Everything -- from pork to salmon to turkey. Inhale the wisdom of two of the valley's most accomplishment smokers
“When did you learn how to smoke?”
Not my usual opening question for an interview, but in this case it made sense. I received a backyard smoker for Christmas, a gift I was extremely excited about — never mind the fact that I had zero experience smoking meat. Armed with a notebook (and an empty stomach), I hit up two local experts for words of wisdom on the technique: Chef Wes Kendrick of Table 34, my favorite neighborhood restaurant, and Henry Black of H&H BBQ, which I discovered while judging last year’s Bite of Las Vegas. (H&H easily and deservedly won four categories.)
They’re very different dining establishments employing different smoking methods, but they both produce rich, tender, slide-off-the-bone bites. Whether you’re interested in infusing your own home cooking with smoky flavor or tasting some of the valley’s most expertly smoked goods, these guys are a puff above the competition.
Table 34: The complex simplicity of smoking
“It’s a delicate process.”
Delicate? The first word that comes to mind when you think of smoking food probably isn’t delicate. When Table 34’s Chef Wes Kendrick starts talking about his approach to the technique, however, you gain an appreciation for this cooking method not usually associated with white-tablecloth dining. Each item Kendrick smokes is prepared in a unique way, and the results are indicative of his, yes, delicate process.
For starters, there’s the smoked turkey breast sandwich. It’s become commonplace for restaurants to describe the turkey in their sandwiches as “smoked” when it’s truly just roasted. Hey, we get it. Smoked sounds much more enticing, and nine out of 10 people won’t call you on it anyhow. Well, the turkey in Table 34’s version is actually smoked, in-house.
Chef Kendrick starts with a raw, boneless skin-on breast, which is brined in saline for 24 hours. The turkey is then dried and smoked for an additional four hours before finishing it off in the oven. It is then cooled, sliced, and served simply on toasted whole-grain bread with Swiss and mustard. Kendrick smokes about four six-pound breasts a week, suggesting word has gotten out about this spectacular sandwich.
Alternatively, to create his popular house-smoked salmon appetizer, Scottish salmon is covered in a three-day salt cure, and then air-dried for one day before being cold-smoked for six hours. Smoked sausage links are poached before smoking, rather than boiled, to retain the fat and moisture.
He carries out this complex process in a surprisingly simple, standard three-by-two-foot countertop smoking box in the Table 34 kitchen. Although Chef Kendrick says the general smoking style of a region comes from its indigenous wood (mesquite in the Southwest and cherry or walnut in the Northeast), he prefers to use applewood chips for smoking because they yield a more subtle flavor, which better lends itself to his “New American Cuisine.”
Kendrick’s smoking education started at the restaurant Joe Greensleeves in Redlands, Calif., where he learned the basics. He gradually learned how to modify the process, working with brines and seasoning and putting his own stamp on the technique. Other smoked items he’s featured on Table 34’s menu include their house barbecue sauce, corn and roasted chili soup, trout, blue marlin, albacore and yellowtail tuna for salads. His next goal: smoked cheeses. If anyone can do it, he can.
H&H: It takes a little love (and secret sauce)
“Love what you do.”
This was owner Henry Black’s best
advice to me for succeeding at the smoker. After I sampled six of H&H BBQ’s meats as part of their combo platter (pork ribs, brisket, rib tips, chicken, beef hot links and pulled pork), it became apparent that this family-run business was built on just that.
H&H was started in 1986 by Black’s father-in-law. Initially located on Jackson Street, Henry and his wife Cassandra took over the business in 1997, and they moved to their current location on North Las Vegas Boulevard six years ago.
Boasting “Down Home Cooking at Its Best,” H&H is a no-frills establishment, from their unassuming red and white building with a few picnic tables for dining on the side, to their simple Styrofoam packaging and their “Bail-Out”- or “Starving”-sized portions. It’s as if they’re saying, Our food stands on its own and needs no embellishment.
And it doesn’t. Although H&H also serves Southern soul-food standards such as collard greens, banana pudding, sweet tea and cornbread, the meat on the menu is the scene-stealer. Tender pulled pork is mesquite-smoked for eight to 12 hours behind the restaurant in a don’t-mess-with-me-sized charcoal-colored smoker, which has been so well-used the wheels are embedded into the ground. The aroma emitted from this giant permeates the meat (and your hair and clothes) with a bold, wood-smoked flavor.
Customer favorites such as the catfish, brisket and pork ribs are coated in a secret rub, then bathed in an equally secret spicy-sweet barbecue sauce, secrets that have helped H&H maintain their reputation as serving the best home-style smoked barbecue in Las Vegas.
In addition to their take-out business, H&H does a significant amount of catering around the city. They have a second bright red smoker reserved strictly for exhibitions, catering and special events — just some food for thought the next time you want to smoke out your guests.
Table 34, 600 E. Warm Springs Road, 263-0034
H&H BBQ, 2245 Las Vegas Blvd. N. 444-4227, hhbbqvegas.com