Back-Sass BBQ – Bernalillo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Back-Sass BBQ in Bernalillo

Every few years, the eyes of the world fixate on a tiny chimney perched on the roof of the Sistine Chapel as millions await the telltale plumes of white smoke which signify that a new pope has been elected. Since November, 2012, savvy Duke City area barbecue aficionados have been following plumes of smoke emanating from a mobile eighteen-foot grilling machine, a sign that great barbecue is imminent. Fittingly “Follow the Smoke” is the motto of the Back-Sass BBQ team which has been hauling its mother ship of barbecue all over the city.

On January 29, 2014, Back-Sass BBQ put down roots in Bernalillo, launching its bodacious barbecue operation in a restaurant storefront. Located on North Camino del Pueblo less than half a mile north of heavily trafficked Highway 550, Back-Sass is easy to find if you follow the smoke which wafts into your motorized conveyance like a sweet Texas smoke signal beckoning you to try some baby backs. Back-Sass BBQ is situated in a fairly nondescript edifice which formerly housed La Bamba Grill among other businesses. Its signage is bold, sassy and inviting.

The interior of Back-Sass BBQ

Attempts to define any new barbecue restaurant’s “style” as either Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, or the Carolinas are inevitable, but Back-Sass BBQ’s style doesn’t subscribe to any of those hallowed templates. Instead it might best be described as “Cleveland style.” No, not the Cleveland in Ohio which set the Cuyahoga River on fire back in 1969. I’m talking about the other Cleveland, the one in New Mexico bordered by Holman and Mora; the Cleveland on the “other side” of the Jicarita Peak from my hometown of Peñasco.

Back-Sass BBQ founder and owner Gina Valdez grew up in Cleveland, New Mexico, a village one travel site described as “where cars go to die.” She’s been a barbecue enthusiast all her life and although she’s a sanctioned judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society, doesn’t barbecue competitively, not even in Rio Rancho’s annual Pork & Brew. In fact, Gina didn’t get super serious about honing her craft until a broken leg laid her off, giving her the impetus to build the mobile unit. The eighteen-foot barbecue behemoth can smoke more than one-hundred full-sized turkeys at one time. In her new restaurant, however, she relies on barrel smokers that aren’t quite as prolific. Though hours of operation are posted, once the barbecue runs out, the restaurant closes.

Baby Back Ribs with Chile Beans and Potato Salad

You won’t want to miss out on this barbecue! Shawne Riley, a long-time friend of this blog, made sure I didn’t, extolling the ribs and coleslaw so enthusiastically I had to visit Back-Sass BBQ the following day. Shawne was also enamored of the sauce which she described as “pretty complex.” Obviously more persuasive than I, she managed to coax Gina into telling her what’s in the sauce: molasses, apple pie spices, pineapple and a “bunch of other things.”

Back-Sass BBQ is essentially a one-room operation with booth seating on one side of the room. The dining room is sparsely appointed. Fittingly therefore, the menu lists fewer than twenty items: four sandwiches, four plates (with your choice of two sides), three meats by the pound, baby back ribs, turkey legs, three sides (chile beans, coleslaw, potato salad) and for dessert, peach cobbler and gingerbread men.

Two meat plate: hot links and pulled pork with two sides: potato salad and coleslaw
Two meat plate: hot links and pulled pork with two sides: potato salad and coleslaw

26 March 2014: Some purists will tell you that one of the marks of great barbecue is whether or not sauce is needed. Other barbecue enthusiasts don’t want their barbecue naked, preferring it slathered with a sauce. Back-Sass BBQ is quite good with or without sauce. The baby backs pull away from the bone easily and have an addictive bark, the deeply dark, flavor rich, sweet, caramelized rind suffused with magnificently complex flavor. Barbecue without bark has no bite. The sauce, by the way, is indeed pretty complex. The flavor components Shawne described are easily discernible, but the source of a pleasant piquancy can only come from chipotle, a fact Gina confirmed.

One of the other hallmarks of Back-Sass BBQ is an aromatic smokiness courtesy of apple woods which dispense a very mild flavor and imbue foods with a slight sweetness. Because a little smoke goes a long way with meats, most aficionados prefer light-smoking hard woods such as apple which tend to be complementary of all meats. The fragrances at Back-Sass BBQ’s dining room would make a wonderful aftershave or aphrodisiac.

