Restaurant News

Everything You Need to Know About Phoenix Barbecue in 2019

A mixed meat platter and armada of sides from JL Smokehouse.
A mixed meat platter and armada of sides from JL Smokehouse. Chris Malloy
Though deeply rooted in far-scattered American traditions, the local world of smoked meat seems to keep spinning into exciting new places. Last year, I covered the metro Phoenix barbecue scene extensively, ending with a roadmap to the 10 best places in town.

And a number of local favorites and heavy hitters have big plans for 2019. If you eat barbecue in the Valley, you’ll want to take note of the following four news items — all hints on how our barbecue culture will continue to develop.

click to enlarge Little Miss BBQ 2.0 is located on Seventh Street north of Dunlap Avenue. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Little Miss BBQ 2.0 is located on Seventh Street north of Dunlap Avenue.
Jackie Mercandetti
Little Miss Barbecue Eases into a Sunnyslope Location
Unless you’ve been living under a cord of pecan wood, you know that Little Miss 2.0 is up and running. Scott Holmes has the goal of opening for dinner, lunch, and brunch, but so far is open just for dinner. Meats are the same, but Holmes plans to roll out other meat specials, potentially smoked pork belly and lamb neck, in time.

There are two new sides: vegetables cooked in brisket fat and an ultra-cheesy mac and cheese. At this location, unlike the other, you can sip drink drinks. Solid wine and beer options await, as well as Mason jar cocktails. How does the smoked meat stack up? Oh, we have a whole review devoted to that.

click to enlarge James Lewis philosophizing about wood and smoke. - CHRIS MALLOY
James Lewis philosophizing about wood and smoke.
Chris Malloy
JL Smokehouse Drops Fresh Menu Items, Expands to West Valley
Since I covered this tiny south Phoenix smokery helmed by James Lewis, an Arkansan who barbecues bologna and claims to make “the best pulled pork in the country,” things have progressed. The main change has been the addition of smoked pork belly. More recently, Lewis has added tacos and nachos to his menu. You pick your meat for both. The nachos come with meat, cheese, jalapenos, a slaw blend, and barbecue sauce. Tortillas, both soft and chipped, come from the venerable La Sonorense Tortilla Factory on Central Avenue.

But the big news is this: In March or April, Lewis will be bringing his old and new menu items to a Peoria location almost twice the size of his south Phoenix spot.

Beef short rib special from NakedQ. - CHRIS MALLOY
Beef short rib special from NakedQ.
Chris Malloy
NakedQ Introduces New Sausage, Expands to East Valley
Similarly, NakedQ will be continuing a slow-and-low expansion that has turned into an eastward trek. Oren Hartman’s reliably satisfying barbecue first became available in north Phoenix, then Scottsdale, and will be landing in Chandler this spring. Menu items will be close to the same.

In the meantime, Hartman has been tinkering with his links. Unsatisfied with his previous two versions, Hartman tested 20 purveyors (on his own and with willing customers) before settling on new sausages from a provider in Texas. They are made from beef and pork, have a pleasantly pungent spice blend, and offer a nice, slow-rising heat.

click to enlarge A John Deere tractor is the centerpiece of Joe's Real BBQ's interior. - TOM CARLSON
A John Deere tractor is the centerpiece of Joe's Real BBQ's interior.
Tom Carlson
Joe’s Real BBQ Refines Processes, Expands Menu
Now moving deeper into its third decade, Gilbert stalwart Joe’s Real BBQ has just rolled out several changes. Owner Joe Johnson has put his formidable engineering chops to use, tweaking how his team monitors smoke opacities and other precision metrics. The menu has evolved. For one, there are more vegan options. You can now substitute smoked jackfruit for any meat. There are more vegan sides, including a beet salad, spicy slaw, and braised greens from nearby Agritopia.

A new large-format sandwich called the Big Bad Wolf unites pulled pork, pit ham, and rib meat. It comes on Texas Toast stuck through with a knife. Johnson, too, has added a $58 combination platter of meats and sides, which, he says will “easily feed four.”
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy