The sign for M’Jays House of Smoke is so small you can’t see it from the street. Owner Marcus Jerod Campbell got it from a festival where he served his barbecue and hung it above the door of TJ’s Catfish & Wings in Arlington, owned by Travis “TJ” Johnson, an uncle of his wife, Koyia.

Johnson has run his restaurant for twenty years, and he let Campbell sell smoked turkey legs and ribs inside a couple days a week starting in 2019. Two years later, Campbell went into barbecue full-time. TJ’s took over a closed GameStop next door and doubled its dining room, and now Johnson and Campbell are business partners. A menu for TJ’s and another for M’Jays sit side by side at the ordering counter, and the barbecue is as popular as the fish and wings.

I stopped in on a recent Saturday, and the place was packed. At one table, a dozen women all had trays full of barbecue-stuffed potatoes, ribs, brisket sandwiches, and the loaded cornbread I had come for.

Campbell mixes cornbread batter with green onions and diced jalapeños and “bakes” it in his oak-fueled rotisserie smoker. You can order it as a side or as a part of Big D’s smoky loaded cornbread, named in honor of Campbell’s cousin Derrick Walker. He runs Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, in Fort Worth, and his popular loaded cornbread inspired Campbell to serve his own version. When Campbell asked Walker if he could copy the dish, Walker’s response was: “As long as it looks good.” 

Campbell’s version starts with a hefty slab of that smoked cornbread, which is as sweet and buttery as cake. He tops it with a towering mound of chopped brisket, beans, barbecue sauce, cheese, and green onions. There are enough savory elements to stand up to the sweet cornbread and barbecue sauce, and I had to make myself stop halfway through. It’s a daunting portion for under $16, and it could easily feed two. Campbell’s best-selling item is a Cajun version loaded with crawfish and shrimp that goes for $25.

Even bigger is the barbecue-stuffed baked potato that will test the structural integrity of any take-out box. Request the brisket sliced rather than chopped and you’ll get a better idea of Campbell’s skill with the smoker. His lean brisket slices were juicy and tender, and they had well-developed bark. Ask for the “three-headed monster,” and he’ll add sausage and pork ribs to the potato.

Marcus Campell of M’Jays House of Smoke and Travis “TJ” Johnson of TJ’s Catfish & Wings.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Although Campbell is related to a highly regarded pitmaster in Walker, he learned to cook from his father, Tim, while growing up in Fort Worth. “Anytime we had a big family event, he was outside cooking,” Campbell said. Campbell’s love of barbecue started with pork ribs, “but as time has gone on, I’ve become more of a brisket fan; the bark, the fat when it renders right,” he said. He’s got the brisket down, and his spareribs are equally impressive, with plenty of garlic, black pepper, and smoke. They were tender without falling off the bone, and they didn’t need a bit of the sauce served on the side.

In addition to the two printed menus, specials are written in marker on butcher paper hanging next to the counter. A couple of those specials are still works in progress, like the dry, overcooked chicken half and the pork belly burnt ends that tasted a little too burnt due to the seared brown sugar glaze. Campbell made up for them with juicy and peppery smoked turkey breast and quesitacos filled with chopped brisket. Opt for a side of Smoke Stacks— jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese, mozzarella, and brisket, all wrapped in bacon. The bacon was perfectly crisp, and the mozzarella provided a cheese pull you won’t get with cheddar.

While I contemplated the dessert lineup of strawberry cake, chocolate cake, and pound cake made by Miss Peaches in Fort Worth, Johnson came to my table with a sample of fried catfish. It was crisp and well-seasoned, and a testament to why the place was successful long before the barbecue. Get it with seasoned fries or the potato salad, which has plenty of diced pickles. After packing up the leftovers from my second visit in three days, Campbell suggested I try the greens and mac and cheese on my next visit. (I ended up getting a slice of the rich pound cake to go.)

I asked Campbell and Johnson why they haven’t simply combined their menus. They tried a couple years ago, but “we found out people respected it more if it was separate,” Campbell said. And having both options helps out when the barbecue starts to run low in the evenings. Campbell said he’s “trying to last all day” with the brisket and ribs, but that’s getting harder to do on the weekends, when the spot is open until 9:30 p.m. So get there for lunch if you want your pick from the barbecue menu, or settle for the fine consolation prize of excellent fried catfish later on.

M’Jays House of Smoke
4261 Green Oaks Boulevard, Suite 506, Arlington
Phone: 817-572-1600
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 11–8:30, Friday–Saturday 11–9:30, Sunday 11:30–7
Pitmaster: Marcus Campbell
Method: Oak in a rotisserie
Year opened: 2021