Utah-style BBQ at Canyon Smokehouse

What happens when you take one culinary school-trained chef and add fifteen years of experience with a graduating thesis centered on smoking and barbecue?
You can find the answer at the newest of Bluff’s restaurants, Canyon Smokehouse. The chef is Jacob Nelson, born on the west coast, schooled on the east coast, and traveler of barbecue joints throughout the USA.
Now for another question. How did he end up in Bluff, Utah on his quest to create great barbecue? That’s where his wife Erin takes the stage as director.
Originally from Colorado, she moved to Bluff in 2019 and met future husband Jacob online (yes, online relationships do work out!). She convinced him to move back to Bluff with her, as business potential was full of positive vibes there.
The site of the former San Juan Kitchen was available. They worked with the landlord and, with much help from Elaine Gizler of San Juan County Economic Development & Visitor Services, got the ball rolling strong.
Redecorating wasn’t a prime issue, as the restaurant already had an open-air seating plan along with a good view of the kitchen prep area.
Canyon Smokehouse opened on March 25, 2023 but the menu unfortunately had to be quickly revised due to the delivery delay of an important piece of equipment. What to serve that wouldn’t openly compete with the established restaurants in town?
Being able to work under pressure, a limited-time menu of Mexican cuisine was the answer. Once the equipment arrived, barbecue was a go! April became the official grand opening of “Utah Style Barbecue.” Now I’m sure you’re all wondering what that entails.
Barbecue lovers know their barbecue – the wood used for smoking, the perfect temperatures and timing, the quality of homemade rubs and sauces. Whether you’re in Texas, St. Louis, the Carolinas, or many other southern states, styles and tastes differ.
As I mentioned before, Jacob wrote his thesis on this culinary genre. But he wanted more; he wanted to create! The emphasis on the food is: Cooked low and slow and once ordered, get it out to the customers fast and fresh! Portions are served on the generous side, so make sure to come hungry. Then again, enjoying the leftovers the next day is a pretty sweet deal too.
So, the food at Canyon Smokehouse is a mixture of barbecue styles and tastes, all geared to make each diner’s tastebuds sing their own song. Sweet maple to tangy vinegar, smoky richness to “holy smokes, someone get me a fire extinguisher!”
Brisket, ribs, chicken, pork, and sausage are the main meats, but hush now vegetarians. There are items on the menu just for you.
Sides galore can be eaten as-is or added to meats to create their own main dish. Desserts, a kids’ menu, a variety of beers and microbrews, and non-alcoholic beverages as well.
Curious meter going up? How about a few descriptions to get those mouth juices flowing? (Be aware these evaluations are based on the taste testing of four individuals who happen to love barbecue.)
The brisket is so tender you can eat it with a spoon (as one friend described it). Whether eaten alone or in a sandwich, you simply cannot get enough of this full-flavor meat. It is craveable.
The pork ribs at first fall off the bone, but then there is that little bit that sticks. Oh heck yeah! You want to gnaw those bones clean! The chicken is tender and juicy. It gets even more moist closer to the bone, but it’s thoroughly cooked throughout.
Side dishes for the taste testing were the brisket baked beans, cornbread, and French fries. Brisket baked beans was a thick mixture of baked, with a slight firmness to, beans and chunks of luscious brisket mixed in, plus a tangy taste of barbecue sauce.
The cornbread’s flavor was more savory than sweet, tasting more of corn and cornmeal, dense yet crumbly. We knew this was homemade immediately!
The French fries, only one of a couple of items purchased frozen, were crispy on the outside but delectably creamy on the inside. They didn’t need ketchup or any other condiment to enhance them.
Dessert was either a homemade chocolate chip cookie bar or a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Either choice was the perfect finale for a meal we all enjoyed immensely.
As I mentioned, only a couple of items are purchased frozen. Everything else, including sauces, is made-in-house. Canyon Smokehouse has four sauces to choose from: House (smoky and rich), Maple (sweet), Carolina (tangy and vinegar sharp), and Mango Habanero (a kick that will wake you from death).
Dining is eat-in or take-out. Large parties or bus groups can be accommodated (please call and make arrangements) and plans are in the works to create an outdoor dining area.
Overall, our party of four had the most fun, not just laughing, but sharing the food and enjoying the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. That attests to the personalities of both Jacob and Erin Nelson.
They’re a very happy couple, full of excitement, energy, the love of good food, and the enjoyment of offering it to the public. Get down to Bluff and get some Utah-style BBQ in your bellies!

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday