During a 2016 campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona, Latinos for Trump founder Marco Gutierrez warned that if the country did not adopt tighter immigration standards as proposed by Republican nominee Donald Trump, there would be “taco trucks on every corner.” For many of us, the only conceivable retort was along the lines of “what could possibly be wrong with that?” Tacos (Mexico) have become as American as pizza (Italy), apple pie (England), French fries (Belgium), hot dogs (Germany), peanut butter (Ancient Inca and Aztec civilizations) and barbecue (Caribbean). These foods may not have been invented in the good ol’ USA, but we’ve adopted them. They’re part of the fabric of what makes this country fat…er, great.
It’s likely that if you didn’t grow up hearing the adage “as American as apple pie,” you may have heard a version in which barbecue takes the place of or is included with apple pie. Barbecue, in fact, has supplanted apple pie as the proverbial All American gastronomical delight. It’s practically a cult in some parts of the fruited plain. At the very least, it represents a pop culture microcosm. Americans make pilgrimages to famous pantheons of barbecue to partake of meat cooked low and slow over indirect flame. We frequent local barbecue joints who haven’t acquired the fame fashioned by competition, television programs and books about our favorite American pastime (baseball be damned).
As a member of the instant gratification culture, I’ve never had the discipline and patience to smoke meats myself. Not when it may take twelve hours to reap the rewards of my efforts. Instead, like many Americans, I drag out my grill, put on my “Kiss the cook” apron, throw a slab of meat on it and heat it within an inch of its life. What I won’t do…ever…is call it barbecue. Long before becoming a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) barbecue judge, I’ve known the difference between barbecue and grilling. There’s really no comparison. Barbecue–true barbecue–is far superior!
Because I’m too lazy to employ low and slow techniques to smoke meats and don’t really like the flavor of grilled meats (at least the way I incinerate them into coal-like slabs), my only recourse is to visit barbecue restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. With an ear to the ground (sounds kind of messy), we remain abreast of new brick and mortar restaurants and food trucks serving the Duke City. Usually there’s quite a bit of fanfare, especially within the Yelper community. Before long, other social media sources jump on the bandwagon, anointing the new barbecue joint with the type of adulation ascribed to shiny new things.
Other than thirteen reviews and a four and a half star rating (as of this writing) on Yelp there hasn’t been much fanfare about the most recent addition to the Duke City barbecue scene. You might think a barbecue restaurant named “Duke City BBQ” would garner quite a bit more attention, especially since it’s smoking some good stuff. Duke City BBQ is located at a very familiar location. It’s housed at the former home of longtime Albuquerque mainstay Siam Cafe on San Mateo directly across the street from Cliff’s Amusement Park. Sitting next to the windows might be the restaurant’s best seating if you like to watch riders screaming on the roller coaster.
Duke City BBQ is owned by Yogesh Patel and Esteban Quezada. Esteban was on hand during our inaugural visit. He told us he’s from El Paso, but that the ribs are in the style of Kansas City. Esteban graciously gave me a demo of the Southern Pride wood-burning smoker in which aromatic hickory heats up low and slow. Brisket, he told me, takes about twelve hours. Ribs a little bit longer. Fragrant smoke enveloped us when he opened up the smoker to show me how meats are strategically positioned on rotating shelves. Meats are slathered with a rub then wrapped tightly in aluminum foil before they go into the smoker.
Duke City BBQ has all of the trappings of many barbecue restaurants even though Esteban might be slightly more comfortable speaking Spanish than English. We couldn’t identify a single vestige of Siam Cafe. Country music is piped over the restaurant’s sound system and televisions on the brick walls are muted. As you walk in you’ll espy a counter made of rust-colored corrugated metal. The menu is positioned directly above that counter. Esteban told us new items–including turkey breast and loaded baked potatoes–will continue to be added to an already formidable menu.
As with most barbecue restaurants, sides play a very important role in the enjoyment of your meal. On the “Pick A Side” section of the menu, you’ll find a lot of the standards: coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, cream corn, mac n’ cheese, chips and fries. We were to learn sides are just a little different…maybe a little better. There are four sandwiches on the menu: brisket, spicy BBQ chop, pulled pork and sausage. If you’re hungry, you can order one, two or five meat combos or you can order meats by the half-pound. Hot and regular sausage are also available. Desserts include banana pudding, tres leches pudding and Rice Krispies treats.
17 February 2023: For readers who believe we actually devour everything on our plates during our dining excursions, let me assure you there’s no way we can polish off everything we order. Ordering a lot of food makes for great leftovers and for not having to cook the next day. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did wipe out the entire pint of baked beans. Studded with brisket, these baked beans are terrific, not nearly as molasses sweet as some baked beans tend to be. Because the brisket inherits some of the qualities of the rub which is deeply massaged into the brisket, it’s got a lot of flavor and personality.
