Bite into a link of smoked boudin at Truth Barbeque, in Houston, or 1701 Barbecue, in Beaumont, and the influence of Louisiana’s Cajun country on Texas barbecue is undeniable. Over the last decade, the barbecue joints of Louisiana have been looking to the Lone Star State for direction. Offset smokers, juicy sliced brisket, and even smoked beef cheek have found an audience there. I set out on a trip that crisscrossed our neighbor to the east to find its best Texas-style barbecue.
While on the road, I also tried a few joints that hewed more closely to Louisiana-style barbecue. Paul’s Rib Shack, in Lake Charles, deserves a return visit for the tender pork steak and the flavorful duo of brisket-flecked dirty rice and creamy corn maque choux. Barbecue-stuffed potatoes aren’t hard to find on either side of the Sabine River, but there’s a great one at Cou-Yon’s, in Baton Rouge, filled to the brim with crawfish étouffée and garnished with eight fried shrimp. After those detours, let’s dig into the beef of the matter.
Bad Wolf BBQ
Method: Post oak in an offset smoker
Hours: Thursday–Saturday 11–3
The lone representative on this list in the northern part of the state is Bad Wolf BBQ. Before opening the food truck, Andrew Caskey had been honing his barbecue skills in the backyard. The Louisiana native found his calling after a two-week trek through Texas. Now he’s bringing a taste of his experience to the Heard Freighthouse, a food truck park that backs up to the railroad tracks slicing through the town of Ruston.
Brisket is the best-seller here, and for good reason. The fat cap is well rendered beneath a peppery bark, and the slices pull easily without falling apart. The shimmering brisket burnt ends are one-bite treats, and the chopped brisket fills a baked sweet potato topped with Louisiana white sauce (a thicker version of the Alabama original) and green onions. Caskey also makes his own sausage and smoked boudin, so get a link of whatever’s on special and ask for a side of the chimichurri aioli for dipping. 93 E. Railroad Avenue, Ruston, Louisiana.
Big Thicket Barbecue
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 6:45–3 (lunch begins at 10:30)
Must-order: Pork ribs
Brad and Jessica Fee are from the small town of Evans, Louisiana, just a few miles from the Texas state line. The couple’s dream when they first opened the Big Thicket Barbecue food truck in 2018 was to be included in the Texas Monthly Top 50 list, but their plans to serve from their mobile operation in both Louisiana and Texas never materialized. In 2021, they settled in Louisiana for good with their brick-and-mortar in DeRidder, about an hour north of Lake Charles. Photos from Texas barbecue joints cover the entry hall, so take note of the Fees’ favorites while you wait to order.
Big Thicket has recently added a full breakfast menu, so get there early if you’re craving breakfast tacos or a brisket sandwich on a glazed doughnut. Don’t expect the barbecue to last long after lunch starts. The thick-sliced brisket was tender, the chicken quarter was juicy, and the smoked boudin was well seasoned. St. Louis–cut pork ribs are the star, with a sweet rub that forms a candy-red bark. Order them with a side of green beans slick with bacon fat and the homey tater tot casserole. 316 N. Pine, DeRidder, Louisiana.
Method: Oak in a rotisserie smoker
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10:30–2:30
It took a move to Memphis for native Louisianans Matt and Christy “Kissy” Blanchard to find barbecue. Matt took a job preparing large meals for a church, and that included pit-cooked pork shoulders. When they moved back to Lafayette, their love of barbecue came with them, and the couple opened Blanchard’s Barbeque as a food truck. They served pulled pork, of course, but also sliced brisket, which was unusual for the area at the time. A brick-and-mortar location followed in 2018.
The menu reflects the Blanchards’ efforts to differentiate their cooking from classic southern Louisiana cuisine. There is no rice dressing or boudin, and the sauce comes on the side, though the Creole mustard sauce is a dead giveaway of the locale. Try it on the house-made smoked sausage, which is incredibly juicy, with a bold mix of Cajun spices. Save the espresso sauce for the brisket (not that it needs any). The thick slices pulled apart easily, while the well-rendered fat moistened every bite. A generous handful of the chopped brisket comes atop the house specialty poutine made with fresh-cut fries, a rich brown gravy of brisket drippings, and queso fresco. 2023 W. Pinhook Road, Lafayette, Louisiana.
