For Denver pitmaster Nick Prince, proper barbecue is all about the wood. The Fort Worth native moved to Colorado at 18 after a visit to Estes Park included a June snowstorm and proof that life could be lived without 100 degrees and humidity. But as his recently-opened spot on Tennyson, Post Oak Barbecue, proves — you can take the man out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the man.
Everything about the place is an homage to the proprietor’s home state. All the logs — the mild-burning post oak from which the location draws its name — are imported each month from Austin, and the bar is full of Texas whiskeys. The meat is also prepared Texas-style. Two sauces — a standard and a spicy — are available from behind the line only upon request, and the dry rub is lightly designed to fully allow the meat to sit center stage. Since the restaurant opened at the end of June it has already attracted an impressive amount of regulars, many of whom hail from the Lone Star State.
After attending the University of Colorado Boulder, Prince worked in commercial banking for 15 years. His career in barbecue began on a whim while on a lunch break at work in 2007. He decided to pick up his first smoker after realizing that it had been a long time since he had the kind of barbecue he grew up eating. It took years of experimentation and home-cooking before he decided to turn his passion into a career. He only began developing the restaurant this year after going into contract for the space with former 0ccupant Block and Larder in November 2018. He didn’t quit banking until April of this year.
Flavor-wise the post oak wood really does make an impressive difference in the flavor of the smoked meats. While more robust burning wood like mesquite or hickory imparts a much thicker flavor, the oak leaves a more delicate touch. While the taste isn’t necessarily mild, the subtlety is unmistakable. The briskets — all smoked for 14 hours — come out melting off the fork, with the rub and the meat itself shining much brighter than the smoke flavor. On opening day the crew quickly sold out of their six prepped briskets, by the following Saturday they were making 2o and selling out all the same.
The menu is a pretty straightforward selection of meats and sides. Pork, turkey and chicken are all available, but Prince thinks the Texas Trinity — brisket, sausage and ribs — represents them best. Everything is done the classic way — “simple rubs burned over native woods,” said Prince of the Longhorn style. Meats can be ordered by the pound, in sandwiches or in tacos. Sides (single $5, pint $9 and quart $13) include jalapeno bacon mac and cheese, borracho beans — made with brisket trim and boiled in Shiner Bock — cole slaw, potato salad and fried okra.
The bar — much of which is whiskey — includes 10 varieties from Texas. Devil’s River, 1876, Yellow Rose, Garrison Brothers and TX all have multiple varietals on the shelf. Shiner Bock is of course on tap and the TX Whiskey Smash ($12) — the most distinctive item on a fairly standard list of cocktails — features TX Whiskey, lemon, fresh mint and simple syrup.
While Colorado has yet to develop the kind of barbecue identity that has been fostered in Kansas City, Memphis and much of the South, Denver’s scene is starting to develop its own character out of the patchwork of imported styles. In the past several years Texas has been nicely represented by newcomers like Owlbear, AJ’s Pit Bar-B-Q and now Post Oak. Even if the city is a way out from developing anything completely original anytime soon, Denverites can still bask is whatever ‘cue renaissance people are bringing with them as they continue to flock this direction.
Post Oak Barbecue is located at 4000 Tennyson St., Denver. It is open Tuesday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.