Aug 8, 201309:57 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

The Search for Good Barbecue in New Orleans

McClure's Barbecue

The art of cooking meat slowly, with smoke, is one that is best appreciated in the South. You may find folks in the Midwest who'll argue with you, but as in most things, your best bet is to nod politely and let them think Kansas City has something to brag about.

New Orleans is technically a part of the South, but for many reasons is not really of the South in many respects. One way we differ from the rest of the former Confederacy is that we have never had the tradition of barbecued meat – pork or beef – that our neighbors have. There are many reasons to love New Orleans' food, but at the risk of offending the folks at Tujague's, cooking brisket is not one of them. Nor slow-cooked pork, nor anything else that involves low-temperatures and hardwood smoke.

The boiled brisket at Tujague's is, in fact, one of the things I love about New Orleans cuisine, but I will readily admit that there are folks in Texas doing things with brisket and mesquite that put Tujague's take on the fatty cut of beef to shame. I spent four years in Memphis, and there developed a taste for dry-rubbed ribs and pulled pork sandwiches dressed with slaw. On various trips towards the southern end of the East Coast, I've tried a lot of different styles of barbecue, and enjoyed most of them.

I'd heard that various places in town had good barbecue over the years. Some of them did, too. Mostly, though, it was hit or miss. On one trip the pork was moist and delicious; on the next it was dry. Ribs that fell off the bone on one visit were like leather the next.

I have been to McClure's once, so I can't swear the food I had wasn't a fluke. But I don't think it was, because the kids at McClure's seem to understand something elemental about cooking meat that allows them to render several different versions of authentic-tasting barbecue at once, with a personal touch thrown in from time to time as well.

That's most apparent with the chicken. Earlier this week I ordered a bunch of food to take home for dinner, including a whole barbecued chicken. I'm not sure what I expected, but my plans were to use the chicken (I'd also bought pulled pork and some ribs – they were out of brisket) in some sort of pasta dish.

Things didn't turn out that way. Instead, we ended up eating the chicken, pork and ribs family-style, with the various sauces laid out in front of the meat on a big platter. I made rice. Two hours later I was still picking at the leftover pork and chicken.

McClure's offers sauces from several different geographic regions. The vinegar-heavy sauce from North Carolina contrasts with the mustard-centric sauce from South Carolina, and both are completely different from the thin sauce they serve in Memphis. It's hard to do the various different styles of sauce properly, but even harder to perfect the differing styles of barbecue; McClure's seems to have passed both tests.

The menu is here and it's as simple as it looks. The restaurant is located at 4800 Magazine St., across from Le Bon Temps Roule bar and the new(ish) location of Surrey's. They're open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., but if I were you, I'd call ahead – (504) 301-2367 – to find out whether they're sold out of anything. Nothing worse than having your heart set on ribs only to find out when you arrive that they've run out.

I think the reason that New Orleans doesn't have a tradition of barbecue has to do with the fact that we had other uses for hardwood, and because we had a cuisine that was (and is) more sophisticated than the traditions from which barbecue emerged. That's not a value judgment, it's just an observation, and it may well be wrong. It's about time that New Orleans had a barbecue restaurant as passionate as McClure's.

Now if we could only get a kick-ass Burmese restaurant...

P.S. The Milkfish pop-up at A Mano is genius, and I'll be writing about it in more detail soon. In the interim, check out Cristina Quackenbush's website and the menus posted thereon. If that doesn't get your salivary glands warmed up, then sister, you're reading the wrong column.

Reader Comments:
Aug 13, 2013 08:29 pm
 Posted by  mrdoggity1

As a winning bbq competitor and caterer, a manufacturer of hand-crafted sauces, a certified competition bbq judge, and one who has traveled the country, tasting the best bbq in America - you may want to stick to muffalettas and gumbo. Ribs that "fall off the bone" are going back to the kitchen if they come out on my plate. They're overcooked junk, pushed out by a cook who doesn't know what he's doing. Properly cooked pork ribs are served dry, with a good bark, and moist meat that pulls cleanly from the bone, but doesn't fall off. I make award-winning sauces, but sauces are a condiment. Anyone who makes "sauce" a focus of their food is hiding something - usually poor quality meat, or poor technique.
As for places that try to do "all styles" - no thank you. If I want a multi-page menu, I'll go to "Cheesecake Factory" (and I don't, and won't).
I love New Orleans, and it's one of my favorite food towns. Keep doing what you do and do well. I'll go to Memphis or Kansas City or Austin or Charleston or Tuscaloosa for my BBQ.

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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