Everyone who cares about barbecue knows that the real stuff comes from "little shacks with huge smokers that burn down every couple of years," says Charlie Kleinman, the chef at Wexler's in San Francisco, known for its upscale take on barbecue. But over the last couple of years, it's gotten a whole lot easier to find good barbecue that doesn't reside on a country road; it might not be in the country at all.
There is now plenty of high-quality urban 'cue if you know where to look. That's a good thing for anyone without the time or means to hop in a car and drive across the South in search of nirvana-inducing smoke rings.
To put our Big City Barbecue list together, we turned to chefs, food writers, and journalists whose opinions we trust. We combined their picks with our own expertise to make choices in all of our Grub Street cities New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia as well as the country's other major metropolitan areas (with a few classic, all-time favorite 'cue joints thrown in for good measure).
We're not saying these citified picks are better than the soulful shacks of lore. They're alternatives places to feast on some of the country's best smoked meats when you can't get away. So check out the geographically organized results, and let us know in the comments which places make you happy to forgo dirt roads for asphalt, and shacks for skyscrapers, in the quest to quench your 'cue cravings.
Blue Smoke 116 E. 27th St.; 212-447-7733 Danny Meyer has done many great things for New York's restaurant scene, but he has officially polarized people with Blue Smoke. Barbecue fanatics deride the place as too soft, with menu items that don't exactly scream down-home cookin'. (Why are shrimp "corn dogs" on this menu, for example?) No matter! The Underground Gourmet got it right when they declared this place "ingenious": Combining 'cue classics like ribs and smoked sausages with the city setting and vaguely upscale offerings is the whole point.
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Char No. 4 196 Smith St., Carroll Gardens; 718-643-2106 While most of the restaurants on this list make a show of celebrating gluttony (see Sau, Fette), Carrol Garden's Char No. 4 is a more refined experience: Soft around the edges it may be, dull it is not. Fat slabs of the house-smoked ham and bacon are what you want here, finished with a two-finger pour of the finest bourbon you can afford from the bar's gobsmackingly thorough collection.
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Daisy May's BBQ USA 623 Eleventh Ave.; 212-977-1500 The place is so far west that it might as well be in New Jersey, but the whole-hog feasts at Adam Perry Lang's are the stuff of legend — and definitely worth grabbing a crosstown cab. You can also get the ribs, the pulled pork, or the multitude of sides to go, but doing so sort of misses the point: order the hog, grab some friends, and get ready.
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Dinosaur Bar-B-Que 700 W. 125st St.; 212-694-1777 The Harlem outpost of John Stage's upstate transplant feels like it's been in New York forever (making its name feel apt). In reality, it opened in 2004, but it became an institution so quickly that we're guessing no conversation about NYC barbecue has been had since without mentioning it. Grub Street's official recommendation is the marinated, slow-smoked ribs, but you should also follow the Underground Gourmet's advice and get at least one order of the smoked chicken wings, "as toothsome an appetizer as ever was dipped into a tiny plastic cup of blue-cheese dressing."
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Fatty Cue 91 S. 6th St., Williamsburg; 718-599-3090 Of course Zak Pelaccio's take on barbecue isn't going to be classic: It's Asian-influenced, for one thing. And all of the ingredients are as local, sustainable, humanely blah blah blah as you'd expect. Get the amazing brisket (served alongside fluffy bao and aïoli, naturally), or the pulled lamb shoulder slathered with goat yogurt. Pair it with a pickle back, embrace the whole enterprise for what it is, and be happy that another location will soon be opening in the West Village.
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Fette Sau 354 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg; 718-963-3404 It's not clear if this always-packed, former garage's name, which means "fat pig," is intended to describe the food, or the way you'll feel after stuffing yourself with it. There is no one specialty here; the menu changes constantly. So no matter how many juicy ribs, melting hunks of pork belly, or pounds of brisket you put down, you know you'll have to come back again soon, just to see what's on offer the next night. (And then maybe the night after that if you happen to be in the neighborhood.)
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Hill Country 30 W. 26th St.; 212-255-4544 It's true that a trip to this Texas-themed Manhattan spot can feel a little like a trip to an amusement park: The artifice of the room is palpable. But it's easy to get past that feeling when you're eating brisket (the house specialty) that is, in the words of New York's Adam Platt, "really, really good." (And the bulk-buying system makes the place an outstanding choice for groups — there's no check to take care of after your feast.)
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Mabel's Smokehouse 44 Berry St., Williamsburg; 718-218-6655 A relative newcomer to Brooklyn's ever-growing stable of barbecue joints, Mabel's has nevertheless cemented itself in the short half-year it's been open. So, what to order? We're partial to the smokey, meaty ribs, but you could put the restaurant's superlative homemade barbecue sauce (secret recipe, naturally) on a Slim Jim and it'd still be pretty tasty.
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Momofuku Ssäm Bar 207 Second Ave.; 212-254-3500 This list and Pellegrino's list of the world's 50 best restaurants don't have a lot in common, except Ssäm Bar, a place that doesn't actually peddle in barbecue. But if the restaurant's outstanding Bo Ssäm feast — a famous monolith of slow-cooked pork butt surrounded by Korean-style fixins — doesn't satisfy your 'cue craving, nothing south of the Mason-Dixon will, either.
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R.U.B. 208 W. 23rd St.; 212-524-4300 New Yorkers tend to buck when outsiders come to town to open a restaurant. But when Kansas City's Paul Kirk hit Chelsea to open R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue), Manhattanites lined up, including Adam Platt, who upon reviewing the restaurant noticed that the place was getting "bull-rushed most evenings by crowds of barbecue-starved transplants from places like Houston and Memphis" — in other words, the types of people who really know their 'cue.
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Coast Cafe 233 River St., Cambridge; 617-354-7644
This sunny soul-food hangout is owned by Anthony Brooks. It’s tough not to love a guy who calls his fried chicken “number one!” and his macaroni and cheese “smokin’ hot!” Another favorite are his oven-baked beef short rib and pork spare rib sandwiches. Get your sandwich with a side of candied yams or collard greens (“they fly out the door!”). Meanwhile, his pork and beef ribs are known for being “more sweet than spicy”; he says they’re a big hit with the Boston University and Harvard contingents.
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East Coast Grill & Raw Bar 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 617-491-6568 Inman Square’s most popular restaurant is known for Hell Nights, during which chef Chris Schlesinger challenges diners to down devilishly spicy dishes. But he’s also lauded for his North Carolina–style shredded pork sandwich, inspired by his southeastern childhood. “Eastern North Carolina style is more distinguished by vinegar, as opposed to western, which often uses tomato sauce,” Schlesinger explains. As such, his pork sandwich is lightly dressed with vinegar sauce and served with coleslaw, watermelon, baked beans, and cornbread. “It’s not real barbecue unless it’s the barbecue you ate when you were a kid,” he laughs.
