii where he plans to lead a life of leisure.  Aloha, Gary.  You and the Smokehouse will be missed.

Jay Leno loves the Smokehouse
The Smokehouse on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

In his headlines segment on April Fools Day 2001, Tonight Show host Jay Leno had a good laugh at the Smokehouse BBQ’s coupons which gave patrons a generous discount on breakfast burritos. Normally offered at $200, the coupon provided an instant rebate of $199 for a total price of $1. As barbecue aficionados in Rio Rancho have known for years, barbecue at the Smokehouse is no laughing matter. The Smokehouse BBQ restaurant is one of the three or four best barbecue restaurants in the Albuquerque area, a bastion of bodacious barbecue which can compete anywhere against formidable smoke ring competition–even in Texas.

Texas is where founding proprietor Gary West cut his teeth in the smoke ring business, managing a barbecue restaurant in Lubbock.  Texas-style barbecue as he learned to prepare it means you’ll see a pink hue on the ribs and the traditional pink smoke ring on the sliced beef brisket.  It’s the real thing–barbecue that’s not obfuscated by a deluge of sauce to mask the flavor of poor quality meats.  The meats at the Smokehouse are top notch and sauce is added only if you request it.

Rio Rancho's Smokehouse BBQ restaurant, a local institution!
Smokehouse BBQ in Rio Rancho

When Gary returned to New Mexico he managed a Golden Pride chicken restaurant for a few years before buying the franchise and transforming it to the Smokehouse BBQ restaurant, opening on January 3, 1989. He was at it for nearly twenty years before selling his restaurant in 2008.  In July, 2010, Gary bought the business back after two years managing an Albuquerque Cracker Barrel restaurant.  During his tenure at Cracker Barrel, he picked up a few things to introduce to the Smokehouse’s menu, including chicken fried chicken and country fried steak.  His return also signaled the return of the incomparable smoked meats which waft into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Texas smoke signal beckoning you to try them.

The number of times I’ve visited the Smokehouse–over one hundred– is not a typo–I actually have dined here that many times (or more) primarily on Wednesdays or Fridays when the outstanding smoke burger is featured fare for lunch.  Yes, contrary to the opinion of amateur smokers who obviously haven’t mastered the trick, it is possible to smoke burgers (and no, this isn’t one of my flashbacks to the 60s). Go for dinner (or in fact any time past three o’clock) and you won’t find the smoke burger.

My friend Mike Muller consumes one of the dozens of smoked burgers he's ordered over the years.
My friend Mike Muller consumes one of the dozens of smoked burgers he’s ordered over the years.

For almost a year, my friend Mike Muller (pictured above) and I made the Smokehouse our inner sanctum and refuge from the rigors of a challenging multi-million dollar project by visiting this Texas style barbecue emporium every Wednesday and sometimes on Fridays, too.  It remains one of our very favorite lunch stops though our visits became more scarce when Gary West moved on.  His return means the frequency of our visits  increased.  Gary tends to the smoker with the same affection parents tend to their children.  The result is high quality ‘cue.  The primary object of our affection during our weekly pilgrimage quickly became the aforementioned smoke burger, one of the best, albeit most unconventional green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico. That’s saying something!

On Wednesdays and Fridays, you’d better get to the Smokehouse early because once the smoke burgers are gone, you’ll have to wait a few days to get the next one.  On Wednesdays and Fridays, the restaurant will a limited number of burgers.  They go fast.  One patron enjoyed double meat smokeburgers (pictured below) so much and so often, the Smokehouse named a double meat special for him.  Today, the Cal’s Special, a double meat smoke burger smothered in green chile, a side of your choice and a drink is the best bet for the hungriest of patrons.  Each patty is close to or perhaps even a half pound so a double meat smoke burger weighs in at a pound, at least.  It takes two hands to hold this behemoth burger and a big mouth (literally) to take a bite of it.  Little-mouthed folk will cut it with a fork.

A double meat smokeburger with cheese and green chile. A side of potato salad is on the left.

