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Jabo's Bar-Be-Q provides northern Louisiana flavor in the southern suburbs

Jabo's Bar-Be-Q provides northern Louisiana flavor in the southern suburbs
Mark Manger
An array of barbecue sauces back up the sandwiches at Jabo's. See more photos from inside Jabo's Bar-Be-Q.

I played a lot of hooky in high school. Especially during sixth period, an unpalatable world geography lesson that started, somewhat inconveniently, right around noon. So I frequently used this 47-minute time slot for an entirely different kind of geographical education: exploring the culinary landscape of the Denver Tech Center. And whenever the weather was nice, I undertook an in-depth study of northern Louisiana cooking at Jabo's Bar-Be-Q, which has likely served me much better than an ability to point out Kazakhstan on a map.

At that point, Jabo's was a cart operation based in a vacant lot near the Yosemite/I-25 overpass, a mobile vendor years before mobile vending became trendy. Jabo Lawson ran a portable smoker that operated on hickory wood and cooked ribs so succulent the meat fell off the bone if you even looked at it funny. He also sold sandwiches of hot links, brisket and pulled pork on buttery buns, and he smothered everything with a thick, lip-smacking homemade sauce.

I would join the line of people snaking its way to the front of the cart, where Lawson, with his lyrical Southern accent and mellow good nature, would make them feel like the most important thing they could do that day was really enjoy lunch. Afterward, I'd grudgingly go back to seventh-period biology at Cherry Creek High School — fending off a food coma, reeking of pit smoke and fooling absolutely no one as to my extracurricular activities.

Jabo's has become a permanent fixture in the southern suburbs. See more photos from inside Jabo's Bar-Be-Q.
Mark Manger
Jabo's has become a permanent fixture in the southern suburbs. See more photos from inside Jabo's Bar-Be-Q.

Location Info

Map

Jabo's Bar-Be-Q

9682 E. Arapahoe Road
Englewood, CO 80112

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs

Details

Jabo's Bar-Be-Q
Sliced beef dinner (with two sides and two scones) $16.50
Rib and link combo dinner (with two sides and two scones) $17.50
Pulled pork sandwich $6.75
Honey-maple baked beans $2.50
Beer-battered French fries $2.50
Sweet-potato fries $3
Utah scone with honey butter $1.50
9682 East Arapahoe Road,
Greenwood Village
303-799-4432
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday
through Saturday

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By the time I graduated, Jabo's had already moved on — to a brick-and-mortar establishment in a strip-mall complex on Arapahoe Road. "I'd still be out there if I could," he told me when I stopped by his place a few weeks ago and mentioned that I'd frequented his roadside stand. "I used to do 250 lunches in three hours." A native of Oklahoma, Lawson had worked in several barbecue houses in Five Points, but when he struck out on his own, he imported a family sauce recipe from Shreveport – an area flavored more by the Creole influence than the Cajun overtones so prominent in southern Louisiana. The strip of land where he started cooking in 1996 belonged to the Church of God, and a generous minister allowed him to operate on the property. But in late 2002, the church sold the land to the city, and the bureaucrats forced the mobile vendor to move. "Greenwood Village has a lot of rules," he said simply.

Lawson quickly found a new spot, a former Heavenly Hams franchise, and did a fast makeover, cramming overstuffed booths – golden bolts securing the fake red upholstery in place — into the dining room above a black-and-white-tiled floor. He kept a few of the Heavenly Hams features, including coolers that still line the wall behind the back counter, where Lawson and his one waiter take to-go orders and pour iced tea. Blessed with a large kitchen, Lawson traded in his little outdoor barbecue pit – the same type that masters in southern Texas and Louisiana use — for a custom-built, in-house smoker, where he can cook 700 pounds of meat at once. That development prompted him to expand the menu, adding sides and dinners to his sandwich list. His sauce offerings grew, too: Today he keeps about six in rotation out of 125 variations, available at different levels of spiciness.

Lawson doesn't deal in Tabasco-style hot sauce — "We cook with less heat" in northern Louisiana, he explained — but he offers a couple of versions that are so hot, a dab from the end of a toothpick is enough to turn you red and make you sputter while tears stream down your face. "Capsaicin," he explained with a belly chuckle when I tried that dab. "They take the seeds and veins of the habanero pepper and turn them into an oil. One drop'll make you scream."

After I'd downed about a gallon of water, he brought me a taste of the medium-hot original — which is thick and dark, equal parts honey-sweet and savory with a kiss of tartness, a nip of smoke and its own considerable bite of heat. When I begged for the ingredients, he laughed again. "Now, I can't tell you those secrets," he cautioned, and refused to even name any of the spices, which he gets from a local producer who ships them within seven days of grinding them so they don't lose their oils while sitting on some warehouse shelf. But Lawson did divulge that since the old masters never made sauce with honey, molasses or corn syrup, he doesn't use them, either, although he will add some jalapeño or habanero.

