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Takeout Tuesday: Wood-smoked meat perfection at Butcher's Kitchen Char-B-Que

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Smoked Santa Maria Tri-Tip on a toasted garlic bun from Butcher's Kitchen Char-B-Que (Credit: Julian Del Gaudio/NSN)

Nothing says summer like meat. Chicken, beef, pork, whatever it is, sizzled over a hot grilled flame or slow cooked over a smoker is as American as apple pie. And while I love a backyard barbecue as much as anybody, sometimes you want that preparation without the work. Last Friday, on a hot summer afternoon, I had a hankering for one of my favorites: a tri-tip sandwich.

When you think of barbecue, every region has their specialty. For Texas, it’s brisket. Memphis is famous for its ribs. In Central California, it’s tri-tip. Legendary spots include Old Slo BBQ in San Luis Obispo and the Dog House Grill in Fresno. Both are worth driving out of their way for.

And while I was craving an amazing tri-tip sandwich, I wasn’t prepared to drive five-plus hours to get it. Fortunately for me, a restaurant in Reno opened a little more than a year ago with the best tri-tip you'll find in Northern Nevada: Butcher’s Kitchen Char-B-Que. (That’s short for char pit rotisserie grill.)

Owned by a father and son duo both named Ed, this place takes their meat seriously.

Ed Ferencik Sr., or “Big Ed” as most people know him, was drawn to the meat world at a young age. At 13, he got a job at a local slaughter house as an apprentice butcher. He’s been around meat ever since. Ed Jr. followed into the restaurant business, gradating cum laude from UNLV’s Harrah’s Hotel College. After a few years working in fine dining in Las Vegas and at the Peppermill as a captain at the steakhouse, the father-son duo decided it was time to do something together.

“I wrote a few different business plans, but the one that made the most sense was meat, right?” Ed Jr. said with a laugh. “And Reno, as much as it has become a foodie town, we are still back-to-our-roots meat and potatoes.”

And Char-B-Que was born.

Wood smoking at its finest

When it comes to the treatment of their meat, the Ferenciks don't take shortcuts.

“We have three different pieces of equipment and everything is wood fired,” Big Ed said. “Once of them is a stacked smoker that has a convection blower. The other smoker is a huge one that will hold almost 1,100 pounds. It has a Ferris wheel-type rotisserie inside so the beauty of that is it’s very natural where the meats go through every heat zone, every smoke zone so it’s a very consistent product no matter how much I have loaded in there.

“We slow smoke the items outside, and then once they are done we have a wood-fired Santa Maria-style grill,” he said. “If you are ordering a burger or steak sandwich, it’s fired on the grill and we're using 100 percent wood.”

Beef items get oak and hickory. Pork products get cherry wood.

“It’s not easy but well worth it,” Ed Sr. said. “I think it creates a better product than the pellet smokers and those things.”

Santa Maria-style tri-tip sandwich

The main reason for my visit was for the best tri-tip sandwich in Reno. Cooking tri-tip isn’t always the easiest meat to perfect, but Ferencik has it down.

“Tri-tip has a little bit of collagen like you would find in the slow-cooked meats, but basically it’s an extension of the sirloin,” Big Ed said. “What we do is we smoke it for about 2 hours using oak, a little bit of hickory and we try to get it to a medium of 130 to 135 (degrees) that’s going to have some pinkness to it, some rareness to it, but it’s still the slow smoke that breaks down that collagen.”

One of the biggest mistakes, Big Ed says, is people try to rush the process.

“What happens is people buy the completely skinned tri-tips from Costco or the big clubs stores and throw it on the grill and it really needs to cook a little slower and steep a little bit to break the collagen down,” he said. “When you order, we go right to the wood fired up and down Santa Maria grill and put a nice char on it.”

“It’s not fork tender, but it’s got enough chew to make the sandwich interesting and hardy but is tender enough that you don’t need new caps on your teeth when you are done,” he said.

The tri-tip sandwich I got was just as described. Super juicy and flavorful meat atop a delicious garlic buttered bun. I like to eat my tri-tip simply with the bread and barbecue sauce, while mixing in some chopped peppers every few bites.

Fellow tri-tip aficionado, Julian Del Gaudio, who spent several years in the Central Coast while attending Cal Poly, went for the full spread of toppings. He said it was the best tri-tip sandwich he’s had from Char-B-Que, and he’s a regular customer. His sandwich came with perfectly cooked sweet potatoes fries and an incredible chipotle dipping sauce on the side. I went with the slaw, which was excellent. Creamy, tangy and crunchy. Two thumbs up.

Fish ... cooked over a wood grill?!?

While Char-B-Que is experts with its meats, it had something that blew me away: a seared ahi tuna sandwich.

“As much as we are a barbecue restaurant, we’re the Char-B-Que for char pit rotisserie grill and on the char pit fish is wonderful,” Ed Jr. said. “We take a sushi grade ahi just a light sear on each side with a little kiss of smoke but still that sushi feel.

“We do a ginger cilantro slaw, kinda light, crispy, crunchy. Then a wasabi aioli so kind of a riff on a sushi roll but a little bit of smoke in there keeping to our roots.”

Ed Jr. said you can order the ahi sandwich, or any item for that matter, three ways: a sandwich, a salad or as a wrap.

And speaking of wraps, Char-B-Que’s famous “Burrito Monday” is expected to return in a couple of weeks.

“It’s a $5 burrito of our choice, always something different, something off the menu,” Ed Jr. said.

“We may have to go to $6 while the meat situation is tough -- it’s almost double -- so we’ve got a little surcharge on some things, but we try to hold it down as best we can, but we will bring it back," Big Ed said, adding you can get any burrito, not just the burrito of the day, with a beer on Mondays for $10.

"We serve a community, and they enable us to make a living," Ed. Sr. added. "The consumer needs a little break Monday you get a break, Tuesday we stick it to you,” he said with a laugh.

Best of the rest

Choosing what to order at Butcher’s Kitchen can be a daunting task when you have so many delicious options. So what do the owners go for?

“I love the ribeye, brisket is unbelievable, but I grew up on the East Coast so a charred ribeye with some provolone cheese, some hot cherry peppers and onions and a beer," Big Ed. said. "That does it for me."

“For me, it goes back to why we do all three items," Ed Jr. said. "It’s a pulled pork burrito. Low and low smokey barbecue carnitas style wrapped up in that one-hander. When I’m riding my mountain bike or driving in the car, we can eat it all in on and not get to messy."

Whatever these meat masters get their hands on, it’s going to be good. I’m getting hungry just thinking about my next visit!

Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local restaurant once a week in his "Takeout Tuesday" feature. You can contact him at amargulies@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.

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