Creative new chefs are heating up America’s barbecue scene. Read on to discover ten of America's best new BBQ.
Image Credit: La Barbecue
B Side BBQ, Oakland, CA
In West Oakland, French-trained Bobby Flay alum Tanya Holland combines modern tweaks with the best of traditional ’cue: brown sugar–rubbed brisket cooked low and slow; great northern beans with burnt ends, bacon, and ham hock; and a juicy, smoked barbecue chicken that may be the best thing on the menu. Thick slices of Acme pain de mie stand in for Texas toast, while crinkle-cut dill rounds get an upgrade from pickled cauliflower, carrots, radish, jalapeño, and onion.
This taqueria-meets-smokehouse from the barbecue gurus behind Jim ’N Nick’s pairs scratch masa, tamales, and guacamole with whole smoked chickens, brisket, and pork butt. Chef Josh Gentry describes the result as Mexican food seen through southern goggles; imagine chilaquiles with guajillo chile sauce, Cotija cheese, and slow-cooked meat and chile-brined fried chicken. Don’t leave this Birmingham suburb without trying the drunken hog, a cross between a pulled-pork sandwich and a torta, with pit-tender pork, pinto beans, and pickled red onions on house-made bread with tomato gravy.
The centerpiece of this northeast Portland newcomer—inspired by Argentina rather than Texas, Memphis, or Kansas City—is the custom-made, wood-fired grill, a massive stainless-steel beast from Ann Arbor–based Grillworks. Grab a counter seat in front of the action, and order the Asado Argentino, a sizzling combination platter of steak, ribs, sweetbreads, chorizo, and morcilla, a blood sausage made with walnuts, raisins, cumin, and nutmeg. There’s plenty to satisfy non-meat-eaters, too: bone-in, skin-on halibut, maitake mushrooms, and halved artichokes are all charred on the grill, whose crank wheels system positions the racks closer or further away from the burning embers.
One part Bavarian beer garden and one part barbecue joint with brats and sauerkraut, pulled-pork sandwiches, and coleslaw add up to a serious crowd-pleaser. Chef Tad Curtz doesn’t pledge allegiance to any one style of barbecue; pork comes with a North Carolina–style vinegar sauce, while brisket gets a dollop of smoky, sweet tomato-based sauce. But it all gets smoked in his southern-pride oven using a combination of mesquite and applewood chips. For adventurous eaters, the thing to order is the smoked pig’s head (call in advance).
Chicago’s newest BBQ joint brings together chef Doug Psaltis (whose résumé includes stints at Essex House, Country, and the French Laundry) and mixologist Paul McGee. It’s a winning combination of American whiskey-based cocktails, Carolina pulled pork, St. Louis–style ribs, and fried chicken with Alabama white sauce. The décor is just the right side of kitschy—a beer can American flag is the bar’s centerpiece, and a cowboy mannequin presides over the ladies’ room—and most nights, there’s live music (country, naturally).
Tim Love’s open-air restaurant on the Trinity River in Fort Worth walks the line between old-school and nouveau Q by serving a little bit of everything. There’s no-sauce brisket, beef ribs, and pork ribs for traditionalists, and tacos stuffed with chicken skin and Cotija or bulgogi and kimchi for the more adventurous. Nearly everything is cooked using wood—specifically mesquite, pecan, hickory, and oak—and every day a different whole animal roasts on a spit (check the flag at the entrance to see which beast is cooking). Nothing goes to waste, either; even the bones are used to make a deeply satisfying ramen with pickled chiles, pulled rib meat, raw quail egg, and fresh lime.
This cafeteria-style East Village eatery got its start at Smorgasburg, a food market along the Brooklyn waterfront. Now Manhattanites don’t have to leave the island to get their fill of Jean-Georges alum Hugh Mangum’s brisket, as well as pulled pork, spare ribs, and an on-the-bone beef short rib called the brontosaurus rib. All are finished with Maldon sea salt and served with various pickles—chile peppers, celery, cucumbers, and red onions—and vinegar- or mayo-based slaw. The side of edamame and sweet pea salad is a refreshing riff on succotash.
Franklin Barbecue veteran John Lewis is the pit boss at this South Austin trailer, and his prime-grade black Angus brisket may very well be the best in town. He’s not saying what’s in the five-spice rub he uses (salt and pepper are two of the ingredients) or much about his custom-built pit where he cooks the brisket (ribs, pork, and everything else goes in the old smoker), but the result is velvety, smoky meat with a dark, barky crust. Lewis’s Hot Guts sausage, made from brisket, heart, liver, and fat, is also a highlight.
This new Fishtown outpost of Joe Carroll’s Williamsburg, NY, original has the trappings of BBQ 2.0, namely, a shotgun shack–chic exterior and a menu of naturally raised, hormone-free meats, craft beers, and whiskey-based cocktails. It also serves some of the most soul-satisfying fare north of the Mason-Dixon. All meats are rubbed with cumin, cinnamon, brown sugar, cayenne, and espresso, and oak-smoked until the outside is just crusty and charred enough and the insides are perfectly tender.
Kevin Bludso, of Bludso’s BBQ, the drive-worthy takeout window in Compton, has gone Hollywood. His new joint on La Brea is significantly sleeker, but the food—fall-apart-tender Texas-style brisket, smoky and sweet baked beans, tangy mac and cheese—is just as good. And at the new spot, you can get your spare ribs with a mint julep pulled from the tap.
Dry rub or marinade? North Carolina vinegar or Kansas City sweet sauce?
Although the classic barbecue debates rage on, the new generation of pit masters is less interested in regional styles—they're too busy sourcing heritage meat, experimenting with nontraditional flavors, and pairing fall-apart-tender ribs with serious drinks.
Many new BBQ joints treat sauce preference less like religion and more like, well, preference. You get to choose your adventure at Chicago's Bub City, where on-table offerings include a sweet, tomato-based sauce, a Worcestershire-spiked sauce, and Louisiana-style hot sauce.
It's enough to get us fired up about the future of barbecue.
Check out the slideshow above to discover ten of America's best new BBQ.