When my best friend from high school took his first job in Kansas City, our barbecue mania deepened considerably. We had cut our teeth at California institutions Flint's Barbecue and Chris and Pits, but nothing had prepared us for the tone of Kansas City barbecue. This was serious business -- the major league.
My visits became smokehouse adventures. Frantically crisscrossing the region, we once hit nine different joints in five days. We talked with pitmasters, tested rubs and experimented with smoke. My friend bought a competition smoker, I mastered my Weber, and we'd FedEx each other samples using Styrofoam coolers and ice packs.
If I wanted K.C.Q. here in the Springs, I made it myself or hoped for a gift. But now I have somewhere to go: Slayton's Barbecue & Creamery. A new venture from Salsa Brava owner Randal Price, Slayton's opened right next door and bears an Old West look, with wooden tables and chairs framed by heavy beams, exposed ducts and beige and brown paint. Off to a great start, Slayton's should compete for preeminence in the local barbecue community.
Making good Kansas City barbecue is no easy task. Purists use dry rub and hickory smoke, eschewing any outside moisture until the food hits the plate. There's no hiding behind the sauce; this is naked barbecue.
Rubs can be fickle, smoker temperatures can vary (especially at altitude) and controlling the hickory is particularly difficult because the line between too little and too much is thinner than your average smoke ring. With so many pitfalls and perils, I wondered if these folks could pull it off.
In broad terms, the answer definitely is yes. Slayton's pitmaster passes the test, demonstrating solid technique and a soft touch with hickory flavor across the board -- which in our case included ribs, brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork and turkey sprawled across three trays, escorted by side dishes, including a lovely couscous salad and tasty onion rings. All but the burnt ends arrive completely naked, prepared to stand on their own merit for judgment.
Along with the burnt ends, the ribs and pulled pork are most impressive. Rosy 'round the edges, tender and just chewy enough to satisfy, the sparerib meat easily pulls away from the bone and threatens, at times, to steal the show. But the pork, bursting with smoke and a hint of bacon, doesn't let it.
In contrast, Slayton's brisket, the crown jewel in the KC barbecue kingdom, could use some extra polish. Despite a textbook smoke ring and decent flavor, the thin slices suffer for being a bit dry and tough.
With so much going for Slayton's, including prices between $7 and $18, a few tweaks would make a big difference. The brisket, for example, is just too lean. Minor adjustments to the rub (bolder), cooking time (longer) and temperature (cooler) would bring out further richness from each cut in the form of flavor and melted fat.
But these are less significant things that matter only because Slayton's already has achieved a level of excellence. I'm no softy when it comes to 'cue, and Slayton's has superstar potential. The pork and ribs prove they have the basics down pat. A little fine-tuning surely will catapult Slayton's into Colorado Springs' barbecue elite.
If you like Kansas City-style barbecue, you might want to get on the bandwagon while seats are still available.
-- David Torres-Rouff
Slayton's Barbecue & Creamery
803 Village Center Drive at Rockrimmon, 266-5300 or
11 a.m. to 9 p.m.