We all know Tucson has Style, but do you think it harnesses a particular style? Something that makes us stand out from everyone else, so when others cross paths with that style they immediately go, "Oh, that is so Tucson"?
Honestly, I think we do. The music and art we create, the architecture of our homes and the way we just generally do things all has a distinctive flair. This is never more apparent than in our food culture, in my hungry opinion. Sure, we have influences from all over the globe, especially regions just south of us, but who doesn't these days? Now that our hot town is hot on the culinary scene, people are moving in and making their own food part of our tradition, both new and old. In my hops across various Tucson neighborhoods, I am constantly on the lookout for something that I can only describe as a "taste of Tucson." Heritage, native and ranch-hand grub is well represented, but barbecue is just emerging, compared to other ways of slow-cooking meats. But I'm here to happily declare that Tucson is developing a—yes—style all its own.
It takes lifelong residents to meld a longtime hobby with the spices and flavors of home and, through time and with patience, forge a style of slow smoking meats we can now proudly banner as "Most Definitely Tucson."
Not exactly a wet rub, but not exclusively dry, either. And the smoke element is not overpowering as you'll find in other American territories. Just a—well, how can I describe it? Hint of smoke? A touch, perhaps? Does driblet count?
Nope. The word has to be "kiss."
"My mom actually came up with the name," says Kiss of Smoke BBQ co-owner Cindy Robinson. "When we started out as a food truck we were in partnership with a friend of ours. They eventually left the business, so we needed to come up with something of our own. I think it describes the flavor of our barbecue perfectly. Not too smoky, just a kiss."
We have bravado to thank for having Kiss of Smoke be part of our Southern Arizona food family. Cindy, along with her husband Ted, attended barbecue competitions and watched them televised before looking at one another and having the same revelation.
"We saw other people doing barbecue competitions and thought, heck, we can do that!" boasts Ted. "We've been competing now for about 10 years, which led us to getting a food truck. The truck is now used mainly for catering and special events since we moved in here a few months ago."
The location he speaks of is that stretch of South Plumer Avenue south of Broadway and right next door to the venerable neighborhood watering hole The Silver Room. What was a local taco joint is now home to some of the best Tucson-influenced barbecue. Ted and Cindy are in cahoots with the bar next door and since they don't serve booze—not even beer!—you can bring a drink over from next door, or take your barbecue to the bar if you'd prefer.
The space alone has the presence of a pure downhome family-owned restaurant, relaxed and devoid of pretention. The only element that stands out as a bit show-offy is the collection of glittering gold trophies and plaques near the counter. You might wonder if the Robinsons opened the restaurant just to house all the trophies their barbecue has won.
"We began competing around California, Las Vegas and New Mexico and just started winning and placing really high," Cindy says. "Our rubs are handmade and a big secret, as are all of our sauces. We just love owning a barbecue restaurant in Tucson."
They smoke their brisket for a minimum of 10 hours in a locally built smoker. The pork smokes for eight hours and the chicken smokes for about four hours in regional cherry and pecan wood. They only serve ribs on Fridays, and you'd better get there early, because when they are gone, they are gone. For you early BBQ risers, Kiss of Smoke serves breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., so grab a Bloody Mary next door then chomp down on a burrito packed with eggs, cheese and sausage (or get the same thing in a bowl if you're dodging carbs) for about $5.
Best part: Mom is usually in the back cooking, which makes the food not just solely Tucson but extremely home style.