Philly isn’t exactly known for barbecue. But there is a robust scene here, with players, old and new, doing it up right and keeping us full.
Local barbecue specialists smoke meats for more than a dozen hours to achieve the perfect smoke ring and Texas-trained chefs cook up exciting takes on classic barbecue dishes.
Here is our guide to the region’s best barbecue.
Fette Sau (German for “Fat Pig”), opened in Fishtown to eager crowds nearly a decade ago and has since established itself as a mainstay in the Philly barbecue scene. The shop has three signature barbecue sauces each offering its own tangy, smoky, or spicy flavor to the pink-ringed smoked meats and meat-heavy sandwiches.
Henri’s Hotts BBQ has entered an unexpected, difficult chapter in recent months. Owner Doug Henri passed away in December 2021 leaving his beloved barbecue spot in the capable hands of his wife (and Henri’s Hotts cofounder), Ruthie Henri. When Doug ran the roadside New Jersey BBQ spot, Ruthie was often in the back, helping the restaurant churn out the barbecue that customers far and wide visitor for. Now, she’s at the helm — stop by for some of the region’s best barbecue ribs and chicken, and to support Ruthie as she manages this difficult chapter.
Huff & Puff BBQ opened in late May next to Middle Child in Center City. This project brings together South Jerseyans Luke Patrick, Josh Hitchner, and Adele Monaghan on a takeout/delivery joint with a strong complement of vegetarian items, including smoked watermelon, and “corn ribs” (corn sliced lengthwise and grilled).
Mike Strauss’ smoked brisket cheesesteak, an essential pit boss twist on the classic Philly sandwich, is reason enough to visit Mike’s BBQ, and the smoked meats with telltale pink smoke halos and moist tenderness have turned this East Passyunk spot into an all-purpose smokehouse champ. The spare ribs, pulled pork, smoked wings, and crispy pork belly are fantastic, and Mike’s peppery brisket are a true Philly barbecue pleasure.
R. Scott Hanson is hardly the first homesick Texan to find solace by taking the pepper-encrusted bark of a big brisket into his own hands. But Hanson, who claims Austin as home, is at a transitional moment as his NXTX Tex-Mex barbecue pop-up series at Chestnut Hill farmers market grows in popularity. The Tex-Mex barbecue concept — think brisket tacos, tortilla-wrapped hot links, and deeply smoked carnitas — has a nearly weekly Saturday pop-up that offers Texas-style barbecue platters and Tex-Mex plates outside of the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill.
Rick Gray opened Rick’s Backyard Barbeque & Grill in Mizpah in the location where beloved Uncle Dewey’s BBQ operated for over two decades. Here, find a smoker as big as the hood of a school bus and a menu inspired by the barbecue Gray’s father, Melvin Gray Sr., cooked at backyard family cookouts, a distinctive, and perhaps elusive flavor that he captures with the touch of charcoal that he adds to regulate the heat of his oak logs. Gray’s seasonings are fairly simple, letting the meats and their slow ride through the long brick smoking pits. Try the tender spareribs or opt for the chicken, particularly when it’s taken fresh off the grill.
Owner Aaron Clark says that his Audubon, N.J., barbecue shop is his homage to Texas brisket. His brisket is minimalist in the Texas style, but peppery, tender, smoky, and so good. The big hit on his menu, though, is the smoked pork belly tacos with mango salsa.
Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse in the Northeast is a reliable barbecue spot with a well-rounded menu of hickory-smoked meats, sandwiches, and sides. Meats like smoked chicken and pulled pork are available in platter, sandwich or just meat form, and smoked wings and baby back ribs round out the menu.
There are three locations of Chad Rosenthal’s barbecue and whiskey bar: One in Ambler, one in Warrington (temporarily closed due to the pandemic), and one in the Spring Garden neighborhood, the newest locations. This legit-smoked barbecue has progressed nicely since the Ambler location opened years ago. The Memphis-style dry-rubbed spare ribs, the smoke-darkened hot links and zesty, tenderized whole chicken are must-trys.
Owner Matt Lang smokes on a gas-fired Ole Hickory, turning out brisket, pork, turkey, and pork spare ribs, which he sells by the pound and in sandwiches. A rotating assortment of sides such as queso mac, corn pudding, potato salad, and KFC style slaw complement the selection of meats.
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