I travel the entire United States, and I’m lucky enough to eat some of the best food that our country offers. If you were to twist my arm and force me to pick a favorite food, I’d pick barbecue, aka ‘BBQ’.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas and had a hankering for BBQ. Where to find BBQ in Las Vegas?
When I say that I’d pick BBQ, I mean real BBQ, not the stuff they serve at Chili’s or your casual fast food restaurant. After looking far and wide, I couldn’t find a place that served real wood smoked BBQ, however, I did find a lot of places that served what I call ‘simulated’ BBQ.
I have bad news for everyone: there is no real wood smoked BBQ in Las Vegas.
‘RoadGambler is getting all uppity because I’ve had BBQ in Vegas!’
Let’s talk about one of my favorite things in this world: BBQ.
Las Vegas BBQ
If you’ve had BBQ at casual dining places like Tony Roma’s or Chili’s, you might say that you’ve had BBQ. For my BBQ craving, I stopped by Ellis Island and had their BBQ special. Here it is, and it was delicious.
These ribs, while delicious, are not barbecued ribs. They’re simulated BBQ ribs.
I’ll get to what I mean by simulated, but first, let’s talk about what is BBQ?
SO WHAT IS BBQ?
BBQ, by definition, is meat that’s slowly cooked on a low-temperature setting via an open fire heat source, known by BBQ pitmasters as ‘low and slow’. If you cook the meat low and slow but in your oven, that’s not BBQ. While you might think that’s a technicality, the open heat source usually causes the outside texture of the meat to be different, as opposed to cooked in an oven.
Also, cooking over an open heat source usually will impart some sort of smoke flavor to the meat, whereas an oven will not. When most BBQ connoisseurs and pitmasters think of BBQ, they’re usually referring to ‘smoked BBQ’. Without some sort of smoke flavor, it’s difficult to pass the meat off as BBQ.
There are many different styles of BBQ from many different regions of the U.S. In Texas, the BBQ is usually served dry. In places like Memphis, they might serve their BBQ ‘wet’, meaning covered in sauce.
Coincidentally, I was in Shreveport when I started writing this article, and my good friend Lauren, who also is an occasional BBQ fanatic, lives in San Antonio. We decided to take a route from Shreveport to Dallas, and then south to Austin and then to San Antonio. It wasn’t the most efficient way to get home, but I was determined to take some pictures of how smoked BBQ is made by a Texas barbecue pitmaster.
The pictures are below.
WHY IS THERE NO ‘BBQ’ IN LAS VEGAS?
I would love for someone to prove me wrong on this issue, but I’ve searched far and wide for real smoked BBQ in Las Vegas, and what I found almost every time was simulated BBQ.
Rather than explain what I mean by simulated BBQ, I’ll tell you how to make the simulated BBQ yourself.
Simulated BBQ ribs recipe…
First, take some baby back ribs and boil them in salted water until the ribs are tender, usually about two to three hours.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to boil, then take a rack of ribs, and sprinkle a layer of salt and pepper on the ribs, then wrap the ribs in aluminum foil and stick it in the oven for about 2 to 3 hours on 300 degrees. This is how most Las Vegas restaurants (that serve BBQ) prepare their ribs. They have a large machine or oven that allows them to forgo the wrapping process.
After the above cooking is done, be careful not to break the ribs, as they’re very tender at this point. They’ll fall apart if you’re not careful.
Start up a high heat grill when the meat is almost done.
On a side note, sometimes, people use the terms ‘grilling’ and ‘barbecue’ interchangeably. The two cooking styles are different. Grilling is cooking on high heat and the meat is cooked fast. It’s the opposite of BBQ, which is low and slow.
Once the grill is hot enough, put the ribs (or brisket or any meat that you want to simulate BBQ) on the grill and cook it until it forms a nice little crust on the outside. After the meat develops a nice crust from the high heat grill, slather your favorite BBQ sauce on the ribs. Turn the ribs over a little until the BBQ sauce is caramelized onto the ribs.
If you’re thinking that the RoadGambler knows way too much about how to simulate BBQ, it’s because I’ve done it many times.
Here’s what my simulated BBQ ribs look like when cut…
If you were to ever eat my ‘BBQ’ ribs, you would have a hard time telling that they weren’t really BBQ…if you’ve only ever eaten BBQ in a casino.
This is essentially how Las Vegas ‘BBQ’ places prepare and serve their ribs.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an executive chef at Chili’s admitting to how his ribs are made
If you don’t want to watch the video, this shot from the video says it all…
Don’t get me wrong. The food tastes good, but it’s not barbecue. It’s the equivalent of opening a can of Chef Boyardee and declaring that to be Italian Spaghetti.
A REAL SMOKED BBQ OPERATION
Genuine, real wood smoked BBQ is worlds apart and better than the ‘simulated’ BBQ stuff. Most people have never had real BBQ and don’t know what they’re missing.
If you’ve never had real wood smoked BBQ, this is what such an operation looks like…
The heat is indirect and on the side, not directly under the meat. If the heat source were directly under the meat, this would be considered grilling, not barbecuing.
Now I’m hungry.
REAL SMOKED BARBEQUE
Of course, no article would be complete unless I sampled the goods. For the sake of accuracy and completeness, I ate two plates of real smoked BBQ.
My verdict: it was delicious.
This is the BBQ from Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin, Texas.
This BBQ has a taste and texture that is far different from the ribs that you’ll find at any of the casino rib joints.
THE FINAL BITE
I love food. If food is good, then it’s good, no matter what it’s called. However, there’s a significant difference between what gets passed off as BBQ and what’s real wood smoked BBQ.
I’m telling you this so that if you ever get the chance, you should seek out a real wood smoked BBQ joint and try the food.
Be forewarned that if your experience with BBQ is limited to places like Chilis, Tony Roma’s, Binions Cafe, and all the other Vegas rib joints, you might find wood smoked BBQ to be a bit unsettling at first. With some exception, such as Alabama white sauce BBQ or Memphis wet style BBQ, most smoked meat BBQ isn’t sauced like at Chilis because they aren’t trying to hide the fact that the ribs are overbaked.
Wet BBQ styles, like Memphis BBQ, have a distinctive smokiness that you won’t find in a Vegas rib joint.
Also, the BBQ sauce usually isn’t sugary sweet like at the simulated BBQ joints.
Next time you’re in Texas, Kansas City, Memphis or any place that serves old fashioned wood smoked BBQ, do yourself a favor and grab a bite. You’ll thank me.