By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(March 5) For some folks, barbecue is a summer indulgence. For others, it’s a way of life—just ask Scotty Kenton, owner and founder of Hog Rock Barbecue of Montrose. A smoldering passion for cooking became a bright flame when Kenton acquired his first smoker from a Southern-born friend, and for the past 20 years, he has been the go-to guy for great barbecue in Montrose and throughout the region.“Real barbecue is slow cooking with smoke,” Kenton said. “It’s not just hamburgers on the grill; that’s fun, but it’s not barbecue.
True Barbecue imparts flavors of smoke and seasoning into the meat, he noted, and is done over time at low temps.
“Four hours of low heat with lots of smoke, liquids and seasonings followed by three to five hours of high heat will usually do the trick,” he said. “I especially enjoy the fact that for a dinner at say, 6 pm, you get to start the smoker first thing in the morning – like a backyard barbecue that lasts all day.”
Kenton, who credits his friend Doug Roberts for getting him started, cooks about a ton of meat in an average year.
“Doug was born in the South, and he moved here from Kansas City with a smoker,” Kenton said. “I became its foster parent; I don’t think I could cook a really good steak before that. Doug and I have been to Memphis three times, and we have visited Graceland. We ate ribs three times in one day. He really egged me on—he did a lot of talking, and I did a lot of work!
“I also worked at Mountain Valley Fish & Oyster for six years and learned something about fish,” Kenton said. “Through that job I was introduced to chefs, and made the great connections that really made me the meat mercenary. Those connections helped Kenton land one of his biggest annual gigs (although he works mainly in May, June and July, he books about 30 parties a year), cooking for the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. “I have cooked backstage at Blues and Brews for six years,” he said. “We do whole pigs, or brisket. We cook chicken too, and it can be tricky to make sure everything is ready at the same time. You only sleep when you’re not cooking; it’s like camping out for four days.
“Next year is the 20th Annual, and I’ll be working for the caterer,” Kenton said. “We’ll serve 1,200 to 1,400 VIP’s on Friday alone. I don’t just cook; I warm up plates for the chefs, and help out.” Although the biggest stars tend to take meals to the bus, Kenton has met many of the opening acts over the years. “I have played touch football with Los Lonely Boys,” he noted. Today Kenton owns three smokers, and frequently fires all of them up at once.
“A lot of times I will have pork in one, beef in another, and turkey in the other,” he said. “For pork shoulder, or Boston butt as they call it, I cook it for about an hour and a quarter per pound, for ribs, three hours or longer. Brisket is the hardest to master—you need to trim and add liquids. For beginners, “I suggest starting with pork shoulder (for pulled pork) which is by far the easiest, and then work towards brisket and ribs.”
Kenton, who hopes to someday complete his own book, currently recommends Backyard BBQ by Smokin Mo’s BBQ team (aka Mike Lindley) for those who want detailed instructions. For rubs and sauces, he swears by those created by an acquaintance named Jennifer, also known online as The Sauce Goddess. “Forget the store and go to the Internet,” he advises. “John Henry BBQ sauces and rubs are on Facebook, and my all-time favorite – Jennifer the “Sauce Goddess;” wow, all things good are here at Saucegoddess.com – I suggest Sweet Heat rub with the Big Tangy sauce for your next ribs.
“You can also email me with any questions, at email@example.com,” he said. Although he is no stranger to the world of competitive barbecue, Kenton takes a more low-key approach. “I have done competition barbecue, and it can be fun, but cooking should not be competitive,” he said. “It’s about getting a bunch of people together, and sitting down over a meal. I like the personal touch.” When not busy catering, Kenton and his wife Nancy spend time RV traveling, and Kenton enjoys creating meals for two on the road. “I am always relaxed when I am cooking,” he said. “I just love it! I never tire of the job, even at 2 am. “And my very favorite spot is my own backyard.”
For Tyler Jones, owner of Rib City Grill (1521 Oxbow Drive, Suite 165), great barbecue is also a way of life, and the draw that keeps folks coming back to his hometown franchise for more. “Barbecue is an American kind of slow cooking,” Jones said. “It smells great, and it tastes great. And it is easy to control quality with a smoker on site.”
Jones, who opened Rib City Grill in Montrose seven years ago, said that he was captivated by the idea after a friend opened a Rib City franchise in Grand Junction. “Barbecue has been a hot market segment for the past five to ten years,” he said. “We smoke thousands of pounds of meat every week—we probably go through 500 pounds of pork, a couple hundred pounds of turkey, and 1,000 pounds of ribs, easily.” Jones said that his personal favorites include baby back ribs and Rib City’s signature pulled pork sandwich. “It’s off the charts,” he said. And while he admits that the economic collapse of 2008 made business much more competitive, Rib City has survived, and survived with true, hot and flavorful Western style.“We are still here, and doing well,” he said. “That’s a sign that people like our product.” Rib City Grill can be reached at 970-249-7427.
Longtime Ridgway local and restaurant owner Tammee Tuttle waits until temperatures rise before breaking out her barbecue concession trailer. However, the True Grit Café owner has no trouble understanding why so many people find barbecue to be the ultimate “comfort food.”
“Who didn’t grow up eating barbecue?” she asked. “It’s part of our heritage, and who we are—it’s Uncle Larry with his amazing recipe–who doesn’t remember somebody from their childhood who made the best pulled pork, the best ribs, etc.?” True Grit Café, located at 123 North Lena, can be reached at 970-626-5739.