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M&Mribs’s BBQ 102 Hampden St.; 617-306-0788
Roxbury’s M&Mrib’s is family-run, off the beaten path on an unassuming Roxbury intersection, and known for killer ribs available as half slabs, full slabs, or dinners. M&M’s Geovanni Lambert, grandson of owner “Big Moe” Hill, explains that, instead of smoking, “we do them on an open pit, weaving in our own dry rub seasoning and our barbecue sauce. It has a mild, sweet, smoky taste.” The method works. M&M opened in 1982 and now takes their show on the road to rib fests all over the country. “Most of all,” says rib-master Lambert, “we just care about what we do.”
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Pit Stop Barbeque 888A Morton St.; 617-436-0485
Dorchester’s Pit Stop — and this Dickensian little shanty really does resemble a pit stop — has been family-run since 1985. Co-owner Derek Fowler, whose family took over from the original owners in 2007, attributes the success to a spectacular dedication to pork-rib prep. “We make sure the ribs are nice and tender when they come off the [charcoal] pit; it’s really exceptional, because we truly take the time,” he says. Fowler also prides himself on a signature barbecue sauce: “It starts off sweet and tangy, but there’s a little kick at the end.” Adventurers should note that it’s only open Thursday through Saturday.
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Silk Road BBQ 300 Atlantic Ave.; no phone
This roadside stand is branded to resemble the “yurts of Central Asia,” says owner Ed Cornelia, possibly the most enthusiastic food-truck owner ever. “The soul of our company is central Asian barbecue, grilling over a skewer, surrounded by family,” he says. Fans of his stand are more likely to be surrounded by a line of office workers, who huddle along Atlantic Avenue for his pulled-pork sandwich spiked with zingy pomegranate-spiked chile sauce, topped with coleslaw and wedged between a hamburger bun. Don’t plan on waiting long for your meat, either. “We assemble our sandwiches fast,” Cornelia enthuses. “We take it from zero to 100.”
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S. Portland, ME
The SoPo 725 Broadway; 207-767-0130
Portsmouth Herald food writer and restaurant critic Rachel Forrest says that “many people feel that SoPo — South Portland — was the ‘birthplace’ of Maine barbecue back in 1989 when (we think) the first BBQ joint opened there.” Today, her haunt is the SoPo, which uses hardwood: “The smoke really comes through, but they also experiment with flavors ‘from away’ like a sweet chili sauce on ribs and chicken,” she says. Forrest’s preferred plate is spicy smoked sausage with a maple Dijon dipping sauce. “Get the barbecue beans and collard greens on the side,” she advises.
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A-Frame 12565 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; 310-398-7700 Roy Choi's beer-can chicken has quickly turned into a signature dish at A-Frame, his eclectic exploration of picnic foods. Top Chef victor Michael Voltaggio tells us he's a devotee himself, citing it as his current barbecue obsession and encouraging everyone to "use the sauces." The housemade salsa roja and salsa verde give a perfectly balanced heat to this crispy-skinned bird influenced by Choi's trips to Peruvian staple Pollo a la Brasa. The chicken pops form every point with a combination of scalding-hot juice and red-hot spice for a blend of Southern tradition with Southern California flavor.
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Bigmista's Barbecue Currently, Bigmista's can be found at four different L.A. farmers' markets during the week. See the schedule here. We couldn't discuss L.A.'s best barbecue without consulting Jonathan Gold, the L.A. Weekly
critic who put many of the city's best spots on the map. "Thanks to
the Great Migration, Los Angeles is a surprisingly important center of
Texas-style barbecue; its best not necessarily eclipsing the finest pits
of Central Texas, but good enough that they would make top-ten lists in
Austin, Dallas, and Houston," Gold explains. "At the moment I'm tending
toward Bigmista's pig candy: smoke-kissed slabs of bacon smoked with
brown sugar until they bear more than a passing resemblance to
impossibly delicious pork-belly terrine."
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Bludso's BBQ 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton; 310-637-1342 Not just a testament to the existence of excellent Texas barbecue in a place where non-Texan city slickers dwell, Kevin Bludso's brisket at his tiny Compton takeout joint recalls the nearly translucent slivers of chashu buoying the surface of our best pork ramen, so beautifully do these cuts of fifteen-hour smoked beef balance fat and flesh in one tender ellipse. Since there are no seats to be found, we have a feeling we're far from the only ones getting our hands sticky in a nearby parking lot, picking these sauce-smothered slices from their hot foil wrapping.
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Lukshon 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City; 310-202-6808 Sang Yoon, creator of L.A.'s famous Father's Office burger, proves that his research into South East Asian cuisine paid off with these Kurobuta pork ribs. An antidote to the syrupy sweetness found in too many generic barbecue sauces, these fall-off-the-bone, char-heavy ribs come spiced in a thick rub of chicory and coffee that offers a strong bite of heat through their tangy, dark complexity.
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Park's BBQ 955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown; 213-380-1717 Roy Choi, the A-Frame and Chego chef who launched a sensation fusing kalbi with tortillas at Kogi, is passionate about barbecue. "I've had my share of slow-cooked meats in Austin, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia," he says. "I grew up around hanging ducks and char siu at Sam Woo BBQ. And I love the baby backs at Phillip's." Familiar with a slew of styles, Choi revels in Korean barbecue. "Barbecue means something different to me than maybe most Americans. Short ribs marinated in soy, fruits, sesame, garlic, and chile paste cut thin and charred over mesquite and charcoal, to where black means tasty and not burnt. That's how we Koreans say 'fuggeddahboutit!' Park's BBQ has one of the best versions of short rib in my book."
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Phillip's BBQ 4307 Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park; 323-292-7613. 2619 Crenshaw Blvd.; 323-731-4772 Who better to talk meat with than Jon Shook, the chef and co-owner of Animal and Son of a Gun? Naturally, Shook's big on barbecue and says of his adopted hometown of L.A., "I think my favorite right now are the beef links at Phillip's BBQ," naming the South Central classic famous for filling the streets with the smells of sweet smoke every day.
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Prayer Assembly Church of God in Christ 442 E El Segundo Blvd.; 310-523-2481. On Fridays and Saturdays, Prayer Assembly Church of God in Christ slings barbecue from a truck parked in its lot, a fund-raising idea that began ages ago to help this flock flourish. The Foundry's Eric Greenspan is a fan of the meats here, telling us they are "smoked so right and full of flavor, you don't need a drop of sauce." If you already have a destination for Texas-style spare ribs, these fleshy, smoked turkey necks are the cut to get for a novel bite of Southern comfort in South L.A.