Once I finished grilling Lawson, he left me to listen to the restaurant's loud soul soundtrack while he went back to the kitchen to make my dinner. Soon after, the waiter delivered my plate, which was divided into sections and held a rib-and-hot-link combo with that original sauce, as well as a side of baked beans. The pork rib was better than my memories: two inches thick, layered with opaque fat, deeply infused with throat-stinging smoke and so tender it practically melted into a puddle in my mouth. Shamelessly, I picked at the bone until I'd found every morsel of meat. The fiery, coarsely ground, housemade sausages in their taut casings that had made such a good sandwich in high school were just as good on their own. I chased down every chunk, adding them to bites of the sweet, bacony beans in a stew-thick sauce. Lawson isn't shy about using honey in that side; he told me he keeps a pail of the natural sugar, straight from the beehive, in back. The beans are supplemented with maple syrup and hickory-smoked bacon.

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13 comments
Chefhoney
Chefhoney

Jabo's is EXCELLENT and I for one will HAPPILY PAY for good, no GREAT homemade INDEPENDENT food made with soul and love. We make regular trips to visit Jabo and listen to his stories and are sure to tell everyone we know to so the same. Chain restaurants have NOTHING on food made with a man's own 2 hands and his own recipes. The fact that he offers so many sauce options and heat levels is just icing on the cake. And don't get me started on that scone...I have to save it till the end or I'll melt right out of my booth. I love the look Jabo gives my 5'4" female self everytime I order the Hot Link sandwich with 1/2 pound of brisket. I'd pay just for that smile!!!

Jay
Jay

I've been going here for a while now and it is definitely the best bbq I have come across in Colorado. Jabo is the coolest person you will ever meet too. I always get the sliced beef sandwich with either medium grape bbq or mango bbq sauce. Everything on the menu is delicious and don't ever go without getting at least a couple of scones. Both the original and sweet potato fries are amazing as well as the baked beans. Jabo will tell you everything you need to know about bbq and after eating his heavenly food you will understand why he is the king of bbq.

DRoth
DRoth

Not only is Jabo's the greatest BBQ in Colorado, Dwight (Jabo) and Susan are the two sweetest people as well. Be sure to spend a few moments of Jabo's time because he might be the greatest story teller to live on the face of the earth. Everytime I visit Jabo's I feel like I am that much cooler of a person just because of the ora that Jabo shines on others. Medium Mango Jabo Dog is better than anything that "I know good BBQ" commenter can dream of. Stop being a troll and go eat your Sam Taylors. Love me some Jabos.

Sauercat
Sauercat

Good thing I trust your taste in cuisine about as much as I respect your grammar and spelling...

I know good BBQ
I know good BBQ

I too tried Jabo's before and after he moved. He should of stayed on the side of the road.

When I visited his new location the pork ribs were so over cooked they looked like beef ribs... if you have to ask then you don't know bbq.....

And what type of BBQ joint has cherry flavored sauce????????????

Jabo had better stay in Denver, if he tries to return to Oklahoma he'll be laughed in bankruptucy court................

If you want good, strike that...... great BBQ in Denver go to Sam Taylor's.......

Norm
Norm

The first time I went to Jabo's was in the church parking lot and I ordered a hot link. I swear bright lights immediately shown down from above and I was immersed in a warming, glowing aura as Jabo (or was it Moses) spoke these words to me, "What kind of meat topping would you like on your hot link?" I think I cried a little. One hot link, covered in pulled pork and topped with hot apricot bbq sauce, and I was converted.

But the restaurant is better because of the sweet potato fries and the scones...I love this place.

Zionlyon
Zionlyon

I have eaten at Jabo's only one time. The bbq was very good but for the prices didn't stand out from many other places. If you are going to spend $18-20 for a meal go to Schnieds in Littleton, 2 people can be satisfied with their rack of rib dinner and it is the best in town!

Keith Stansell
Keith Stansell

I got some sunburns on my bald head waiting in line when he was in the church parking lot, but it was worth it. I work downtown now, but glad to see he is still making great BBQ. I need to make a special weekend trip over to Greenwood Village.

Leland Baker
Leland Baker

Nice to see Dwight and Susan get some recognition. Fantastic people making fantastic food. Or is that Ferrell's?

Scooterpam
Scooterpam

Yummy! I work right by this joint! It's my favorite BBQ in Denver!

Yum
Yum

God, that sounds awesome.

goalie8174
goalie8174

seriously? Sam Taylors???? No way, i gave that place 2 tries.. Both times I was wishing i could have my money back, go over to king soopers and buy the ribs from the frozen food section. Sam Taylors rib's reminded me of old leather..

 
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