Story | Shelby Moore
Photography | Mark Lipczynski
Like the Japanese and their sushi—sliced fish, rice, soy, wasabi—central Texas produces a remarkably simple style of barbecue that those who treat good ’cue as religion say needs little dressing up.
Does American cuisine and its newcomer status belong in the discussion of serving meat so good and so simply? And to such reverent reception? If so, we’d better place our bets on central Texas barbecue and its champion: perfectly smoked, finger-coating, tender beef brisket—our bluefin tuna, their sea-cow.
And, if Phoenix belongs anywhere close to a discussion on central Texas barbecue, we now have Little Miss BBQ, a new joint in the industrial part of town between downtown Phoenix and Tempe, pushing out honest-to-God central Texas-style meats.
Little Miss is run by Scott Holmes, who has smoked barbecue competitively for years after a trip to visit his in-laws in central Texas where he tasted the sublimity of Aaron Franklin’s Barbecue, and the ’cue of his peers, for the first time.
Holmes will tell you that Little Miss is modeled after Franklin’s, where fanatics and cue-journalists agree might be the best. In other words, you could do a lot worse than to cook meat at that caliber. And, just like Franklin’s, a line forms at Little Miss for brisket, ribs, housemade sausage, pulled pork and turkey before the doors even open.
The goal, Holmes says, “is just to cook the meat right,” using mostly three primary ingredients: salt, pepper and smoke. And if the smoke is right, slow and hot enough—but not too hot—the fat in the meat will do its magic by melting down between the fibers and not escaping until it leaves your fork—or your fingers, which are best at capturing what enthusiasts call “meat caramel,” the sticky mixture of spices and fat which wells up to the surface.
When you go, Holmes will slice through the black crust that forms around the brisket, and you’ll see the smoke ring rainbow in each slice—the mark of a pro. The style prides itself on simplicity, so barbecue sauce is on the table if you need it (you won’t).
Want to build your own barbecue sandwich? A couple slices of white bread will find their way to your tray.
Just like sushi, the best barbecue is a reflection of the place where it thrives and the purists who eat it. So may Little Miss leave its footprint on Phoenix barbecue and the other way around. And it goes without saying, but may hundreds more years of progress never give us sushi-sized portions of ’cue.