Vegetarian chili & brisket delights: The Smoking Jay offers something for everyone

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The Smoking Jay in Milwaukie serves up delicious and smoky meats, including tender brisket, smokey chicken, and their signature brisket chili with a sweet and spicy kick, all cooked to perfection over an open fire. Photos by Ethan M. Rogers.

My two favorite components to a good meal; meat and fire. Everything beyond that is just gilding the lily. That said, who doesn’t like a little gold added to an already perfect creation?

This week’s location has the meat and the fire, and they’ve added a thin layer of gold as well. The Smoking Jay, Milwaukie’s newest barbecue spot, just a month old, has taken over the Quonset once inhabited by local favorite Clay’s Smokehouse.

The interior is a bright blue, evoking the feathers of the jaybird on their logo. The music is a sort of bluegrass-Southern-gothic that feels right at home in a spot devoted to smoked meats.

We ordered big, half a pound of chicken, half a pound of brisket, brisket chili and loaded potato salad. I had intended to try the tacos because, tacos – but opted for simpler fare for this first visit.

The chicken was smokey and a touch on the dry side. It was also my lunchmate’s favorite part of the meal as it reminded her of home. I liked the chicken, but it was not my favorite part of the meal.

The brisket was tender and meaty. The Smoking Jay uses a dry rub that isn’t overpowering or even terribly noticeable. Some people may prefer a bit more bite to their beef, but I prefer the natural, smokey flavor or a well-smoked brisket and this dish hit all the notes for me.

I did not partake of the loaded potato salad, but I’m told it was good, and the whole serving was gone by the end of the meal. I can count on one hand the number of vegetables I eat and still have some fingers left over, so I’m not one to muddle the meat with salads of any kind.

The brisket chili was easily my favorite part of the meal, but it was a close call between that and the brisket dipped in the establishment’s signature sauces – of which there were two; original and hot. To be honest, both were a sweet sauce with a little bite, but the hot version lingered and grew a bit more than the original.

The chili was multifaceted with black and navy beans along with the brisket. Many brisket chilis have the umami flavor of the brisket and heat. This chili had those things, but the heat wasn’t so overpowering that the flavor of the beans was lost, and those navy beans added an interesting and pleasing note to this signature creation.

Their vegetarian chili serves as the base for their brisket chili, so I opted to grab an order of that to try at home,  and threw in another half-pound of brisket for good measure. Both were gone before the end of the day.

Prices at The Smoking Jay are pretty standard for local barbecue spots, which is to say a little on the steep side but well worth the price considering the time and effort that goes into smoking a piece of meat. All in, including drinks and take home, the reckoning came to around $80 and included enough food for at least four people — if I hadn’t eaten more than my fair share. This is definitely my new go to spot for brisket chili.

The Smoking Jay, 6305 SE King Road in Milwaukie, is open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Find the menu online at The Smoking Jay.

Ethan M. Rogers


  1. Robert Rogers on April 23, 2023 at 8:59 am

    Great, mouth-watering writing. Do they do mail order?