Don’t dare desecrate the smoke burger with mustard and ketchup. Barbecue sauce and green chile are the only embellishments required and even without the barbecue sauce, this is one outstanding burger.  The Smokehouse offers two sauces, the house sauce and a piquant sauce. The house sauce is a bit on the thin side with an almost equal flavor pronouncement between sweet, tangy and piquant.  The piquant sauce packs real heat.   The meat patty is thick and bun sized with a pinkish hue within. Contrary to what you might think, it’s also a moist burger…at least it is when Gary West is tending the smoker.  He’s got the touch.  The green chile is only mild on a piquant scale, but when combined with the sauce, its piquancy is enhanced.

On November 1st, 2011, the Smokehouse began using a bolillo bun on the Smokehouse, replacing the familiar and more traditional hamburger bun.  The bolillo bun ostensibly stays fresh longer though the round patty extends out beyond the round buns.  Each smoke burger is accompanied by one side of your choosing. The Smokehouse features some of the very best potato salad around and very good spicy pinto beans.  Other options include green beans, fried okra, mashed potatoes and gravy, French fries and other sides.

The most unique Frito Pie anywhere–made with your choice of chopped beef or carne adovada

As for the Smokehouse’s meats, the sliced beef brisket, smoked pork ribs, smoked turkey, hot links, beef ribs and Polish sausage are all quite good–and not just by New Mexico standards.  The restaurant menu features sandwiches, plates and party packs that serve anywhere from two to twenty people.  The most popular menu item, as it is at many Texas barbecue emporiums, is the sliced beef brisket which is consumed at a rate of about twenty pounds per day.  Your best bet is a two- or three-meat platter with two or three sides. 

Both the smoked pork ribs and the beef ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender.  My friend Sr. Plata considers the beef ribs to be at the very top of his food pyramid though with his Flintstonian appetite, he yearns for the day they are offered at all-you-can-eat quantities.  The smoked pork ribs have a wonderful bark, that intensely flavorful crust which occurs when a meat’s natural sugars caramelize.  Sanctioned barbecue competition judges in some of the most prestigious barbecue events love a good bark and would appreciate the fine bark on the Smokehouse’s meats, especially on the pork ribs.  The hot links live up to their name with a heartburn-inducing spiciness you will love.  Only Powdrell’s serves comparable hot links.

A two meat combination plate with pork ribs, spicy links, fried okra, corn on the cob and a bread roll

The smoke burger isn’t the only unconventional twist on a New Mexico favorite. The Smokehouse also serves a smoked carne adovada made from chopped beef. A mild red chile complements the smoky beef taste very well.  Unconventional also describes the Smokehouse’s Frito pie, constructed of smoked beef, spicy pinto beans, barbecue sauce (instead of chile), shredded cheese and of course, Frito’s corn chips.  This Frito pie may be an acquired taste because the first time I sampled this oddity, I thought it an aberration. The second time, I was hooked–thanks in large part to excellent smoked meat and the spicy pinto beans which are always cooked to perfection.  The Frito pie is also available with a more conventional carne adovada or you can have it half-and-half with born smoked beef and carne adovada.  The operative term is “have it!” 

In 2000, the Smokehouse began offering breakfast including the legendary Frontier Rolls.  Breakfast had a thirteen year run, but will no longer be served as of June 1st, 2013.  Breakfast burritos have been the specialty of the house from day one.   The tortillas encasing each burrito are charred like a pinto pony and bulge at the seams holding back all those lovely ingredients and their flavor.  The green chile is more piquant than the red.

A two meat platter with brisket, sliced pork, French fries, green beans and a bread roll

How good are the meats at the Smokehouse?  They’re so good other restaurants use them.  There may be no better pairing in Rio Rancho than the combination of Smokehouse meats and pizza at the Turtle Mountain Brewing Company.  Smokehouse meats also feature prominently on the slow-smoked carne panini from Cafe Bella.  My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, calls it the “best panini” he’s ever had.

For dessert, the Smokehouse features blackberry, peach, cherry and apple cobbler alamode as well as Itlian ices. You might think you’re in the deep south as you bite into the warm, tangy blackberries and flaky crust as rich vanilla ice cream melts on the plate.

Cherry and Blackberry cobbler
Cherry and Blackberry cobbler

The Smokehouse’s Web site is a member of the Smoke Ring, a linked list of BBQ websites throughout America.

The Smokehouse Barbecue
4000 Barbara Loop
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 101
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Smoke Burger, Cobbler, Frontier Roll, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Frito Pie, Sliced Pork, Pork Ribs, Spicy Links,  Smoked Turkey

Smokehouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

23 thoughts on “The Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant (CLOSED)

  1. I have been going to the Smokehouse since almost day one and Gary West always treated me like I was part of his family! Giving me an overstuffed bag of french fries to always a great BBQ sandwich; my only complaint was that I used to argue to get the BBQ sauce hotter, fire scorching even, and Gary would laugh saying that he would end up having customers with stomach ulcers. Gary you will be missed by all us who have known and and patronized you wonderful business over the years. Aloha and enjoy a well deserved retirement; but don’t forget your friends in Rio Rancho.
    God Bless.
    J.J. Michelitch and Family

  2. My husband will be opening up his new BBQ joint at the old Smokehouse. We look forward to having all of you BBQ afectionados giving us a try. We think you will enjoy sampling our fare and might just find it to be your new favorite BBQ joint. We are planning on opening by the end of July after a small makeover. We serve New Mexican BBQ and have been told it is pretty darn good. Come down and give Rub n Wood BBQ a try!

  3. Good Bye Gary and Smokehouse! Thanks for letting me a part of the Smokehouse Experience which was one of my firsts moving to New Mexico from Los Angeles, CA. I had the one and only Smoked Burger, still amazing and yes, had a single burger. I understand there will be a new BBQ establishment here but nothing will be like the Smokehouse…

    Sr Plata

  4. Wednesday, Raunchy Ribs @Smokehouse, Awesome, need to make a habit. It has been a while and for a time will be back on protein (low carb) and my 1st thought was heading for the Smokehouse. I guess Tuesdays are the normal Beef Rib day but if there are any left over, you can get them 1 day old at a reduced priced that tastes as good as Day 1. Actually, I realize I prefer to have them more dryed out and crispy and those 8 or so ribs at my lunch today were just that and very good. Got the Green Beans and Corn so think I did well for my 1st day back on the diet. Look forward to going back next Wed and see if they were just as good…

  5. I enjoy your blog and refer to it frequently. My hubby and I have tried places we wouldn’t have otherwise, so, thank you. Your recommendations have been great.
    the last time you reviewed The Smokehouse, I was excited to go there to buy a chicarrone burrito. But I was told they don’t sell them anymore. And, I don’t see them on the online menu….

    1. Hi Evelyn

      Thank you so much for the kind words about my blog. It makes me very happy to hear you are trying restaurants you might not otherwise have visited. All diners should have that spirit of adventure.

      I do apologize for not updating my blog with the breakfast menu changes. The breakfast changes escaped my notice. The Smokehouse used to have 13 breakfast burritos including that very good chicharones burrito. Now they’ve got only a handful of different burritos.


  6. Sr Plata was excited to showup on a Monday when there was Beef Ribs. I really miss the all you can eat Beef Ribs, it was awesome to have both the meat and the sides in endless quantity for a price that was too good to be true. Now, for 5 pieces, not too big and set of sides over 10 dollars was difficult to swallow. Unfortunately, I left hungry and for me that doesnt make me happy. I wish for the price of a large plate they were gigantic and the sides were at least double the portion. I also used to have a piece of bread, I wasnt offered that. Its sad because there are a lot of hungry people at Intel and other companies who could feast at the Smokehouse and make it an awesome place; it was so empty when I was there around 5pm. One thing the owner should consider is offering promotions, perhaps a 10-15% discount to certain companies in the area. I also heard tell that the bun was changed for the Smokeburger and that is something you dont do, especially when a legacy is being born. To the owner, we want you to succeed and wnat there to be a win-win for you and customers. Remember, hungry people must go somewhere when they are hungry…

  7. I wanted this place to be good but alas it is not.
    Ate here for the second time in past 5 years after hearing that the original owner was back. First time it was so bad I didn’t finish my meal (which for me is saying something) this visit was better but not much.

