Observing NOLA's Barbecue Scene
Over a year have passed since being interviewed by Helen Freund for Smoked Stacks: New Orleans Searches for it owns barbecue style and I have thought a lot about barbecue in New Orleans. I have listened to the local media talked about the best barbecue in New Orleans without saying much publicly. So recently, I went to Blue Oak and Central City BBQ because they are most talked about in the media and LA 23 because I heard good word of mouth things about the barbecue. I saw a lot of similarities across the board, in menu items to everyone having pickles & onions and a variety of sauces to capture other regional styles. The overwhelming observation, is the influence of modern Texas barbecue on NOLA’s BBQ and much of the nation when you think about it. I say modern Texas barbecue because of the heavy smoke flavor present in meats, particularly brisket, chicken, and pulled pork, created by indirect heat smokers. Old school Texas barbecue, had direct heat pits and the smoke flavor was not as strong.
Currently, there are at least 8 places to eat barbecue in the New Orleans area and a few more places who do barbecue pop ups. Given New Orleans is rather small, New Orleans residents who have the ability to eat out more, can easily traverse the city to eat different things so the food has to be good, especially the barbecue when you have quite a few offerings to choose. For tourists coming to New Orleans, barbecue maybe one meal and if that is going to be the meal, it has to be great especially for stateside visitors when New Orleans is not known for barbecue.
What is the best barbecue to eat in New Orleans? Honestly, I don’t eat much barbecue in New Orleans as I find myself eating the city other great food offerings, but I will give you my thoughts below. On my most recent BBQ tour, I was most impressed by the food at LA 23 in Belle Chasse and it is worth the drive. Blue Oak also impressed me with its bbq on this trip, but the chicken sandwich won me over on this. Finally, Central City BBQ is a great venue for having large events indoor/outdoor if you want to incorporate bbq.
The best brisket on this day I had was in this order: Some may say the equipment plays a role but I say in any equipment one must understand how to make it work best for them and the meat they are cooking.
1st - LA 23
2nd- Blue Oak
3rd- Central City BBQ
In looking at NOLA’s barbecue scene objectively, who is the target audience, tourists or residents? If one just say restaurants in NOLA, one would have to say tourists over residents. When I look at a city like Houston or Atlanta in comparison, one has a significant number of residents whom eat out which is much different from NOLA. This was illustrated best when I went to Atlanta’s Ponce City Market and it was flooded by residents who lived in condos and apartments near the bubbling food court. St. Roch Market or the Roux Carre does not have a strong pool to be potential diners of residents when you look at the wage disparities in the community and the number of fortune 500 companies in the city. Just look at the vendors overall success rate in St. Roch Market or Roux Carre. However, when one look at New Orleans, the majority of people who constantly filled NOLA restaurants are tourists, from what I can tell and why the more successful restaurants do a lot of marketing by participating in national events and hiring PR firms to get in national publications, etc. If tourists are visiting NOLA, then it is hard for me to tell them to eat barbecue repeatedly in NOLA when the cuisine that the city is famous for is Creole cuisine or you have the opportunity to include a lot of Gulf Coast seafood. NOLA has a lot of quality restaurants of various cuisine and these are some my favorites, I would say try Heard Dat, Bevi’s, Dunbar’s, Dooky Chase, Simone’s, Marjie’s, Carmo, and Ruby Slipper.