Rodney Beals has never met a stranger. In fact, this “butt-master” for local pop-up Big Boyz BBQ, has been nicknamed “The Mayor of Mid-City” for as long as anyone can remember. Often, you’ll see his smiling face at his favorite local watering hole, Pal’s Lounge, and he’ll happily greet you with a handshake or a hug. That’s why when Beals decided to go into the barbecue biz part-time, Pal’s seemed like a natural fit.
Barbecue is in Beals’ blood — he’s been at the grill since he was 11 years old, and he first started serving the masses at his famed annual barbecue that happened every spring at City Park. It started small, as these things often do, with just some family and a few friends. Over time, word got out about Beals’ tasty meats and soon, big crowds of people were making it a point to attend the event, just to get a taste of what the mayor was cooking. It was then that Beals knew he was on to something and his passion soon became his purpose.
From the annual cookout, it was on to Hogs for the Cause, the biggest barbecue competition in New Orleans, in which teams compete to see who cooks up the best ribs, brisket, butts and much more. Hogs for the Cause has become the premiere nationwide source of funding for families with children fighting pediatric brain cancer and Beals lead his own cook-off team at the event. It was his success at these events which inspired Beals to think bigger.
“My family and friends (some are local chefs) were like ‘Bruh you can sell this,’” he said. “Hogs was a big boost to my confidence. My team needed a smoker for Hogs. We always had to borrow one and that was getting tired. I was told about Black Warrior Smokers in Snead, Alabama. I checked with them and worked with the owner on what I was looking for in a smoker. Once I brought that big beautiful pork smoking gurl, my thoughts went to, ‘Well I don’t only want to use her once a year. I need to smoke more often to better compete in Hogs.’ So all this got me to, ‘Let do this!!’ Big Boyz BBQ was born!”
Beals took his barbecue to the next level with Big Boyz BBQ and now cooks at local venues and events with his mobile barbecue trailer, “Grillgamesh.”
After doing my research and checking out all of the yummy photos of Big Boyz BBQ that I could find, I couldn’t wait to get down to Pal’s and check out this barbecue hot spot for myself. Walking up, I was greeted by Rodney’s smiling face and I was excited as I looked over the menu. The menu varies, but on this particular night he was offering up Da “Kamara” — Buffalo chicken on a bun with blue cheese spread, celery and pickled red onions. Other items included The Mayors Meatloaf Sandwich — smoked meatloaf with a sweet whiskey BBQ sauce on BBQ Texas bread, Chicken Mac Daddy — mac and cheese topped with Buffalo chicken, Congri- smoked pork belly with black beans and rice and mojo sauce, No Belly for You — a vegan dish with black beans, rice and mojo sauce, and the side of the evening was mac and cheese.
Rodney also serves up what he considers his specialties — ribs and ButtMaster pulled pork, so be sure to check out the Big Boyz BBQ Facebook page to see what Rodney is slinging on any given Thursday. Prices vary from $5 to $12, which just makes you want to get a whole sampler of things!
On my Big Boyz visit, I was tempted to go whole hog (heh) and just order everything on the menu. However, cooler heads prevailed and I settled on Da “Kamara,” The Mayor’s Meatloaf Sandwich and a side of mac and cheese. I started with Da “Kamara” and this delectable bite was just what the doctor ordered. The sandwich was a good size and the chicken was tender, juicy and generous! I loved the blue cheese spread and how it made the sandwich even more savory, the red pickles added a delightful kick and the celery made for the perfect crunch. I love celery on a sandwich and I feel like it doesn’t happen nearly enough — this was amazing.
The Mayor’s Meatloaf Sandwich didn’t disappoint at all. Wow — tender meatloaf like mom used to make, only better. I have no idea what Beals has in his special mix, but it is out-of-this-world good! The barbecue sauce mixes well with the meat and gives it a little sweetness and the soft barbeque bread makes for the perfect balance. This sandwich went down a little too easily and I almost ran over and asked for seconds.
Finally, it was time for some mac and cheese. Now, let me just start by saying I’ve become pretty picky when it comes to mac and cheese, so it has to be something special to really blow me away. Big Boyz mac and cheese hit the spot and I loved that it was not only creamy, but there was a lot of cheese. We’re talking the kind of mac and cheese where you get that nice cheese stretch when you pull at it. It combined nicely with my sandwiches and was a nice balance to the inundation of meat.
At the end of the day, Mayor Beals is all about good food and good friends and he likes that his food is bringing the people in his neighborhood together.
“People buy my barbeque and they buy me beer! How cool is that?! But seriously, I get to do something that I absolutely love,” he said. “Doing it every week makes my food more consistent and better. Sometimes the pop-up area becomes its own little porch party.”
As for his secret, Beals said his success has come from lots of practice and experience.
“So many people have influenced me over the years,” he said. “What to do and what NOT to do. But, the best lessons are your own. Good barbecue comes from making bad barbecue.”
If what I tasted is any indication, I’d say that Beals’ bad barbecue days are behind him. Swing by Pal’s Lounge any Thursday night, and keep an eye out for other special events from Big Boyz BBQ at Pearl Wine and Seven Three Distillery. Let the mayor make you a believer.
All photos courtesy Rodney Beals/Big Boyz BBQ