New Orleans might not be the first place you think of when you’re considering amazing barbecue, but a restaurant in Luling is changing that. Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ, 12325 River Rd., has been serving what many consider the best barbecue in the New Orleans area since 2016.
Owner Jason Gonzalez was born and raised on the Westbank and didn’t set out to be the king of local barbecue. Instead, he was working in drafting and design in the oil and gas industry. He honed his cooking skills in his backyard, where he developed his signature barbecue style. In 2016, Gonzalez rented a commissary kitchen and began doing popups, farmers markets, and festivals, peddling his smoked meat and sides.
After he was let go from his drafting job due to downsizing, Gonzalez used his severance to buy a high-end smoker and started selling his food full-time. The secret to his Texas-style barbecue is Gonzalez’s hands-on preparation that takes all week.
Gonzo’s Smokehouse is only open two days a week- on Thursday, Gonzalez serves up smash burgers, and on Friday, he opens with his full menu of pulled pork, brisket, homemade boudin, and more.
Rather than hope to find someone who would be able to produce his level of quality food, Gonzalez prefers to handle the work himself and keep his business small. He spends his week prepping for Gonzo’s big Friday food drop.
“When I started, I had to decide if I wanted to go big with it or keep it small and do it all myself,” he said. “I decided to only open Thursday and Friday, do all of the work myself, and know that I am putting out a consistent product.”
Gonzalez starts prepping and trimming his meat on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are dedicated to more prep and making sausage and boudin. He said that he found that a bonus of only being open two days a week is that it sets Gonzo’s apart from other barbecue you can get any day of the week.
He said, “I wasn’t originally going for that, but I thought that if we change the menu every week and do some really cool things, we could pique people’s interest into making that drive out to Luling for lunch on Thursday or Friday.”
In addition to meats like brisket burnt ends, smoked beef cheeks, and smoked beef jowls, Gonzo’s is known for its delicious sides. My favorites are the mac and cheese, which won the top prize at the New Orleans Mac and Cheese Festival in 2017, and Smoked Gouda Grits, buttery, creamy grits topped with a generous heap of Gouda cheese.
The line for Gonzo’s Friday barbecue experience starts long before the restaurant’s opening time of 11:30 a.m. Fortunately, Gonzalez opens pre-orders on Sunday morning so that you can get your boxed-up barbecue to go starting at 10:00 a.m. on Friday. You can also place pre-orders for Thursday smash burgers beginning Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.
“A lot of the workers at the plants only have a small window to get lunch, so pre-orders are important to me,” Gonzalez explained. “I post the new menu for the Friday orders at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday and we run orders until Tuesday, unless we sell-out of pre-orders before then. That way anyone who orders can come in, skip the line, and grab their meal to go.”
Although Gonzo’s is no stranger to local accolades, the restaurant won Best Specialty Poboy at the 2022 Oak St. Poboy Festival for its smoked beef cheek poboy, Gonzalez said that he is taking a break from festivals this year to focus entirely on Gonzo’s brick-and-mortar.
“When we do festivals, we have to shut down shop for the week, and customers aren’t too happy about that,” he said. “We’re going to take a break from that and just focus on our weekly barbecue.”
Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ is open Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or sold out.