My friend Bruce "Sr Plata" takes a bite from a turkey leg as big as his arm
My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” takes a bite from a turkey leg as big as his arm

27 March 2014: Your best bet if you want to sample more than one meat is the two meat plate with your choice of two sides. Make one of those meats the hot links, emphasis on the word “hot.” That’s hot as in hotter than eighty percent of the chile served at New Mexican restaurants in the Duke City area. Not only are these luscious links hot, they’re moist and delicious. You’re well advised to eat these last because you might not be able to taste the other meat on the plate…and if the other meat is pulled pork, you’ll want to be able to discern every nuance. The pulled pork has a pinkish hue with a darker “ring” denoting the smoking process. It’s sweet, moist and absolutely delicious–with or without sauce.

Smoked Turkey and Broccoli Soup
Smoked Turkey and Broccoli Soup

27 March 2014: The turkey legs at Back-Sass BBQ look like throw-backs to the age of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. They’re bulbous, chewy, delicious drumsticks the size of Popeye’s forearm or a pterodactyl wing. Bad cartoon metaphors aside, you’ll channel your inner troglodyte as you gnaw on perhaps the best turkey legs in the Duke City area (with apologies to The Cube). There’s almost something primal about holding these legs by their built-in handle and piercing through the glistening bark to expose pinkish smoked turkey meat. Who cares that turkey is all dark meat. The smoked flavor and surprising moistness will convert even the most cynical.

Potato and Leek Soup with Spinach
Potato and Leek Soup with Spinach

3 April 2014: During an April, 2014 visit to Back-Sass BBQ, Gina told my friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver and I that before she was a barbecue lady, she was a soup lady and that she planned on introducing soup to the menu once she perfected her recipe. She then treated us to a magnificent example of her soup handiwork, a steaming hot bowl of smoked turkey and broccoli soup. This soup is perfect as is and should be on the daily menu starting now! It’s a rich and creamy soup with a strong pepper influence coalescing with the smokiness of turkey and the al dente crispness of broccoli, celery and other vegetables. Both Sr. Plata and I took home 32-ounces of this enchanting elixir to share with our respective wives, but we secretly hoped they don’t like it as much as we do so we could have all of it. Unfortunately for us, they loved it.

9 April 2014: The soup of the day during a subsequent visit was a potato and leek soup with spinach. It’s a hearty, creamy and very tasty soup served hot. The flavors of leek and potato harmonize very well and the spinach lends nutrients, texture and its very own unique flavor profile. This is the type of soup you’ll love best during cold winter days, but it’s wonderful any time.

A quarter-pound of brisket
A quarter-pound of brisket

3 April 2014: If your experiences with brisket are akin to what masticating shoe leather must be like, it’s because you haven’t had great brisket. Trust Gina to smoke your brisket. It’s tender, offering just the right amount of chew and it’s and smoky with a pink smoke outline. Best, it’s delicious with or without sauce and has the perfect qualities for dressing a sandwich. A quarter-pound will do you for lunch.

Brisket Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips
Brisket Sandwich

09 April 2014: If you prefer your brisket on a sandwich, Back-Sass serves an overstuffed sandwich just brimming with moist, tender brisket nestled in a soft hoagie bun. My friend and fellow barbecue aficionado Mike Muller uses brisket as his benchmark for how good a barbecue restaurant is. He loved this one and was surprised at just how moist and tender the brisket is. The brisket pulls away easily and you won’t find any annoying sinew or fat.

Chicken Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips
Chicken Sandwich with Lays Potato Chips

09 April 2014: The very last item on the menu I had from Back-Sass was the chicken. True to form, it’s very clucking good. The chicken is available as a sandwich or you can opt for a half-chicken (thigh and leg). Any way you have it will become your instant favorite. As with all meats smoked by Gina, the chicken is moist, tender and redolent with apple wood smokiness. The half chicken has a wonderful crust which, at first glance, may appear to be on the burnt side, but that patina comes from the marinade she uses on her beer can chicken recipe. That crust is poultry’s answer to pork skin and is absolutely delicious.

A half chicken
A half chicken

1 May 2014: Credit renowned author Calvin Trillin for exposing the world to burnt ends, what some have called “nuggets of barbecue gold.” Though born of tougher, drier, misshapen end pieces of brisket, burnt ends are imbued with mouth-watering qualities, a coalescence of melted-down fat and meat slowly grilled into smoky, crunchy, meaty bark. They’re a delightful delicacy not always appreciated by barbecue purists as they tend to be not only fatty, chewy and tough, but often very smoky. For those of us who concur with Trillin’s sage opinion, they’re truly special. Back-Sass BBQ’s version is Kansas City worthy, like delicious meat candy.

