In Santa Fe, depending on who your companions happen to be, eating meat is either anathema or a prerequisite—particularly in summer, when several pounds of dead flesh and some PBR is pretty much all you need for a successful party. My years spent living in Texas having landed me firmly in the latter camp, I decided to embark on a studious and highly scientific mission: to find Santa Fe’s best barbecue—the quintessential summer meat.
Among barbecue fanatics, there are several competing schools of thought when it comes to how the stuff should be prepared. According to a fellow meat-lover who spent his formative BBQ years in North Carolina, pulled pork should be moistened with vinegar-based, Carolina-style sauce, then served on a bun with coleslaw (on the bun, not on the side). In Texas, beef brisket is generally thinly sliced, across the grain, and served by the pound, often at weddings or parties. St. Louis does ribs. In fact, almost every state has its own version of barbecue; Santa Fe offers an interesting amalgam. We tried pulled pork and brisket sandwiches—two key indicators of BBQ proficiency—at three local meat purveyors, and here’s what we found.
The Ranch House
Last year, acclaimed meat maven Josh Baum shuttered his beloved Josh’s BBQ and opened The Ranch House, a full-service bar and restaurant on the south side. The vibe here is distinctly Texan, with country music playing softly from behind the heavy, wood-paneled bar. The shredded brisket is a distinct highlight: moist, subtly flavored and surprisingly lean. Pork sliders ($7.99 for three) come adorned with a deliciously light and crunchy slaw—none of that drowning-in-mayo stuff that plagues other, less professionally awesome slaws. The house-made barbecue sauce is an uncomplicated combination of sweet and spicy.
Don’t miss: Brisket sandwich ($7.99)
Miss: Sweet potato fries—they’re flavorful but too crunchy ($1 extra with a sandwich)
Cowgirl BBQ is quite possibly the most overtly Texan of Santa Fe’s BBQ joints, if only because the summer months find it filled with drawling Dallas women and their spurs-wearing dates. But the pulled pork and BBQ beef sandwiches, while tasty, come smothered in an unremarkable BBQ sauce. “Whatever flavor it had, it just sort of fell off or soaked in or got lost in space,” one friend said of the pork—a shame, since Cowgirl smokes its own meat in-house. A mayonnaise-heavy slaw does little more than weigh the sandwich down.
Don’t miss: Brisket nachos, a delightful cultural mélange ($10.50)
Miss: BBQ beef on a bun ($8.25)
Unlike the other two restaurants listed here, this Arkansas-based chain does one thing, and one thing only: real, down-home barbecue. Its brisket is Texas-style—lean, thin-sliced and spare; the pulled pork is smoky and packed with flavor. Nothing feels artificial here: The meat comes unadorned; it’s up to the customer to add one of six different barbecue sauces. No. 6, a Carolina-style, spicy, acidic mix of mustard and vinegar, provides the perfect accompaniment to a pulled pork sandwich smothered in sweet, crunchy coleslaw. Quite frankly, this is barbecue as it should be.
Don’t miss: Pulled pork sandwich ($5.79)
Miss: Potato salad—too much mayo turns it into a mush ($2.05)