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Story #15McClure’s BarbecueNew Orleans, LA

You have to have more than just a passion for the food. You have to have strong legs, strong will, and just the sheer tenacity to keep going.

If the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching, Neil McClure is playing his part perfectly.  In the brisk pre-dawn hours of New Orleans, Neil is picking through a wood pile behind his namesake barbecue joint like an artisan chef searching for the perfect ingredient.  Alone, he stokes the fire and monitors the smoke as he slow cooks his signature ribs, pulled pork and brisket.

As a self-described “stick burner,” this is how every day starts for Neil. “The process with barbecue is a long one if you’re doing it the style that I am. I burn only firewood. The process for me is all about having a clean burning fire the whole time and producing what looks like thin blue smoke or thin blue air coming out rather than a puffy white smoke.”

Neil has worked in the restaurant industry his entire life, but his passion for great barbecue predates that.  “It goes back to my childhood. At family gatherings we would cook whole pigs,” he says. “That was one of my first jobs when I was in sixth grade. I had a few hours of the overnight shift watching the fire, so to speak. That’s where my love for barbecue started, and where this whole restaurant came from.”

Although he discovered his passion for great barbecue at an early age, getting the courage to go out on his own took some time.  “I had thought about it and talked about for years and years, until I finally made the commitment in my mind,” says Neil.  “I told a chef I was working with at the time I was going to open my own restaurant, and from that moment on, I knew there was no looking back.”

Four years after his initial success as a pop-up restaurant, he opened the doors of McClure’s Barbecue. Neil is starting to develop a name for himself, and McClure’s Barbecue is developing a loyal following.  In a city like New Orleans, which is world renowned for its food, that’s not an easy task. And it wouldn’t be a restaurant without its fair share of unique challenges.

“Just being responsible for everything,” says Neil. “I have to be a part of every decision that’s made, and that’s something new. Even though I’ve been a manager most of my career, now the buck really does stop with me.” But, he seems to take it all in stride. By the time Neil is pulling the last of his Texas-style brisket off the smoker, the city has come alive.  The lunch crowd is starting to gather, and even though Neil has already put in what many would consider a full shift, he’s just getting started.  A steady flow of patrons walk through the doors, and if their smiles are any indication, they most certainly will be back.

Neil likes to joke that his dream is to one day be able to sit out at the lake watching a fire of his own while someone else works the pit. But it isn’t long before he admits even that is probably a stretch. “In truth, I’ll be the one watching the fire here every morning until I just can’t get out of bed.  But, in the long term, even if it ends up that I don’t make a ton of money doing this, I’m doing what I love and having a blast doing it.”

Photos by Shaul Schwarz

  • Coming through. The smoked meat makes its short pilgrimage across the street.

  • "Getting into a restaurant, you definitely have to have more than just a passion for the food," Neil says. "You have to have strong legs, strong will, and just sheer tenacity to keep going." Here's hoping Neil's just getting started.

  • After a lifetime in the restaurant industry, and a successful pop-up shop, Neil McClure opened his own brick and mortar joint in 2013.

  • Neil lays out the first round of ribs and brisket to be smoked.

  • The pit is located in a yard across the street from the restaurant. Neil lays out the first round of brisket and ribs to smoke.

  • An employee pulls a fresh slab of ribs from the storage fridge.

  • Neil McClure takes a break from the lunch rush at McClure's Barbecue

  • It sounds cliche, but the meat on the ribs is so tender it literally falls off the bone.

  • It's hard to argue with Neil's motto.

  • Neil takes pride in the sides they serve at McClure's. "Most places put all their focus on the barbecue and the sides are an afterthought." he says. "We want the whole meal to be spectacular."

  • The mouth-watering barbecue has won over a new customer.

  • Sliced brisket, ready to serve. Neil says "a perfectly cooked piece of meat isn’t underdone, isn’t overdone, has great juiciness to it, that perfect seasoning outside. It’s like heaven."

  • His Texas-style brisket takes 8 to 10 hours to slow cook. Fortunately for the customers, all they have to do is wait in line.

  • This is where you'll find Neil every morning, starting his fire, preparing for the day to come.

Q & A

We sat down with Neil to talk barbecue.

Do you think you will ever go back to working in someone else’s restaurant?

Highly doubt that. At this point, this dog’s not gonna learn many new tricks.

Describe the taste you love in a perfect brisket.

Really good flavoring without being masked by something else, like a barbecue sauce. A perfectly cooked piece of meat isn’t underdone, isn’t overdone, has great juiciness to it, that perfect seasoning outside. It’s like heaven. Brisket is the hardest one to master, so to speak. I still think I’m learning every day.

Why barbecue?

Since I started doing it professionally – and even leading up to my choosing to go from casual fine dining to more of this comfort style food – I was just falling in love with barbecue across the country and being obsessed with it. Wanting to cook Texas-style brisket because that was new to me. Growing up in the Southeast, it was mostly about whole pigs and ribs, pulled pork. I hadn’t really had brisket until I discovered it at a local competitor’s restaurant. I had seen it on menus before but thought “eh, I don’t want beef, I want balance. Give me the barbecued pork.” But there was a trigger that said “OK, you need to learn how to cook this.”

What advice would you share with prospective restaurateurs?

Getting into a restaurant, you definitely have to have more than just a passion for the food. You have to have strong legs, strong will, and just sheer tenacity to keep going. To keep doing it every day and making sure you’re putting out the right product.

 

Business Details

Proprietor: Neil McClure
4800 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70115
PH: 501-301-2367 / Website
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