PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Whether you're just passing by, or if you've stopped to silence the rumble in your stomach, the aroma of smoked meats and barbecue are unavoidable if you've come anywhere near either Little Miss BBQ location in Phoenix. Pulling into the Sunnyslope location off 7th Street just south of Dunlap Avenue, the massive ovens and long, custom-made 1,000-gallon smokers out back justify the meaty, smoky smell surrounding the barbecue joint. Don't be surprised if you see a line of people waiting around the time the Sunnyslope or original location on University Drive in Phoenix opens, because once you try the food, it'll all make sense.
The story behind Little Miss BBQ is one that anybody who knows the joy of pursuing a passion or dream and seeing it come to fruition will understand. After experiencing Texas-style barbecue at The Salt Lick in Austin, Texas, in 2006, Little Miss BBQ owner Scott Holmes says his life was changed.
"It was unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted at the time. When we returned, I purchased a Big Green Egg, and we started cooking on it all of the time. After a few years, my friend Justin Coffini asked me if I wanted to help him at a barbecue contest, and it took off from there," Holmes said.
After finding their footing on the contest circuit, Scott and his wife, Bekke, became hooked on barbecuing and started placing in the contests for their pork and brisket. Eventually, the Holmeses found a rhythm and system for how their brisket, barbecue, and cooking process overall would be defined. It became one of the core beliefs at Little Miss BBQ, a message personified with every staff member and represented through their food – the never-ending quest for a better product.
"The first thing we focus on is humility and pride. We know that we are only as good as the barbecue on a guest's plate at any one moment. That is a hard thing to deal with. What we do isn't done by time, the use of a thermometer or other simple things. There is no recipe to be able to pull a perfect rack of ribs or a perfect brisket, but you have to pull thousands of them to really get consistent at it while consistently tasting and testing what you are pulling," Scott explained. "We have a core value to never stop improving, and everyone that is part of our team has really embraced that value. It's amazing what I've learned from them over the years."
Scott and Bekke set up shop near Sky Harbor Airport at their University Drive location and named their joint "Little Miss," which was their nickname for their dog, Yeager. Between their near-obsession with perfecting their process and only putting out the best product possible, Little Miss BBQ became a commonplace for barbecue in central Phoenix. After some time, the Holmeses opened their Sunnyslope location.
Little Miss BBQ walkthrough:
While the meats and sides may not have the most Arizona or Southwest influence, Scott introduced a new menu item recently, the smoked BBQ green (and red) chili and cheese burritos, which pack a hearty and heat-inspired punch.
SMOKED RED/GREEN CHILI BURRITOS:
When it comes to the piece de resistance, the Texas-style brisket, Sunnyslope location's kitchen manager Mark Abbott says it comes down to a labor of love and care.
"It requires a lot of attention. With this meat at a certain point during our cook, we wrap it in butcher paper, and then we cook it some more. We have a general time frame that we know how to cook our meats up to eight, 10, 12 hours, but at the end of the day, every one of our pit guys comes to these smokers about every 10 minutes for a two-hour period and feels the meats. How does it feel? Is it relaxed? Is it ready to come off the smoker? It's never a timer or thermometer probe; it's a feel," Abbott explained. "Every animal's different. Every muscle on the animal is different. In our estimation, you can't apply a specific formula to cooking a brisket; you have to know what THAT brisket is going to do."
Whether you stop into the Sunnyslope location or the original on University Drive, you'll be able to confidently bite into any meat or side, knowing the same amount of attention, detail, and care goes into every Little Miss BBQ product.
Kicking things off with the meats, Little Miss BBQ offers up lean and fatty servings of brisket. Both were cooked perfectly and featured a lovely smoke ring with the flavor and seasoning upfront and richness throughout. The fatty brisket was juicier, had very flavorful ends, and essentially melted in the mouth. The lean was just as tasty but had slighter ease to the smokiness. The pork was nice and salty, had a great color and pulled apart slowly, and still maintained a nice level of moistness! The house-made pastrami (served on Thursdays only) was very tasty and not too bitter. The meat was soft but packed with flavor from a week-long brine. The turkey had a nice texture and were very tender cuts. The pork ribs had excellent seasoning encrusted to the top. The meat was soft and pulled right off the bone and is a wonderful inclusion to any order! And lastly, the house-made sausage incorporates a 60/40 ratio of beef to pork and has a great consistency that holds well with an outstanding balance of flavor, smoke and ear-pleasing crunch factor.
The smoked BBQ green chili was exploding with flavor and consists of a combination of all their meats. If you're afraid of too much heat, the green chili has a surprisingly calmer heat factor and culminates into a hearty and delicious chili. The smoked red chili is championed by bits of brisket and vegetables and is on point for Texas-style red chili. Regardless of which you choose to fill your burrito, you won't be disappointed – or still hungry after.
The sides get a shout when it comes to Little Miss BBQ's ranch-style baked beans and jalapeno cheddar grits. The ranch-style beans are unique and optimize any leftover meats from cuts along the line, giving it a phenomenal blend of brisket, pork and even a chunk or two of sausage. It's a saucy, smokey mixture that takes four to five hours to make and a perfect side to accommodate any tray. The jalapeno cheddar grits are probably some of the best grits I've ever had, with excellent texture and well-balanced heat factor from the jalapenos. And of course, you can't go wrong with the macaroni and cheese! Little Miss BBQ adds smoked gouda, a hint of cayenne pepper for kick, and a house-made cheese sauce bringing it all together for a gooey cheese lover's dream side!
And lastly, if you have a sweet tooth or fancy yourself as a pie connoisseur, you have to check out Bekke's smoked pecan pie! This pie receives perhaps about the most attention to detail out of anything at the Little Miss BBQ kitchen and comes from a long-standing family recipe of Bekke Holmes. Everything about this pie symbolizes the love and perfection of craft that the Holmes' has embedded within Little Miss BBQ's culture. The pecans are crispy, and the textures blend well with the crust. The smoke is noticeable but light and combines so well with the sweetness of the pie. The interior is simple but exemplifies a stellar interior ratio of ingredients while maintaining a thick, creaminess throughout. As someone who actually doesn't really enjoy sweets all that much, this pie is off the charts!
The experience at Little Miss BBQ is undoubtedly one that harkens to what barbecue is all about. As Scott puts it:
"Family, friends and community. I know that sounds so cliché, but that is what barbecues has always meant across the world. Every culture in the world has a version of barbecue and cooking meat with a wood fire. I've heard stories from people from all over the world about how they would do barbecue with their family, friends and community. Barbecue brings out something primal in all of us. Maybe that is why I love our guests so much. I've met so many people from all over the world with different cultures, religions, political beliefs, etc., and everyone can come together over barbecue."
The sense of community, friendship, and appreciation for one another is in the air at Little Miss BBQ. Seeing the joy and satisfied smiles on people's faces as they clear their trays and walk out toward the exit is evidence enough. If you call Phoenix home or are just stopping through, Little Miss BBQ is more than a worthy stop for you.
Two Phoenix locations:
Currently, the original University Drive location is only open for takeout Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Sunnyslope location is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. through 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. (although there is the possibility they will sell out of desired meats).
This is the third segment in a series on barbecue in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is taking a look at how pitmasters have fused traditional American BBQ with Southwestern heat and spices, creating almost a new style within its own right. Barbecue brings people and communities together, so let’s focus on the food and find new, great restaurants to support and enjoy together!