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Ramyani 1777 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; 310-477-3315 Susan Feniger has been busy exploring global street food on a changing menu at her Hollywood restaurant Street. So it's no surprise that she goes out of the realms of traditional U.S. barbecue when we ask for her favorite example in L.A.: "I love the ayam sauce Ramayani," the chef says of the barbecue-chicken dish found at L.A.'s oldest Indonesian restaurant. "It's crispy chunks of chicken smothered with a sweet and salty soy barbecue sauce. When I'm too lazy to cook at home and want a delicious bite, I love to pick up this dish. It's sticky, tangy, crispy, and just amazing!"
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Smoke City Market 5242 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-855-1280 Sherman Oaks synonymous with authentic barbecue? Sure! The sustainably sourced, oak-smoked meats of Smoke City Market are among Southern California's best. With their fifteen-to-eighteen-hour-smoked pastrami, this Texas homage maxes out the merits of slow-cooked barbecue and classic urban deli fare in paper-thin strips of dark pink beef, bearing jet black edges charred to resemble jerky in form and flavor. Under the simple rub that pushes salt and pepper to a fierce hot point, generous stores of fat unbuckle and coat the meat just as the whole wispy cut dissolves on your tongue in a play of complete perfection.
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Kim Chee 2 3569 Waialae Ave.; 808-737-5577 John Heckathorn, the senior editor at Honolulu Magazine who has covered the city's dining scene for 26 years, tells us about one of his must-try barbecue favorite in Honolulu — and we were surprised that it would be Korean 'cue that has him so excited. "Barbecue in Honolulu means assertively spiced Korean barbecue," the critic says. "You can get kalbi almost everywhere, but for our money (and not a lot of it) we'd go to longtime neighborhood favorite, Kim Chee 2."
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Pacific Soul BBQ 3040 Waialae Ave., Honolulu; 808-735-7685 Unlike our other Honolulu picks, which all have Asian influence, Sean Priester's soul-food restaurant in the Kaimuki section of the city has a relatively straightforward, traditional American vibe. Does that mean locals take any less of a shine to it? Not at all: We turned to a few Honolulu-raised friends and inquired about the island metropolis's best ribs. The spare ribs served at Pacific Soul were the unanimous favorite.
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Tangö Market 1200 Ala Moana Blvd.; 808-596-4888 Every Friday night, chef Göran Streng holds a Friday night barbecue in a tent outside of his Honolulu restaurant, Tangö Market. John Heckathorn pointed us to the dish called Chef Goran's Famous Hoisin Barbeque Ribs. "Goran's ribs may not be famous yet, but they should be. Unlike most heavily sauced barbecue ribs, his taste like ribs. There's a deft barbecue sauce, but it lets the meat shine through."
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Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ 2245 Village Walk Dr., Henderson; 702-257-7427 Heidi Knapp Rinella, the restaurant critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, says she heads to West Coast–based chain Lucille's Smokehouse when she's on the search for Central California's most famous cut in Las Vegas. "All of the barbecue joints in the Las Vegas Valley smoke brisket and ribs and the like, but Lucille’s may be the only one that serves smoked tri-tip, a meaty cut with lots of beefy flavor," the critic says. "Have your tri-tip with one or all of Lucille’s crispy fried triumvirate — green tomatoes, pickles, or okra. You’ll be in barbecue heaven."
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Top Notch Barbecue Locations vary daily for this roaming food truck. Follow Top-Notch on Twitter for the current location. Las Vegas restaurant critic John Curtas appears to have a tricky relationship with Sin City barbecue. "Las Vegas is where dreams and barbecue go to die. Quality chain barbecue restaurants and quite a few independent joints have seen their dreams go up in smoke," he tells us. Curtas currently finds relief at the open-flame grilling, dry-rubbing Top Notch truck, calling their signature sandwich "the most unique in town — smokey pulled pork on a soft, squishy bun topped with Cincinnati chili and cheese — a no-holds-barred, testament to cholesterol excess that fits right in with our too-much-is-not-enough mind-set."
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Jabo's Bar Be Q 9682 E. Arapahoe Rd., Greenwood Village; 303-799-4432 Though central Denver is short on great barbecue, the area's most award-winning ribs come from a spot just twenty minutes outside of town, from Oklahoma native Jabo Lawson. As Westword's Laura Shunk writes, "When he struck out on his own barbecue venture, which began as a cart that morphed into a restaurant, he imported a family sauce recipe from Shreveport, Louisiana. One-hundred-twenty-five variations of that recipe — which vary by heat and fruit-infused flavor — coat meat smoked drawing on lessons Lawson learned from Texas and Louisiana pit-masters." The bone-in, fat-layered pork ribs are "laced with throat-stinging smoke," according to Shunk, and she's also a big fan of his Utah scones — deep-fried puffed pastry dabbed with sweet, sticky honey butter. "More like a sconut."
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Bryan's Black Mountain BBQ 6130 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek; 480-575-7155 To plum more carnivorous depths of Phoenix's barbecue scene, we picked the brain of local restaurant critic and food writer Gwen Ashley Walters, who pointed us to Brian Dooley, the former fine-dining chef who left a high-end resort in Scottsdale to cook barbecue. "Smoked six hours over pecan wood, Bryan’s pork spare ribs defy barbecue-style classification," she tells us of her favorite ribs. "Bark-crusted and toothy (nothing worse than meat so flabby it falls off the bone), these ribs are a magical amalgamation of smoke, spice, heat, and chew."
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Roka Akor Sushi and Steak 7299 North Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480-306-8800 Meat- and poultry-free health guru Dr. Andrew Weil is probably the last person we think of when we reflect on topics like brisket, ribs, and pulled pork, but the Tucson resident has eaten his way around Arizona and is happy to share his own favorite version of barbecue with us. "I like Roka Akor in Phoenix," Dr. Weil says. "Great grilled giant prawns and vegetables done Japanese robata-style with fresh ingredients, and cooked simply."
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Salt Lake City
Pat's BBQ 1155 W. Commonwealth Ave.; 801-484-5963 Salt Lake Tribune food writer Kathy Stephenson is the city's reigning authority on where to eat, so we asked her where to find the best traditional barbecue in town. Stephenson told us, "The Friday lunch special of slow-cooked pork rib tips and beef brisket ends has developed a cultlike following in Salt Lake City. The line usually starts forming about an hour before opening and ultimately winds down the street with hungry customers salivating for these ridiculously tender pieces of meat that take a week to prepare and are smoked for sixteen hours."
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Salt Lake City
Tsunami 2233 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake City; 801-467-5545. Additional locations in nearby South Jordan and Midvale. It's not just Southern barbecue that captures the affections of Salt Lake City food writer Kathy Stephenson, but also the Japanese-influenced baby-back ribs with roasted jalapeño teriyaki sauce at a local sushi restaurant. Stephenson tells us, "In addition to the top-notch sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls at Tsunami's original location, locals come for these signature baby-back ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender and basted in a sauce with the right balance of sweet and heat."
