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CHEAP EATS: J's Smokehouse

Posted at 10:27 AM, Aug 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-31 14:07:09-04

PAPILLION, Neb. (KMTV) — The owners of a popular metro food truck are celebrating their new home in Papillion. The restaurant is truly a family affair. It started in a tent outside the mom's karate shop.

As 3 News Now Anchor Serese Cole reports, from there it's been nothing but good vibes and a great barbecue.

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
At J's Smokehouse in Papillion — there's both.

"I check it (the smoker) about every 30 to 40 minutes," explained owner James Hawk. "I don't think anybody in Omaha goes through as much wood as us."

James runs the place with his mom Nicole Bilgere.

"We average about 40 slabs of ribs a day, about 8 briskets - 12 on a weekend," he smiled.

But this isn't your typical smoke shack.

Serese: What kind of barbecue is this?
James: Texas style.

Central Texas barbecue to be exact.

"We just use a salt and pepper rub, an oak wood, not too strong of a smoke...we use more of a vinegar base," James shared.

"It's not work - it's my passion," he added.

That passion ignited when James started smoking meat in his backyard. Then it hit him.

"I wanted to start selling my meat off a food truck. We just thought it would be pretty cool, so we brainstormed the idea," he recalled.

"Well, I'm a foodie and I love food trucks, so it wasn't really a hard sell for me," Nicole reminisced.

Serese: What about the barbecue?
Nicole: The barbecue is amazing. I grew up in the South with fantastic barbecue and this is top-notch. I knew it was going to be fine.

The business went from fine - to phenomenal. On the first of August, J's Smokehouse moved from a food truck to the American Legion Post in Papillion.

"It's been packed here almost every night that we've opened. It's kind of a dream come true. We didn't expect it to be this busy right away," James laughed.

The crowds come for two things: brisket and ribs.

The brisket is smoked for ten hours.

As for the ribs...

"I keep it simple," he said.

The simplicity works. J's Smokehouse just won first place at the Ribstock Competition.

"I season them with salt and pepper, smoke them until they look right, put a little brown sugar and butter on them - then in foil and that's about it - that's how the magic happens."

The smoked magic is delicious alone but regulars are now loving the brisket and pork tacos.

The brisket taco is served on a flour tortilla. It comes with mozzarella cheese, another tortilla shell, smoked brisket and salsa, jalapenos, lime, cilantro and more cheese.

The pork taco is served on a yellow street corn tortilla.

One bite...and James says you're hooked.

"Their eyes get big yeah, it's fun to watch. I love watching people's reactions," he chuckled.

The Brisket Street Corn started as a food truck favorite. The smoked brisket is piled on top of the street corn, along with a little lime, jalapenos, and James' homemade barbecue sauce.

For the mother-son duo, J's Smokehouse is more than great food.

It's family.

"It's a great opportunity to spend all my time with my kids. So, it's a blessing."

There will be a Grand Opening on September 2nd. J's Smokehouse is inside the American Legion Post in Papillion on 230 West Lincoln Street. It's open Tuesday through Saturday. On Thursdays, you can get two tacos for $10.

To see the complete menu, go to or their Facebook page.

The restaurant offers a 15% discount for veterans and service members who are legion members. You can go to to join.

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