“Texas is the motherland of barbecue, and if somebody says it’s not, they’re just an idiot,” Bobby Monsted III told me. Monsted is co-owner of LA23 BBQ in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. It’s a small place with covered picnic tables for seating along State Highway 23 in Plaquemines Parish. He was raised just upriver in New Orleans, but often sampled barbecue while visiting family in Fort Worth and Texarkana as a kid. When he opened a barbecue shack in 2012, he knew Texas-style was the way to smoke.

After graduating from Mississippi College with a business degree in 2002, Monsted didn’t return to New Orleans, where his father ran a successful insurance company. He instead took the unusual step of opening a fishing charter service on the Louisiana coast. Many of his father’s peers became his clients. He had a four-month offseason every year, and got into barbecue during the downtime. Monsted smoked everything from brisket to redfish on the half shell that he’d caught in the Gulf. He bought a big reverse-flow smoker, which is built with the firebox and the exhaust on the same side. The smoke and heat make a long, circuitous path over and around the meat. He thought maybe one day he’d have a barbecue joint. “It was a pipe dream,” he said. “Barbecue was a hobby.”

In 2012, Monsted and his fishing buddy Aaron Gelfand decided to make the leap and start selling all that barbecue they were cooking together in the offseason. LA23 BBQ was born. A brick-and-mortar kitchen and pit room replaced the shack in 2017, and a roof went over the picnic tables. That’s how it looks today. Monsted bought out Gelfand’s half of the business in 2019, and made longtime employee Brett Palermo a part owner. The latest addition to the pit room staff is Chase Waits, who is in charge of making the sausage: an all-beef jalapeño cheese version that’s not all that spicy, but has plenty of flavor.

Bobby Monsted III (left) with Chase Waits. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Monsted preferred smoking with oak from the start. He asks for post oak because that’s the choice of Central Texas pitmasters, but he’s seasoned enough to know he doesn’t always get just that. “We probably get a little bit of gumbo oak,” he says. Post oak isn’t as prevalent in South Louisiana as in Central Texas, so there’s some live oak, red oak, and white oak mixed in. Monsted prefers the wood on a green side so it doesn’t combust so quickly. It also provides a robust smokiness to his barbecue.

The original smoker didn’t last long after opening.“The reverse-flow sucks. It’s the worst,” he said, complaining of hot spots. He now uses standard offset smokers built by Stump’s Smokers in Georgia. Stump’s is well-known for gravity-fed, charcoal-fired smokers, but these are custom-built, all wood-burning smokers. They’re also incredibly well insulated. The door into the cook chamber on his largest smoker was so heavy I thought it was locked when I tried to open it. The efficiency of the smokers allows Monsted to leave them unattended for up to six hours overnight. He arrives at four in the morning to check on the fires, and starts serving breakfast at 6 a.m.

I didn’t try the brisket breakfast burrito that has proven quite popular—Monsted serves several hundred on a busy morning. There’s high demand for a filling breakfast from the military members at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans across the highway. There’s also a massive $21 billion liquified natural gas plant under construction twenty miles downriver. It’s a controversial behemoth that has brought countless construction workers to LA23 BBQ. Monsted’s problem is that he needs to cook more brisket. “Twenty-five is my max on brisket without quality going down,” he said, so he’s considering a wood-fired rotisserie from Texas to add capacity.

The brisket is great. A jet-black bark that starts with salt and pepper along with that oak smoke surrounds each slice. The smoke flavor is prominent, but not overwhelming. The lean slices were juicy, and in no need of the syrupy sweet tomato-based sauce served on the side. Tender pork ribs were lighter on the smoke and heavier on the rub. They also don’t need any help, but are a better complement to the sauce. Both taste like they belong in Texas, and Monsted made sure his staff knew their target. He took a few of them on a barbecue crawl through Central Texas in 2019 using the Texas Monthly Top 50 as his guide.

Monsted gets a beautiful mahogany sheen on the skin of the half chickens. The dark meat was far juicier than the breast, so I dipped the white meat into their signature green sauce, which also works with the well-seasoned slices of smoked turkey breast. For the green sauce, Monsted purees tomatillos, poblanos, jalapeños, cilantro, and plenty of lime juice together into what he calls his finest creation. He didn’t use a recipe and it still came out perfect the first try. The kitchen staff had to record him making another batch to get the sauce recipe written down, which he thinks could sell well in bottled form. “I hope that one day it gets me out of lower middle class,” he joked.

Two hot sides are cooked on the smoker right next to the meats. The mac ‘n’ cheese is rich and creamy, while the beans are sweet and savory with plenty of brisket and sausage chunks mixed in. His slaw is a basic mayo-based cabbage one, pleasantly crunchy when served. You’ll only find potato salad on Fridays. “Mom’s hands are getting old,” Monsted said, and she makes it for the restaurant.

Monsted said barbecue got him to sober up after a life of partying. “I pretty much stopped drinking when I opened this place because I have to be 100 percent money every single day, or you can’t do this job,” he said. His parents were a little skeptical of his post-college path, so he wants to make them proud with a successful barbecue joint. “I’m still so scared of failure,” he said. “Anything that I can control myself, I’m gonna kill myself making sure it’s right.” Let’s hope he doesn’t so South Louisiana can enjoy a genuine taste of Texas.