Meet Salt Lake City’s vegan — yes, vegan — barbecue pitmaster

Chris Blatchford makes meat-free barbecue that he says even meat-eaters can love.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Blatchford uses one of his five backyard smokers to prepare his wood-fired rolls before welcoming customers for his weekly vegan barbecue pickup orders at his house in the Avenues, on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Chris Blatchford is serious about barbecue.

He has five smokers in his backyard, and a 4,000 square-foot garden that he’s about to expand by another 2,000 square feet. During the summer, the garden overflows with tomatoes and peppers and other vegetables that go into his barbecue and hot sauces. And his proteins.

Blatchford, the owner of Blatch’s Backyard BBQ, is the only vegan pitmaster in Salt Lake City.

“Everything on my menu is vegan, unless it’s one of the options for your carnivore friends,” he said. “Most menus are like, ‘Here’s an option for your vegan friends.’ And mine is kind of the opposite.”

Blatchford is an old hand at traditional barbecue, but wanted to offer the same delicious experience to vegans and vegetarians. He said even with sides, there’s rarely a good meat-free option; baked beans have bacon in them, and often the green beans do, too.

So four years ago, he set out to master vegan barbecue.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Spurred by the pandemic, Chris Blatchford joined the home kitchen restaurant trend and put his love of food to the test last year and started Blatch’s Backyard BBQ, specializing in a vegan menu. Navigating all the rules to allow a home-based kitchen, Blatchford begins preparing his menu early in the week before customers pick up their orders on Friday.

“I tried to make my vegan options so good, a carnivore can eat my barbecue and be completely happy, and not feel like they’re lacking,” Blatchford said.

The reaction to a new menu item, Korean barbecue strips, seems to show it’s working.

“Most people, when they taste those, feel like they’re not being vegan,” Blatchford said. “People are like, ‘You gave me meat!’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no.’ They just have the right mouth feel and the right texture and the right flavor and the right chew.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Raspberry jalapeño burnt ends tempeh at Blatch’s Backyard BBQ on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Three days to make a brisket

For his smoked seitan brisket, he said, “it took me about six to eight months of just working at it. You get to a spot where you think, ‘This is good, but I need to change this.’ It’s hard to get the right mouth feel and the deep, hearty flavor.”

Blatchford experimented with so many iterations his wife eventually refused to taste-test for him, because she was so sick of eating vegan barbecue.

Blatchford created a three-day process for the brisket that starts with a broth made with mushrooms, seaweed, vegetables and herbs.

“The broth is what then develops the flavor,” Blatchford said. “It’s then rolled in my signature homemade rub, and then it’s smoked for multiple hours. After it’s smoked, it goes into another beautiful broth to help rehydrate it and develop the juiciness, so it develops the right flavor and isn’t this dry piece of protein.”

For smoking, Blatchford blends hickory and oak, which draw out the flavor, he said, without being too overpowering. “It gives it that traditional smokehouse taste,” he said, “and it develops a beautiful bark.”

Blatchford also offers vegan smoked and crispy wings, smoked jackfruit and tempeh burnt ends, and a grab-and-go case with packaged vegan proteins, which are slightly different than his ready-to-eat barbecue offerings.

With the wings, he pondered how to make them with bones, but decided to just go without — but made sure the protein had the right texture. Made from seitan, jackfruit, fresh vegetables, onions, garlic and herbs, they’re rolled in rub, smoked and fried. They can be ordered with any of Blatch’s sauces, all of which are made from scratch: traditional barbecue, spicy blueberry, buffalo, raspberry jalapeño barbecue, Korean barbecue and a non-tomato-based agave garlic sauce. He also makes a vegan ranch dressing for dipping.

The traditional barbecue sauce is the base for most of his other sauces. “I smoke the onions, garlic and tomato that goes into it,” he said.

Blatch’s is pick-up only, because Blatchford feels like barbecue should be eaten at home with friends and family, rather than in an informal restaurant setting. So he has no plans to open a restaurant, or expand the scale of what he’s doing.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Blatchford who started Blatch’s Backyard BBQ out of his home last year during the height of the pandemic, uncovers his vegan specialties including Korean BBQ strips, raspberry jalapeño tempeh, slow smoked jackfruit and seitan brisket while preparing for his weekly pickup orders on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Backyard farm-to-table

He also considers himself a farm-to-table operation, with the farm being his backyard in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood. During the summer, he makes nearly everything from vegetables he’s grown himself. Right now, he’s down to the green onions he uses for garnish, but has 200 plant starts in his house, including a 3-foot-tall tomato plant.

Starting in May, he’ll start using his own produce for as much of his menu as he can, including the jalapeños and tomatoes that go into his sauces. When his garden is going full tilt, he pops up a little farm stand where customers can pick up squash, heirloom tomatoes and quirky, hard-to-find hot peppers.

He’ll also use his produce to rotate new sides onto the menu from time to time, like the smoked poblano and chive potato salad he’s perfecting right now, or different kinds of smoked vegetables.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sample platter of vegan options at Blatch’s Backyard BBQ in the Avenues on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Blatch’s most popular side, all year round, Blatchford said, is his wood-fired rolls. He spritzes them with apple juice during the baking process to keep them from drying out. He consistently sells between 30 dozen and 40 dozen a week, he said, adding that some customers order a half-pound of barbecue and three dozen rolls.

Blatchford also makes a mildly creamy purple slaw that uses a combination of citrus juices, and barbecued black beans that use Caribbean spices and “ridiculous amounts of peppers and onions.”

“They’re made barbecue-style, right in the smoker, with a little bit of my barbecue sauce in there,” Blatchford said. “Most people are like, ‘I’ve never had beans like this,’ so I’m pretty proud of them.”

But what’s made him most proud, he said, is that he’s been able to do what he set out to do when he first started experimenting: He has mastered the apparent oxymoron of vegan barbecue.

“I’d offer vegan and non-vegan options, and most of the time, it would be the vegan stuff that people ate the fastest,” Blatchford said of his early efforts. “One of my customers said, ‘You have no idea how excited I am, I haven’t had barbecue in 40 years.’

“One of my favorite things to do is to be able to provide well-thought-out, well-planned barbecue to individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have it.” he added. “The flavors aren’t lacking, the sauces aren’t lacking, the time on the barbecue pit isn’t lacking. It’s fun.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vegan barbecue pitmaster Chris Blatchford checks on a batch of mushrooms inside his smoker named “no one puts their meat in me,” at his home in the Avenues on Friday, March 25, 2022.

Blatch’s Backyard Barbecue, 186 I Street, Salt Lake City. Pre-order through Thursday for pickup Friday by texting 385-210-5029, including your name, order and estimated pick-up window between 3 and 6 p.m.


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