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Beast Mode BBQ: Big Mike's keeps cooking up the winning dishes

Local restaurant Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse has been around for a successful decade, and owner Mike Lewis has ambitious plans to expand that success going forward.

Last month both the restaurant and Lewis individually won accolades at large barbecue competitions. Lewis has brought his smoking and grilling expertise across the country, but he’s also expanding his reach in the Bayou Region with sausage sales in local groceries and a Thibodaux location on the way.

Big Mike’s won second place in the vinegar category at the 30th Annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue Sauce Contest. In May, Lewis was part of a team of barbecue experts from across the country at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Lewis’s team, captained by staff from The Shed in Ocean Springs, Miss., featured cooks from Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and other places. The Shed won first place in the Kingsford Tour of Champions, one of the ancillary contests at the competition. Lewis said he loves participating in those competitions and working with such experienced teammates at what amounts to a barbecue marathon for the competitors.

“If you’re on a team, you don’t want to have to tell a guy how to barbecue. You want to say, ‘Hey, look, I want you to take this and go cook it, and bring it back to me perfect.’ That’s the benefit of having guys around you who know what they’re doing,” Lewis said.

On the local front, Lewis’s work has gained enough attention to bring his products to a wider audience. Big Mike’s BBQ sausages are available in three flavors at local groceries like Rouses and Cannata’s as well as a bagged of pre-cut sausage in a boiling bag sold during crawfish season. Lewis said while some brands of sausage have been cutting product weights or adding fillers, he wants to give shoppers in the Bayou Region a quality product at a fair price.

“What we wanted to focus on was giving them the true pork product with good flavors in there, and I think we’re doing that,” Lewis said.

Big Mike’s will soon have a second location in Thibodaux. According to Lewis, he plans to have the Thibodaux restaurant opened by the end of February next year. Lewis said the new location will be slightly larger than his current restaurant on Barrow Street in Houma. The restaurant will have a different style of serving, moving away from the Styrofoam boxes to a more diner-friendly offering and featuring a bar and healthy beer selection for patrons. While the new location is making changes, Lewis stressed that the Thibodaux location would still be a classic barbecue joint and have a comfortable, mom-and-pop atmosphere. According to Lewis, the expansion to Thibodaux has helped him in Houma by having him re-examine his current operations and his plans going forward.

“Thibodaux forces us to really look deep into our business to see what our strengths are and to see where we have room for opportunity,” Lewis said. “By doing that for the Thibodaux location, we’re answering many of the questions we may have had about the current location. It’s given us an in-depth look to what we’re already doing.”

While Lewis said Louisiana is gaining a larger foothold in the wider barbecue scene, he bristled at the notion of any one regional superiority in terms of barbecue. While one region may have more access to a particular resource, Lewis said, any person’s ability to barbecue comes down to themselves rather than where they are from. Lewis said his fellow competitors, teammates and the people who come into Big Mike’s all share in the same protein-heavy passion that fosters a sense of community.

“It’s contagious, man, the love for this business that people have,” Lewis said. “I don’t even think at the end of the day it boils down to the food as it does to the relationships you try to perfect through perfect food. The club welcomes everyone.”

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