MoMo’s BBQ: A passion from Memphis to Mechanicsburg

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MoMo's BBQ in Mechanicsburg

Professional BBQ cooking and competitions are more than just hobbies or jobs; they’re a world unto themselves.

From high-stakes and high-heat in the pits to carving a niche in the BBQ service world, you have to literally eat, breathe, and sleep BBQ.

Mike Moran, or MoMo as he’s often known, has been in this world for more than 15 years. He’s passionate, creative, and damn good at what he does.

He got his start doing whole hog competitions, but he has worked in the restaurant industry almost his entire life.

“I just was joking the other day that my first job was at an ice cream parlor in Pittsburgh working with Flora Posteraro when I was 13, and now we’re both here,” said MoMo. “I’ve been working in the industry pretty much ever since.”

His journey led him from the pits of Memphis to downtown Harrisburg and now to his current home at MoMo’s BBQ Co. in Mechanicsburg.

MoMo’s BBQ is open currently for indoor and outdoor seating along with takeout.

Catching the itch

The BBQ bug bit MoMo when his mom moved down to Memphis. It’s easy to see why, as Memphis is known as one of the BBQ capitals of the U.S., if not the world.

“I went down there and kind of had my “a-ha” moment,” said MoMo.

While he had his “a-ha” moment, it wasn’t until his sister and her husband moved down to Memphis that he started getting into competitions.

“We would walk around the pits at Memphis in May,” said MoMo. “A few friends had a team called ‘The 10 That Grilled Elvis’ so I would help out with them.”

Then, MoMo said he was introduced to Mike Pitman. MoMo and Pitman teamed up to enter whole-hog competitions and by the second year, they placed second in the finals of the Memphis competition.

“After that, we were filmed by the History Channel and Discovery Channel’s ‘How It’s Made,’ but I haven’t seen that one yet,” said MoMo.

Beyond the competition

“Once I was hooked, I bought my first patio smoker and then the big cooker,” said Moran. “I started doing catering, golf outings, parties, and pig roasts.”

MoMo then took his passion and skills one step further when he opened up a stand at Metro Bank Park slinging BBQ during Senators games.

Then, he went all-in with MoMo’s BBQ & Grill on Market Street in downtown Harrisburg. This is how many of you may know MoMo.

His restaurant opened in 2011 dishing out brisket, pulled pork, stuffed potatoes, wings with award-winning sauces, craft beer, and more.

MoMo is a smoker by trade, but he said he loves playing around with sauces, and he’s has five award-winning sauces in his arsenal.

The winners are Raspberry Chipotle, Mango Habanero, Sweet Carolina, Tangy Texas, and Alabama White.

MoMo seems proud of all of them. The Alabama White is a bit of a sore subject on the days he has to make it, though.

But, he said Tangy Texas is a standout because it took home top-prize in Texas. Something that seems like no easy feat.

He likes to keep his sauce offerings fresh and frequently changes it up to make new ones for wings and dipping.

Labor of love

His sauces wouldn’t mean too much if there wasn’t a properly smoked vessel to carry them.

MoMo makes sure to cover the “big ones” of smoking in brisket, pulled pork, and wings. Usually, you’ll find more options like Brisket Nachos, Smoked Stuff Meatloaf, or Fried Fish.

His current menu includes these classic sandwiches along with Specialty Sandwiches like the Mike Pitts-burger, 3 Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf.

Plus, he has a slew of traditional sides like baked beans, mac & cheese, green beans, and cornbread.

He also doesn’t shy away from trying new things. When we talked, he was telling me about his brisket queso he was making for the weekend, and my stomach immediately growled.

Those are his everyday specialties, but you can tell there’s still a passion in his voice for pig roasts.

“There just something about them,” said MoMo. “When you do it, and you nail it, there’s nothing like tasting all the different parts.”

MoMo is set to do his first pig roast since early fall next month, and he couldn’t be more excited.

Even when he’s “off,” MoMo is still cooking. He said he missed doing his annual Father’s Day BBQ this year, but that it’s been a tradition for a while.

He said his perfect spread includes brisket, pulled pork, coleslaw, smoked corn on the cob, and his signature baked beans.

Coming back

In 2018, MoMo’s BBQ & Grill closed for good on Market Street. When the restaurant closed he said he had no interest in working in a restaurant.

“I just though I didn’t want to do it anymore,” said MoMo.

MoMo got his spark back when he started calling catering parties to cancel their orders.

“When I would call to cancel they would tell me that they didn’t hire my restaurant, but they hired me,” said MoMo. “That was a sign that I needed to keep going and I was doing what I should be doing.”

MoMo’s BBQ Co. is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday for indoor and outdoor seating along with takeout.

Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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