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Franklin Barbecue 900 E. 11th St., at Branch St.; 512-653-1187 Aaron Franklin may be new to the Lone Star State's pit-master lineup — he opened Franklin's just two years ago — but he's possibly the most dedicated, famously getting in to work at 3 a.m. to tend to his brisket. Longtime Texas Monthly food critic Patricia Sharpe (keeper of the state's definitive barbecue list) calls his meat "dark as midnight with smoke and black pepper, slow cooked over oak to ultimate tenderness." Brisket like this, as you should know, is the crowning achievement of barbecue in those parts. Says Sharpe, "It embodies everything Texas barbecue stands for."
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Ruby's BBQ 512 W. 29th St., at Guadalupe St.; 512-477-1651 Vegetarians are usually sore out of luck when it comes to barbecue joints, but Ruby's is a rare exception. The University of Texas area joint has the meat-eschewing in mind with dishes like vegetarian jambalaya and chili, and a range of sides, from mustard potato salad to several varieties of coleslaw and beans. But what about the meat? That stacks up, too: All-natural beef brisket from Dakota farms is free of added hormones and antibiotics, and famous Elgin hot sausage (from Elgin, Texas) is on offer.
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Baker's Ribs 2724 Commerce St., nr. S. Crowdus St.; 214-748-5433 This ribs specialist has many locations across Texas and even one in Minnesota, but its chain status doesn't detract from the quality of the grub. Falling-off-the-bone ribs (of course) and brisket, slow-smoked over hickory logs, are the things to get. Daniel Vaughn of the blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ and one of the state's foremost barbecue experts describes the latter as having a "great crust and big smoke ring. Each slice was smoky, tender, and moist with a line of well-rendered fat." Hungry yet?
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Lockhart Smokehouse 400 W. Davis St., at N. Bishop Ave.; 214-944-5521 Newcomer Lockhart Smokehouse is barely six months old, but it's already being hailed as some of the best — if not the best — barbecue in Dallas. No wonder, considering its pedigree: Owner Jill Grobowsky Bergus is the granddaughter of the longtime owner of Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Get the brisket, which you're encouraged to eat without plates or forks, and until recently, barbecue sauce, though recently the place added a selection of sauces.
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The Smokehouse 3306 Roland Ave., nr. Rigsby Ave.; 210-333-9548 The Smokehouse looks the way many think a barbecue joint should, with a low-slung whitewashed exterior and no-frills dining room with an order-at-the-counter setup, plus checkered vinyl tablecloths and faux-wood paneling. That's because this spot's proprietors put their energy into the food — mesquite-smoked meats like beef brisket, sausage, chicken, pork, and even lamb — and traditional sides including coleslaw and potato salad. Get there early in the day to ensure they don't sell out of pecan and sweet-potato pies, and other housemade desserts.
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Two Bros. BBQ Market 12656 West Ave., nr. E. North Loop Rd.; 210-496-0222 If weather permits, you'll want to dine under the shade of the live oak trees at this homey two-year-old market. Meat is smoked out back in steel pits, and you order at the counter by the pound, meat-market style. On a recent visit, 'cue nut Daniel Vaughn of Full Custom Gospel BBQ found that the brisket was so moist and tender, "every bite made me crave another." Vaughn also fell for the house specialty, cherry-glazed baby-back ribs: "The rub wasn't overpoweringly sweet, an it worked well with the meat which was adequately smoky." Other Vaughn picks: spicy pork, cold smoked shrimp, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños.
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Goode Co. Texas Bar-B-Q 5109 Kirby Dr., nr. Bartlett St.; 713-522-2530 While elegant surroundings aren't usually associated with Texas barbecue, gleaming hardwood floors and a tiered chandelier give Goode's an unexpectedly civilized upscale-saloon vibe. The menu, too, sets it apart from the state's more traditional barbecue shacks: In addition to the usual brisket and sausage, you can order honey-smoked ham, spicy pork, or duck. Addictive jalapeño cheese bread comes on the side, and it's advisable to save room for housemade pecan or chocolate-cream pie.
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Virgie's Bar-B-Que 5535 Gessner Dr., nr. Bamboo Rd.; 713-466-6525 Adrian Handsborough dubs his smoked meats "barbecure," and assuming you're free of a heart condition, snappy, spicy sausage and thick, fatty, smoky brisket do sound like the kind of fare to assuage a bad day. "Joints like this definitely help me recharge after many mediocre meals in a row," writes Daniel Vaughn, whose favorite thing on the menu is the brisket. Muses Vaughn, "Sometimes good barbecue is all you need to cure what ails you."
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Cheung Hing 2339 Noriega St.; 415-665-3271 Jonathan Kauffman turned us on to this place, a mostly takeout joint in the Outer Sunset that specializes in Cantonese-style barbecue duck — something that you see hanging in windows up and down the streets of Chinatown, glistening red-brown, heads intact. The fact is, it's more of a roasting situation than barbecue, despite this being called Chinese barbecue, but it's still a heavenly, lightly smoky plate of tender meat and caramelized skin, with the perfect amount of soy in the glaze. As Kauffman says, "Frankly, it beats most of the Southern-style barbecue I've had here."
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Memphis Minnie's 576 Haight Street; 415-864-7675 Some of the best barbecue in town comes from Memphis Minnie's, which tries to cover all American barbecue traditions, including Santa Maria–style tri-tip, the only native Californian barbecue tradition, which purists argue is just good grilling. Their ribs are serviceable and typically tender, but our favorite thing on the menu is their smoked chicken — perfectly cooked, juicy, and rich with just enough smoke flavor to make each bite sing, but not so much that it overwhelms the meat.
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Seoul Garden 22 Peace Plaza, 2nd fl., Japantown; 415-563-7664 Korean barbecue is all about the marinades and the quality of the side plates. Upscale and friendly Seoul Garden, which serves a predominantly Asian crowd in the mall in Japantown, gets it all right, down to the seaweed salad and kimchee, and they even come through halfway through the meal to switch out the grill-top, which has by then gotten crusted over with charred meat bits. They do a terrific kalbi, but the best tasting thing on the menu is the daeji bolgogi, which is some seriously tender, thin-sliced pork marinated in a spicy and salty housemade marinade.
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Slow Hand BBQ Makes alternating Thursday appearances at the Homestead (2301 Folsom St.) and Dirty Thieves (3050 24th St.); no phone Pit-master Dan Frengs did fifteen years of research before buying the smoker he trails behind his truck, which he hauls into S.F. from the East Bay four times a month to feed loyal fans outside two Mission bars. He smokes his Texas-style brisket and personal-recipe ribs over white oak, and serves them simply with coleslaw and sauce on the side. The star is really the ribs, though, which he smokes for only five hours instead of the typical twelve to fourteen, but which still come out perfectly smoky, and perfectly cooked. Jonathan Kauffman calls Frengs's barbecue "some of the best I've tasted on the West Coast."