Blue Oak BBQ
Method: Oak, cherry, and pecan in a rotisserie smoker
Hours: Monday–Sunday 11–9
Must-order: Smoked cheeseburger
After four years of running barbecue pop-ups, friends and business partners Philip Moseley and Ronnie Evans found a permanent home for their Blue Oak BBQ in 2016. It’s a big place in New Orleans’s Mid-City, with a spacious dining room and bar and lots of patio seating. I chose a table that overlooked the painted mural of an American flag, with the red stripes replaced by bacon slices.
The menu is all over the barbecue map, but there are plenty of familiar touches for Texans, starting with the smoky, thick-sliced brisket and the house-made sausage flavored with green onion and garlic. Smoked burgers have taken Texas by storm, and Blue Oak has brought them to New Orleans. The smoked cheeseburger starts with a thick patty of ground brisket. On my visit, I was lucky enough to sample the special double cheeseburger slathered with house-made bacon jam. The sweet chile–glazed pork ribs show the owners are not afraid to push barbecue boundaries—then they bring it right back home to Louisiana with some of the best freshly fried pork cracklins you’ll find in town. They’re fine plain, but try them with the ranch or Sichuan peppercorn seasonings if you really want to live. 900 N. Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Devil Moon Barbeque
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 11–3
Must-order: Beef cheeks
Pitmaster Shannon Bingham has an impressive barbecue résumé in a town not known for its barbecue. He was the pitmaster at Blue Oak BBQ before opening his own concept, Emmylou’s BBQ, which operated in New Orleans’s St. Roch Market food hall until 2021. Before that, he got his introduction to smoked meats in the kitchen of the Joint, a stalwart in the Bywater neighborhood. Now he’s at the helm of the shiny new Devil Moon Barbeque, in the central business district, attached to the also-new Brewery Saint X. It’s here that Bingham builds barbecue trays that look a lot like Texas’s but also reflect his Louisiana culinary roots.
A scoop of dirty rice had plenty of chopped brisket mixed in, and the okra sauce piquante had the homey flavors of a long-cooked stew. The smoked chaurice sausage is a nod to Creole cooking, while the peppery bark on the slightly sweet pork ribs looked straight out of Texas. The brisket had good texture but was bland. You’ll have to wait until Friday for the finest smoked beef cheeks I’ve ever eaten, but they’re worth planning for. The cross-section glistened with rendered fat and was pleasantly sticky with gelatin, while a garnish of house-made chowchow gave the rich cut some brightness. Don’t miss the smoked and fried pork cracklins that highlight the robust flavor of Compart Duroc hogs.
As a former New Orleanian, I couldn’t fight the nostalgia that came with a bite of the hot sausage sandwich. Two thin, spicy patties, fresh off the griddle, are stacked and topped with melted American cheese. Though served on a fluffy white bun, it’s dressed like a po’ boy, with shredded lettuce, tomato slices, and dill pickles, and it gets some added zing from a spicy tartar sauce. 1188 Girod, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ
Method: White oak and pecan in an offset smoker
Hours: Thursday 11:30–3 (burgers and tacos only), Friday 11:30–3 (barbecue menu)
Must-order: Smoked pork jowl
Jason Gonzalez lives in Gonzales and runs a barbecue joint in Luling, so it’s understandable if you think I’m talking about a Texan. But this Luling is in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, just upriver from New Orleans on the west bank of the mighty Mississippi, though a grass-covered levee blocks the view of the water from the Gonzo’s Smokehouse parking lot. Inside the pit room, Gonzalez stokes the fireboxes of a couple trailer-mounted Mill Scale smokers. He used a majority of his severance check from an oil and gas job to purchase them for his pop-ups in 2016. In 2019, Gonzales went all in on barbecue and moved into his current location, which opened in early 2020.
Gonzo’s is open only two days a week, only of one them for barbecue. Thursdays are just for burgers, so the demand for smoked meat on Fridays creates long lines. It’s a shame that Louisiana’s best barbecue is so scarce. Get there early if you want to try a variety, and start with the smoked pork jowls. Some bites are primarily fat, but it’s glorious fat with a texture that’s a little firmer than that of custard. The richness barely lets up with the brisket burnt ends coated in a cherry cola sauce, or with the cubes of smoky beef belly topped with a sweet, sticky soy glaze.
The sliced brisket is glossy with fat, and it has a stout black bark that carries plenty of smoke and spice from black pepper. Chunks of brisket appear in Gonzales’s Texified smoked boudin, and the pitmaster’s creativity shows in rotating sausage flavors like jerk chicken. A full tray here is an onslaught of bold flavors, so use the pickled cucumbers, jalapeños, onions, and pineapple as palate cleansers between each impressive bite. 12325 River Road, Luling, Louisiana.
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