Quest for the Best! The Joint BBQ, New Orleans / by MEAT ME

At this point I am noticing that more and more restaurants in New Orleans are either really good or really bad; or it is me and I have really bad luck. I have not found a middle ground, although I did find a little southern café on Magazine Street called Joey K’s. It is super simple and super good. No matter where I go people keep telling me that my trip won't be complete unless I eat at The Joint.

After a few phone calls I was finally able to get a hold of the owner Pete and he said come on down anytime and that he’d love to have me.

That Sunday was the last day of Fleet Week and I wanted to get shots of all the navy ships while they were still in town. Before lunch I headed east over the 90 bridge and after a few turns found myself in the Fischer Development Neighborhood. With in seconds I was among hundreds in a southern black neighborhood with no way out. Everywhere I looked I there were custom tricked out low riders bouncing and motorcycle crews doing burn outs till the smoke filled the streets.

I found myself, in what looked like, an episode of “The Wire”. I pulled my hat brim down over my eyes untill I could barely see. My white knuckles gripped the steering wheel over the dash board and sweat pouring down my face. I’ll be honest I’m fuckin' scared to death; my heart is pounding so hard I can barley hear the engine. I was a lone Cali boy lost in the middle of a southern black street party and my California plates made me stick out like a sore thumb. It was obvious I lost was not welcome here.

Every side street I looked down was filled with more and more people. At one point I even hear someone yell, “Are you lost son?” It felt like there was no way out. Finally up a head I saw a small opening under the bridge surrounded by tons of motorcycle crews. I thought this is my way out. I got to the intersection and just as I made a left I thought I was in the clear  but a crew of about 12 bikes pull right up in front of me and start burning smoke as hard as they can. I thought, “This is it!” I’m stuck here in the middle of the street I'm toast. At this point I'm shaking pretty bad. The smoke starts to clear and all the guys are sitting off the side of the road laughing their asses off.

I popped some heart medication and finally decided it was best to just head to The Joint which was on the other side of the river, and in a way better neighborhood. I was done with sticky situations. After all I had no idea what I was doing. So the shots of the NAVY ships never happened, but when I finally arrived at The Joint I could not wait so sit down and enjoy what all of New Orleans was talkin’ about.

MEAT ME: This is obviously The Joint.

The Joint: You are at The Joint Barbecue. Yes.

MEAT ME: It says on the website “Always Smokin’” how does that tie?

The Joint: Well we smoke all the food, and we are literally constantly tending the smoker.

MEAT ME: How long have you guys been out here?

The Joint: June 2004 we opened.

MEAT ME: What is your background in Barbecue?

The Joint: Well I grew up in Baltimore, which is not much of a barbecue town, but I went to college in Virginia and there was and there was an older gentleman from eastern North Carolina. He was there cooking really vinegary barbecue. That was the first time I had ever had barbecue. It was not about this sweet tomato’y sauce all over the meat. I liked that. I was just one of those moments. I moved down here in 1999 and started cookin’ just at the backyard level. Circumstances kind of came to me where I was looking for a job and there was this building right around the corner from our house and there was the opportunity and my wife and I decided to go for it.

MEAT ME: So what is your specialty?

The Joint: Everything. We started out doing pulled pork was the first thing I learned to do. Then ribs and moved on towards brisket and chicken. We have a great sausage that comes in from Brokerage, Louisiana; that we smoke here.

MEAT ME: Do you get all of your meats locally?

The Joint: No. It’s not like we have local purveyors. It’s mostly commodities market and nationally sourced probably.

MEAT ME: Do you get involved in Barbecue Competitions?

The Joint: A little bit. We had some friends who used to live here before Katrina and work took them back up to Memphis. They ended up with a barbecue team up there. We actually went up there for a few years and hung out and cooked at the Memphis in May. Overall the restaurant isn’t dying to spend my off time cooking barbecue competitively.

MEAT ME: So you guys are basically smoking barbecue here 24/7?

The Joint: Well may be 18 hours a day, something like that.

MEAT ME: Do you also make your own sauce, and all that?

The Joint: Yea all the rubs and all the sauces; everything is made from scratch.

MEAT ME: Have you noticed any change in the food and barbecue culture since Katrina?

The Joint: Yeah, I guess there are more restaurants and more people who are opening barbecue restaurants in town. I had always thought that New Orleans; primarily in this neighborhood compared to some parts of the city, is a bunch of people who aren’t necessarily from New Orleans but all the people are from the south have a good understanding of what good barbecue is like. I just feel that all these people have had an appreciation for it; just another nice offering coming to New Orleans. There are a lot of people post Katrina who come from other states, who are very barbecue-centric places. As far as people who open places that are from here and have always been here and decided to throw their hat into the ring.

MEAT ME: What separates barbecue out here from say Carolina, Texas, or the West Coast?

The Joint: Well I guess there isn’t necessarily the barbecue tradition in Louisiana. There is to some degree the andouille sausage which is exclusively a Louisiana thing, but smoked. There is the cochon de lait which is a young whole pig roasted on a vertical spit with hickory logs in the background. There is a festival dedicated to it in central Louisiana in mid May. New Orleans has always just always been New Orleans. It always had so many culinary traditions that barbecue just hasn’t taken root here.

MEAT ME: What are you guys doing so different that no matter where I go people are asking me if I have eaten at The Joint? If you can tell me…

The Joint: I’ll tell you what we do. We make our rubs and we make our sauces. We severe all the sauce on the side and we only do barbecue. We don’t do anything else. You know there are some places that are doing other things with their barbecue; like taco’s or something. That’s not us, we are just doing barbecue, and we do it the old fashion way. We start with charcoal in the morning and then it’s logs all day long and I think that does make a difference. I don’t have a lot of experience with a “set it, forget it” style smoker where it gas powered and it’s kind of pumping smoke into there. I am very suspicious of the results.

MEAT ME: What type of wood do you guys use?

The Joint: What ever we can get our hands on. Right now we have a lot of oak, pecan, and hickory. We try and get some kind of format with those 3 woods.

MEAT ME: What is your favorite kind of MEAT?

The Joint: Ribs are great. Brisket. You know the brisket is the hardest one to get right. We consistently try to pull the briskets off at the right time. A great brisket is my favorite it always depends. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket I certainly try it all.

It truly was delicious; the meat came right off the bone like a snake slithering into my mouth. I felt relieved that I finally got this amazing barbecue off my chest and lived to actually tell about it.

While I was there I ran into 4 guys who drove out from Toronto just to have his delicious barbecue. It that doesn’t tell you how good it is then I don’t know what will.

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Keep it simple stupid,
Sean Rice