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Smokin' Warehouse BBQ 1465 Carroll Ave.; 415-648-8881 After less than a year in business in San Francisco's Bayview district, barbecue chef Bill Lee has already won a lot of fans and a bevy of good press for his fork-tender, ten-hour-smoked brisket. 7x7raved that Lee's meats have "a divine smokiness that up until this point had eluded [us] in the city." We have to concur, and for $11 you'll have enough for two meals. Also, don't miss their excellent beans and perfect cornbread.
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Sneaky's BBQ In residence at Rebel, 1760 Market St.; 415-431-4200 The almond-wood-smoked Korobuta pork belly at Sneaky's is pretty special. Not only did Food & Wine mention it when they named Sneaky's one of the Best New BBQ Restaurants in the country, but SF Weekly critic Jonathan Kauffman wrote that it was in this dish that "their barbecue really shines," describing it as "coal-black and smoke-dense; the fat has slow-cooked into custard, and with each bite, it melts into the layers of lean meat, basting them one last time."
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Town Hall 342 Howard St.; 415-908-3900 Chef Mitchell Rosenthal has done a lot of studying of the barbecue arts, having traversed the South several times over on barbecue pilgrimages with his brother. The biggest takeaways? "I found a guy making these incredible ribs up in the hills above Kansas City," he says. "And he didn't do anything to them. No sauce, no rub. Just salt and pepper. When I asked him why he said, 'Because I know how to smoke, and I know where my pigs come from.' I immediately got on the phone to the restaurant [back in S.F.] and told the kitchen, 'Stop putting the rub on the ribs!'" Rosenthal uses Niman Ranch pork for his St. Louis–style ribs, and smokes them at home (the restaurant doesn't have a smoker). He serves them with a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce made with housemade ketchup that sits underneath the ribs and catches their smoky drippings while they're being smoked.
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Wexler's 568 Sacramento St.; 415-983-0102 Chef Charlie Kleinman, named a Chronicle Rising Star in 2009, didn't want to create another "high-end barbecue" restaurant. "Real barbecue belongs in little shacks with huge smokers that burn down every couple of years," he says. So in creating the menu at Wexler's in S.F.'s financial district, he's taken care always to do the unexpected and to pair rich barbecue flavors with California freshness — as in his daily changing Plate of Pork, shown here with a brined, smoked, and roasted pork loin with bourbon molasses jus, and a perfect bourbon-glazed pork belly with a crisp, candylike crust over a minty, smoked eggplant caponanta with snap peas. As Michael Bauer raved, "I've had plenty of great down-and-dirty barbecue in my time, but it's equally refreshing to give thumbs up to the bump up."
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Ippuku 2130 Center St.; 510-665-1969 All the Bay Area critics agree: Ippuku is the best yakitori around. And if Cantonese and Korean barbecue qualify as barbecue, then certainly the impeccably marinated and charcoal-grilled chicken parts at chef Christian Geideman's Berkeley restaurant deserve inclusion on our list as well. SF Weekly's Kauffman called the place "elemental and brooding, raw and intimate," and Michael Bauer said he "ended up eating as if [he] hadn't seen food in a week" when he was there. Even Alice Waters is a big fan. We highly recommend the neck and thigh skewers, but if you can't decide, there's a five-skewer plate (pictured) that covers all the bases, including some chewy but delicious chicken hearts.
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Pican 2295 Broadway; 510-834-1000 Old-school rib mavens in Oakland may still be clucking about Everett & Jones, but for our money, the best ribs in the East Bay these days — and possibly in the entire Bay Area — are at two-year-old, upscale Southern restaurant Pican. Chef Dean Dupuis moved out west from Atlanta, where he helmed South City Kitchen, and his pork ribs are Kansas City–style, slathered in a rich, spicy, almost mole-spiced sauce that's just molasses-sweet enough without being cloying. They're fall-off-the-bone tender unlike any other ribs we tasted, and paired with some outstanding four-cheese macaroni and cheese, they make for a divinely rich dinner.
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MacQue's 8101 Elder Creek Rd.; 916-381-4119 Arguably Sacramento's premier barbecue spot, founded in 1986 by Mack and Charlie Thomas, MacQue's serves up reliably good Kansas City–style ribs, and they've been beloved by truck drivers hauling up and down the I-5 over the last two decades. The Sacramento Bee writes, "What we liked a whole lot: the ribs, the incredibly tender and juicy chicken breast, the flavorful pork tenderloin, the beans, the greens and the mac and cheese."
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Leroy's Familiar Vittles SE 48th St. and Division; no phone Over in Portland's Richmond neighborhood, a dude named LeRoy parks a trailer and a huge smoker in a vacant lot, and Portlandians line up in droves for his ribs, macaroni, and brisket po'boys (pictured). The other hit: the sides, especially the smoky, sweet-and-sour collard greens.
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Podnah's Pit 1625 NE Killingsworth St.; 503-281-3700 Though pit-master Rodney Muirhead's lamb ribs are the most out of the ordinary item on the menu, the smoked chicken keeps people coming back to Podnah's Pit. The five-year-old barbecue joint in Portland's Vernon neighborhood has won plenty of accolades for the bird, which manages the feat of being equal parts juicy, crispy, and smokey.
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Reo's Ribs 6141 SW Macadam St.; 503-310-3600 As Willamette Weekly's Ben Waterhouse puts it, "Reo Varnado leans heavily on the reputation of his nephew, Calvin (better known as Snoop Dogg), but he needn't. He turns out near-perfect ribs from four soot-encrusted smokers in a strip-mall parking lot, doused in a molasses-honey sauce that makes Kansas City sauce seem mild."
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Chuck's Hole in the Wall BBQ 215 James St.; 206-622-8717 Pit-master Chuck Forsyth opened this place in 1989, and his son John is now at the helmBack when Jonathan Kauffman was a full-time critic at Seattle Weekly, Chuck's Hole in the Wall was his go-to spot. And the go-to dish, according to him and a bevy of loyal Yelpers, is the hickory-smoked brisket from Painted Hills, which comes on a plain sesame bun, and is by all accounts the best in town. And because they firmly believe barbecue is only good when it's fresh out of the smoker, they're only open three hours a day, for lunch only.
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Kansas City, Missouri
Arthur Bryant’s 1727 Brooklyn Ave.; 816-231-1123 This legendary barbecue parlor has been around since 1930 and namesake cue-master Arthur Bryant died in 1982 — still, this icon keeps chugging along. Expect hickory-and-oak-smoked meats, workers who are as grisly as the food, brusque cafeteria-style service, and a line that just keeps on moving, filled with devotees and the merely curious. You won’t get much in the way of pampering, but it’s a sacred cow nonetheless.
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Kansas City, Missouri
Big T’s 9409 Blue Ridge Blvd.; 816-767-0905 Burnt ends and rib tips, chewy and gratifyingly charred, with or without French fries, are the two most popular dishes at Big T’s. But they’d be lost without their sauce — the tomato-based variety is a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, of medium thinness. Ask for extra on the side and dunk your fries in it.
