Holy Smokes!

There’s never been a better time to eat barbecue

Whenever I hear someone remark that America has no real cuisine, I simply reply, “American barbecue.” Rooted in the South, barbecue applies heat indirectly by smoking. Wrapped in foil, various cuts of meat that would otherwise tend to be tough spend hours in a smoker where they are infused with the taste and smell of a variety of woods. Not to be confused with grilling meat, where the goal is to get the meat on the table as fast as possible by applying heat directly, an American barbecue’s mission is to cook the meat slowly and with a low even temperature.

Those longing for, or longing to try, American barbecue must make a trip to Quan Ut Ut (168 Vo Van Kiet, D1). It’s the project and passion of three partners – Tim, Mark and Albin. Tim and Albin, an Aussie and a Frenchman, have lived in Vietnam for a number of years and are no strangers to the hospitality industry. After visiting Mark in his native Chicago and sampling his culinary skills, they decided to open a BBQ joint back in Saigon.


Wooden picnic tables, a grill, and a smoker box greet you with those first whiffs of smoky goodness when you arrive. Starters and sides like macaroni and cheese (VND45,000) are a welcome sight, but accounting for Vietnamese tastes means the amount of cheese is a light coating rather than a complete drenching. The crispy fried chicken skins (VND45,000) are best described as sinful. Served with ranch dressing, there is no mistaking these are about anything other than taste. They also make delicious cornbread (VND35,000) with yellow capsicum, served with honey butter on the side. One starter that stood out — and was a unanimous recommendation by the owners — was the home-brined bacon (VND80,000). “When we tasted the batch made with the brine we came up with, we felt like kids on Christmas morning,” gushes Mark. Quan Ut Ut also sells bacon to customers who wish to keep some at home – and you will.


However, these things merely set the table, so to speak. Quan Ut Ut’s treasure is its ability to smoke meat. The pork shoulder (VND200,000), bacon, and ribs (VND300,000) are smoked using cashew shells. “We could have imported hickory or other woods typically used to smoke meat, but that would be very expensive,” explains Tim. “We tried a variety of options including cacao, coffee, eucalyptus, longan, and rubber tree woods, but none of them were very good. When we tried the cashew shells we knew we had a winner.”

Chicken (VND175,000) and pork belly (VND200,000) are smoked using sugar cane husks, giving them a sweet taste that is a wonderful departure from conventional wood flavors. They also offer sausages (VND250,000) that are prepared in casings that provide the wonderful snap proper casings should without detracting from the taste. The pork and chicken are sourced locally, while the beef used in their burgers (and rumor has it brisket is coming soon) is imported from the US.


Condiments are a big deal, and perhaps an even bigger secret than the meats themselves, when it comes to barbecue. Rather than single out a particular one they’ve opted to cover the gamut to satisfy any palate: Smokin’ Honey Bunny (a spicy honey-based sauce), Carolina Gold (a vinegar-based mustard favorite), Spicy Firecracker (a chili barbecue sauce to appeal to local tastes) and Sticky Fingers (a version of Kansas City’s tangy variety that will satisfy even the staunchest barbecue aficionados).

Our best advice is to try a little of everything. The barbecue sampler (VND550,000) includes pork shoulder, rib tips, chicken and sausage and comes with okra and corn on the cob. Be sure to generously dip into all the different sauces to find your personal favorite.


The last detail they’ve included, and which is as impressive as it is appreciated, is the sweetened iced tea. Any barbecue meal in the US served without sweetened iced tea is very close to blasphemy. Quan Ut Ut brews its own and enjoys switching up the flavors that include peach and raspberry. Refills are free. If you’re not a tea lover, they also brew their own beer in addition to serving several imports and domestics. And Albin is making sure those of us who love bourbon will have a fine selection to choose from; of course, you won’t get free refills on those!

I dare you to save enough room to try their dessert menu. I didn’t make it that far. But what I can tell you is that whether you make it to the dessert menu or not, you best wear your eatin’ pants.


Images by Ngoc Tran

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