After living in Houston for a year, I learned that barbecue wasn’t just another meal but an entire subculture, complete with obsession, rituals, and taste dialects. Those Texans. Picky, picky.
Essentially, barbecue is nothing more than food, mostly meat, cooked in a smoker low and slow until it’s moist, tender, and dripping from the bone.
In Tucson, there’s plenty of room for more barbecue. Which was probably what the team at Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon & BBQ figured when they opened their barbecue bar and restaurant in the former Wildcat House, once a popular college hangout.
A week after they opened in January, co-owner John Aldecoa, in a fire engine red hoodie, wove in and out of the crowds, stopping at tables, talking to new customers, asking questions. As he passed our table, I asked him what his favorite meal was. He said, “the brisket,” then added, “but I also love the pork belly.” He says their barbecue is a bit of Memphis with some Texas thrown in. They smoke their meats for up to 16 hours using a mix of traditional barbecue techniques.
The place was packed for dinner on a Saturday night. While we waited, we got the hot mess ($12), a mélange of house-made chips slathered in pulled pork and topped with sour cream, guacamole, burnt end pit beans, salsa verde, queso fresco, and pickled jalapeño. The name defined the food. The chips were thick with lots of crunch, an easy delivery carrier. I could’ve just stopped here and called it dinner.
But by the time our meal arrived, the smoked chicken was juicy and tender to the bone, and well smoked. The brisket was sliced in thin slabs, moist and tender, but they were sold out of the baby back ribs, so I ordered the pulled pork.
Between bites of the vinegary tanged green cabbage slaw with what tasted like bacon drippings, and the smoked meat, neither of us used even a dollop of barbecue sauce, though they delivered three squirt bottles to the table with different heat levels.
The pulled pork had good flavor, sweet and smoky, and wasn’t mushy. The side of mashed taters was creamy without being overly rich. The only slight disappointment were the rolls—they tasted like Hawaiian sweet dinner rolls when something with less sugar, like a biscuit, would pair better with smoked meat and savory side dishes.
The Brother John’s team reconfigured the old Wildcat House, creating an interior that would be at home in Anywhere, Texas, with wood tables and bright red metal chairs. Huge, rough-hewn raw wood beams intersect like Legos against one wall.
There are plenty of craft beers and a bourbon lounge with more than 150 whiskey options available.
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon & BBQ
1801 N Stone Ave.
Laura Greenberg is a Tucson freelance writer, baker, and cook who writes to feed her dog. And herself, occasionally.
She’s also the author of Edible Baja Arizona’s Baja Eats column, appearing weekly on Thursdays in the Edible Baja Arizona blog, and bi-monthly in each edition of Edible Baja Arizona magazine.