There is a growing number of options for New Orleans barbecue fanatics, and, at new shop in particular, a distinctly local view at the smoker.
It can be a tricky business to declare something a "golden age" while you’re right in the midst of it. That sort of analysis is usually better left to hindsight. But still, for barbecue fanatics, there has probably never been a better time to be alive and eating in New Orleans than right now.
From the dark days, when those who learned to love barbecue in true regional bastions like Texas, Kansas City and the Carolinas found scant convincing options at home, New Orleans now has enough outposts for slow-and-low barbecue to constitute its own in-city tour.
You may have heard me recently singing the praises of Blue Oak Barbecue, which smokes and serves over at the Mid-City music hall Chickie Wah Wah. That’s just part of a circuit of good barbecue in Mid-City now, counting Shortall’s Barbecue and BooKoo Barbecue, both based in bars. Old favorites endure, like the Joint in the Bywater and Hillbilly Barbecue, a fixture of River Ridge that moved recently to Harahan. Go east for Walker’s Southern Style Barbecue, famous for the cochon de lait po-boy served at local festivals, or go west to Kenner for Ted’s Barbecue, which works in a Texas style.
Then there’s the new Uptown loop, with Oak Street’s memorably named Squeal and then, on Magazine Street, Saucy’s Barbecue and McClure’s Barbecue within just a few blocks of each other.
The latest addition is NOLA Smokehouse, a bare-bones, bootstrap kind of venture in a cinderblock bunker of a building on Jackson Avenue in the Irish Channel. While it’s in step with the slow-and-low approach, there’s something a little different going on here. That’s because the pit master, Rob Bechtold, is making a case for what he calls his own style of New Orleans barbecue.
For the record, New Orleans already has a barbecue style, one that has lots of sauce, not much smoke and limited cachet for barbecue purists. The NOLA Smokehouse version is not part of that school of cooking. Rather, it blends some favorite techniques and aspects from a range of regional styles, whips up sauces based on local Steen’s cane syrup and cane vinegar, and goes to town on a slew of sidelines and extras to stand apart.
NOLA Smokehouse barbecue is indeed smoky. Eat the twice-smoked Cajun sausage and your mouth glows with red spice, eat those ribs at lunch and your hands will carry a smoky aroma into dinnertime, chose the fatty brisket over the lean and your teeth will squeak as you move your mouth.
Then there are the smokehouse sideshows — not quite sides, not really entrees — like pulled pork baklava with smoked apple butter between the phyllo sheets; oily, loose chili; or yaka mein made with bits of brisket. These turn up unpredictably and disappear just as fast, and seem like the inevitable result of a local chef with smoked meats on hand and no regional, traditional or family barbecue template to keep within. If this place is about New Orleans barbecue, it’s that impulse that tastes closest to home for me.
Blue Oak BBQ at Chickie Wah Wah
2828 Canal St., (504) 822-2583; blueoakbbq.com
Boo Koo BBQ (at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub)
3701 Banks St., (504) 202-4741; www.bookoobbq.com
2317 Hickory Ave., Harahan, (504) 738-1508; www.hillbillybbq.com
701 Mazant St., (504) 949-3232; www.alwayssmokin.com
4800 Magazine St., (504) 301-2367; mccluresbarbecue.com
739 Jackson Ave., (504) 418-2591; nolasmokehouse.com
4200 Magazine St., (504) 301-2755; saucysnola.com
Shortall’s Barbecue (at Twelve Mile Limit)
500 S. Telemachus St., (504) 488-8114
8400 Oak St., (504) 302-7370; www.squeal-nola.com
Ted’s Smokehouse BBQ
3809 Williams Blvd., Kenner (504) 305-4393
Walker’s Southern Style BBQ
10828 Hayne Blvd., (504) 241-8227; www.cochondelaitpoboys.com