New Orleans is home to a number of world-class restaurants and amazing chefs. It is also well-known as a top culinary destination in the United States, and after its “rebirth” from Katrina, in many ways rivals New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. However, when it comes to world-class or great barbecue, New Orleans isn’t close to the likes of
Memphis, Kansas City, various locations in North Carolina and other cities. But it could be someday.
I love living in New Orleans and I love barbecue, therefore I’m disappointed that I can’t find a worthy barbecue restaurant to frequent regularly. I haven’t had one great meal yet. I’m also disappointed that the people of this resilient city don’t have truly great barbecue options as they do with other food categories; such as Cajun, Italian, French, etc. I especially miss it now (in February) during Mardi Gras where elaborate parades, vast quantities of alcohol, king cake, costumes, and great food is all the rage throughout the city.
And as a professional barbecue judge and cook, I understand there is a difference in between competition barbecue and restaurant barbecue. However, there are no iconic barbecue restaurants here like the original Gate’s and Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, like the original Corky’s and Germantown Commissary in Memphis, or The Pit and Skylight in North Carolina to enjoy, support, and recommend. Even major culinary cities not known for barbecue has one or two “great” barbecue restaurants: New York has Blue Smoke, Las Vegas has Championship Barbecue, and Chicago has Smoque and The Smoke Daddy. You would think there would be at least one here.
By“world-class” or “great” I’m referring to high quality barbecue in the traditional way the meat is cooked and served.
Being in the South, the meat being primarily pork - ribs and pulled pork. And of course, all restaurants need to have outstanding sides as well.
There are a few restaurants that have good barbecue that the whole family can enjoy. However, there aren’t any that I’d consider memorable, desire to go to when I’m craving barbecue, or brag to friends and tourists about. Most importantly, there aren’t any that apassionate and experiencedbarbecue enthusiast would go bananas for. And every passionate and experienced barbecue enthusiast needs at least one near home.
My “street credit” in rendering my opinion of New Orleans barbecue restaurants comes from obsessive dining past.
I’ve eaten at a large number of barbecue restaurants East and West of the Mississippi, from coast to coast. I’ve judged and patronized barbecue restaurants in 15 different states in the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, and Texas. While judging a contest, I always eat at one or two local barbecue restaurants in the area. I do this as I love barbecue, love eating at new places, and want to experience the local fare. I also try a mix of the famous-name and lesser-known restaurants.
I know that I haven’t tried every barbecue restaurant in the New Orleans area, but I’ve tried a large number of them. Most have either been recommended to me or new ones that have opened over the past few years. (I’ve found that the locals are the best source for the best places to eat no matter what you’re looking for. After that, it’s an adventure where being lucky is a good thing).
I know not everyone can cook barbecue. Even if you are a chef, it still is no guarantee you can prepare world-class
barbecue. Many chefs are locked in their culinary disciplines or have multiple varieties of food at their restaurant and barbecue isn't their main focus.
I also know there is a barbecue restaurant in New Orleans that was featured on a TV food show in the past and I’ve eaten there. The barbecued ribs that I had were good, better than most I’ve had here, but not great. The sides were
Here are some of the things I’ve experienced that prevent barbecue from being world-class in New Orleans. These
are shortcuts, cost savings measures, poor management, or inexperience – and all cardinal sins. And yes, you could experience all these deadly sins at establishments in any city. But this is New Orleans!!
- Meat that has been holding too long or is from the previous day, but still being served. This has happened to me
once for sure, and possibly a second time here. And while I didn’t say anything in the two instances, I was quite peeved. ·
- Parboiling the meat prior to smoking it. Parboiling is the only barbecue no-no for me, everything else is a
method or technique. ·
- Meat that doesn’t have any smoke flavor. This usually happens when it’s parboiled, baked in an oven, or
grilled. Yes, cooking over direct high heat is grilling, not barbecuing. Grilling pork will cause it to turn out tough, as it cooks too fast and doesn’t have time to properly tenderize. ·
- Using liquid smoke in lieu of smoking the meat with wood. Liquid smoke produces an artificial flavor in meat.
It is best used as an ingredient in barbecue sauce. ·
- Using a microwave to reheat barbecued meat. This dries out the meat and often degrades the flavor. ·
- Wrapping the barbecued meat in plastic wraps to keep it hot. This continues to cook the meat, overcooking it so it’s mushy. Or if left too long in the plastic, dries it out. ·
- Overcooking the meat. The texture becomes mushy and is bland tasting.·
- Under seasoned or poorly seasoned meat. You don’t have to douse the meat with dry rub, and it’s always proper to taste the flavor of the meat as well as seasonings, but it shouldn’t be bland.
- Over-barbecue-sauced meat. Real barbecue uses sauce to accent the flavor of the meat and smoke, but doesn’t hide it. ·
- Poor tasting barbecue sauce. Not having a quality sauce(s) can ruin the flavor of even the best barbecued meat.
As you know from previous columns, my basic criteria for what true, quality barbecue is, is the following:
1. The meat needs to be cooked low and slow in a smoker or pit to produce a true smoke flavor, not artificial smoke.
2. The meat needs to have smoke flavor evident in the taste.
3. The meat needs to be tender.
4. The meat needs to be fresh – not reheat by a grill or microwave; as it dries out.
5. There should be options for the sides, but BBQ beans and cole slaw are a must. This criteria is a little more flexible
and subjective with me, as barbecue is primarily about the meat.
Unfortunately, I have to leave the New Orleans area to get great quality barbecue. There are places I visit in Mississippi and Alabama, or travel even further to establishments in Memphis, Tennessee.
I want to reiterate that in writing this editorial I’m not trying to make anyone angry. I just hope that my comments will be read by some New Orleans barbecue restaurant owners, and future owners, and will inspire the improvement of barbecue in New Orleans citywide.
However, if you have knowledge of a great barbecue restaurant in the New Orleans area, please let me know.
I acknowledge that may have missed one that is small, unassuming, and not well known. If this is the case, I’ll report back on it in a future column possibly titled “A Great BBQ Joint in NOLA”.
I realize that New Orleans is famous for its Cajun and Creole cuisines, and barbecue hasn’t been an historical cuisine here. However, as a Southern gourmet city, New Orleaneans deserve better barbecue choices.
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!