When the Smoke Clears: New Orleans BBQ

New Orleans is not typically known for its barbecue, and that’s okay. We have gumbo, etouffee, crawfish boils and po-boys a-plenty. But about a decade ago, when the ‘cue scene across the country started to cool down and hold steady, the Crescent City finally started smokin’.

Walker’s Southern Style BBQ in the East was easily one of the first, smoking cochon de lait, boudin and brisket low ‘n’ slow since the early aughts, but then suddenly new spots began charging in like pigs to a trough when you sing “sooey!” Once-a-week pop-ups became fully-fledged brick and mortars bringing us barbecue from seasoned smokers and chefs. Pit Master Neil McClure launched his eponymous shop on Magazine, and then later was smoking meats and pairing them with beer at NOLA Brewing; formally trained chef Shane Pritchett launched Fat Hen Grill which became known for breakfast, and smoked all of his meats and cheeses in-house; Rob Bechtold, owner and operator of NOLA Smokehouse, was selling out before noon on Jackson Avenue (now Turkey and the Wolf); and the Young brothers launched Squeal BBQ on Oak Street (now Seafood Sally’s), but over the past decade, they’ve all (aside from Walker’s) faded away.

But there were still a few selling their ‘cue, case in point — The Joint in Bywater. Pete and Jenny Breen opened their stand out on Poland Avenue way back in 2004 and they’re, as they say, still smokin’. Though they moved a couple of blocks to larger digs on Mazant Street back in 2012, the Breens still regularly impress diners with their tender pork ribs, brisket burnt ends, house cured and smoked pastrami, and yes, even their pecan pie. They’ve been voted best BBQ in New Orleans by both local and national publications, yet they haven’t let it go to their heads with pulled pork platters coming in at $14 a plate and dessert for less than $5.

Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ

As other barbecue joints went belly up, others quickly took their place. In 2016 pit masters Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley took their popular pop-up at music venue Chickie Wah Wah to the next level when they launched Blue Oak BBQ at the old Felini’s location. Located on Carrollton Avenue, their M.O. is a magical mix of regional barbecue from Texas-style brisket to pulled pork Alabama-style. Over the past few years, they’ve been slinging some seriously special sandwich combos such as their Surf & Turf – chopped brisket, fried shrimp, tartar slaw and “horsey” sauce (mayo, vinegar and horse radish) – a meal in and of itself ringing in at $16.50.

Because of its location way out in Belle Chasse, LA 23 BBQ often seems to fall off the radar, but that’s one juicy mistake! Open since 2013, this roadside stand out by the Naval Air Station sells out daily (often before noon!) and it’s no surprise since they’re on a super-short list of barbecue spots smoking OG Texas-style. If you can get there before it’s all gone, grab a smoked turkey or pulled pork sandwich for only $9 with a side of their creamy mac ‘n’ cheese starting at $5. Plus, if you like to wake up at the crack of dawn, get to LA 23 for a smokin’ breakfast. Served 6am – 9am, the rise ‘n’ shining menu features tacos and burritos loaded with brisket and smoked sausage-packed omelets all for under a tenspot.

When it opened back in 2015, The Backyard was billed as a family-friendly BBQ spot with a playground set up in … well … the backyard. Still a worthwhile restaurant for your “momandem,” The Backyard has somewhat changed its game. The playground is gone to accommodate more seating, but they’re still serving house smoked meat-filled sandwiches, and foodstuffs you’d commonly see at a backyard barbecue – burgers, hot dogs, tots, potato salad and even Sloppy Joes. In addition, they just completed an new interior renovation with a “stunning” bar space, and along with it a shiny new distiller’s permit. Yes, The Backyard is now blending and bottling their own bourbon! Why not enjoy a little tipple with their house-smoked, Crystal Hot Sauce wings, why don’t ya?

Somewhat newer to the barbecue scene, Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ opened up in November of last year way out on River Road in Luling. Though it seems far, the drive is much shorter than you’d imagine and if you pre-order, you won’t have to stand in line. Only open on Thursdays and Fridays, it’s pretty much a given that you will stand in line because the fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-you-mouth, Texas-style BBQ crafted by Pit Master Jason Gonzalez is well-worth the wait. Thursdays are devoted to smash burgers, but on Friday, you can get smoked meats by the ½ pound such as Prime Grade brisket, “Dino” beef ribs, Cherry Cola-glazed brisket burnt ends, brisket boudin and more. Gonzo’s also slinging sandwiches like the “El Jefe” with smoked brisket, pulled pork and pork belly burnt ends topped with sweet heat pickles, pickled onions and sweet BBQ sauce. Pair some smoked broccoli kale salad for a little vegetable refresher in your carnivorous lunch, or skip it and go straight for the smoked apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

Smoked turkey breast sandwich at Devil Moon BBQ

Finally, the most recent smoker to the Crescent City would have to be Devil Moon BBQ. Opened just this past February in the uber-posh South Market District, the new ‘cue joint features Shannon Bingham as the executive chef/pit master. Already known as one of the Blue Oak BBQ opening team, the 2017 Hogs for the Cause Grand Champion, and founder of St. Roch Market stands Emmylou’s BBQ and Buttermilk, Bingham has combined his fine dining origins with his smokin’ chops to create one heck of a menu at Devil Moon BBQ. Perhaps due to the fancy new digs, quite a few items run higher than your usual smoked fare, but may we recommend a smoked turkey breast sandwich on a potato roll with a side of Frito Pie made with beef cheek chili? A devilish combo, indeed!

*Article originally published in the July 2023 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

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