Archaeologists in Spain claim to have unearthed the original man cave. What is most remarkable about this finding is how very similar Neanderthal man and contemporary man are. Men, it could be said, have not evolved much. Neanderthals were hairy and brutish in appearance, very much like the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. They spoke in guttural grunts, similar to today’s politicians. Neanderthals scrawled their art on cave walls; contemporary man expresses himself artistically on bridges, underpasses and walls. Neanderthal man used tools: hammers, clubs and axes; contemporary man uses tools: television remote controls, joy sticks and iPhones.
Cultural anthropologists (and Barbara Streisand) have long posited that throughout evolutionary history, man has had an inherent need for belonging to a social group. We are driven to form and maintain at least a few lasting, positive and significant interpersonal relationships. For many men, the two most powerful bonding agents are sports and what we like to call “barbecue” even though what we’re doing is “grilling.” We derive a sense of belonging through our affiliation with the sports teams we like–to the extent that we wear team apparel which encases us like engorged sausages. We like to get together to cheer our teams and express our contempt and ridicule for teams we dislike (the Eagles and Giants).
Men like to pair our two favorite bonding agents, but that’s not always possible because grilling…er, barbecue season doesn’t completely overlap with the NFL season. So, when the angry bite of winter’s winds prevent us from grilling outdoors, we make like our hunter-gatherer ancestors and scour the landscape for a pub or restaurant where we’re surrounded by large flat-screen televisions and preferably, even larger portions of barbecue. Sadly, while large screens have become nearly as common as orange barrels on Albuquerque’s streets, they’re not often paired with large portions of barbecue. Thankfully, barbecue is an everyday of the week event not dependent on sports to be enjoyed.
One of the other great things about barbecue is that it’s just as delicious if you’re celebrating your team’s victories or commiserating with friends when some dishonest, half-blind referee blew a call (or ten) that cost our team the game. For decades, denizens of the City of Vision have shared triumph, tragedy and bodacious barbecue at a familiar address: 4000 Barbara Loop. For nearly a quarter of a century, that address was home to the legendary Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant where Gary West plied his craft with the same precision, skill and discipline as a Shaolin monk practicing kung fu.
Two other barbecue restaurants–Rub-N-Wood BBQ and Stack House BBQ–gave it the old college try at that familiar address, but neither had the staying power or customer loyalty of Gary West’s Smokehouse. When we heard (from Gary himself) that Sean, one of Gary’s former employees had launched a barbecue restaurant “in the same style as my old business,” we were thrilled, visions dancing in my head of Gary imparting the secrets of great barbecue to his protege (or grasshopper in the Kung Fu vernacular). To me, “Smokehouse style” is largely defined by the incomparable smoke burger, a behemoth smoked beef patty adorned with green chile and barbecue sauce. I had more than a hundred of them so the prospect of my favorite burger being resurrected thrilled me.
Three months into owning and operating Triple B’s Bar-B-Que, Burgers and Burritos, Sean does have plans to reintroduce the fabled smoke burger once the restaurant has a better idea of its daily traffic. Understandably, Sean wants each burger to be served at the optimum freshness and to avoid wastage. As at The Smokehouse, the smoke burger will probably be offered as a special on Wednesdays. Among the other Smokehouse touches are the sauces. Triple B’s offers three sauces–bold, sweet and Carolina Gold–with the bold sauce evoking memories of The Smokehouse. Sean explained that the company which manufactured the base sauce used at The Smokehouse is now out-of-business, but his bold sauce is close, very close.
True to the name on the marquee Triple B’s menu is replete with the three B’s: barbecue, burgers and burritos. Barbecue–sliced brisket, chopped brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, ribs, hot links or smoked sausage–are available in sandwich form (with seasoned fries), in plates (with two sides and Texas toast) or by the half-pound. There are six burgers on the menu, all half-pound behemoths constructed from hand-pressed Angus beef patty with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles on a toasted bun with seasoned fries. Burritos, available in hand-held fashion or smothered are stuffed with cheese, onion, tomato and your choice of chile or BBQ sauce with one side. Best, you can have them stuffed with your favorite smoked meat.
