Las Vegas is Where Barbecue Goes to Die

Calvin Trillin once wrote that anytime you see a building with a picture of a pig on it, you can bet there’s good grub inside.

Yours truly has always said that barbecue is like sex: the worst we ever had was still pretty good.

Turns out both of us were wrong.

Turns out that neither of us had eaten at Big Ern’s in Container Park when we made such foolish remarks.

Big Ern’s serves up such an execrable excuse for ‘cue that even a couple of barbecue hounds like Calvin T. and ELV are going to have to rethink their lifetime philosophies about smoked meat.

How bad is it?

Well, take a look:

Can you imagine a less appetizing sandwich?

We called it “stupefyingly bad ‘cue” in our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds, and that’s about the size of it.

Not only was this “pulled pork” un-pulled, it was also untrimmed and devoid of smoke and seasoning. Making matters worse: it tasted like boiled pork mush.

Almost as bad was the beef brisket: dry, smoke- and seasoning-free. The ribs fell off the bone — no doubt because they had been par-boiled — and were either as tough as shoe leather (on their ends) or as pliant as baby food.

For the record: we were going to leave Big Ern’s alone. We ate there about a year ago, had the same, terrible food, but felt that the good sense and good taste of the public would do it in soon enough. Instead, lines inexplicably form out the door every day at lunch — making us wonder if the downtown denizens haven’t developed a taste for dog food?

So we returned to see if they had improved. On our way into Container Park, we spotted a foodie friend whose taste in all things culinary is generally unimpeachable:

He: Where you headin’ for lunch?

Us: Big Ern’s…to see if there’s been any improvement.

He: Why?

Right as usual, Terry Leavitt.

As we were throwing 80% of our meal in the trash can, all we could surmise was that someone, somewhere, once told someone named “Big Ern” that he knew something about smoked meat. Both of them were wrong. Because neither of them has the slightest clue what goes into good barbecue. Like every other ‘cue joint in Vegas (admittedly, there are only a handful of them) they think all you have to do is throw meat in some industrial smoker to get a decent product. The trimming, seasoning and care it takes to shepherd briskets, racks and butts through hours of slow, careful cooking (over just the right kind of hardwood smoke), completely escapes these pretenders. It’s more art than science — another inconvenient fact that evades these meretricious mountebanks of meat.

Thus have we had servings that looked like they were carved by a six year old with a butter knife (Billy’s BBQ – on tables adorned with Siracha of all things), to brisket (and ribs) so tough you couldn’t cut them with a steak knife (twice, at Rolling Smoke).

And whatever sauce-laden, cooked-to-death proteins they’re serving at John Mull’s Meats aren’t worth the time and the Sherpa guide it takes to find the place. It isn’t barbecue as much as it’s steam-table slop. The lines that form there are more a testament to its cheapness than any (non-existent) quality.

So please, don’t waste our time telling us how much you like this place or that. Neither you nor they know what the hell you’re talking about.

Las Vegas is where barbecue goes to die.

You have been warned.


In Container Park

707 East Fremont Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101


7 thoughts on “Las Vegas is Where Barbecue Goes to Die

  1. The Beef Rib at Rollin Smoke is acceptable. but by no means excellent @Michael Uzmann. They have the start of a good product, but it still has some way to go before they perfect it.

    Hate to say it, but John’s right. The only honest ‘que available in Vegas is probably in someone’s backyard – none of our local “pro” joints has the ability to deliver an honest experience.

  2. What about Memphis Championship BBQ? I know you’ve written positively about Mike Mills’ ‘Q in the past.

    While I think Mike’s original location in Murphysboro, Illinois is better than all his outposts, I’m still happy to eat his brisket or ribs at any of his joints.

    Full disclosure: I’m from S. Ill. and Mike is a friend.

  3. I’ll certainly vouch for Rollin’ Smoke. It is the best bbq I’ve had this side of the Rockies, though I haven’t been to Yardbird.

    And Arthur Bryant’s is the best bbq east of the Rockies, in case anyone was curious…

  4. ELV responds: Memphis Championship still puts out some righteous ribs (they’re the best things on the menu), but the pulled pork is merely acceptable, and the brisket has always seemed like an afterthought to us. We do love Mike Mills’ sauces though.

    Rollin’ Smoke isn’t even in the same league as the average stuff you get all across the South (much less the great stuff at the iconic temples of great ‘cue).

    And what InTheCards said.

  5. Whew, I thought it was “just me” that thought John Mulls wasn’t that good. Although finding it is kinda fun.
    I know it may not traditional or super authentic but I found the Ribs at Lucille’s at GVR very tasty and lacquered nicely with sauce.

  6. Thanks for the warning! That photo looks totally 144 fer shure!

    We’ve found both Memphis BBQ on Warm Springs and Lucille’s to be very good. Rollin Smoke is on the must-try list.

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