Regular readers know I love to cook.
One of the things I dearly miss while traveling is being able to smoke meat. Terry is pretty good at it, but there's just no way for us to carry the equipment, so we have to make do with what we find on the road. While we've found some decent Barbecue in our travels, none of it has been really 100%.
Hidden on a small side street in downtown Socorro, behind a cyclone fence sits a small place called LJ's Branding Iron.
It's quite small and the hours are short, so it's easy to miss. In fact we missed it all of the two months we were here last year. And we missed it for most of the four plus weeks we've been here this year,
But then one day we drove by and they were open.
Outside sits one of those huge custom made smokers like you see on the Food Channel. It's an impressive beast, with cast iron pigs and cows strategically scattered around the exterior. As soon as you get out of your car, your nostrils are assailed with that unmistakable aroma of oily mesquite smoke. For those of us who love barbecue, it's like nothing else. While all cooks have their secrets, I am firmly in the camp that believes that the very best smoked meat comes from mesquite.
As you can see in this photo, there is a huge firebox in this cooker, and of course, they use only mesquite.
As always, though, the true test is in the mouth, and it's at this point that LJ's passes with flying colors.
Their brisket is perfectly pink, tender and moist, bursting with a rich flavor that permeates the entire roast. While the smoky taste is smooth and mouth filling, it accentuates the taste of the meat rather than overpowering the beef.
But, for me, it's the ribs that are the star here.
We eaten both the regular pork ribs and the baby backs. I have to say, they're probably the best I've ever had.
They're so good, we've gone back way too many times. And then we went back again. Then we decided that we should get some more and use our vacuum sealer to keep them for later, because we won't be this close to perfect barbecue forever!
Not only is the food wonderful, but the owner is a special woman, who I'm now proud to call my friend. While the food is the draw, talking with Lupita is an added bonus.
A wonderful, hard working lady, she takes great pride in her food, and rightly so. We talked smoking and cooking and flavoring for hours. She knows her stuff!
Lupita gets up every morning at 2:00am to start the fires for her smoked meat. And her hard work shines through in her food. Of course she makes her own rubs and barbecue sauce.
Wow, I forgot to mention her barbecue sauce! It's absolutely perfect. It's more of a southern style, loose and tangy rather than thick and sweet. I can taste mustard and ketchup and a slight sweet, but I'm sure I'm missing some key ingredient because this sauce is unlike any I've tasted . What I really appreciate is that none of the sauce is applied to the meat till you eat it.
It's that perfect combination of rubbed, smoked meat and spicy sauce that works so well here.
Lupita also makes a wonderfully dangerous Banana Pudding. We took home one to-go order (a huge to-go order, I might add) and figured it would last us about a week, HA! There's pudding, then there's Lupita's home made Banana Pudding . . .
It's incredibly smooth and rich, truly unlike anything else I've ever tasted. When I tasted it, I realized that I don't think I've ever had home made pudding before, only the pre-made or packaged stuff. And believe me, there's a world of difference. I'm embarrassed to tell you how quickly we ate the WHOLE thing. While I love it, it is just too dangerous for us to have around, so next time I'll just get a single serving, no more humongous take homes!
Since she starts at 2am, Lupita keeps uneven hours, usually from 11:00am to 3:00pm. That said, to keep her business thriving, she smokes a certain amount of meat every day, and when it's gone, it's gone. If you know you're going to want some barbecue, you might want to give her a call so she can set some aside. You can also call days ahead with special orders. She doesn't accept plastic, only cash and local checks.
The address of LJ's Branding Iron is 102 Calle de San Miguel, a short half block off the main drag in downtown Socorro. Here's a link to a Google map. The phone number is 575-835-3663.
Tell her Kate sent you, you won't be disappointed.