Fritz Aurin of the Steamboat Smokehouse has it all figured out. Aurin recently doubled the size of his downtown Steamboat Springs barbecue restaurant, dedicating the new addition to a buffet for parties of eight or more. And it offers the same slow-cooked, hickory smoked meats the restaurant is known for.
Whether you crave a slab of ribs or seek lighter fare, like smoked salmon, this is the place to bring your group together. And buffet parties are granted firm reservations.
Aurin has established a reputation for serving genuine honest-to-goodness Texas-style hickory-smoked pit barbecue in Steamboat since opening the smokehouse at 912 Lincoln Ave. in 1991. The hickory and pecan used by the Smokehouse comes from an Oklahoma woodlot in country that not many people want to venture into and is shipped in 48,000 to 50,000-pound truckloads. "We always look forward to unloading that," said Aurin, still stiff from a recent shipment.
You can travel all the way to Fort Worth for barbecue if you want to, but it won't be any more satisfying than the meal you'll be served at the Steamboat Smokehouse. And the snow conditions in Fort Worth are marginal at best.
Aurin's original dining room was an instant hit, serving the best ribs and side dishes in Ski Town USA. The Smokehouse has a casual atmosphere that can't be replicated, thanks to its 107-year-old building. It has a rustic sandstone interior made of stones that were quarried just above historic Howelsen Hill.
While waiting for their meals and admiring the surroundings, guests are encouraged to dig into an unlimited galvanized steel bucket of peanuts in the shell. The custom at the Smokehouse is to casually toss the peanut shells on the floor. The food servers don't mind as long as a food fight doesn't break out.
With the addition of the separate buffet dining room, large parties (eight or more) can make reservations, taking much of the pressure off the original dining room for smaller parties. Even so, the restaurant will continue to use beepers for long waits, allowing customers to enjoy the retail shops in the area or even return to a nearby room or condominium until their table is ready.
Hungry kids will be able to start eating as soon as their tired bottoms hit their chairs -- the food server is on the way with a family-style salad and hot rolls, butter and honey as soon as a party is seated.
Manager Bill Thielke says for $13.95 for adults and $8.95 for children 12 and younger, guests can help themselves to all of the barbecue they care for. That includes the famous pork ribs, smoked salmon, smoked chicken and sliced brisket. The side dishes include cole slaw, smoky baked beans, and mashed potatoes made from scratch.
Drinks are extra, and guests are welcome to order appetizers and dessert if they find room.
Aurin's pedigree in barbecue can be traced to childhood dining experiences at Angelo's in Fort Worth. It was the kind of barbecue joint with sawdust on the floor and a line out the door.
"You had to stand in line to get in there," Aurin said. "That's where I acquired the taste for ribs. They also served beef sausage and smoked ring bologna."
Aurin has exported an abiding love for barbecue done right to Colorado. He smokes his meats on the premises and knows how to place different cuts at different levels in the big smoker to cook them to perfection at low heat. "Our big sellers are ribs, sliced brisket and pulled pork," Aurin said. "We use bone-in shoulders for the pork and cook it for 12 to 15 hours until you can just pull the meat apart."
Aurin is compulsive about experimenting with southern comfort food, and always to good end. As you read this, he's preparing a new smoked pork loin with a mango salsa entree. The crew is preparing a batch of sweet-potato fries seasoned with desert rub, and Fritz is fine-tuning a pulled pork sandwich with genuine collard greens. The lunch crowd can look forward to two new salads -- smoked chicken and salmon Caesar's.
Large parties that prefer to enjoy the Smokehouse menu in the comfort of their condos can call for pickup or delivery of "family packs" at 879-7427 (TRY-RIBS), or page 76 in the Dining Guide. Similar to family style, the family packs are easy to order by choosing a few meats and sides for a turnkey meal. Aurin said it actually takes longer to get the delivery address than to get the food ordered when a party follows the Dining Guide instructions.
Customers who enjoy the rustic ambience of the Smokehouse dining room, but have a different menu in mind, can arrange for outside catering through Aurin's staff.