Cafe Society

Memphis BBQ is served, sauce optional, at Yazoo Barbeque Company

Sauce is a condiment. In my opinion, it's optional." So says Don Hines, who owns Yazoo Barbeque Company, located in a strip mall across Arapahoe Road from the barbecue joint where Jabo Lawson makes 125 varieties of sauce. Though the two restaurants are just yards from each other, they're on opposite ends of the barbecue style spectrum.

Hines's rendition is flavored by his training in Memphis, where he worked on barbecue teams twenty years ago. Then he moved out to Colorado and, frustrated by the lack of decent barbecue options in Denver, opened the original Yazoo on the edge of downtown, at 2150 Broadway. And five years ago, he expanded south into Greenwood Village.

At both Yazoo locations, Hines uses a Memphis-style dry rub on his ribs, pork shoulder and brisket to lock in flavor. "If you're using sauce, it blocks the smoke from getting into the meat," he told me. And those meats get cooked over pecan wood: "Too much hickory gets bitter. You get a nice color and sweet smoke with pecan wood."

The same treatment is given the Bob, a house specialty I tried when I stopped by the second Yazoo a few weeks ago, plopping myself down in the silent, cavernous dining room in the middle of the afternoon. Inspired by a dinner that Hines makes when he's deer hunting, the Bob takes chunks of raw chicken and wraps them with slices of piquant jalapeño and a thin strip of bacon. The bites are skewered, then thrown in the pit — and the end result is sweet, succulent, lightly smoked chicken that works well with the tart fried pickles served on the side. And especially with some sauce, which gives the chicken (one of my least favorite meats) some added punch.

Because despite his opinion that sauce is optional, Hines still puts out bottles of the stuff, housemade and thick, ranging from sweet to extra hot. Although they're loosely Memphis style, "I learned how to make them out here," Hines says.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk