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Where the Strip gets its grillin' wood  and you can, too

Owner Jeff Burger (photo by Brent Holmes)

"There’s a load of almond that just came in this morning from California,” says Jeff Burger, owner of Allied Charcoal and Wood Products, pointing out a flatbed of bulky stumps ready to be cut down to size. He’s piloting a golf cart around the huge and fragrant collection of combustibles on his family’s unassuming five-acre plot on a sparse stretch of Nellis Boulevard.

Beyond the almond wood, a downed orchard of flavorful trees fills the lot. “This is oak,” Burger says of a stack of stretch-wrapped pallets. “Pizza ovens around town use it.” There are lengthy cedar logs eventually bound for Mt. Charleston fireplaces and Summerlin patio fire pits. “This is peach and apricot,” he said. “This is sugar maple. This is olive.” Each species of wood in the yard — from acacia to cherry and orange to plum — exudes its particular essence when burned, and different smoke flavors complement various foods: beef, pork, poultry, fish or even cheese and vegetables.

Allied has been supplying wood to burn in the Vegas Valley for more than two decades. About a year and a half ago, the company ramped up from a roadside, trailer-based venture to its huge new warehouse enterprise. The growth was largely due to the more than 20 varieties of aromatic woods Allied sells, which find their way into many of the valley’s restaurant grills and smokers.

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It was olive that started Allied on its expansion.

“I got a call from the Rio,” Burger recalls. “They wanted to buy olive wood. So I found a source for some in California and hauled it in with a pickup truck and a trailer.” A few months later, the Rio wanted more product. Other hotels and restaurants soon came calling. Now, Allied supplies heavy hitters such as The Cosmopolitan and the Famous Dave’s barbecue chain, and ships as far away as New Jersey.

The amount of wood Allied moves is impressive. “We have one (semi) in and out every two days,” Burger says. “There’s about 44,000 pounds per load.” This adds up to some 8 million pounds of fuel a year. For a home economics-style comparison, your average backyard barbeque probably takes about five pounds of charcoal to fuel a Saturday get-together.   

Walk into the rustic campus of John Mull’s Meats and Road Kill Grill at lunchtime and two things stand out: long lines of patrons waiting for pulled pork, and the distinct aroma of hickory. “Hickory burns hot,” explains owner Chuck Frommer, as he loads slab after slab of pork ribs into a rotating smoker. He relies on the energy-packed wood and quality Red Oak charcoal from Allied to keep up with the popular demand for his restaurant’s vittles. Likewise, the distinctly Southwestern allure of smoldering mesquite, also supplied by Allied, greets the olfactory bulbs of visitors to one of Vegas’ vintage eateries, Bob Taylor’s Ranch House, before they even get to the front door. There, mesquite embers lend their sharp savor to prodigious cuts of steak and other viands. “We smoke our prime ribs with it, which is definitely unique,” says owner Jeff Special.

While commercial accounts make up 99 percent of Allied’s business, Burger notes that increasing numbers of local home cooks are immersing themselves in the world of serious meat smoking, with some of them making their way to his shop. “We enjoy helping them out,” he says.

To meet this upswing in retail traffic, Allied’s tidy front office sells packages of wood chips for domestic cuisine, in addition to grilling gear and expert smoking advice. But get there early. The shop closes at 3 p.m. Don’t be surprised if you need to walk around back when the front door is locked in the morning — Burger and his staff will be busy splitting delicious smelling hunks of tree.  

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