A beautiful weekend in May calls for dining outdoors. The whole shebang: chairs moved to the backyard, vinyl tablecloths stretched over folding tables, tubs of pre-prepared side dishes—coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans—plastic forks and paper plates stacked three deep to support a mountain of barbecued meats. Well, not meat, exactly. For this occasion (a 15-year-old feline’s quinceañera, if you must know), we picked up an order from Blatch’s Backyard BBQ in Salt Lake City, a vegan barbecue joint.
“It all started with some mostly veggie friends. Barbecues really suck for them. Maybe they can eat the salad but not dressing,” says Chris Blatchford, the owner and pitmaster of Blatch’s Backyard BBQ. “A smoked jackfruit—a pulled meat equivalent—was the first thing I started when I ventured into this,” says Blatchford says. “I would bring the smoked jackfruit and pulled pork to parties. There would be only one or two vegans at the party, but the jackfruit would be all gone before the pork.” It seemed he was onto something.
Blatchford spent months developing his recipes, showing the same love and care as any devoted pitmaster would to preparing animal protein. Perhaps more. Out of his home/storefront, Blatchford makes his own seitan—a food derived from gluten, the main protein in wheat—for two of his most popular dishes, vegan brisket and Korean BBQ. The process includes (but is not limited to) creating a broth in a pot as big as his stove, smoking the protein, flavoring it with the broth, slathering it in sauce or a dry rub, smoking it again, then back into the broth and back in the smoker one final time. He grows many of the ingredients for his homemade broth, dry rubs, smoked salts, hot sauces and barbecue sauces—like Korean BBQ sauce and sweet and spicy raspberry jalapeño sauce—in his home garden.
Here’s the thing—it’s really good. The seitan brisket and Korean BBQ were favorites of the crowd, which included omnivores. The dishes were more flavorful and juicy than most smoked animal protein and with a satisfying texture and weight that some vegan meat substitutes lack. The sides were a big hit as well, especially the wood-fired rolls (pile those high with the smoked jackfruit for a little barbecue sandwich) and the smoked poblano potato salad, which elevates the common, often humdrum side dish to new heights with the tasty combination of spicy, smoky and tangy.
At this point, Blatchford is used to hearing vegan customers say things like, “You have no idea how excited I am. I have not had barbecue in more than 40 years.” He says, “I love being able to give them that. That’s the reason why I’m doing it.”
Blatch’s Backyard BBQ is available only by-order for weekly pick-up, but word is spreading fast. “In the past I would sell out two-thirds to half of the time. Now I’m selling out at least a week out,” Blatchford says, and he has had to add a waitlist and grow his operation to keep up with the demand. “Before I started, I had two barbecue pits,” he says. “Now I’m up to five smokers and I might need two more.” He’s also expanded his home garden from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. It’s all concealed behind the doors of a blue bungalow in the Avenues—a sign hanging on the front porch that indicates you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re hesitant to try the vegan barbecue, Blatchford sells a classic meat option as well. “The coolest thing about this is being able to dish up delicious food,” says Blatchford. “I don’t care if it’s vegan or not vegan…if it tastes good, that’s all that matters. If you’re satisfied—who cares?”
IF YOU GO
186 I St., SLC
Pre-orders accepted through 5 p.m. Thursday or until sold out.
Place orders by text: 385-210-5029. Friday pickup 3–6 p.m.