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Where Y'Eat: A Barbecue Neutral Ground

Ian McNulty
The sauce selection at McClure's BBQ represents the wide regional range of barbecue traditions now taking root.

As interest in barbecue billows around New Orleans, the city is seeing a a wide range of regional styles take root and meld with local traditions.

In a recent Where Y’Eat segment, we looked at the changing fortunes for barbecue fans around New Orleans. This seafood-centric city has long been disparaged as a barbecue desert, at least compared with the intense barbecue scenes cultivated in other regions around the South. And yet, in the last year or so, a new wave of barbecue restaurants have emerged, joining a growing interest in barbecue competitions and events around the area. The smoke signals of a new day for New Orleans barbecue seem clear.

But what is this new New Orleans barbecue? What characterizes it? Well, that depends on where you order it, because it’s nowhere near so strictly defined as what you find in more established barbecue regions. The type of sauce, the choice of smoking woods, the seasonings — all the major points of contention that etch the borders between other barbecue regions are fair game for cross pollination in New Orleans.

And, as more barbecue purveyors spread across New Orleans, the city’s own tastes and staples are influencing how they operate.

At the new Metairie restaurant Saucy’s BBQ Grill you can get Creole-style chaurice sausage and links of smoked boudin beside its trademark ribs. At Hurricane Barbecue, another new restaurant in Metairie, boiled crawfish and fried catfish share the menu with Texas-style, dry rub barbecue in a way you’re not likely to find at traditional barbecue purveyors in the Lone Star State. And at McClure’s BBQ, a weekday pop-up inside the Riverbend restaurant Dante’s Kitchen, the seasoning rub is based on the way meat has long been prepared in local Creole kitchens — essentially grafting some of the traditional New Orleans cooking prowess onto a different format.

There had been a small, if determined, New Orleans barbecue scene for years, though its oldest standard bearers have fallen away lately. Podner’s Barbecue, first established in Central City in 1956, didn’t reopen after Katrina, and Texas Bar-B-Q Company, which dates back to 1962, shut down last year.

H&P Bar B-Q Masters, a longtime fixture on Elysian Fields, looked like another Katrina casualty too. But just last fall, the nephews of H&P’s owner opened their own Bar-B-Q Kings on a Gentilly side street to revive the old family recipes, right down to the mammoth beef ribs for which H&P was known. 

Still, the barbecue coming along now is more about the low-and-slow style, and, down in the Bywater, a ramshackle little restaurant called the Joint may have fanned the first flames of this new wave. Opened in 2004, and recently relocated to nicer digs just a few blocks away, the Joint is explicitly cited as inspiration by some of those starting new barbecue restaurants around town today. And, like many of these newcomers, the Joint does not adhere to one particular regional style, but borrows favorites from many — like St. Louis-style ribs, Texas-style brisket and Carolina-style pulled pork.

New Orleans has long been the Switzerland amid the balkanized rivalries of the barbecue South, simply because it had so little indigenous barbecue turf to defend. Perhaps now, as the styles and standards of these competing traditions take deeper root and wind around local flavors, the city has a chance to become a diverse and delicious barbecue neutral ground all its own.

Here are the delicious details:

Bar-B-Q Kings
2164 Milton St., New Orleans, 504-949-2210

Hurricane BBQ & Seafood Co.
4011 Airline Dr., Metairie, 504-315-4227

The Joint
701 Mazant St., New Orleans, 504-949-3232

McClure’s Barbecue
736 Dante St., New Orleans, 504-298-9434

Saucy’s BBQ Grill
3244 Severn Ave., Metairie, 504-322-2544

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