'Cept this KC-style 'cue gets the Sonoran treatment: Mesquite-smoked meats and a secret barbecue sauce recipe.
Smoky Mo pitmaster and partner Ocie Davis knows a thing or two about Kansas City-style barbecue. And that knowledge has served him well.
Located on 1st Ave. just north of Grant, the newly established barbecue joint opened in July 2018 and occupies the building that previously housed burger icon Shari’s Drive-In. Still in its first year of business, Smokey Mo (no affiliation with the Texas barbecue chain) serves Kansas City-style barbecue that’s smoked—often for hours on end—with mesquite wood.
Kansas City-style BBQ
Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, Davis has been barbecuing since he was just 16 years old. When he started working as the pitmaster at Smokey Mo just four months ago, he knew he wanted to bring his passion for Kansas City barbecue to the Tucson establishment. Now, Davis has joined founder Telahoun “Mo” Molla as a partner.
“Mo gives me creative freedom,” Davis said of the menu. “Everything is smoked by me and cooked by me, every day.”
Kansas City barbecue is known for its slow-smoked meats and tomato-based sauces with sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors. Davis took it one step further, adding his own flair to the restaurant’s homemade vinegar and tomato-based barbecue sauce. “You won’t find a barbecue sauce like mine in Tucson,” Davis proudly stated.
Low and slow
Authentic barbecue takes time, dedication, and more time.
“My day begins at 6 a.m.,” Davis said. “I get in early to prep and trim the meat, put a little rub on it, then toss it right in the smoker.”
Depending on the type of meat, cook times can range from a couple of hours to all day long.
The pitmaster revealed that it takes two hours for chicken, four hours for ribs, six hours for tri-tip, and a whopping 18 hours for the most popular menu item, brisket, to cook. The results are worth waiting for, though—all that sizzling and smoking equate to tender, juicy, flavorful meats that practically fall off the bone.
At Smokey Mo, everything is grilled “in the pit” with mesquite wood, which contributes a distinctive smokey-sweet flavor to all of the menu items.
Dishes guests dig
The number one menu item, according to Davis, is the restaurant’s signature brisket.
“We often go through five to six briskets in a day,” he said.
The pork ribs are another popular option, served St. Louis-style and smothered in Davis’s signature sauce. Order a three-bone portion, half slab or full slab, depending on how hungry you are.
As most BBQ enthusiasts know, a barbecue meal wouldn’t be complete without a few side dishes. Try the creamy, peppery mac & cheese, made from scratch using Davis’s own family recipe.
“I have to give my older sister credit for that one,” Davis said.
The coleslaw and pickled vegetables are light and crisp, adding a fresh balance of flavors to the heavier meats. Even the collard greens are a barbecue lover’s dream—the savory side arrives topped with its own serving of pork.
Despite the restaurant’s dedication to Kansas City barbecue, the menu still manages to incorporate a bit of Tucson flair in the form of tacos served on corn tortillas and stuffed with your choice of meat, cabbage, cotija, and avocado cream.
For Davis, one of his favorite things about being pitmaster is the feedback he gets from customers. “If something’s not quite right, or something is a little off, we listen,” Davis said. “The customer is always number one.”
It’s not just the constructive feedback that drives him, but the positive reviews, too.
“This is my passion,” he said, “and I love seeing regulars in here and knowing that my food makes them happy.”
Smokey Mo is located at 2650 N. 1st Ave. Operating hours are 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday – Sunday. For more information, visit smokeymo.com.