When it comes to barbecue in metro Phoenix, there's one little spot that most aficionados can agree reigns supreme, Little Miss. But the general consensus around that joint doesn't mean we should give up the search for perfectly-smoked brisket and juicy sliced turkey around the Valley.
After all, if we did that we'd never know about Naked BBQ in north Phoenix.
Located in a strip mall just east of the I-17 on Bell Road, this small restaurant has been pumping out pounds of excellently prepared meats for more than a year. Owner Oren Hartman got into the restaurant business after taking a semi-retirement from his previous career; he'd already been smoking meats at home and decided to take things to the next level.
As the name implies, meats at Naked BBQ come naked — as in, without sauce. And on any day you can count on pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, sliced turkey, hot links, and ribs. For sides, you'll choose from options including creamy slaw, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, cornbread muffins, and a vegetable of the day. You can combine meat and sides in either a one-meat or two-meat combo, as well as order your meat of choice between two pieces of bread.
The brisket comes in thick slices that glisten with beautiful stripes of fat cutting through each piece. You'll find the tell-tale signs of brisket done well: a small but distinct smoke ring and a rich, black bark that gives the faintest crunch as you bite in. And while you'll be happy to eat this brisket sans sauce, the way it's served, you'll also do well to give Naked BBQ's house-made sauces a try. There are about four varieties, including a "sweet" sauce that's fairly straightforward but still offers a hint of spice, and a "spicy" variety that burns just the right amount to keep you coming back for more.
St. Louis-style ribs are also excellent, pink inside with meat that's flavorful and kissed with smoke, while pulled pork and chicken will satisfy but perhaps not blow you away. And though most people wouldn't consider ordering sliced turkey at a place with such worthwhile brisket and ribs, skipping out on Naked's turkey would be a mistake. You'll never look at your Thanksgiving bird the same after tasting this juicy turkey meat that's smokey and just a little bit spicy, too.
In fact, the only real complaint we had would be with Naked BBQ's hot links, which aren't quite as snappy as we'd like and could use a boost of heat.
And if you were worried about the sides being nothing more than peripheral offerings, don't be. The drippy, creamy macaroni and cheese is just what you need to give your taste buds a break should you choose to amp up the spicy barbecue sauce with some of the restaurant's jalapeno paste. (If it's not out, just ask.) And the vegetable of the day, a nicely spicy broccoli during our visit, seems like an earnest attempt to round out diners' plates with something green. Even the cornbread muffins offer golden kernels of corn scattered through out, a steady reassurance that these aren't coming from a box mix.
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To be fair, Naked BBQ may not be ready to unseat Phoenix's barbecue queen. But this is not your once-a-month barbecue destination; this a your neighborhood spot for excellent smoked meats. And even if the trek up the I-17 puts Naked BBQ outside of your usual path, rest assured Hartman's got a few good things in the works.