I've traveled more than most people across this great country in search of some of the best barbecue places in America. I've been to Kansas City, St. Louis, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri, all in search of good barbecue.
I know my way around the block when it comes to what makes for a good barbecue smokehouse and what does not. Some of the best barbecue I found was right here in Utah.
Right from the get-go, I was impressed with Rod and Roger Livingston’s R&R BBQ joint when they first opened up. These co-founders and brothers focused on getting the right quality meats and getting the right quality smoker. You see, many people think the "secret's in the sauce" for good barbecue, but the sauce is just an afterthought, and I think really good smoked meats don’t need sauce at all!
To have good smoked meats, you have to start with the right smoker; one that will keep the temperature just right for that long slow cook. Then, using the right hardwood and a lot of tender loving care produces the best-smoked meats. Period. Even though R&R BBQ has now expanded to nine locations, they still keep the same “competition-style barbecue” meats on their menu.
R&R BBQ should be complimented on its ability to produce “competition-style barbeque” in a chain restaurant. You can usually find these types of barbecued meats only at a local BBQ cookoff, state fairs, or other cooking events where local folks come year after year to show off their newest combinations of spice rubs and hardwoods. This is where you can find the absolute best-smoked meats you will ever have, much like at R&R BBQ.
it's all about the meat
If you can maintain the quality of competition-style barbecue and do it in a large chain operation, day after day, brisket after brisket, chicken after chicken, and rib after rib, then you know you have true glory in the barbecue business and the recipe for franchise success.
I have been honored to judge some barbecue competitions and the meats are always served up straight from the smoker with absolutely no sauce. That way the judges can taste the meat and the quality of the smoke, and not the sauce. My favorite meat to judge is the brisket. Beef brisket is best known for its tell-tale smoke ring around the outside, which has that traditional deep maroon color, crispy black exterior, and tender fall-apart brisket on the inside. Even though I like to see the whole slices before they are chopped, I always like the chef to chop it up to the full marbling of the fat throughout each piece. Yum. I'm hungry just writing about it!
No matter which location of R&R BBQ you choose, you will have the same fabulous side dishes offered. Many people like the macaroni and cheese, but I stick to the classics like their delicious coleslaw and baked beans. Oh, and them rolls ain't too bad, either! If you do like to cover your perfectly smoked meat with sauce, they have lots of varieties from the traditional original to sweet to spicy to Carolina style and more.
Rod and Roger joined forces with the Four Foods Group to strengthen their award-winning brand and start their national franchise movement. While Rod and Roger are now not involved with the day-to-day operations, the restaurants still feature their original quality recipes. After Rod and Roger decided to “slow” down, Andrew and Shauna Smith, CEO and president at the Four Foods Group, began the search for a presidential manager to run the nine R&R BBQ locations and move the company toward getting national franchises.
Smith, CEO and President at the Savory Fund, previously Four Foods began the search for a presidential manager to run the nine R&R BBQ locations and move the company toward getting national franchises.
Neil Harfert joined the team in June 2019 after he had made Mod Pizza a household name across the country. He was intrigued by the possibility of moving to Utah, where there was a focus on family. His new position also wouldn't involve as much travel, which is a huge plus for Neil, who had traveled 30-plus weeks a year at his previous job. Neil said he was in alignment with the Four Foods Group values and direction.
Neil's number one focus, since arriving in Utah, has been to develop R&R BBQ’s culture in the company. “I wanted to create a team that was habitually engaged and passionate about what they were doing, and I wanted to create a comfortable work environment and casual dining environment for all who entered while still maintaining that quality of competition barbecue,” said Neil.
Neil knew the R&R brand had legs and he is working to push the brand out nationally. He said R&R is weathering the COVID-19 shutdown pretty well and is grateful for that since much of the hospitality and restaurant business has been devastated. While many restaurants are reporting as much as 100% loss of revenue, R&R BBQ is only down 38% of gross revenue, he said. “We have been creative in birthing different revenue avenues, including drive-up windows and curbside delivery. We have also added a food truck,” he said.
I happened to be at a very successful opening night for the food truck in Spanish Fork, where throngs of happy diners showed up. To adjust to the COVID-19 changes, R&R BBQ now offers curb-side pickup orders for “make it at home taco kits” and affordable “relief dinner packs” which all have some of their fabulous barbecue meat inside. R&R is also providing box lunches to Costco workers who have been working demanding hours.
The Smiths’ number one goal during this entire difficult time for our nation has been to keep every one of their employees working. They have donated large personal and corporate funds to the battle against the COVID-19 epidemic, as well as offering weekly news reports and updates on the most effective ways of moving forward through this unprecedented time.
I hope businesses in the hospitality and restaurant industry will survive the changes created by the COVID-19 quarantine, but one thing for sure, my money is on R&R BBQ. Not only because of the quality of their product but because of the quality of the people who lead them.