If you find yourself in New Orleans and the smell of smoke wafts over you — hickory, pecan, apple wood, or mesquite, perhaps — by all means stop, pull over, grab a seat, order, and chow down.
Barbecue is a national obsession, with many styles and practitioners perfecting their slow-cooked craft. New Orleans is no different, representing the regional variations of the cuisine, including some classic New Orleans spins on smoked meats and sides. Now, it’s entering something of a slow-smoked renaissance after being the quiet, unobtrusive and unfussy casual cuisine that grew up to become more than just a tailgate day foodstuff. We’ve even got two festivals devoted to the altar of smoked meats (plus a healthy side of live music): Hogs for the Cause happens in March and the Crescent City Blues and BBQ festival in October.
Here’s our top five favorite places to enjoy barbecue in New Orleans. Bring your appetite, and loosen those belts, ’cause there’s no such thing as a small plate of food at any of these joints!
Inside NOLA Brewing, 3001 Tchoupitoulas St.
Proprietor Neil McClure’s started McClure’s as project while managing Dante’s Kitchen and it quickly evolved into a favorite spot inside the NOLA Brewing Co. Brewery on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Irish Channel. McClure’s love for the barbecue craft is evident with his perfected meats and sides. Brisket that can be addictive, smoked chicken that falls off the bone, and mild, Louisiana Chaurice sausage flavored with red pepper are just a few of the regular offerings. A big draw is his variety of house-made sauces that will please any palate including traditional Kansas City and Memphis-style red sauces, chili sauce that gives real heat to the NOLA East sauce, and mustardy Alabama sauce with a healthy dash of black peppercorns.
701 Mazant St., Bywater
This Bywater institution was a game-changer for the barbecue scene in New Orleans. Owners Pete and Jenny Breen opened their restaurant in 2004 and since then have been on the local radar — and on Top 10 lists from national publications and featured on popular television shows. One bite into a side of ribs, and you’ll understand why. The dry-rubbed ribs don’t need much barbecue sauce. Their exceptional sides and desserts also must be sampled, including the macaroni and cheese, the side salad with savory smoked tomato dressing, and peanut butter pie. After moving to a larger location in the Bywater in 2012, The Joint now feeds many more hungry fans. Bonus: it’s one of the few barbecue spots with a full bar, and a good one at that.
900 North Carrollton Ave.
After operating for several years inside the Mid-City music club Chickie Wah-Wah, Blue Oak BBQ moved into a modern, light-filled space with an ample outdoor patio on North Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City. Try the spicy green onion sausage, the killer brisket, and don’t miss the mac and cheese. Bonus: a well-stocked bar.
2000 South Claiborne Ave.
Barbecue is soul food. Nowhere else in New Orleans is that more apparent than at Central City stalwart Ms. Hyster’s. Pulling up a chair at Ms. Hyster’s is like eating at your grandmother’s house. Wet, tomato-sauced ribs, barbecued chicken, and sides like yams and meaty ham hocks, and crowder peas with cornbread will trigger sensory memories of simpler times. And do not skip dessert: homemade sour cream pound cake and traditional chocolate cake, or bread pudding. Ms. Hyster’s BBQ won’t break the bank either.
10828 Hayne Blvd., New Orleans East
This is the place for cochon de lait – specifically the cochon de lait po-boy, one of the most popular items every year at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. It can be found most other days of the year (Wednesday through Saturday) outside of spring festival season at this classic New Orleans East/Lakefront joint. The cochon de lait is a 12-hour, slow-smoked suckling pig butt/shoulder covered in spicy slaw and served on crackly, crispy French bread from their New Orleans East neighbors Dong Phuong Bakery. This juicy meat needs the bread, and if you’ve ever had this awesome sandwich, you’ll understand why you could (and should) enjoy it outside of the confines of Jazz Fest.
1201 S Rampart St.
This spot boasts major square footage and a serious chef at the helm. Aaron Burgau (of Patois and Truburger fame) plays pitmaster here, riffing on traditional barbecue with flavorful additions like umami pickles and horseradish creme. All the favorites are here — ribs, brisket, barbecue chicken, pulled pork — as are distinctly Louisiana flavors like smoked boudin.
4141 Bienville St.
This Mid-City spot honors an established Louisiana meatpacking company, L.A. Frey & Sons, that started in 1865 and operated locally for 120 years. Frey Smoked Meat Co. hones in on that history through its meat-centric menu: try the Bar-b-Cuban sandwich or the pork belly poppers, or opt for classic barbecue like St. Louis ribs and pulled pork. Frey caused a stir during Mardi Gras for its absurdly decadent king cake milkshake – though you can only get that during Carnival version, definitely save room for their Coffee & Donuts shake.