Burnt Ends
Burnt Ends

One other essential element in the barbecue experience is sides, the accompaniment needed because even barbecue addicts can’t live on meats alone. Back-Sass BBQ offers three terrific sides. The chile beans are true New Mexican chile beans with red chile and not Texas “chili” beans with whatever mystery spices they add. The coleslaw is light on the dressing and heavy on crispness and freshness. The potato salad, which includes finely cut pickles and celery, is similarly light on the mayo or salad cream. All are terrific.

Peach Cobbler and Gingerbread Men
Peach Cobbler and Gingerbread Men

27 March 2014: Back-Sass BBQ offers only two desserts, one of which is seemingly de rigueur in barbecue restaurants. That would be peach cobbler, one of those desserts often described as both homespun and old-fashioned. More often than that, it’s described as delicious. Covered with a crumbly sweet crust and imbued with moistness, it’s a good cobbler, one which can be improved only by a scoop or four of ice cream. The other dessert is gingerbread men (five for three dollars) which children of all ages will enjoy.

Meat up with some friends and follow the smoke to Back-Sass BBQ in Bernalillo for apple wood smoked deliciousness.

Back-Sass BBQ
N. 213 Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, New Mexico
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 1 Mayl 2014
1st VISIT: 26 March 2014
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Chile Beans, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Hot Links, Pulled Pork, Peach Cobbler, Gingerbread Men, Turkey Leg, Smoked Turkey-Broccoli Soup, Brisket, Brisket Sandwich, Half Chicken, Chicken Sandwich, Burnt Ends

Back-Sass BBQ on Urbanspoon

23 thoughts on “Back-Sass BBQ – Bernalillo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. To all concerned #1 we are all safe. The fire was a very strong one and there is no doubt about that! The fire started on the Mothership (mobile rig) and spread the the building after getting out of control. After getting ourselves back together some what, we started demoing the rig that day. As of today the Mothership is about 80% finished and should be back out on the streets within the next week. We are told the restaurant may be ready in about sixty days or so. We just came off of our first competition at the 11th annual Pork and Brew, with the situation on our plate we did okay. We even submitted some of that famous turkey and broccoli soup for the any thing butt category. My mother Gina and I are hanging in there and working very hard around the clock to get things back to normal. Thank you all so much for the warm felt comment and your continued support. We will be back very soon!!!

    1. Thank you, Richard, for letting us know you, Gina and the crew are safe. Nothing is more important.

      I tried finding you at the Pork & Brew event, but was looking for the Mothership. To make matters worse, I was named a judge in the “desserts” category instead of the “anything butt” category so I didn’t even get to sample your magnificent turkey and broccoli soup though I did hear some of the other judges raving about it. Next year when Back-Sass is up and running again, you’ll do much better at the Pork & Brew.

      Please give your mom our best.


  2. Reading this made me sad and angry. Gina was so inviting and deserved TONS of success. Why does crap like this happen to good people?!?!

    Lest I go off on a tangent, my taste buds are sad and angry as well. Where am I to get hot links as tasty as the ones at Back-Sass?!?! As I mentioned, they are BY FAR the best in the area.

    Gina, if you do read this, you have to find a way to continue making those links!

  3. Oh noooo. I was just thinking of driving out there today for a fix. Yes, Gina, please let us know how you’re doing!

  4. Some told me tonight there was a fire at the restaurant, is that true and is everything ok? Please let us know.

    1. Early this morning I drove to Back-Sass and discovered, much to my dismay, that Back-Sass appears to have suffered extensive fire damage. Gina hasn’t posted an update on her Facebook page, but it appears unlikely the restaurant will reopen at the site any time soon, if ever.

      Gina, if you’re reading this comment, please reply with an update on how you’re doing. You have a legion of fans who think the world of you and your barbecue. We wish you all the best.


  5. I stopped by Back-Sass BBQ after a round of golf at Santa Ana. I may play out there more often just to ensure I eat more BBQ at this place, it is terrific. I tried the brisket and chicken, and both were great. Chicken is often mediocre at best at BBQ places, but not at this place. I also thought their sauce was really good and unique. I will definitely return to try their other meats. Also, in reading Suzie Queue’s comments about this place, I believe I have figured out her true identity. While exciting to think that I may have discovered the holy grail of bizarre mystery food blog “commentators”, I will not spoil the intrigue if I happen to be correct. Perhaps she will reveal herself at some point or maybe it can be unearthed by those attending the FOG II dinner.

