4800 Nelson Road • Lake Charles, LA
Review By Bill Coyne
It’s only fair to preface this by warning that if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, or for whatever reason find yourself on a plant-based diet, this place isn’t going to appeal to you in the least. This is for the carnivore, the lover of meats, fire and smoke. It’s for those who have an adulation for the time and dedication it takes to create award winning barbecue.
It’s a seemingly overnight success story. A local guy starts smoking ribs, people start making noise about good barbecue here in Lagniappe territory, and the local guy lands the No. 1 spot in the magazine’s “Best of Barbecue” category.
Well, certainly it didn’t happen overnight. It was a long road of practicing, learning and adjusting for Paul Pettefer. He is an enthusiast for smoking ribs, and that’s how he began several years ago. After visiting a local restaurant, Pettefer began recreating those smoked ribs at home for his daughters. With each attempt the outcome became more promising. Throughout the trials and research, he realized that guys like to talk about smoking meats, and the hobby grew.
He then began to offer his ribs to his ministry and church members. Those who were interested, would sign up on a list for the ribs when they were ready each week. The folks on the list were aptly named RibListers. It didn’t take long for his popularity to increase, as well as the demand.
When you have this kind of enthusiasm and momentum, you just keep going. But Pettefer was going to need help. This is where his friend and Pit-master Samuel Turner, as well as Colin Patton, enter the scene. Confident in his work, Pettefer took his smoker on the road and began to enter competitions, and provided meals and donations for community services. He became a familiar face at outdoor area events. The competitions paid off with recognition and awards for his recipe.
The next step was to build a home base. Over a year ago, Paul’s Rib Shack secured its location on Nelson Road. A simple building and a large oak tree anchor the property. Add a smoker, the barbecue trailer and a few tables, and this is the place to get your best barbecue.
Unfortunately for my wife, she had a prior engagement with family down in Hackberry, which left me texting some friends to converge upon Paul’s Rib Shack. This is something we will do from time to time. We all gather together and everybody picks what they want to share with the group. It makes for great sampling and conversation.
The building is cute, quaint and fitting. We stand in line behind other feasting patrons as we all wait our turn to eye the goods. There are mini clipboards with order cards which list the available items to choose from — pulled pork, brisket, sausage, turkey, ribs, mac and cheese, beans and slaw. There’s quite a bit to choose from. Unless you’re dead set on what you’re craving, you’ll probably change your mind as you get closer to the food.
Everything is laid out before you in all its glory, all cut to order. As we receive our trays and grab our cold brews from the trough, we make our way to the backyard to locate a table. It’s December, the air is chilly, and the atmosphere is gorgeous.
There are beautiful lights in the tree limbs above, a large deck, an open yard, plenty of seating and, on stage at the trunk of the tree, Christmas songs being sung by the heavenly voice of Hailey Cooley. As we gather ourselves around the picnic table, comforted by warmth from the many heaters, we have the perfect outdoor setting.
Ironically, between my four friends and I, we have pretty much all chosen the same cuts and sides. Smoked brisket, brisket sandwich, smoked ribs, turkey and smoked creamy mac and cheese. Let’s face it, when you go to a barbecue joint, everything is smoked. That’s the purpose.
How it’s smoked, the cut and the outcome are the biggest factors. When you use prime cuts, a clean fire and the perfect rub, you’ll have consistent results.
The ribs offer a great smoky and peppery flavor without being overpowering. The turkey is honestly the most juicy and flavorful I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Some of us order the brisket straight up. I have it on a sandwich. I have to be honest, I end up ditching the bun to experience more of that great taste from the brisket.
And to round it all off was that side dish, the one we all anticipated — the smoked creamy mac and cheese. Little pasta shells in a rich and absolutely tasteful cheese with a hint of smoke separates this from any other mac and cheese you’ve ever had.
It’s great barbecue. It’s done right. It’s fun, festive and relaxing. And there’s always something going on. From the backyard concert series to games for kids, from the fantastic food to the environment, it’s what Pettefer describes as foodertainment. And it’s a blast. Put all of that together, and it’s how you land the No. 1 spot. Happy New Year!
An Extra Dish
If you find yourself on the Vinton side of SWLA, I totally recommend checking out Insane Sausages at 2255 Hwy. 109. They’ve recently hit the scene with a food truck and a home base which offers a variety of custom sausages and stuffed meats. They also have a deli counter for hot food.
One “special” they were blazing the internet with was the triple threat. Once I saw a picture of this, I knew I had to make a trip just for this, and it didn’t disappoint. Pulled pork, a smoked sausage link and thick cut bacon on a jalapeño bun with barbecue sauce and jalapeños was the way to go. It was all pork, it was all good and it was more than I could finish. Look them up for specials, and if you see them out there at an event, give them a shot and check them out.