Chris Blatchford, a vegan pitmaster, makes a meatless barbecue that even meat eaters can love.

Chris Blatchford is serious about barbecue.

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

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

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

Blatchford is a regular at traditional barbecue, but wanted to offer the same delicious experience to vegans and vegetarians. He said that even with sides, there’s rarely a good meatless option; baked beans contain bacon, and often green beans do too.

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

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Boosted by the pandemic, Chris Blatchford joined the home cooking restaurant trend and put his love of food to the test last year and launched Blatch’s Backyard BBQ, specializing in a vegan menu. Navigating all the rules to allow for home cooking, 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 that a carnivore can eat my barbecue and be completely happy, without feeling like they’re missing out,” Blatchford said.

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

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

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

Three days to make a chest

For his smoked seitan brisket, he said, “It took me about six to eight months to work on it. You get to a point where you think, ‘That’s good, but I have to change that. ‘ It’s hard to get the right mouthfeel and deep, warm flavor.

Blatchford experimented with so many iterations that his wife ultimately refused to taste test for him, as she was so sick of eating vegan barbecue.

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

“The broth is what develops the flavor next,” Blatchford said. “It’s then rolled in my signature homemade rub, and then it’s smoked for several hours. After it’s been smoked, it goes into another nice broth to help rehydrate it and build juiciness, so it develops the right flavor and isn’t that dry lump of protein.

To smoke, Blatchford mixes hickory and oak, which bring out the flavor, he said, without being too overwhelming. “It gives it that traditional smokehouse taste,” he said, “and it develops a nice bark.”

Blatchford also offers smoky and crispy vegan wings, smoked jackfruit and tempeh burnt ends, and a take-out case with packaged vegan protein, which is slightly different from its ready-to-eat barbecue offerings.

With the wings, he thought about how to make them with bones, but decided to skip them, but made sure the protein had the right texture. Made from seitan, jackfruit, fresh vegetables, onions, garlic and herbs, they are rolled in rub, smoked and fried. They can be ordered with any of Blatch’s sauces, all of which are made from scratch: Traditional BBQ, Spiced Blueberry, Buffalo, Raspberry Jalapeño BBQ, Korean BBQ, and a Non-Tomato Garlic Agave Sauce . He also makes vegan ranch dressing for dipping.

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

Blatch’s is take-out only, as Blatchford feels barbecue should be eaten at home with friends and family, rather than in a casual restaurant. So he has no intention of opening a restaurant or expanding the scale of what he does.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Blatchford, who started Blatch’s Backyard BBQ away from home last year at the height of the pandemic, is discovering his vegan specialties, including Korean barbecue strips, jalapeño tempeh at raspberry, slow-smoked jackfruit and seitan brisket as it prepares for its weekly pick-up orders on Friday, March 25, 2022.

From farm to table

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

Starting in May, he will start using his own produce for as much of his menu as possible, including the jalapeños and tomatoes that go into his sauces. When his garden is in full swing, he opens a small farm stand where customers can buy quirky and hard-to-find squash, heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers.

He will also use his products to add new side dishes to the menu from time to time, such as the smoked poblano and chive potato salad he is currently perfecting, 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.

The most popular side of Blatch, year-round, Blatchford said, is its wood-fired buns. He sprays them with apple juice while cooking to prevent them from drying out. He regularly sells between 30 dozen and 40 dozen a week, he said, adding that some customers order half a pound of barbecue and three dozen rolls.

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

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

But what makes him most proud, he said, is that he was able to do what he set out to do when he started experimenting: he mastered the seeming oxymoron vegan barbecue.

“I would offer both 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. “A client of mine said to me, ‘You don’t know how excited I am, I haven’t barbecued in 40 years.’

“One of my favorite things about being able to bring a well-thought-out, well-planned barbecue to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it.” he added. “There’s no shortage of flavors, there’s no shortage of sauces, there’s no shortage of barbecue time. It’s funny.”

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

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


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