1 January 2020: Carnivorous cravings will be quickly quelled with two- or three-meat plates. My three choices were sliced brisket, smoked sausage and ribs with accompaniments of potato salad and corn nuggets. The sliced brisket is a must, more lean than fatty but with a meat-candy-like bark. It’s moist, tender and has only a faint hint of smoke from the low heat that burns oak. More smokiness can be found in the pork ribs, two salt and pepper rubbed planks with a lacquered on sauce. These ribs are meaty, juicy and delicious. The smoked sausage is sliced diagonally and has a very balanced flavor profile. It’s a little bit sweet with nuances of salt and other spices. It pairs very well with the Carolina Gold sauce.
1 January 2020: Pulled pork and ribs graced my Kim’s two meat plate. Tender tendrils of pulled pork were a hugestyle=”border: 4px solid black; margin-top: 3px; margin-bottom: 3px;” success with my bride. While pulled pork can dry out easily and often lacks much flavor, Triple B’s version delivered an array of tastes and textures–smoky, sweet, juicy and tender. The pulled pork pairs nicely with the Carolina Gold sauce, just as it does in the Carolinas where the swine is fine and pork is king. My Kim’s sides were corn on the cob and okra, both of which she enjoyed immensely.
1 April 2020: Though nearly seven years have elapsed since Gary West closed the legendary Smokehouse, no other restaurant before or since comes close to the number of times (101) I visited Rio Rancho’s premier pantheon of barbecue. My very favorite of the many wonderful items offered at the Smokehouse was the smoke burger, a Wednesday must-have ritual for many of us who worked at Intel. When the Smokehouse shuttered its doors in 2013, we feared we had enjoyed our very last smoke burger. It’s only fitting that our favorite burger be resurrected at the hands of a Smokehouse alum. In March, 2020, Triple B’s began serving smoke burgers as a Wednesday special.
1 April 2020: Outstanding as Triple B’s burgers all may be, the smoke burger is a life-changer, one of the most unique and outstanding burgers in the Land of Enchantment. As with traditional barbecue, smoking burgers is a low-and-slow process (albeit not nearly as slow as smoking other cuts of meat). Because smoking triggers a chemical reaction within the meat that turns it slightly pink (similar in color to the smoke ring on other meats), the smoke burger has a reddish hue that should never be mistaken for undercooked. Smoke burgers are prepared at about a medium degree of doneness and are infused with a delightful hint of the woods on which they’re smoked. You’ll want to retain that aroma on your hands for at least a day. Better still, Triple B’s should distill it into aftershave form. It would be a huge hit with carnivorous males.
As it was at the Smokehouse, my favorite burger is destined to be a green chile cheese smoke burger with barbecue sauce and no other condiments. Only one change will I make next time. Two half-pound beef patties, it turns out, make for a pretty big burger…too big even for me. It’s a true behemoth, a skyscraper of a burger. My Kim had a single and it was plenty big enough for her. The green chile isn’t especially piquant, but it’s got a nice smoky flavor that goes very well with Triple B’s sweet sauce. The buns, though formidable enough for most burgers, had one heckuva time with my double meat monster. Had I been smarter, I would have saved the second beef patty and enjoyed another burger. This surprisingly moist and absolutely delicious burger is a better reason to love Wednesdays than the fact that it’s hump day.
1 July 2020: Should you visit Triple B’s on a Wednesday after all the smoke burgers have run out, rest assured there’s not a significant drop-off between the sublime smoke burger and the more traditional burgers on the menu (not that burgers such as the Southern burger (topped with pulled pork and coleslaw) are exactly traditional). From among the eight burgers on the menu, my early favorite is the mushroom Swiss burger, a half-pound beef patty topped with grilled mushrooms and two thick slices of melted Swiss cheese. The mushrooms are definitely not out of a can, ergo a umami lift that pair wonderfully with the beef.
In Triple B’s Bar-B-Que, Burgers and Burritos, Rio Rancho has a great restaurant where modern neanderthals can gather to discuss their favorite sports teams’ conquests while we enjoy great barbecue in the tradition of the legendary Smokehouse.
Triple B’s Bar-B-Que Burgers & Burritos
2218 Southern Blvd, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2020
1st VISIT: 1 January 2020
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Sliced Brisket, Sausage, Pulled Pork, Pork Ribs, Green Chile Cheese Smokeburger, Mushroom Swiss Burger