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Kansas City, Missouri
LC’s Bar-B-Q 5800 Blue Pkwy.; 816-923-4484 A native Kansan insisted that we include LC’s in this roundup: “The smoker constantly sends sumptuous smoke out onto the highway,” we were told. LC’s Wilson Meredith tells us that owner L.C. Richardson (“no clue what it stands for”) retains a top-secret homemade sauce recipe, “thick and sweet, without being salty.” Meredith recommends the burnt ends, served as a sandwich or as a menacing one-pound platter. “I’ve yet to see somebody finish a whole plate of it,” he confesses.
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Kansas City, Missouri
Oklahoma Joe’s 3002 W. 47th Ave.; 913-722-3366 Yep, Oklahoma Joe’s is in a functioning gas station. Here, you should fuel up on an amazing Z-Man sandwich: slow-smoked brisket, smoked provolone cheese, two thick onion rings, and a little tomato-based, full-bodied barbecue sauce on a toasted Kaiser roll. “The sauce isn’t overly peppery, but it’s not overly sweet,” says Joe’s Doug Worgul. By the way, their gas is at $3.77 a gallon right now. The sandwich is $6.29.
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Kansas City, Kansas
Schloegel’s Woodyard Bar-B-Que 3001 Merriam Ln.; 913-362-8000 Here, the dish to try is burnt-ends chili. It’s made with a medley of red, kidney, and black beans, then mixed with ground beef spiked with chile powder, paprika, and cayenne. The chili is topped with burnt ends and doused with the house barbecue sauce, a savory tomato blend. Opt for a cup or a bowl, to be slurped alfresco on the welcoming brick patio.
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Pappy's Smokehouse 3106 Olive St.; 314-535-4340
College students will eat just about anything if it's cheap enough, but Pappy's Smokehouse — which is located nearby St. Louis University — seems to have a line out the door for all the right reasons. The perpetually packed place kicks out a variety of barbecue dishes, including pulled pork, ribs, and beef brisket. But the surprise hit is the smoked turkey breast, showing that barbecue can embrace a healthier meat and still keep the masses.
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Smoki O's 1545 N. Broadway; 314-621-8180
Mike Mill's 17th Street Bar & Grill made it into our list of foodie pilgrimages, but he and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe (his daughter, with whom he co-wrote Peace Love and Barbecue) also have definite opinions about big city barbecue: "We would say Smoki O's," the two told us. "Meat is cooked in offset smokers right outside, and you can smell the barbecue when you get out of your car." Ribs and rib tips are on the menu, but apparently "snoots are the specialty."
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Honey 1 BBQ 2241 N. Western Ave.; 773-227-5130 In these days of corporate barbecue and pit-masters who would prefer not to be in the kitchen, it's comforting to walk in Honey 1 BBQ most days and find Robert Adams sitting right by the smoker, usually watching a baseball game on the restaurant's tiny TV. He's a master of the rib tip and hot link combo, as well as properly smoked ribs with just enough pull to them. If that wasn't enough, he also has a trump card for everything coming out of the tiny smoker: The restaurant's secret weapon is a mysteriously addictive, honey-tinged sauce, which is still tart and just slightly spicy. Whole barbecue empires have been built on less.
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Lillie's Q 1856 W. North Ave.; 773-772-5500 Nearly a dozen barbecue joints opened in Chicago last year, and all seemed to be run by newcomers — weekend warriors, who perfected their skills in the backyard. But Charlie McKenna arrived not only with some major national acclaim (he won pork shoulder category at Memphis in May back in 2007), but also with a serious fine-dining pedigree (Tru, Avenues). The result was Lillie's Q, one of the rare urban barbecue joints that satisfies both the barbecue evangelists and the culinary vanguard.
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Smoque BBQ 3800 N. Pulaski Rd.; 773-545-7427 "I hate to be boring," said Chicago Magazine's chief dining critic, Jeff Ruby, "but I have not had better 'cue in Chicago than Smoque." Of course, the pick is only boring because everyone else happens to agree. The barbecue joint from Barry Sorkin was an instant hit on opening and is equally adept at kicking out perfectly tender Texas brisket as it is meaty, St. Louis–style ribs. It's so annoyingly, consistently good, even the baked beans and macaroni and cheese are delicious.
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Uncle John's BBQ 337 E. 69th St.; 773-892-1233 Though not as famous as North Carolina or Memphis, Chicago does have its own distinct style of barbecue known as the combo, a mix of rib tips and hot links served at various joints around the South Side. But the best, at least according to NewCity's food critic, Michael Nagrant, is Uncle John's BBQ, where you'll get "a clamshell full of glistening rib tips, lacquered like the hood of a 57 Chevy, with a smoke ring pinker than the Hello Kitty factory." Placed over a "soggy fries" and topped with "knockoff" slices of Wonder Bread, Nagrant calls it "as good a time as a tongue gets."
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Saz's 5539 W. State St.; 414-256-8765 When we reached out to Kurt Fogle, the executive pastry chef for the SURG restaurant group, he let us know that one of most popular places in town was Saz's, a family restaurant and lounge, which has been kicking out ribs for over 35 years. Anyone who has visited the city's massive Summerfest in the past few years would probably also be quite partial to the barbecue pork sandwich.
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Speed Queen Bar-B-Q 1130 W. Walnut St.; 414-265-2900 The menu at Speed Queen Bar-B-Q features most of the standards of the barbecue game, including ribs, pork shoulder, and even chicken. But where else in the upper Midwest do you see "outside" listed on the menu? The ambiguous term refers to the crunchy, smokey bark from the pork shoulder. It's good enough to eat as is, but we also suggest you douse it in the restaurant's hot sauce, a strange approximation of South Carolina's mustard-based best.
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Ted Cook's 19th Hole Bar-B-Q 2814 E. 38th St.; 877-762-4268
The meat you're most likely to find smoked in Minnesota is probably fish, but the takeout-only Ted Cook's has been doing traditional pit-smoked 'cue for over 40 years. There's nothing northern about the sauce-slathered ribs, super-tender chopped beef, and pulled pork, except perhaps the curios side of thick-sliced potatoes that are the joint's must-order side.
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Big Hoffa's Barbecue 800 E. Main St., Westfield, Indiana; 317-867-0077 When looking for suggestions in Indianapolis, it might seem a little strange that we reached out to Daniel Orr, the chef of the back-to-basics FARMbloomington. But considering he has received such national acclaim for his focus on local ingredients, we figured he'd have some definite opinions about barbecue. He didn't disappoint, picking out Big Hoffa's Barbecue for its slow-smoked ribs and brisket.
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Squealers 5515 W. 86th Street; 317-871-7427 We caught up with Indianapolis Monthly's dining editor, Julia Spalding, at the absolute perfect time; the magazine had just visited nearly every joint in town for its latest barbecue issue. Though there were many top contenders, she claims that there "is no better barbecue in the city right now" than the offerings coming from Squealers on the north side.