  6. To Srplata,
    Your’e bride? I hopped that you were single. Dang git! Are you a cowboy?

  7. I heard from Sensei that Thursday would be the day for BEEF RIBS! I casually called today to see if they have them today, I heard YES and I waited not too patiently until my Bride got home then we headed south to where the Beef Ribs were calling my name. Gina smiled when we walked through the door and knew what I came for. Let me just say it, they were DELICIOUS!! There were 8 healthy ribs delivered to smoked very tender without a very heavy smoke taste and with the BBQ sauce, it was with waiting all day for. Senorena had a chicken sandwich which she claims it was way up there for BBQ. We had a side of beans with beef and a lovely smoked turkey and broccoli soup. Peach cobbler and gingerbread cookies finished it off. Gina was a gracious hostess who spent a lot of time talking to us and just really showed she cares for her customers. We were very impressed and we will be back real soon. Bought a shirt to show my support, thanks Back-Sass!

  8. Is that picture Senior Plata? It reminds me of this nasty movie I saw once. I’m getting turned on looking at it, but I don’t know why. Is he single? LOL!

    I think the quarters has the best bar-be- que and there sause is to die for. LOL But I wish burger King still had those pork sanwiches for a $buck. I ate 6 of them once.

    Did you try the mashed potatos at claim Jumpers? They are the best in the world and I liked there salad bar. I could drink there 1000 island dressing it is so good. I had there chiken fried stake and it was pertty good too. But there gravy was too thick so I just put 10000 island dressing on it – mmmyum.

  9. Thank you for the directions Sensei, we will be sure to make the trip; sounds well worth it. Alas, my dear husband has requested we appoint a different handle to him; while I have had my fun with it – he really dislikes stevia. Glad all enjoyed the Seafood Bisque, Joe is generous with ingredients. One of his biggest pet peeves is to go dine somewhere & the portions are small; specially if the food is priced on the higher end. We are very honored by your sister-in-laws compliments; to be compared to an Italain mother (or sometimes grandmother) is not a comment freely given in the Italian/Sicilian culture & his amoungst the highest/best gudos we could recieve. Please give her our sincere gratitude. Well, we are heading into the weekend so I am on the run. Have a wonderful Easter everyone!

  10. I stopped by Back-Sass this morning to try it first hand after reading the reviews in Gil’s Thrilling.
    Brought home a Brisket Sandwich, a quarter pound of Hot Links, a medium “tater” salad and while I asked for the medium “chile beans” I got a medium cole slaw. The gentleman I assumed was the owner offered to make the change but my wife prefers cole slaw so we stayed with that.
    Not having had all the Hot Links offered in and around the Duke City I still thought they were terrific. And very hot hot links at that. When cut up I could see the red flecks of hot pepper flakes much like my favorite Hot Italian sausage. Again they were excellent.
    Brisket was also terrific, but here I must say that for the money (god help me if I’m sounding like BOTVOLR) I should have just ordered a half pound and put it on my own bread or roll. There was just too little brisket on the 6 inch hoagie roll for $8.00. Seemed very skimpy.
    That aside there was disappointment in the potato salad, not in taste but the potatoes were just a couple of minutes undercooked. Just a tad too solid for my liking, something easily remedied. The cole slaw was very tasty but I do prefer a creamier version.
    The last criticism is that while you get your order relatively quickly after placing it at this lunch period there was just one person doing everything and when I was finished there were half a dozen people waiting to be served. And each order was taken, then prepared before the next patron was served.
    I’m sure the chinks in the armor will be worked out, at least I hope so, because the star of every BBQ place is the meat and it was very good at Back-Sass.
    I’m still wondering where that name comes from???

  11. Aaargh…”Best Links in Area…” and understandably not wishing to sound like BOTVOLR!!!
    ~ As you are just hot-off smokin’ BBQ, perhaps ya might check out RubNWood on Wed eve about 6:15PM to see if the Bluegrass is enough to distract yer taste buds per a one entree order of their Hot Links along with their slaw or possibly potato salad?
    ~ Indeed, say “Yes Maam” to the ? re ‘sauce’ on the side, to afford Y’all optional enjoyment!

  12. The wife and I finally went to Back-Sass this weekend.

    First the so-so: Ribs were OK, not great, not bad, just so-so. I think I was expecting better, and may have over-hyped them in my mind.

    Next the good: Pulled pork, and chile beans were pretty good. Not sure what else to say that Gil hasn’t already covered in his review.

    Next the great: The Hot Links are the best in town, err, I guess this is Bernalillo so they are the best in the area? Either way, I have not had really good hot links like this for as long as I can remember. The cole-slaw was great as well. The perfect amount of crisp ingredients and the perfect amount (read minimal but tasty) dressing. The sauce – I found to be one of the better sauces in town. Tangy with a hint of piquancy (chipotle as Gil mentions). I like sauce like this, so I thought it was great. If you are someone who doesn’t like that little bit of bite, you may not like it.

