Nearly every meat-eating American speaks the language of barbecue. From the backyard to the upscale restaurant to the hole-in-the-wall 'cue house, cooking meat with smoke and heat has become somewhat of an art form -- taking on various styles, techniques, and rituals around the globe.
Which is why it would be ridiculous to count down to a single favorite. So instead, we've compiled 11 'cue spots that make us smile -- even if that means our chins are covered with meat and sauce.
- Bobby Q
This popular Phoenix staple right off the I-17 serves up its boatload of barbecue offerings amid antique signs, tin ceilings, and glass bottles in the walls. Featuring platters of baby back ribs, pulled pork, and sliced beef brisket in addition to a smoked prime rib and a "smoasted" (smoked and roasted) half-chicken, entrees are served up fast and hearty-like with two sides and cornbread. For the really hungry -- or those who want to share -- order up the Whole Hog Heaven with a choice of two ribs, two meats, and three sides.
A solid new addition to barbecue joints in Phoenix, this friendly spot from Copper Star Coffee owner Bill Sandweg features an array of barbecue styles and signature sauces from Sandweg's recipe book. The juicy pulled pork sandwich accompanied by a tangy and sweet sauce, the tender brisket, and the low- and slow-smoked barbecue chicken are the standouts. And don't miss sides like grilled seasonal veggies and mac and cheese.
Featuring top-notch signature sauces like Free Range Red, Sweet Sonoran Heat, and Sweet Sassy Molassy, this longtime catering operation and 'cue spot in South Mountain (open only for lunch Monday through Friday) has been delivering traditional and nontraditional Southwest BBQ to its devoted fans for over 20 years. Choose from classics like St. Louis-style pork ribs, smoked chicken, and rib tips -- or order up the Q-Sampler plate for a taste of almost everything.
This Creole-style 'cue house in Phoenix from father-and-son team Charles and Chris Rideau is a sequel to Louisiana native Burleigh "Papa" Rideau, Sr., who founded the original Town Talk (which closed in the '60s) near downtown in 1949. Family recipes of slow-cooked meats using mesquite wood and signature sauces fill the menu, with pulled pork, rib tips, and meaty spareribs as the clear standouts. Don't miss sides like homemade Creole fries and Bubba beans.
Phoenix native Andrew Vander Stoep says the secret to his 'cue at this Tempe restaurant and catering service is the cherry wood imported from Michigan's Upper Peninsula used to smoke his meats nice and slow. A meat-filled menu offers barbecue sandwiches, rib plates, and sampler plates done up with Stoep's signature sauces. And even baked potatoes and fries can be had "loaded," that is, topped with a choice of barbecued pork, chicken, or brisket.
After years of brandishing their barbecue wares at farmers markets, owners Wes Hansen and Justin Erickson opened their tiny eatery in 2010 near Deer Valley Airport. Featuring all-natural, premium pork products from their family farm in Nebraska, Hansen and Erickson smoke their succulent meats competition style, meaning no gas, just pecan wood and charcoal. Don't miss the perfectly smoked brisket, pulled pork, and baby back ribs. And if it's prime rib night, oh boy.
After an unsuccessful attempt at opening a second store in Laveen, Memphis-born Darryl Alexander is back to running his three-year-old 'cue joint in downtown Buckeye. Featuring authentic Memphis-style barbecue with staples like ribs, rib tips, chopped pork sandwiches, and smoked sausages, this hidden gem's large portions, sides such as collard greens and mac and cheese, homemade sauces, and wallet-friendly prices make the eating well worth the trip.
For those who like their 'cue on the sweet side, this no-frills eatery in Anthem features family recipes, homemade sauces and rubs, and a passion for slow-cooked meats. Courtesy of David and Karyn Rosol (who regularly compete in barbecue competitions), the menu features smoked meat sandwiches, smoke-fried chicken wings, and low-smoked ribs over hickory wood. Sampler platters, one aptly named "Loosen Your Belt," need no explanation.
Since 1998, Joe Johnston's homey, Texas-style barbecue haven, housed in a 1929 brick building in downtown Gilbert, has been feeding its fans a multitude of meats cooked in a barbecue pit and fired with pecan wood. Try the smoky, slow-cooked brisket, heaps of moist and shredded pulled pork dressed up with Joe's original recipe barbecue sauce or the habanero version, and mouthwatering pork ribs. Don't forget Joe's homemade root beer as a tasty way to wash it all down.
Chef Bryan Dooley, owner of this comfy Cave Creek 'cue spot, loves barbecue so much, this year, he wrote a book about it. Since 2009, Dooley's signature sauces and rubs have been gracing the likes of pork ribs, chicken, and brisket, all slow-smoked over pecan wood with sides like sweet pickled jalapeños and Cowboy Beans. And don't miss the Pulled Pork and Coleslaw Sandwich on a toasted, buttered bun. It's a trademark delicacy that's worth the drive.
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Texas expats Mike Pitt and Doug Dieckmann have brought their home state's flair for barbecue to this South Phoenix hole-in-the-wall. Their excellent dry-rubbed and smoked meats are the stars of the show, but it's the other touches -- pork, chicken, turkey, and hot links sold a la carte by the half-pound and white butcher paper used as plates -- that make it so much fun. The smoky sauce is an accessory, not an essential, to some of the best barbecue in the Valley.
All our favorites lists also are available on our Best Of app -- see it in action here.