Let's start with a caveat: When you come of age in the South, as I did, you wind up spoiled by barbecue. Very quickly one can determine whether something was smoked using charcoal or mesquite or oak. Outside of barbecue country (which, I feel inclined to say, does not include your dad's backyard), little else compares. It's a difficult culinary skill to do well, let alone master.
Back here in Santa Fe, Uncle DT's Smokehouse (3134 Rufina St., 707-337-5641) is self–described as "Texas-style beef and Carolina-style pork," and in addition to plates, entrees, sandwiches and sides, there's an option to buy meat in -simmer-ready bags that can stay frozen up to two years. Originally working out of a commercial kitchen starting in 2018, owner David Thom expanded to Rufina Street in January of 2020—just in time for COVID-19! But he's been able to stay strong and develop a rotating selection of specials, holiday briskets, turkeys and even pies.
Thom might be better known to some as a bluegrass musician who swung later in life to the barbecue pit. He still plays with Kitty Joe Creek alongside local legend Bill Hearne, but while he was laying down those sweet acoustic melodies, he also became a completely self-taught chef.
"I was getting to a point in my music career when I didn't see a whole lot of savings in my future," Thom tells SFR. "When I first said I wanted to open [a barbecue business], my wife must've thought I was crazy."
Uncle DT's is a hole in the wall if there ever was one. A former industrial space turned mom-and-pop, it's where you'll find a cooler outside where you pick up your food (not on ice—merely to keep things insulated and contact-free) and a charming, down-to-Earth feel. Right off the bat, the space and location nail it. Food-wise, things were more hit-and-miss.
We ordered the Big Boy ($10.99), an affordable sandwich for one that holds a half-pound of rib meat. Fair warning—here's where the snobbery begins. The rib meat was perhaps a little overcooked. Though generous in size, it could've used a touch more smokiness and a bit more of a zing. Rib meat is a killer challenge, and even barbecue chefs in the know are known to struggle. A touch more of the sweet, a bit more of the smoke, and the sandwich would've kicked ass. But then, this is a preference thing, and Thom doesn't use sugars in his rubs. His favorite option?
"The brisket is what we're known for," he says. "But more times than not, I go for the pulled pork."
I prefer the sweeter types of barbecue myself. Flavors like smoked maple and brown sugar really work for me, so there is a good chance my palate didn't mesh well with DT's particular brand. But that's not to say it won't work for others. If there is anything to outright criticize, it would be that some of the food was a mite too dry, from the cornbread ($3.99 a slice, somewhat high for the small-ish serving) to the spare ribs ($6.98). But hey, the atmosphere, ease of ordering and casual feel makes up for most shortcomings. Besides, barbecue is a fickle beast and can change from day to day and dish to dish.
For example, we also sampled the Old Pecos smoked chicken ($13.99). A paprika-based rub makes up the bulk of the flavor profile, and Thom cooked the chicken so well, it ended up being our favorite dish. On the sides front, classic options like cowboy baked beans and coleslaw, here known as Cousin Vicki's Killer Slaw, added robust touches. A little extra sweetness might have made the slaw more pleasing, too, and its satisfyingly crispy texture was tempered by a turn too far into the vinegary side. The beans were wonderfully spicy and properly baked, however, and never overpowering. Some barbecue joints can go a little wild with their baked beans (they know who they are), and my only wish is that the serving had been larger—alas, the limitations of to-go dining.
If you lean more into the tangier side of barbecue, DT's would make a wonderful take-out or picnic option as we head into spring. Kids will certainly -appreciate the sandwiches, and adults can get into the more sophisticated items, like the Pojoaque Pork Spare Ribs ($18.99 half rack, $28.99 full rack) or the smoked brisket plate ($18.99).
Regardless, there is evident potential, and I can't say enough good things about Uncle DT's down-home feel. Food wrapped in foil, good serving sides and potato chips shoved into the corner of the container? Those are all pure summer vibes available four days a week (11 am-2 pm and 5-8pm, Wednesday-Saturday).
For the barbecue snobs—be aware. It can be hard to satisfy us, but one can't ignore DT's unpretentious vibe and killer location in a flourishing part of town.