Restaurant Review: Vegan Barbecue at Blatch's Backyard BBQ | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Restaurant Review: Vegan Barbecue at Blatch's Backyard BBQ 

Is barbecue even barbecue without meat? Yes. Yes it is.

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I'm starting to think that my being drawn to Les Barbecue Sandwiches last week was the result of some circadian rhythm deep in my bones that associates summer with barbecue, because I have just been craving that stuff lately—so much so that I finally ventured into the Avenues for some plant-based barbecue from Blatch's Backyard BBQ. I had been following Blatch—otherwise known as Chris Blatchford—on the socials for awhile, so I've spent plenty of time drooling over photos of his handiwork. As barbecue is on my mind a lot during the summer months, I decided it was time to take the plunge into Blatch's world of smoked jackfruit and house-made seitan.

When it comes to plant-based cooking, I'm no skeptic. I've been touring Utah's restaurant scene for long enough to know that we have some talented people doing marvelous things with plant-based ingredients. Barbecue, however, has always seemed so dependent on the protein trinity of pork, beef and chicken. Some argue that these proteins provide an irreplaceable flavor in the barbecue process, but there are others who say that the root chakra of barbecue can be found in the preparation itself. I decided to discuss this ongoing debate with Blatchford himself, who was kind enough to welcome me into his back yard before he opened for business.

Blatchford's interest in pitmaster culture came from his late father, who would often come home from fishing and throw his spoils on the grill. "I remember standing on my tippy toes to watch him grill the fish he had just caught," Blatchford says. "He died when I was eight, so my way of honoring him is to do the thing we did together, which was a lot of barbecuing."

As the de facto pitmaster of his adolescent social group, Blatchford was often tasked with barbecue duties for many high school parties. "I noticed that barbecues always sucked for my friends who didn't eat meat, so I tried to fix that for them," he says.

Thus, Blatchford's current occupation of providing award-winning plant-based barbecue to the people of Utah came from a desire to simply share his love of barbecue with everyone. "It's 2024 and having a huge carnivore diet isn't as responsible as it used to be," he says. "I love barbecue, and if there's a way to honor it and bring it into the next century, I'll do it."

This brings us to our discussion of barbecue as more of a spiritual concept that can apply to any range of ingredients—you just have to have the love. Oh, and time. Lots and lots of time. "Our process to make vegan brisket takes five days, and it took me about 50 iterations to get it right." Blatchford says.

Most of the proteins at Blatch's start with his made-from-scratch seitan, upon which he layers different umami-centric flavors using ingredients like smoked mushrooms and even a bit of seaweed; "We smoke 14 different types of mushrooms to get our flavor," he says. I tried one of Blatch's raspberry jalapeño fried chickenless sandos after our chat, and it was fantastic. At Blatch's, you get all the bombastic presentation of a traditional barbecue joint, and all that visual flare is properly matched by the flavor. After a few bites of the sandwich, I appreciated how it wasn't trying to replicate a piece of fried chicken note for note. Instead, it uses the classic fried chicken sandwich as a blueprint to create something uniquely flavorful and satisfying out of seitan. Blatchford's preparation is packed with just as much protein as its meat-based cousin, so all you protein evangelists out there can just chill out.

In addition to getting heaping plates of plant-based barbecue, sides and sandwiches, Blatch's home-restaurant concept further speaks to Blatchford's ingenuity. He and his wife Joy have converted around 70 percent of their home in the Avenues into a preparation area and storefront, so when you visit, they will literally welcome you to their table. If you do want to pay Blatch's a visit, it's a good idea to get there early. Since he and Joy started running a business out of their kitchen three years ago, word has gotten out, and the place can get a little crowded, especially on weekends.

Though Blatchford will still encounter a few customers who aren't on board with the vegan barbecue–"They'll go out and eat a chicken nugget without a second thought, but they'll have this phobia about trying raw, plant-based ingredients," he says—his barbecue business continues to thrive. "I've met some people who have been vegan for 20 years or so, and told me they missed barbecue, but then they'll try my stuff and talk about how it legit made them cry." Blatchford says.

As someone who has very much come to appreciate our local plant-based scene and all the delightful vegan junk food that is on hand, I'm continually impressed by people like the Blatchfords who are repping for all the barbecue fans out there.

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