    I had a 3 meat combo plate to try a variety of the BBQ they had to offer. First of all the meat needs smoke, my wife and I could barely taste any smoke flavor in any of the meats we ordered. The brisket was moist but tasted like my grandmothers oven baked brisket, lacking rub and smoke. The pork was dry and chunked up into bite size squares and again had no bark or real smoke flavor to speak of. The biggest crime of the day was the turkey, a processed loaf that had some smoke flavor but was something anyone with a foil pack full of wood chips and a grill could create out of a turkey loaf from sams club. Mac and cheese tastes like it comes from a box. I will not be back again fool me once shame on you……..

  8. Quick announcement that beef ribs are back on Mondays but not all you can eat as before. Still, having beef ribs is better than no ribs. I will have to go pretty soon on Monday and give them a try. Not sure how many you get with a large plate but will report out when I try them. Thanks Gary for restoring one of the gifts your eatery offers.

  9. I am very disappointed that beef ribs are no longer on the menu. This was the only place I knew of on the west side that served beef ribs. I unfortunately don’t eat pork and so the beef ribs are greatly missed.

  10. While I had been to the Smokehouse a number of times in the past, I tried the smoke burger (with cheese, green and red chile) for the first time today. It was a very good burger. I also was pleased to find that the BBQ sauce seems to have improved. The sauce used to be the only thing I didn’t like about the Smokehouse, but either it’s improved or my taste has changed. The red chile was also a very nice touch. Will be back soon.

  11. Just visited Albuquerque and Sante Fe from Portland, Oregon. How do I email Gil? Can’t find any contact info. Thanks, Eric

    1. Hello Eric

      Please feel free to use the feedback mechanism on my blog to reach me. If you’d like your email and my response to remain private, I’ll be happy to oblige. I hope you enjoyed the Land of Enchantment and our cuisine.


  12. I announced to the world that only Single Smoke Burgers from now on.. Boy was I wrong. Thingts were going fine until friend Boomer made the challenge and what could I do. Again, the Cal’s Special, a double green chile cheese burger was there sitting in front of me (as well in front of Boomer). Would have been a great team picture with the full NM_Friends_who_Feast all at one table and 66% having the Cal’s, a high majority following in the Boomer’s footsteps. Again, it was great and glad to have it; it works when one misses their breakfast, otherwise, it would be a lost cause. Need to try the chicken fried chicken. Could chicken fried steak be coming in the near future, only Gary will know and hopefully will let us in on those potential secrets…

  13. On this special Wed when the Smoke Burger is offered (Fridays as well), my Friends who Feast (FWF) brought me here to initiate me to the Smoke Burger. I knew something was up when they all got the Single but I was instructed by my mentor to try the Double with sauce on the side. Well, good thing I didnt have breakfast cause a double would be a push. Ok, so I have this beast that I must cut in half and it’s enormous with a good amount of green chile and cheese stacked with the 2 burgers. I saw astonished looks as I ate it fast (remember no breakfast). It was really very good! I recommend this to all those who enjoy non fast food hamburgers and to give it a try. Glad I can say ‘been there, done that’ with the Double but as I am working to age gracefully with somewhat lowered calories, it’s Singles moving forward. Welcome back Gary!!!

  14. For the short time I lived in Rio Rancho, I frequented this place pretty often. I tried a couple other bbq joints around the area and then some but always kept coming back because I really liked the sauce. Now that I live in Abq’s NE Heights, I crave this place all the time. Hopefully I find a good enough excuse to find myself close enough to stop in soon with my girlfriend, who’s picky about barbeque and has yet to try this place

  15. Now that my dad is back in charge…I am sure the quality will return…
    Hopefully so will my free food when I come back on leave!! (wink wink)

  16. What a horrible experience we had, I will never eat here again. We were treated rudely and the food quality was sub par. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go out of business or get shut down in the near future.

  17. Gary’s back! Grand Opening PARTY Friday, June 18 @ 4PM….Come and taste the GREAT BBQ that Gary’s famous for….See ya there!

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