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Slow's Bar B Q 2138 Michigan Ave.; 313-962-9828
There isn't a lot of good news coming out of Detroit these days, unless you talk to anyone who has stopped into this Motor City meat mecca. The shop's best seller is its excellent sandwich called "the Reason" — smoked Niman ranch pork butt with slaw and pickles. But we've heard that even native Texans will admit the brisket might be better here than it is in the Lone Star state.
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Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue Restaurant 7815 Carnegie Ave.; 216-391-2230 While barbecue ribs, chicken wings, fried chicken and mac and cheese consistently earn high marks at this legendary Cleveland greasy spoon, it's Hot Sauce Williams' signature specialty, the Polish Boy, that brings Iron Chef Michael Symon back every time he visits his hometown. It's a large link of smoked kielbasa placed on a bun, covered with french fries, smothered in coleslaw and slathered in barbecue sauce. And its much tastier than it sounds.
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10 Bones BBQ 5960 Getwell, Suite 126, Southaven; 662-890-4472 Considering his success at Memphis in May (he won the pork shoulder category back in 2007), we definitely wanted to see where Lillie's Q's Charlie McKenna ate when he visited the barbecue capital. But what are we to make of his pick, which is not only technically outside the city limits, but also in a completely different state? "My favorite barbecue joint in the Memphis area is 10 Bones BBQ in Southaven," he told us, "Their ribs are great." Luckily, this barbecue excursion is only a short fifteen-minute drive from downtown.
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Charles Vergos' Rendezvous 52 South 2nd St.; 901-523-2746 Love it or hate it, we think it's impossible to create a list for big city barbecue that doesn't include Charles Vergos' Rendezvous. Located in a random downtown back alley, it has been a mecca for Memphis barbecue addicts since it opened in 1948. The secret to its success is the dry rub, a wild combination of different spices, which coats every square-inch of their ribs. It was so distinctive, the dry-rubbed rib eventually became synonymous with Memphis-style barbecue. Obnoxiously packed and chaotic, the charcoal tinged ribs are, sadly, still worth the wait.
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Cozy Corner 745 N. Pkwy.; 901-527-9158 Recommendations from Smoque's Barry Sorkin should be taken seriously, and we were glad to see him pick out Cozy Corner. The shop doesn't even subscribe to the dry-rub camp of Memphis barbecue, instead generously saucing their smoke-laden ribs with an infectiously spicy sauce. Cozy Corner may look like the very definition of a roadside shack, but inside it's hard to find a more welcoming place in the country. Also, while the ribs get top billing, don't be afraid to try the smoked Cornish hens.
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Germantown Commissary 2290 Germantown Rd., Germantown; 901-754-5540 Beyond the tourist-packed joints in central Memphis is a collection of places around the city's edges that have been reliably kicking out quality 'cue for years. We're particularly fond of the Germantown Commissary, an old country store that manages to serve one of the city's best unsung barbecue delicacies — the chopped sandwich piled high with coleslaw.
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Double Wide Grill 2339 E. Carson St.; 412-390-1111 Though steeped in a trailer park shade of Americana kitsch — it's housed inside an old filling station and six-packs of beer are served table side in a cooler — there's no joking around when it comes to food at Double Wide Grill. The St. Louis–style ribs, brisket, and pulled pork are all winners for barbecue, but if you can't make up your mind when ordering, try the "Build Your Own TV Dinner" platters for a sampling of everything.
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Rowdy BBQ 3900 Saw Mill Run Blvd.; 412-882-6788 Nothing gets Pittsburgh's sports fans and college students fired up quite like the glorious burger-meets-hot-dog mash-up, better known as the Knuckle Sandwich, at Rowdy BBQ. The Buffalo pulled chicken sandwich and the Whole Hog, a pulled-pork hoagie, are also popular. But for a proper barbecue fix, locals recommend the smoky and fall-off-the-bone tender pork ribs.
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Percy Street Barbecue 900 South St.; 215-625-8510 Chef and pit-mistress Erin O'Shea turns out an impressive array of ribs, chicken, pork belly, and other smoked meats at this barbecue joint from James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov and his business partner Steven Cook. But it's her smoked brisket that's Percy Street's ultimate "must-have" dish. Simply seasoned with salt and fresh cracked black pepper, O'Shea smokes each ten-pound slab of beef brisket over smoldering hickory for five to seven hours to develop a deep, dark "bark" on the outside and rich smoky beef flavors on the inside.
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Phoebe's Bar-B-Q 2214 South St.; 215-546-4811 For nearly two decades, Phoebe's on South Street's west side (and more recently its second location in Roxborough), has consistently served rave-worthy chicken, brisket, baby backs, and pit meats, but it's only the gargantuan beef ribs that properly satisfy your most primal hankerings. The brontosaurus-size big bones are slow-cooked to perfection, and each bite bursts with juicy, smoky beef flavor.
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Sweet Lucy's 7500 State Rd.; 215-333-9663 You can hardly go wrong with the baby-back ribs, brisket, pulled pork, or any of the other hickory-smoke-kissed North Carolina–style barbecue dishes that Sweet Lucy's near the city's Holmesburg neighborhood serves. The housemade side dishes aren't too shabby either. But it's the juicy, smoky, and slathered-in-housemade-sauce barbecue chicken that's quite possibly this joint's tastiest specialty.
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Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbecue 5713 Harford Rd.; 410-444-6422 Richard Gorelick, the restaurant critic for the Baltimore Sun, is the first to admit that the city isn't known for its barbecue: "Baltimore is not a barbecue town," he told us, "which makes it a great barbecue town." Instead of having to focus on one particular style, the city can try whatever it wants: "Folks can concentrate on making good food instead of authentic food, and Scott Smith does more things better at Big Bad Wolf Barbecue."
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Chaps Charcoal Restaurant 5801 Pulaski Hwy.; 410-483-2379 Speaking of not caring what others say, local food writer and photographer John Houser III explains that Baltimore is also home to the relatively unknown strain of barbecue called pit beef. "Pit beef is a good representation of the native Baltimorean," he says, "Tough and craggy on the outside, but soft and vulnerable underneath." Beef top round is dry rubbed and cooked quickly over charcoal until rare inside. Then the meat is thinly sliced and placed in rolls with raw onions and horseradish sauce or yellow mustard. "The best," says Houser, is at Chaps Charcoal Restaurant.
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Capital Q 707 H St. NW; 202-347-8396 Think of Capital Q as Washington’s downscale version of the Palm: lots of beef, lots of pols, glamour shots of celebrities on the walls. But here, the celeb portraits share space with an enormous mounted cow head, and you pay at the counter and dine on wobbly stools. Beef-brisket sandwich is the thing to order here; it’s cut on command and draped across white bread with a little bit of pickle and onion. Choose between hot or mild tomato-based sauce, which soaks reassuringly into the bread.
