By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Scene: Four friends plunge through the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. They're on the hunt for what is reputed to be the best barbecue joint in the area, Two Bubbas BBQ, and their journey is taking them far off the beaten path, past the din of commuter traffic, past vacant auto lots, and into a thick umbrella of moss-draped sentinel oak trees. They have no idea where they are going, and they are very hungry.
To a hungry stomach, any drive can seem like forever.
We were driving maybe 30 minutes, but you couldn't tell that to my three compatriots, whom I had dragged, stomachs rumbling, past no fewer than four barbecue joints on the way. With each glowing "BBQ" sign fading into the background, I could feel the pressure building in the car, like so much smoke in a barrel. They were pissed.
3101 W. Sunrise Blvd.
Lauderdale Lakes, FL 33311
Region: Fort Lauderdale
I can't really blame them. At the time, my buddies didn't understand the difference between merely OK barbecue, the hastily prepared stuff that's scattered across the landscape whether you're in Savannah or Fort Lauderdale, or truly transcendental barbecue, the kind whose smoky promise commands you to do selfish things to your very tolerant friends.
In about 30 more minutes, however, they would come to forgive me... and then some. Serving as emissaries for my official apology: spare ribs laden with the rich ichor of hickory, wedges of chopped pork shoulder gang-tackling an overmatched bun, an infant-sized baked potato cradled in smoked chicken meat, and the magical blue-green twilight of rural Georgia at dusk. I was in good hands.
Back home, I set out to discover what smoky secrets South Florida's less-traveled pathways have in store. Only, I ran into a bit of a snag. Despite being home to a handful of respected, long-established barbecue eateries, the tricounty area has come to be characterized as a place from which no real barbecue can grow.
Talk to any out-of-state transplant (all experts, mind you) and he or she will tell you that SoFla's 'cue can't hold a cleaned rib bone to the stuff from Texas, the Carolinas, or the entire South, for that matter. It's a frustrating mindset, though not one that's reserved solely for barbecue. Pennsylvanians know that no sun-tanned cheese steak can touch the offerings from their native land. British expats would rather boff the Queen than eat Indian on our shores. And no list of this sort would be complete without New Yorkers — the most pugnacious one-uppers of them all — who won't let our pizza or Chinese food cross their lips without challenging the legitimacy.
If you listen to these haters, you'd be better off spending your nights tucked into a Stouffer's lasagna on your couch than braving the multitude of subpar dining options available. But I've got a better theory: Florida does have great barbecue. It's just that those transplants spend too much time at home reminiscing about how much better they had it at home to discover the truly plentiful spread of food finds out there. Could it be they just don't know where to look?
Recently, underground Florida barbecue has been popping up all over the map. Last week, I visited Big Belly Jerk BBQ, a humble food truck parked in the Sunoco lot on Sunrise Boulevard and Powerline Road, and walked away with a spicy-sweet feast of jerk chicken, pork, and ribs that I couldn't finish in three days. Then I joined another group of pals on the hunt for a man who cooks 'cue out of his Hollywood home on Saturdays, selling off ribs by the rackload. You've got to know someone who knows someone, and most of his racks are spoken for by noon, but if you can snag one, it's well worth the trip. But my best find came two Fridays ago, when I stumbled across Deep Down South BBQ.
I say stumbled across it, but the reality is, you can't miss it. DDS is a 40-foot, barn-house-red trailer that ties up at the east corner of the Exxon lot on Sunrise Boulevard and 31st Avenue. If somehow you overlook the trailer, you can spot it by finding the swarm of cars parked alongside or the line of folks queuing up ten deep at its takeout window (the only option available). They're there en masse — though DDS has been open barely two months now and only Thursday through Sunday — because the barbecue concocted by owner Albert Houston is the honest-to-goodness real deal.
"Real barbecue?" you scoff. "Not in this town!" Well, my friend, Houston's baby back ribs ($12.99 half rack, $18.99 full) tell another tale: The juicy spears of rib meat are basted for nearly four hours in thick hickory and applewood smoke until a vibrant rose ring forms beneath the spice-rubbed crust. Teaming with rendered fat and tissue, the meat falls from the bone with even the slightest suggestion, yet retains its fleshy and toothsome texture. You can't eat one rib without letting out an "mmmm," pausing only to lick your fingers and the corners of your mouth.
Houston's 'cue is served with a side of his smoky barbecue sauce — a mixture that shares traits with those from Kansas City: It sports a tomato base and a sweet, honey-and-fruit flavor that pairs well with the richness of the meat. It's a fine sauce, but I find I don't need it, especially on DDS' moist spare ribs ($8.99). These puppies get the same treatment as the baby backs, only they come chopped down into two-inch-long sections and coated with a bit too much sauce. Maybe it's a great thing for folks who always need extra, but not for those who prefer their meat tasting of meat. If you're in the latter group, get it on the side and you'll be in absolute pig heaven.