Best of Flagstaff 2022
Written by Gail G. Collins
Everyone knows what great barbecue tastes like, but only devoted pitmasters understand the balance of fuel, fire, fastidious poking and flavor that is required to elevate it. It also takes rubs, char, smoke, method and a little madness to craft meat that melts in your mouth.
A smoker is a delicate environment, affected by variables, such as humidity and temperatures. Critically, smoke is an ingredient, not a method of cooking where spice is crucial. And pros will tell you, it’s not in the numbers on a thermometer, but in the nudge and jiggle that define when the meat is just right.
From the dedication and skill required, it’s clear, barbecue is serious stuff.
“Aside from the coals, achieving the perfect smoke ring is affected by weather, humidity and more,” says Jamie Thousand, pitmaster and owner of Satchmo’s, winner of Best BBQ and Catering. Thousand is self-taught—and education earned in a fervent, backyard relationship with meat and grill. This led to competitions, pulling a trailer on the Phoenix BBQ circuit where he honed his smoke skills before opening Satchmo’s in 2009.
There is a whole Creole side to Satchmo’s as one might guess from the name attributed to the King of the Trumpet. The décor, from instruments and paintings, mounted on Mardi Gras-colored walls in deeper shades of mustard and plum, gives more than a nod to New Orleans jazz. Recipes honor the Holy Trinity—onions, bell peppers and celery—with a personal, style-enhancing gumbo, jambalaya and catfish.
“We use traditional recipes, but add unique ingredients like au jus from pork butts or brisket, smoked animal lards, and we custom-blend our seasonings,” he said. Smoked salt and paprika, pork rub, blackened fish seasoning and more are branded as Grand Canyon Spice Company. Thousand’s methods also take simple tasks, like sweating off vegetables, in another direction by griddling small batches. This gives the jambalaya a caramelized crunch and bronzes cornbread beyond the cast-iron pan.
The Big Pause—or halt in business as Thousand refers to COVID—forced him to have a hard think and look at things differently. “We are technology forward with everything we’re looking at,” he says. From programmable, combination ovens—which can be started remotely, on delay and monitor cooking with custom modes—to cutting edge cookery, he is integrating the “slow and low approach” with new tools.
Recipe development still begins with stacks of cookbooks, and head chef Joe Fiandach brings Proper Meats experience to the table to test new ideas on staff. “We have similar menu approaches and palates,” Thousand admits, “and he can do anything I can do.” In the past two years, the owner has assembled a familiar, competent framework of leadership in operations implementation officer Hayden Cannell, general manager Slim Sherbondy and food truck manager Dalton Steen.
Fighting the urge to micro-manage it all, Thousand laughs at himself and reveals, “I hire people smarter than me to free me up, and then, I second guess them.”
The Big Pause not only caused streamlining and realignment but also advancement. The newest project is the Roadside Stove, a food truck collaboration with Mother Road Brewing Company. Michael Marquess and Thousand had long chatted about a roadside concept with Route 66 Americana foremost. That scene has expanded as have the menu items, encompassing a variety of burgers and sliders, side street tacos, shareables and Satchmo choices. The truck serves as a catering option as well for parties held at Mother Road.
Satchmo’s catering has been a staple since the business opened, originally with two employees running a drive-through, and now employing 25. A bulk of the catering is in drop-off deliveries and pick-ups. Thousand is solution-oriented and through careful conversation, a way to meet customer needs can generally be found, whether it’s securing hot boxes for a wedding in the woods or custom requests, like charcuterie or smoked salmon boards for upscale gatherings. And when it comes to that grand holiday meal, relax and order a smoked turkey with all the sides.
Everyone is family at Satchmo’s, from the staff to the patrons. “We sell an experience,” says Thousand, “and want every person to feel like a regular when they walk in the door.” So, as the banner encourages, go “Struttin’ with some BBQ” from Satchmo’s. BESTofFLG