Local author Adrian Miller has won the 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship for Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. Among his many culinary interests is barbecue. Miller is a certificated barbecue judge and, in honor of The Five Days of Meat, we asked him to discuss the barbecue scene in Denver.
So you're a certificated barbecue judge? What does that mean? Barbecue is much like boxing, with several different governing bodies. I'm a certificated judge under the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which is the largest one in the United States. It basically means that I know all the sanctioned rules set forth by the Society, which allows me fairly and accurately judge all the different barbecue criteria.
What do you think about the Denver barbecue scene?I'll have to say, it is a a lot better than it was ten years ago. There are some superlative joints and then are are some that are lacking. The main problem is that restaurants are trying to be all things to all people and mudding the waters of barbecue by doing so. A restaurant should get really good at one type of barbecue and stick with that, instead of being just okay with several different types.
Many people say that Denver's barbecue scene is lacking. Do you agree?Although there are some great spots here in Denver, there are some annoying things about what places are trying to do. One trend that I'm not a fan of is the mixing of too many styles of barbecue without any thought into the tradition behind it. Another thing that doesn't make barbecue stand out in Denver is that too many places cook one style of smoked meat instead of different methods; then they top with regional sauces, which is not traditional. My biggest issue is the joints that bake their meat, put sauce on it and call it barbecue. That's not barbecue at all.
Why do you think Denver is behind in the barbecue scene?There are so many transplants here in Denver that it's being dominated mostly by Kansas and Texas styles. We used to have our own style, but it's been left behind. Denver's signature barbecue dish used to be lamb barbecue where you could order a Denver rack from a butcher and they would give you lamb ribs. We've gotten away from having a signature barbecue dish. I believe there's an opportunity for someone out there to pick up this challenge.
If you're craving barbecue where do you go here in Denver? What's the best you've ever had?I believe in barbecue tiers. The top tier, in this order, would be Boney's Smoke House, Jim and Nick's and Countrytime Barbecue. My second tier would be Yazoo Barbecue, Moe's, Brother's and Famous Dave's. The best I've ever had was in San Francisco at a place called Memphis Minnie's and it was amazing. There's several close seconds in Austin and Kansas City.
It's your last meal, you can only have one type of barbecued meat, what would it be and why?I love spareribs at heart and that's usually what I order. My favorite type of barbecue is Kansas City but mostly because of the childhood memories.
What's your idea of perfect barbecue? And what does it take for it to be awesome? Truly smoked meat with a good rub that's well seasoned. I also don't like a lot of sauce. I want the smoked meat to shine.
— By Katy Hume