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Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish 514 Rhode Island Ave. NE; 202-438-3215 North Carolina native Fate Pittman was clearly fated to be a pit-master. Known as Mr. P, he sells ribs from a school bus that he bought at auction. His menu is hopefully taped to the bus. The bus is in an eerie parking lot. He’s 75 years old, has been doing this for more than 30 years, and as such sees fit to work three days a week (Friday through Sunday). And who are we to balk? His smoky, chewy pork ribs are a huge seller. Bring cash.
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The Standard 1801 14th St. NW; no phone Literary agent and NPR food contributor Howard Yoon tipped us off to the Standard, a new addition to Washington’s ‘cue scene that opened in March blocks from the U Street corridor. At this hipster haven, pulled-pork sandwiches rule the day. Applewood-and-mesquite-smoked pork shoulders are sauced with a North Carolina–inspired apple cider vinegar and topped with tangy cabbage-and-carrot slaw. Also on the short but comprehensive menu are fried pickles and hush puppies.
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Allen & Son 6203 Millhouse Rd., nr. Hwy. 86; 919-942-7576 An assuming location down a rural dirt road, plus slow-smoked whole-hog barbecue, place Allen & Son high on connoisseurs' lists, but unlike many other whole-hog temples located out east, Allen & Sons is just twenty minutes from downtown Chapel Hill or Durham. Pigs are smoked over hand-chopped hickory wood and come out peppery and smoky, with tangy vinegar-based sauce to apply at the table if desired. The Southern Foodways Alliance's Kate Medley likes to order the barbecue sandwich topped with slaw along with fried okra, hush puppies, and pie. "They make killer pie," she tells us.
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The Pit 328 W. Davie St., nr. Commerce Pl.; 919-890-4500 Though open only since 2007, the Pit has gained widespread attention for its North Carolina whole-hog barbecue, made from free-range pigs that are pit-smoked and then chopped, in the traditional style. Its upscale converted warehouse surroundings in downtown Raleigh are atypical for a whole-hog joint, and so is the barbecued tofu offered for vegetarians. Though founding pit-master Ed Mitchell left in May to open his own restaurant, the Pit is thriving, with recently announced plans to open a second branch in downtown Durham.
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Community Q BBQ 1361 Clairmont Rd., Decatur; 404-633-2080 When Big Green Egg guru Kevin Rathbun, chef-owner of Atlanta's Kevin Rathbun Steak, Rathbun's, and Krog Bar, isn't smoking and roasting meats in
his own restaurants, he enjoys th Community Q, which has a strong contender for one of the Atlanta area's best barbecued brisket. The pulled pork is nothing to scoff at either. And side dishes, like collards, coleslaw, and macaroni and cheese, are the proverbial icing on this barbecue cake.
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Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q 1238 Dekalb Ave.; 404-577-4030 Kevin Rathbun "loves to death" twin brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox, the pit-masters behind the popular Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Atlanta's trendy Little Five Points neighborhood, and the satisfying take on barbecue the two consistently turn out. Smoked chicken wings, baby-back ribs, pulled pork, and smoke brisket are all winners, but no trip is complete without an order of their deep-fried pickles.
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Heirloom Market Barbecue 2243 Akers Mill Rd.; 770-612-2502 Another of Atlanta-based chef and restaurateur Kevin Rathbun's recommendations for exceptional barbecue is the beef-brisket sandwich at Heirloom Barbecue for his barbecue fix. He says chefs Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee have perfected what he estimates could be the juiciest and most tender brisket available in this part of the south.
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Mojo Kitchen BBQ Pit and Blues Bar 1500 Beach Blvd.; 904-247-6636 Surprisingly, two of the more popular dishes at this laid-back offshoot of Jacksonville's small family of Mojo Barbecue restaurants are the smoked turkey and smoked turkey sandwich. But it's the North Carolina–style pulled pork, which is smoked, pulled, chopped, and dressed lightly in a vinegar-based sauce that originally put the restaurants and their traditional take on barbecue on the map.
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Boucherie 8115 Jeannette St.; 504-862-5514 Boucherie’s signature dish is smoked Wagyu beef brisket. It’s rubbed with a proprietary blend that consists of chile powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, black peppercorn; it’s then smoked with hardwood – “really pure whole-log smoking,” their chef tells us. It’s smoked for six hours, then put in the oven for slow moist heat, covered with a bit of water and garlic, and returned to the oven once more. The brisket is served alongside addictive garlic-Parmesan fries, tossed with the same signature rub, salt and pepper, a bit of garlic powder, and shaved Parmesan.
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Squeal 8400 Oak St.; 504-302-7370 Our friends in New Orleans rave (fine, squeal) over Squeal’s barbecue pork tacos. Owner Patrick Young says that his smoked pork is tossed with a signature hybrid sauce: “We took everything we love about barbecue sauce, and incorporated it into one sauce,” he explains. “It has a vinegar and a tomato base, plus ginger and cayenne.” The pork is served atop grilled corn tortillas, crowned with coleslaw (mixed with a horseradish-based dressing), a dab of chipotle puree, and cilantro. Squeal’s also known for smoked pork cakes: pulled pork swirled with cream cheese and coated in flour, dusted with panko, and deep fried. Eat ‘em on their patio.
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The Joint 801 Poland Ave.; 504-949-3232 This homespun cinderblock dive slings a mean smoked garlic-and-jalapeño Chaurice sausage, delivered weekly from Breaux Bridge in Cajun country. Three half-links are sandwiched on sliced white bread or a bun. Slow-smoked pork ribs, tossed with paprika, sugar in the raw, and cayenne, are also a hit. If your arteries begin to crystallize, order a green salad doused with a from-scratch dressing, made with smoked Roma tomatoes and Vidalia onions. Do note the “Carnivorous Cuisine” sign fashioned by a friend of the owners. It’s crafted from rib bones abandoned by customers (subsequently cleaned and bleached, of course).
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Jim 'n' Nick's Various locations Yes, this is a quickly growing chain, and the Alabama-based owners once ominously told the Birmingham Business Journal that they're looking to compete with places like Chili's and Ruby Tuesday. But we say bring on the expansion plans if it means more cities will get a crack at the super-traditional pulled pork, brisket, and the Pig in the Garden salad, a seriously out-there combination of chain-style chef's salad topped with a pile of pork.
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Pubbelly 1418 20th St.; 305-532-7555
Think of the ribs at this "Asian-inspired gastropub" as molecular 'cue. The restaurant's dry-rubbed spare ribs are vacuum-sealed with duck fat and liquid smoke, then cooked sous-vide for fourteen hours. During service, they get a brush of kimchee barbecue sauce and are finished in a hot oven. The topping is as nontraditional as the preparation: crushed peanuts, scallions, and crispy onion rings. Even with the high-tech prep, the dish is satisfying in a very traditional sense.