Phil Hyatt, owner of Carson City BBQ, showing off one of his smokers on Aug. 22, 2022.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.
In the southeast corner of Carson City stand six smoker trailers that can each hold 500-700 pounds of meat. Two of these trailers have convection ovens. A huge refrigerator trailer stands to the side, not to mention trailers full of chairs, tables, and catering set-ups. The trailers form a convoy when towed on the highway to rib cook-offs and catered events. All this machinery and weight and heat and hustle produce an indelible moment on the tongues of customers, and it is that moment of satisfaction that Carson City BBQ owner Phil Hyatt lives for.
“I see it every time I cater a party. I make people happy,” Hyatt said Aug. 22 from his home that doubles as company headquarters, for now.
Carson City BBQ has changed names over the years, but their founding principles of good barbecue remain. Their popularity remains and is growing. On the week of Aug. 22 alone, the company was catering events at Western Nevada College, Barton Health, and Dolan Lexus of Reno. Their ribs are available at Butler Meats in Carson City, and their sauces and dry rubs can be found in more than 40 local stores, including Aloha Liquor and Raley’s.
“We’ve grown 10-15 percent every year, and this year has already eclipsed last year,” Hyatt said.
The trajectory of a Carson-born newspaper boy to barbecue baron is not as strange as it sounds. There was something disarmingly familiar about Hyatt as he walked around his property describing his operation. Hyatt grew up in a two-story farmhouse downtown when Carson was a different city, right behind Red’s Old 395 Grill, he explained.
“Back then there was no Internet or TV. I was 12 when we got our first TV,” he said. “I had 200 papers that I delivered. From the Capitol building to Highway 50, both sides, all the way to Carson Mall.”
Hyatt remembered when The Nevada Appeal was housed in the old brewery building on the west side of the city, “the big rolls of paper.” He remembered when his family’s property, which included a barn, chicken coop and shop, was purchased by the Carson Mall in 1983. He remembered when the city limits ran through the property before Carson City incorporated Ormsby County.
“Our house was on the 1875 map, more than a hundred years old,” he said. “You could let go of a marble, and it would roll all the way from the kitchen to the bathroom.”
It was growing up with nine siblings that first gave Hyatt a sense of the importance of cooking.
“Growing up back then, if you didn’t learn how to cook, you didn’t eat,” he said. “I learned how to cook. I learned how to take care of myself.”
Hyatt graduated from Carson High in 1979 and went straight to work for Capital Glass as a journeyman storefront glazier.
“I worked there for 23 years,” he said. “If there was a commercial storefront glass job in Carson City at that time, I put the glass in.”
He recalled installing the glass for the current Nevada Appeal office building. Over the years he kept his own glass company — PR Door & Glass — but it was barbecue, cooking, and serving food that drew his passion in another direction. In the mid 1990s, he started cooking for friends at Lake Tahoe, working out of a “little yellow Toyota pickup.” His ribs were a hit, and he and a high school friend, Duane Felker -- who has since passed away – decided to start a small catering company. They bought a cooker and went to Phoenix for a rib cook-off.
“I’ve never worked so hard to lose so much money,” Hyatt said. “We sold 11 cases in four days. Now, at the Sparks event, we do that in the first two hours.”
Hyatt returned from this first adventure a bit defeated, but more opportunities to cater local events sprang up, and customers couldn’t forget the tantalizing taste of his ribs. The company grew. They entered another rib cook-off at Lake Tahoe and won first place. At their first year at the Sparks rib cook-off, they clinched another first-place win, and the rest is history.
“To have success with the limited number of cook-offs we do, it says something,” Hyatt said.
He showed the Appeal his garage, where trophies and awards, more than a hundred, stand on shelves gathering dust but not losing their luster. Now, the company focuses on the Sparks event — one of the biggest annual events in the Reno area — the Casino Fandango cook-off in Carson, and the San Juan Bautista cook-off in California, where, this year, the company was declared grand champion.
Carson City BBQ will be bringing its storied legacy to the Sparks event again — the Nugget’s Best of the West Rib Cook-Off — from Aug. 31 to Sept. 5 in Victorian Square. Those who can’t make the event can find the company’s fully cooked ribs at Butler Meats in Carson, where the company also does their prep work. Hyatt envisions their own space in the future, a Carson-based depot from which they can stage their catering and sell their product to the public. It’s been a challenge finding the right space, but Hyatt is persistent.
He has another goal as well:
“I like to see how many vegetarians I can convert” he said with a grin.
The company offers vegetarian meals — portobello mushrooms — but Hyatt takes personal satisfaction in seeing vegetarians grab his ribs or chicken. He said barbecue requires a perfect mix of time, temperature, and procedure.
“As long as you keep it moist, flavorful, and falling off the bone, that’s what we’re after,” he said.
Michele Wilkinson, the company’s bookkeeping manager and catering specialist, summed it up another way:
“We want you to taste our passion,” she said.
For information about Carson City BBQ, visit www.carsoncitybbq.com.