If Lee Morcus had not been raised on a Colorado farm, Jackalope Ranch would be entirely different. Part of the mystique of the Ranch stems from the owner’s childhood memories of the family farm and being deeply fascinated by the animals and the care his family took in raising them.
Today, matters of meat — and the heart, and heartland for that matter — still congregate to delicious ends in Lee’s world, and for those who also dine within it. However, meat preparation requires skill and a measure of instinct.
“We test, we taste, we retest,” says Lee, explaining how he and the staff perfect everything from the seasonings to the length of time certain meats will be cooked, barbecued, or smoked.
Other components factoring into the meat experience at Jackalope include the source and quality of the meats and the restaurant’s Southern Pride smoker, “The Rolls-Royce of smokers.”
Jackalope selects its beef and pork from a small co-op of ranchers in the Western United States (and other areas) who thrive on principle. “They care about the animals,” Lee says. The animals live in the purest environments, are free of hormones, antibiotics, and other unnatural growth enhancers and grass-fed with no GMO-processed food sources. The beef our sister restaurant, Grind Burger Bar in Palm Springs, receives from Tasmania, for instance, is raised on a combination of organically grown grasses, which Lee says is considered “the equivalent to the ‘Olympic diet of cows.’ The very best of the very best.”
After the meat reaches Jackalope Ranch, a remarkable seasoning process takes place for a variety of tempting offerings such as beef ribs, barbecue baby back ribs, pork belly, pulled pork, pork chops, leg of lamb, prime steaks, and others.
Proprietary house-made rubs, sauces, marinades, and seasonings bring the meat to an entirely new level of tasteful distinction. Barbecue lovers appreciate the lip-smacking barbecue sauces, which are all made from scratch and include molasses, apple cider vinegar, and other spices. It all simmers to perfection for 24 hours. The varieties include a fabulous habanero and prickly pear-infused union that leaves a memorable imprint on the palate; a chipotle and medjool date sauce that introduces fresh locally grown dates to a potent blend of Jackalope-perfected chipotle chili; and a spirited, tangy, delicious classic American blend.
Jackalope is also big on marinades and a several meats experience at least a day seasoned in sea salt, black pepper, extra virgin oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and Worchester sauce. After marinating, the tender meat will find its way to the grill, where all the flavors reach a state of mouthwatering precision.
All meats encounter a fascinating journey.
Jackalope’s pork, particularly the pork butt, experiences a luscious brining, where for 24 hours it bathes in saltwater, vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, and flavorful seasonings and spices. Afterward, a tasty dry-rub is applied. (The proprietary dry rubs are also used on the ribs and beef tri-tip chicken, with each benefitting from its own seasoning profile.) Here, too, Lee and his team will “blend, cook, taste, blend, cook, taste” until they find the right kind of gastronomic nirvana. About 35 ingredients comprise some the dry rubs, including salt, black pepper, thyme, chili powder, celery salt, cumin, cayenne, paprika, and brown sugar. Afterward, off to the smoker — pork shoulder, 16 hours, and beef brisket, 12 hours.
The Southern Pride smoker may, in fact, be one of Jackalope Ranch’s most enigmatic features —and perfect eye candy for guests making their way into the dining areas. Inhale at will. Sticks of aromatic apple wood and hickory are placed inside of the smoker, which is heated to between 180 and 190 degrees with one primary mission: to slow-cook Jackalope’s tender ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. Some of the meats smoke to perfection for up to 16 hours. This slow-cook process permits the apple wood to sire a one-of-a-kind slightly sweet aroma.
Afterward, if the chef can locate a pink line (the smoke ring) within the meat — the smoker’s way of branding itself if you will — he is certain the meat has been smoked to perfection.