The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America

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Bub-Ba-Q

Savannah, Georgia is one of my favorite cities in America.  The weather is great, the people are nice, it’s not far from both the beach and mountains, it’s full of history and it maintains an heir of tradition rarely seen in other cities.

One of my stops in Savannah was at Bub-Ba-Q which has a couple of locations closer to Atlanta and recently opened their newest location in Savannah.  The aptly named Owner, Bubba, can share story after story of life on the competition barbecue circuit and has been in the business for some time.

I tried the ribs and brisket, but the thing that jumped off the menu was the Hog-A-Chong-A.  Imagine a deep fried barbecue Chipotle burrito and you are on the right track.  The flour tortilla contains pulled pork, Bubba’s pork rub, beans, sauce and pepper jack cheese.  This is deep fried and then covered in Brunswick Stew.  While the addition of Brunswick Stew makes the Hog-A-Chong-A unique, I preferred the bite I had without it.  I like the crispiness of the fried tortilla and the stew takes away from this.  Nevertheless, it’s a fun, different item for the seasoned barbecue fan.

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Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que and Catering

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Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que and Catering in Jacksonville, Florida combines two threads I often see on the Barbecue Rankings Tour: the old family barbecue tradition and the classically trained chef who made the transition to barbecue.  

Keith Monroe Waller’s family traces it barbecue roots back nearly 150 years to a smokehouse in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina.  That tradition moved with the family to Florida where it found a home in Jacksonville.  GM Mike Romano is the Culinary Institute of America trained New Yorker who left the hustle and bustle of the city for food that takes most of a day to prepare.  Keith and Mike take a lot of pride in making everything from scratch at Monroe’s and have become ingrained in their local communities.

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I tried a bit of everything, but it was the burnt ends that really stood out.  Tender, but not mushy or falling apart, they perfectly balanced the spice and blackened goodness every barbecue fanatic loves.  The Sweet Potato Souffle is the can’t miss side.  The pork, baby back ribs, wings and peppery brisket were all better than most I come across so Monroe’s seems to be doing something right.  

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Slow and Low Bar-B-Que Bar and Grille

imageSlow & Low Bar-B-Que Bar and Grille in Cocoa Beach combines two things I love.  Barbecue and the beach.  It’s not quite on the beach, but within walking distance and the outdoor patio feels like a beachfront bar.

Joel and Nicole Smith’s barbecue background stems from Alabama cooking and they use hickory wood at Slow & Low which they opened in 2004.  

imageAs for the food, the fried sweet potato chips are awesome.  The further away from Texas I go, the more surprised I am when I come across good brisket.  Slow and Low’s is pretty darn good and the pork was quite tasty as well.  

I’ll eat barbecue any hour of the day, but I guess I tend to think of lunch as traditional barbecue time.  At Slow and Low, however, I think the prime time to stop in is sunset.  A drink and plate of brisket is just what any sandy, sun drenched beach bum needs.

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Park Avenue BBQ Grille in Jupiter, Florida seemed to have promise.  Cool political themed sauces, not far from the beach, fun atmosphere and a decent sized dinner crowd.  

I should have simply left, however, when I found out that their “signature” ribs are cooked in an oven for an hour and a half…

If you are in Jupiter, try the seafood!

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4 Rivers Smokehouse

imageJohn Rivers’s love of barbecue has a lot to do with the success of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, but it’s the motivation behind this success that really matters.  After a journey that included an introduction to brisket at a Texan Thanksgiving, vowing to make the best brisket found anywhere, traveling to many of America’s most respected barbecue restaurants and years of tinkering, testing, tasting and repeating, it took a little girl with cancer to pull John into barbecue as more than a hobby.  

When the Rivers family received a call from someone offering their thoughts and prayers for their child who had been diagnosed with cancer, they were shaken even though it was a wrong number and none of their kids had cancer.  Nevertheless, they found the girl who was assumed to have been their daughter and John prepared a meal for one of her fundraisers.  4 Rivers, at John’s leading, continues to play an active role in the community and supports a number of great organizations - including the Ronald McDonald House which is near and dear to my heart.

Word of the quality of John’s cooking spread fast and, even on their first day, 4 Rivers had a line into the parking lot.  Business hasn’t let up since - for good reason.

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I heard about 4 Rivers from a number of barbecue fanatics and restaurant owners preceding my trip to Florida, but, I have to admit, I still wasn’t quite sure that a relatively newer barbecue restaurant in Orlando could really be that great.  I’m happy to say that my reservations were thrown out the window after the first bite.  I tried a little of everything and it was all terrific.  Everyone should try the brisket on their first visit (and possibly the next day when you go back for more…).  Save room for dessert as the sweets section is up to the same standard as the barbecue.image

If you have no plans to visit Orlando soon, you can bring a little of John’s cooking to you by ordering his Southern Cowboy Cookbook here.

As you can tell, I was impressed by 4 Rivers.  You’ll have to wait until The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America book comes out to find out just how well they stack up against hundreds of other barbecue restaurants across America.

