Restaurant Reviews

Review: Boise Bench eateries JBR’s BBQ, BBQ4LIFE

Most barbecue snobs are quick to tell you that there’s no good barbecue west of Texas.

I guess this means Idaho is well outside the imaginary barbecue boundary.

Sure, cities like Charlotte, Kansas City and Austin are known for having a profusion of highly skilled pitmasters who put out smoky meats with a proper bark, served with time-honored sauces and sides.

But can you get good barbecue in Boise?

I recently checked out two barbecue joints — situated in Boise’s Bench neighborhoods — and found some different takes on this great American cuisine.

JBR’s BBQ

5821 W. Franklin Road, Boise (Boise International Market), (208) 585-1065, boiseinternationalmarket.com, Facebook and Twitter

Boisean Ryan Hansen, who recently opened JBR’s BBQ in the Boise International Market, will tell you that hickory is the preferred wood for North Carolina-style barbecue.

Hansen spent some time hanging around an old pitmaster in North Carolina, where he barbecued a few hogs and learned how to make the vinegary barbecue sauce that defines this style of eastern barbecue.

Some folks may ask why the Boise International Market even has a barbecue joint mixed in with its global food counters. The argument could be made that North Carolina is pretty foreign to most Idahoans.

The barbecue of the Carolinas is definitely unique compared to the styles found in the Midwest and in other parts of the South — starting with its thin, apple cider vinegar-based sauces with a hint of brown sugar and spices.

Hansen hand-scribbles his menu on a big sheet of white paper. His counter doesn’t offer much in terms of design. It’s about the barbecue here, and it’s served from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

He keeps his smoker right outside the back door, adding a hickory aroma to all the other scents imparted by his international neighbors.

One afternoon, Hansen put together a box for me that included a half-pound of pulled pork ($7), a half chicken ($9) and a half rack of ribs ($15).

His slow-cooked meats, which are hit with a sweet and spicy dry rub, come with coleslaw and beans. But I found the saucy red beans (thickened with pieces of pulled pork bark and molasses) to be rather bland.

The slaw gets made with large-cut red and green cabbage, with some tangy barbecue sauce stirred in for good measure.

Hansen uses crusty Kaiser-like rolls for his pulled pork sandwiches, which I promptly split and filled with large pieces of tender pork (held together by crispy bark) and a heap of slaw.

The pork spareribs also had a pronounced bark, and the underlying rib meat was tender to the bone. A drizzle of Hansen’s zesty signature sauce (he also makes a sweeter version) brought all the smoky and sweet flavors together in barbecue harmony.

I also liked the half chicken, straight from the smoker with an attractive golden-brown hue. The meat was redolent of hickory smoke without being overbearing.

BBQ4LIFE

930 S. Vista Ave., Boise (Vista Village),(208) 906-4960, bbq4life.net and Facebook

Boise barbecue man Brad Taylor recently debuted BBQ4LIFE in the former Rooster’s Eatery spot in Vista Village.

You may remember Taylor and his vegan sister, Sheila, from the former MFT BBQ in the now-flattened Rodeway Inn next to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center.

It looks like Taylor has found a permanent home in the Bench Depot neighborhood. The menu reads about the same as it did before, with a disparate mix of slow-cooked meats, traditional sides and vegan items. Sheila still helps out occasionally.

The no-frills décor speaks to the priority of serving time-tested barbecue and not worrying about interior design. A couple of rows of picnic tables line the dining room, which is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. This is where I enjoyed a meat bombardment one day. For the most part, I skipped the vegan fare.

While BBQ4LIFE doesn’t claim any regional distinction, the thick, tomato-based sauces (with an essence of honey and fiery spices) obviously lean toward Kansas City for inspiration.

You can even buy bottles of the sauces — ranging from mild to extra hot — which are kept on a shelf next to the ordering counter.

Sweet and mellow pecan wood is the chosen tree for smoking at BBQ4LIFE.

I found the pulled pork sandwich ($8) to be delightfully simple. The smoky pieces of tender pork take center stage on this sandwich, made on a buttered and grilled hoagie roll. I chose the finely chopped coleslaw as my side. (All sandwiches and meats come with a choice of a side.)

The tri-tip sandwich ($10) was equally as tasty, with its lightly smoked chunks of chopped beef (pink in the center) plopped on a grilled hoagie roll. The extra hot barbecue sauce really spiced things up. I also enjoyed the old-school potato salad, creamy and pocked with dill pickle and hard-boiled egg.

BBQ4LIFE serves some of the best ribs in town. I couldn’t get enough of these perfectly smoked baby back ribs ($16 for a half rack), tender yet still clinging to the bone. A slight bark — made possible by a reddish dry rub and a honey-brown sugar glaze — held the ribs together. I opted for a side of vegan beans, but they tasted more like bell pepper than anything else.

I also tagged on a side of macaroni and cheese ($2), which was ultra-creamy yet flecked with too much ground black pepper for my taste.

Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman.com

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