Smoked by the creek in the mountains, this barbecue is quick to sell out. (Video by Katie Klann)

KITTREDGE • The town calls itself “the heart of Bear Creek Canyon,” the cozy, unincorporated center of forested slopes better known as the backdrop in neighboring Evergreen. Denver is not 30 miles away. But between the hills and valleys in either direction, it can be hard to tell where you are or where you’re going.

Until you smell the smoke.

Not that feared, acrid, tree-burning smoke. Quite the opposite.

“I think the neighbors get a little hungry,” says Darryl Swarts. “They’re already dreaming of barbecue.”

Any carnivore sleeping in any of the cabins around can’t resist that which wafts through the windows. Down the street, under flashlight and moonlight, in a cabin- turned-restaurant so named for the twisting-turning roads leading to it, Swarts kindles a fire over apple and cherry wood.

Neighbors line the street for the fine meats of the day from Switchback Smokehouse.

They’re wise to arrive early, not long after the 11 a.m. opening four days a week. They meet Rachael Wachs, whose first job is taking orders.

“My second job is breaking hearts,” she says.

She takes marker to menu and crosses out the brisket, ribs, pork, chicken, sausage, salmon and duck as they sell out (yes, duck, which has a cultish following here).

That’s how it goes at Switchback. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” says chef Scottie Mazur. “We don’t have freezers of food. We don’t have fridges of leftover food.”

Mazur preps by a window overlooking the creek, where he might watch deer or elk. The tank-like smokers are out on the deck; Swarts regrets to find a bear scrounging for scraps in some of those midnight hours. It is otherwise a quiet, fragrant, zen-like experience.

This is where Swarts started 10 years ago — a seemingly strange, isolated place to start a small business.

“If you sign up for a lot of hours, you might as well do it in a pretty place,” he says.

It was a pretty place to forget the frustrations of trial and error. A pretty place to let go of your insecurities.

Who was Swarts, a young transplant from Michigan, to be playing with barbecue?

He decided he wouldn’t try to do what Texas did (though the emphasis on smoke and fresh, local meat sounds familiar). Or what the Carolinas did (though there’s a hint in one vinegary sauce). Or what Missouri did (though another sauce offers the familiar, sweet tang of Kansas City, and the ribs are St. Louis style).

Purists might scoff at another sauce, heavy on root beer. Let them scoff.

Like miners long before him and nature-seeking millennials after him, Swarts came to Colorado to make his own way. He would do his own thing.

“Might as well be yourself, because everyone else is already taken,” he says.

Not everyone smokes duck, though many do throughout Asia. Also curious, Swarts’ brisket is Montreal style. It looks more like pastrami, thinly sliced and seasoned.

But Swarts abides by the universal ethic of low and slow. The brisket smokes for about 12 hours. The pork goes closer to 15.

The difference? “Pride,” says Miles Lentz, a fellow Michigander wearing a tattoo of Switchback’s logo.

The reviews can be heard around the cabin. A woman bites into the thick, chewy Switchbacon and remarks: “That’s the best bacon I’ve ever had.” Men from Texas and North Carolina offer their approval.

A Coloradan who had no idea of this place tells of his surprise to a kitchen hand.

“Well good,” the worker replies. “Now you know where we are.”


Meat, while it lasts, is bought a la carte. Pulled pork ($7 for a quarter pound, $27 for a pound); chicken ($9/$32); brisket ($11/$40); ribs ($16 half, $31 full); salmon ($15); duck ($11); bacon ($7 for four slices).

Sandwiches include the Devil’s Elbow ($16), piled with pork, coleslaw and fried pickles. The District Five ($19) boasts duck, goat cheese, mixed greens, fried onions, tomato and garlic aioli. Brisket, swiss, remoulade and sauerkraut is stacked on rye to form the Broken Rover. Also a chicken sandwich and BLT, with special aioli on each.

Mac n’ cheese, potato salad and baked beans among sides ($6). The cucumber salad is a German recipe passed down from Swarts’ parents. Also popular are sweet potato and waffle fries and grilled asparagus.

The Gatherer ($12) is a mix of greens plus shallot, red pepper, cranberries and pecans. Blue cheese and bacon in the Big Blue. Another salad tosses duck and goat cheese with spring mix, tomato, cucumber and croutons.

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