by Ian McNulty
All beef jerky is not created equal. At one end of the quality scale, there’s the brand-name, gas station jerky you buy to gnaw on during road trips. At the other end, there’s Cajun smokehouse jerky — stuff so good that acquiring it might just inspire its own road trip.
One prime example of the latter is the bayou-style jerky of Thibodaux. At a glance, you can tell these thick, rough-hewn strips of beef are different, but the most important characteristics are their smokiness and moistness.
Interestingly, there are two purveyors of this style of beef jerky in Thibodaux doing business under the Bourgeois name. There’s Bourgeois Meat Market (543 W. Main St., Thibodaux, 985-447-7128), the most famous and the target for many a Cajun meat foraging road trip (or at least a detour off a more general-interest road trip). This is a small, traditional place that’s long been the gold standard for bayou beef jerky. Alas, Bourgeois Meat Market only sells its product directly from its butcher shop.
In 2008, however, Bourgeois Smokehouse opened about three miles away in Thibodaux, making a similar product. This operation does offer wholesale to other retailers. One of those is Rouses Market, which is how an eagle-eyed friend of mine happened to spot the stuff while shopping Uptown and began spreading the word among fellow jerky aficionados. Allison Rouse, an executive at the family-owned, Thibodaux-based chain, confirms that most Rouses stores now carry Bourgeois beef jerky alongside the store’s own line of beef jerky.
How to tell them apart? The Thibodaux import costs $22.99 a pound, that’s how. That might seem like a heavy hit for something as ostensibly humble as beef jerky. But this is a specialty product with a cult following. The stuff sells for close to that price at the source too, so the price isn’t some kind of Acadiana import tariff either.
The difference between this and everyday retail jerky is about as marked as that between the andouille you can get at any Louisiana supermarket and the huge links you get from specialty smokehouses in LaPlace, the “Andouille Capital of the World.”
A friend of mine who grew up in Thibodaux would get bundles of the jerky in his Christmas stocking each year. If you’re looking for something last minute for fans of Cajun meats on your Christmas list, one solution is now a lot closer at hand for New Orleanians.
But, beef jerky preferences being a highly personal issue, keep in mind there are other fine home-grown purveyors around town too. I assembled a list of my favorite jerky spots this summer, which I've posted below:
Emmett’s Fine Meats & Seafood
5618 Jefferson Hwy., 733-0901
Long, thin, peppery strips from this Harahan butcher shop.
Ideal Food Market
250 S Broad St., 822-8861
A variety of jerky lines the meat counter at this prodigious Latin grocery.
Walker’s Southern Style BBQ
10828 Hayne Blvd., 241-8227
Come for cochon de lait po-boys, but leave with some jerky for later.
Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse
769 W. Fifth St., LaPlace, 985-652-9990
An artisanal Cajun smokehouse making a mean jerky.