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The Florida Barbecue Scoop from Ricky Ly

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While in Florida, I connected with Ricky Ly to get the barbecue scoop from a local foodie, author and blogger.  Ricky’s blog (www.tastychomps.com) is the go-to food site for Central Florida food reviews.  His book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings, is available through Amazon and barnesandnoble.com. 

Here are some of Ricky’s thoughts on barbecue in Orlando.

How would you describe Florida barbecue?
I would say it is a lot like the people of Florida, coming from different regions melding together. There are some forms of Texas que and Carolina que here. There used to be a lot of pork but now more and more, especially since 4 Rivers has come to the scene, we are seeing lots of brisket.
When you think of barbecue, what comes to mind?
I think of smoked, flavorful, tender meat with a little sauce on a plate.
Barbecue’s popularity has grown throughout much of the US in the last 5-10 years. Have you seen the same thing in the Orlando area?
I think it has for sure, especially with 4 Rivers doing barbecue right. Lines are out the door. As long as you do it well, it will grow.
Do you have a favorite barbecue restaurant or two in Orlando? In other parts of the US? 4 Rivers and Keller’s are my two favorites. In Atlanta, I enjoyed Fat Matt’s Rib Shack for their ribs.
Are there rumors around town of what Mickey Mouse’s favorite barbecue restaurant might be? Not sure, but I may have to guess it may be found at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. Or maybe one of the smoked turkey legs found at Disney World.
What has been the most rewarding part of blogging at tastychomps.com? Hearing about readers visiting some new hole in the wall they found from reading our website, TastyChomps.com and really loving the place. It feels good to know that I helped connect the dots in our community.
Have any advice for me as I travel the country eating barbecue and writing about it? Make sure you keep fitness on the schedule as you are eating around the country. It’s important to watch your health - food is medicine after all. 
Spoiler alert…Ricky and I are both big fans of 4 Rivers.  Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on 4 Rivers tomorrow.

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Uncle Kenny’s BBQ

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Uncle Kenny’s BBQ in suburban Orlando followed one of the usual trajectories into existence.  Boating and backyard smoking with friends led to entering a barbecue competition.  Competitions led to catering.  It was only a matter of time until the catering turned into a restaurant.  I’ve heard story after story of people with barbecue restaurants today who never dreamed of running a restaurant when they started smoking a pork butt or two in the backyard.  Consider yourself warned!

One thing that makes Uncle Kenny’s unique is the smoker supply store and smoking classes held in the back of the restaurant.  Reminding me of a brewing equipment store for the emerging home brew market, an Orlando weekend smoker can stop in to pick up supplies and tools to play with at home.  The classes condense years of Kenny’s tips and skills into a few hours.  

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One of Kenny’s more unique offerings are the deep fried barbecue pulled pork eggrolls.  Kenny takes a lot of pride in his sauces.  One of which, The Original, won 1st Place at the American Royal in 2011.  I found everything to be consistently good and recommend trying your favorite barbecue item at Kenny’s.

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Sweet Rack Rib Shack

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The cynical observer might write off Sweet Rack Rib Shack as simply a college town restaurant with girls in tank tops.  Upon further investigation (and a few bites!), it is clear that there is much more to this popular and growing Tallahassee restaurant owned by Chris and Amanda Dickens.  

Chris’s background in fine dining includes training at the Culinary Institute of America and baking instruction from Le Cordon Bleu Paris.  He assumed this knowledge would easily translate to top quality barbecue so he and Amanda bought the cheapest smoker they could find at Wal-Mart and entered a competition.  They ended up in last place in everything except for pork.  Rather than walk away in defeat, Chris used this as motivation and his touch of OCD kicked in.  Soon they were winning competitions and absolutely killing any competition with a dessert section.

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Sweet Rack Rib Shack was born out of this success and has quickly become a Tallahassee favorite.  The brisket and wings are terrific, but the brisket is only served on Fridays.  If you try the pork, give the mustard sauce a chance even if it isn’t normally your favorite kind of sauce. I liked it a lot.  You will never see me turn up my nose at banana pudding or peach cobbler, but I’ll take Chris’s Bourbon Pecan Cheesecake over any grandmother’s banana pudding.

There is certainly more to Sweet Rack than the double entendre that meets the eye.  I enjoyed my visit and recommend you give them a shot.

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Fat Boys Bar-B-Que Ranch

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North of Montgomery, Alabama in the town of Prattville, Danny and Gretchen Loftin run Fat Boys Bar-B-Que Ranch.  Prattville is a few miles off the highway between Birmingham and Montgomery, but I think the detour worthwhile.

Everything but the pickles are made from scratch at Fat Boys and the meats are carefully tended over a hot bed of hickory.  It’s a small restaurant in a town where everyone knows everyone and I heard one man say as he was leaving that he would be back sometime to oil the squeaky door for Gretchen.  While not much at Fat Boys is controversial, their ties to Auburn sports teams may cause a few eyes to roll in Mid-Alabama.

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I tried the ribs, chopped brisket and strawberry pudding, but I think it best to follow the KISS principle at Fat Boys.  You can’t go wrong with a pulled pork sandwich and potato salad.  Their sauce is one of the sweetest I’ve had and, while sweet sauces are normally not my favorite, a little of the honey and pineapple sweetness of this sauce made a fine partner to the pork.

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