17 February 2023: It took a bit of self-control not to cram down a pint of the cream corn. What made this cream corn so er, creamy is cream cheese, not the scraping out of the milky pulp of the corn cob kernels. Cream cheese makes this rendition of cream corn much thicker and richer. It’s a calorie-laden indulgence. We didn’t order the coleslaw, but Esteban wanted it to try it anyway. No ordinary coleslaw is this. This unique coleslaw is dotted with mango, pineapple and cranberries. Those three ingredients meld well with the cabbage, shredded carrots and a light salad cream.
17 February 2023: Claudia Roden, a prominent food writer wrote: “The smell of roasting meat together with that of burning fruit wood and dried herbs, as voluptuous as incense in a church, is enough to turn anyone into a budding gastronome.” If you ever step into a barbecue restaurant and aren’t immediately surrounded by the intoxicating aroma of smoked meats, you may as well walk back out. Those aromas are the coming attraction, the preamble, the preview of what’s to come. It’s an essential part of the barbecue experience.
17 February 2023: When you think of brisket, you think of Texas. More specifically, you think of Central Texas (with Austin as its epicenter) and the Hill Country (New Braunfels comes to mind). You don’t think El Paso, but that’s where Esteban developed his serious smoke skills. He never worked in a barbecue restaurant, but he’s studied his tail off learning the art of low and slow. My half-pound of brisket won me over quickly. It’s somewhat fatty, but you can slice that off and still enjoy the smokiness and moistness of a very good brisket. My favorite part was the bark, that tasty, chewy crust that forms on meat after hours of low n slow smoking.
17 February 2023: My Kim’s favorite smoked meat is chicken. As with other meats, the chicken is rubbed with salt, pepper and various other spices and aromatics. Pepper is especially prominent. There’s a lot of white meat among the dark. Sauce is definitely not needed though Duke City BBQ offers two excellent sauces, both made on the premises. There’s a spicy sauce (with personality) and a regular sauce. Esteban will proudly tell you the sauces are made from scratch, not from some “doctored” starter sauce. Sauces and condiments such as pickles, onions and jalapeños are available in an area just before the bay of windows.
14 May 2023: Unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian, it seems most XY-chromosome blessed heterogametic males have carnivorous cravings. Men seem predisposed to consume beef. That’s not just my observation. A study conducted by UCLA in 2021 polled 706 US adults between the ages of 18–88 about both their meat consumption levels and openness to becoming vegan or vegetarian, as well as their sense of gender identify and conformity to traditional gender roles. The study concluded that “Men like to eat more meat than women because they feel it helps to ‘to enact and affirm their masculine identity’.” Aaargh! There goes my man card again.
My Kim would probably describe my reaction at seeing baked potatoes on Duke City BBQ’s menu as “giddy.” My Chicago born-and-bred bride loves meat, especially steak. Me, I’d rather have a baked potato than steak or just about any other meat. That’s especially true if the baked potato is prepared by a Mexican chef or cook. Duke City BBQ’s baked potato can best be described as “fully loaded.” It’s got lots of butter, sour cream, cheese and corn. It’s also topped with your choice of protein. Esteban piled brisket so high on a football-sized potato that we couldn’t see the other toppings. The brisket was terrific with lots of bark, those caramelized pieces that really do taste like meat candy. We mixed everything up so as to enjoy each topping in every bite. Predictably my Kim attacked the brisket while I enjoyed the softer ingredients (and yes, I do have all my teeth).
14 May 2023: A vintage television commercial for Ivory Snow laundry detergent describes it as 99 and 44/100 percent pure. While that level of purity may be good for laundry detergent, it wouldn’t make for great barbecue. Great barbecue has to have bark and fatty bits. Otherwise it’s bland and boring. Maybe the closest to purity is smoked turkey. A turkey sandwich at Duke City BBQ is just about the most pure barbecue you’ll find. Sans fatty bits and bark, it’s got just a bit of the characteristic smoke ring that signifies that the meat underwent a chemical reaction due to the low-and-slow smoking style in which it was prepared. The chemical stuff isn’t as important as how good smoked turkey can be. Even without sauce and other accoutrements (coleslaw would have been nice), Duke City BBQ’s turkey sandwich is magically delicious.
17 February 2023: Desserts include at least one surprise, one based on a dessert with which aficionados of Mexican food are familiar. That would be tres leches pudding. It really is like eating tres leches cake, albeit a unique rendition. The banana pudding is more traditional, everything you’d expect from banana pudding. Both are very sweet and very rich. You would be well advised to save some of your savory fare to eat with your dessert. Otherwise all that sugar may have you pinging off the walls.
Barbecue may not have had its genesis in the United States, but Duke City BBQ is as All American as it gets. Take some home with you and pair it with apple pie for an even more All American meal.
Duke City BBQ
5500 San Mateo Blvd., N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 14 May 2023
1st VISIT: 17 February 2023
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Brisket, Half Chicken, Baked Beans, Creamed Corn, Coleslaw, Tres Leches Pudding, Banana Pudding, Baked Potato, Turkey Sandwich