    And finally the not so good: Prices. The prices are a bit high in my opinion – although about on par with other BBQ joints – I guess I am saying that BBQ in general is expensive. And lest I start to sound like BOTVOLR ( 🙂 ), that his hardly a reason to stay away. Prices plus the fact that it is all the way in Bernalillo will keep my visits to a minimum. I can see myself craving those hot links, though…

  13. Looking forward to enjoying a Turkey Leg… and Brisket; love a good Brisket. It is definitely out of our neck of the woods, but we don’t mind driving for a delicious culinary experience. Joe drives so I am wondering, by any chance, if there may be some cold brew to enjoy with the BBQ?

    I may have to contact you all for directions again 🙂
    Lady Stevia

    1. Hello Lady Stevia

      Coincidentally I approved your comment on my iPhone as we were headed to Joe’s for another wonderful Friday dinner. Joe’s was really jumping last night. Lord Stevia introduced us to his absolutely amazing new seafood bisque. None of the four of us had ever seen a bisque with so much crab and shrimp. Our Chicago Italian born-and-bred sister-in-law also fell in love with the eggplant which she compared to what her sainted mother used to prepare. She’s still dreaming about the tiramisu.

      If you take the 550 exit into Bernalillo, when you get to Camino Del Pueblo go north (make a right) toward Bernalillo High School instead of south toward The Range and you’ll soon arrive at Back-Sass BBQ. Alas, you won’t find adult beverages at Back-Sass, but you will find RC Cola. As you know, the only mistake Joe’s has ever made is when you stopped carrying RC Cola. For any other restaurant that would be an unforgivable transgression, but Joe’s is too good to stay mad at for long.


  14. Alas, for Folks unfamiliar with Bernalillo’s streets and who do not know Camino del Pueblo splits or bifurcates on either side of 550 AND you try to use Google Maps to find, it will take you…presently…to a location on South Camino del Pueblo instead of here: which shows a former place. I.e. its up across from the High School. Let me know if I’m Correct or Incorrect as I’m ready to submit a correction to Google Maps.

  15. So, i get home around 8pm and heat up the Smoke Turkey Broccoli Soup, remember earlier in the day I bought 32 oz of the soup after the proprietor let Sensei and I to sample, well, I heated it up and shared some with Senorena Plata who thought it was delicious. it really is very good soup! I get smoked turkey in beans (you all know my relationship to pig) and I definitely vote that it become part of the menu along with Macaroni Salad and perhaps Special Beef Ribs. I would like to hear others thoughts on the soup and know its not just me and my bride that think its wonderful on a semi-warm April night in the Land of Enchantment…

  16. Really liked it; ate there last friday night. Had ribs and chicken sandwich…both were quite excellent. I’ve been telling people in the Bernalillo Schools that Back-Sass is a must try. Loved it!!!

  17. i use to hate BBQ but ever since I tried Back-Sass BBQ I have been longing every last turkey leg! I give Back-Sass a 9.5 rating!

  18. I joined Sensei for BBQ at this very quaint spot off the beaten path of Bernallilo that I encourage my NM Friends Who Feast to check out. It just recently opened and they need our help to make it a success. I learned they were/are a food truck and end up at different places in Albuquerque. We both had a Turkey leg, wonderfully smoked and and a good amount to eat along side of cole slaw. The Turkey leg was very dark, just the way I expected a Smoker to make it with a most delicious taste of the meat. I would occasionally have some of there sauce, a mix of semi-sweet and spicy with just the right amount of what it needs. I suggested they have Macaroni Salad as a side, they will once they find the right noodle; she said she makes a mean macaroni salad so I look forward to it. Sensei and I shared a 1/4 lb of Brisket to try, very very good with some nice burnt ends that makes Brisket what it should be, not necessarily like you would have for Rosh Hashana but the kind made in a smoker and cooked till it falls apart. To top it all off, the owner made some Smoked Turkey Soup that she had us try (on the house) and it was truely amazing, imagine small pieces of smoked turkey with brocolli, carrots and other vegetables with a good amount of pepper. We both ended up purchases 32oz to go so I can have Senorena try out. Oh Yes, since I don’t do pig, if I give enough notices, she will search high and low of some awesome BEEF RIBS which I adore; I definitely will do that. They are open 7 days a week. They are on Facebook and I hear they notify when their Food Truck is parked which is great info when hungry for BBQ. To the Owner, thanks so much for your hospitality and your BBQ. Oh, 1 last thing, we were each also given a gingerbread cookie, very very good!

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