Joe’s Real BBQ (Gilbert, AZ)

As I mentioned in the last post, my coworkers and I were based out of Gold Canyon, AZ for several days of desert testing. Gold Canyon isn’t exactly known for its wide variety of dining establishments, so we drove into downtown Gilbert most evenings for dinner. When I was growing up in the Phoenix area, the phrase “Downtown Gilbert” would always result in a little bit of snickering, since until the early 90s, Gilbert was a fairly sleepy suburb, and Gilbert Road (“Downtown”) doubly so. At the time, one of the main eating establishments was “Sideburns: Durn Good Vittles” which closed a few years ago (a shame, since I actually once got a damn fine chicken fried steak there).

But the area is changed. Gilbert is now a major suburb, and the downtown area has had a lot of modest development, with a few nice parks, and, most importantly, restaurants. Liberty Market, Oregano’s Pizza Bistro, the Farmhouse, and Joe’s Real BBQ. The last of these was our destination, as regular readers know, I’ve been on a bit of a BBQ kick recently, and wanted to revisit Joe’s (I went there a few years ago, but didn’t blog it) and see how it stacked up against some of my more recent experiences.

Arizona can be a little dangerous when it comes to BBQ. While it’s somewhat similar in culture and geography to Texas, it just doesn’t have the same BBQ scene going on. And the Phoenix area in particular has a rather substantial fraction of immigrants from other parts of the country, with the result that many cuisines here get a bit watered down. That, and a lot of the established older BBQ places (Bill Johnson’s, for example) aren’t all that good.

But, if the stories I’ve been told by various staff members are right, Joe’s Real BBQ was started a few years back by local restauranteur Joe Johnston (who also founded the nearby Joe’s Farm Grill), who after a few trips to Texas in which he experienced good Texas BBQ, was a little frustrated at the lack of a good BBQ place, and wanted to make a nice, family-friendly place for BBQ in Gilbert. Located in an old 1929 building (I think it used to be a tack store), Joe set up a rather nice BBQ place featuring a variety of pecan-smoked meats and a nice, spacious dining area.

Like most of the better Texas places I’ve been for BBQ, Joe’s is set up cafeteria style: you wait in line, order up your meats, then your sides, then go get your food and find a seat at one of the long open tables. There’s pretty much a complete menu of BBQ meats at Joe’s, including brisket (both sliced and chopped), pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and sausage. All of these are smoked over Arizona pecan wood, and prepared as you order them. They’ve also got the standard array of side dishes (baked beans, corn, coleslaw, potato salad…). Most of the action here is in the form of one combo or another, you can get the Combination Plate (with four meat samples: chopped brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken), the Meat Plate (two meats of your choice), or one of the more elaborate combos. I opted for the Meat Plate, getting my standard “BBQ evaluation meats”: sliced brisket and pulled pork, along with two sides: beans and potato salad, a slice of sweet potato pie, and a cup of Joe’s own homemade root beer.

Sitting down to enjoy my meal (which was a substantial spread of food), this was one of those BBQ meals where you could tell before eating it that there was some quality here, since the meat smelled like a rich pecan smoke, and not just some sort of sauce. I’ll start off with the pulled pork. While shredded a bit finer than I usually like, this pork had some really good action going on: a rich, deep pecan smoke flavor throughout (with a visible smoke line as well), a good flavorful and chewy bark, and a good overall texture and moisture level. This was amongst the best pulled pork I had this year, and I enjoyed it.

The brisket wasn’t quite as good. The smoke was there. The flavor was there. And the moisture was even there. But the texture was a bit off, with more than a bit of crumbly note. In fact, my sliced brisket resembled my coworkers chopped brisket closely enough I had to actually ask if I had gotten the right brisket… I had, but it pretty easily crumbled. Despite this, I’ll actually say I enjoyed this; it was indeed real BBQ brisket and not some of the crappy sauce-laden brisket I’ve had other places foist off on me. While I think the texture could use some work, this is still a good selection.

The sides didn’t steal the show (they shouldn’t, this is “Joe’s Real BBQ”, not “Joe’s House of Potato Salad”), but were decent enough in their own right. The beans were flavorful, tender, and smoky, served up the way I like my BBQ beans, with about 50% of the actual volume being…. more meat. The potato salad was also a well-above-average potato salad that focused on the actual potatoes instead of being the more common mayo salad. Between this, and the rather substantial condiments bar, you can get a nice plate of food together.

Dessert was sweet potato pie with whipped cream. This was a good slice of pie, with a firm but flaky crust, and was a nice way to finish out the meal. I’m not sure I’d get this again, the pecan brownie I passed up for the pie was pretty good looking, but I can’t say I was disappointed.

Overall, I’m going to give Joe’s some real credit here. While not quite in the same league as the various Texas places I visited earlier this year, they are still serving up BBQ with no shortcuts, and the result is a delicious and flavorful result. Those going to Joe’s Real BBQ looking for “real BBQ” are likely to find something to their liking.

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