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Mike Strauss opened his BBQ joint over four years ago in East Passyunk. Photo: Facebook-Mike's BBQ
Mike Strauss opened his BBQ joint over four years ago in East Passyunk. Photo: Facebook-Mike's BBQ

How Mike’s BBQ in South Philly has kept the smokers churning through a pandemic

Owner Michael Strauss’ spot also has a new take on the Philly cheesesteak that’s worth a try.

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Michael Strauss isn’t new to the restaurant business.

In fact, before opening his own, no-frills BBQ spot, Strauss was the co-owner of a bar in South Philly called Taproom on 19th.

“It all started when I was a partner at a bar, we bought a little smoker for specials, and I ended up playing around with the smoker,” Strauss said.

Wanting to try something different, Strauss began hosting pop-ups at breweries and street festivals before he set up shop with Mike’s BBQ on 11th and Morris Streets in East Passyunk. 

“We opened our current spot in Jan. 2017, when the previous owners of South Philly Barbacoa were looking to relocate,” he said.

By the time he officially opened its doors, Strauss had all the support of his friends and family, despite shelling out some serious cash for his main tools.

“Smokers are very expensive, we have two smokers, one inside and one outside that I use for overflow,” he said.

His method of smoking meats is the quintessential Texas style.

It means that he uses a spicy rub that’s infused with various seasonings locals are unfamiliar with.

He also smokes his meats for hours on end, which gives his particularly the ribs, that fall-off-the-bone effect.

Presentation is also unique, as dishes come out on a red tray as if the customer is visiting a cookout rather than a South Philly restaurant.

“Everything we do here is pit to plate,” he said. “We keep selling until we sell out for the day.”

When COVID-19 hit, Strauss decided quickly he was going to close down for a short period of time.

Not long after, Governor Tom Wolf made the call to close all non-essential businesses.

When it came time to open back up, his wife, along with two other employees helped him for the time being.

“Since this is a small space, 60% of our food sales was to-go, pre-pandemic, so nothing much has really changed,” said Strauss.

Delivery is still the go-to method to get your hands on the barbecue Mike’s dishes out.

“We thought about setting up an outdoor space, but we’re not really sure, we’re taking it one day at a time,” said Strauss

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, a popular item is a twist on the Philly cheesesteak.

Smoked brisket that Strauss replaces the typical steak meat, and it supposedly makes all the difference in the world.

The cheese Strauss uses can’t be found in stores because he makes his own wiz, which is made with cooper sharp cheese.

The meat and cheese are then piled on top of a freshly baked Carangi roll, which is only blocks away from the shop.

If adding a side dish to your order, there’s collared greens cooked in smoked chicken stock and black-eyed peas.

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