Is there anything better (or messier) than good barbecue? Whether you prefer ribs with meat that drops off the bone, tender brisket, chicken or pulled pork, ‘cue satisfies a primal urge. Before we go any farther, let’s define what barbecue is not.
It is not meat grilled and slathered in sauce. That’s what your father made in the backyard. Rather true barbecue is cooked slow and low over a smoldering wood fire.
Barbecue sauce should be added at the table and sauces vary from region to region. Just like other religion, no one kind is better than the other, it’s simply a matter of preference. In the Carolinas, sauces tend to be vinegar based, and in North Carolina, mustard is the primary ingredient. Most sauces are tomato based, whether sweet and thick, as in Texas or Kansas City or spicy as in Louisiana.
I was introduced to my favorite spot for the ‘cue by Denise Richetti during the Delray Beach Savor Our City culinary tour (www.SavorOurCity.com). It’s a bit of a drive up to Delray, but well worth it.
8 E. Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach
In looking for a pit master, the owners of Smoke searched the globe and came up with a winner, literally. Bryan Tyrell has been on the team that captured the American Royal (the World Series of barbeque) Championship Team. He has developed a menu that features the best barbecue I’ve ever had, not just in South Florida, but anywhere.
Start off with the chicken wings. Get the buffalo style sauce, on the side, if you must, but it truly isn’t necessary. Another great starter option is the homemade potato chips dusted with Smoke’s BBQ rub. The pulled chicken lettuce wraps, while good, aren’t the best way to enjoy Smoke’s pulled chicken. However, the fried parmesan Brussels sprouts are perfection, either as a light app or a side dish.
For the full experience, I recommend ordering one of the platter combos. There’s enough for two (if you’re willing to share). The rib and chicken combo, serves up a half slab of baby backs just shy of falling off the bone, and a choice pulled pork or smoked turkey breast (one taste of the turkey, and that stuff from the deli counter will never satisfy you again).
The rib and brisket combo offers up a plentiful serving of moist, flavorful beef alongside the pork ribs. Of course, smaller appetites can opt for any of the meats solo or on a sandwich, nestled between layers of a bun just tough enough to handle the meat. Add a squirt or two of the sweet, thick sauce and you’ve entered BBQ nirvana.
Your best side dish options (if you have room) are the tater tots, baked beans or the aforementioned sprouts. If you can fit in some dessert, your top bets are the chocolate flourless cake, or banana coconut cream pudding, both served in Mason jars.
If you prefer to stay closer to home, there are a number of barbecue options in the area. Here’s a run-down of some of the most popular, which doesn’t always equate with the best.
1025 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
When it comes to execution and variety, Red Cow wins hands down. Not many barbecue spots serve brunch or the spectrum of options this place does. Standout starters include the chicken wings (which could serve as a meal), available a number of ways; best bets are the garlic honey or maple bacon glazed versions. I’m also a sucker for smoked salmon deviled eggs. If you’re looking for a lighter meal (then why you at a BBQ spot?), the chopped salad is a good way to sample the meats. There is also a sweet watermelon salad with jalapeno vinaigrette.
In addition to the expected fare, Red Cow also serves up beef ribs, good for those who don’t eat pork or want to feel like Wilma Flintstone. The shepherd’s pie features beef brisket in gravy with a baked mashed potato crust on top. For vegetarians (in addition to salads) there’s the “No Meat” combo offering a choice of any side items. Among which the best bets are the sweet potato grits and creamy mac and cheese with a crunchy topping.
Blue Willy’s Barbecue
1386 S. Federal, Pompano Beach
There’s no web site, which matches this no-frills place. Walk up to the counter, place your order, grab a seat at a picnic table and wait till it’s time to pick up your order. You must go on a Thursday. That’s the only day that they serve their phenomenal homemade pastrami. How good is it? There’s a limit of two orders per person for the sandwich, served on rye bread with coleslaw. The best side dish is the out of this world cornbread (available plain or with bits of jalapeno) studded with kernels of sweet corn.
Dixie Pig Bar-B-Q
4495 N. Dixie, Oakland Park
Another no frills spot, but this one’s not quite as successful. An adequate, though not abundant amount of slightly dry and tough pulled pork graced a cheap-ass bun. Another trip with a serving of pulled chicken was a little more flavorful. Mac and cheese tastes as if it was under a heat lamp for too long. This place does get points for being one of the few places to offer Brunswick stew, a Carolina favorite.
Jack’s Bar-B-Q Smokehouse
500 E Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park
Driving by, if the cloud pouring out of the outdoor smoker doesn’t get your attention, the aroma certainly will. Sadly, nothing lives up to that initial impression. The atmosphere is that of a prison cafeteria. Surly counter servers dish out your order while you stand and wait. Pulled pork was stringy and dry. The sauce bottle was so sticky it practically welded itself to my hand. I’ve had better baked beans out of the can and the mac and cheese was so dried out it was crunchy.