Restaurant Reviews

Gone on 60 Spare Ribs

Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q, 1236 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-5046. Lunch and dinner 11 a.m. till 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Jack's Barbecue and Smokehouse, 500 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Wilton Manors, 954-567-9595. Lunch and dinner 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. till 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Drive- through till 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Charlie's Bar-B-Q, 1302 S. Federal Hwy., Dania Beach, 954-924-0109. Lunch and dinner 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. daily.

The Georgia Pig, 1285 SW State Rd. 7, Fort Lauderdale, 954-587-4420. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner 6 a.m. till 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. till 9 p.m. Friday, and 6 a.m. till 6 p.m. Saturday.

The next time you find yourself having to endure some Miami Beach couple boasting about all the new chichi restaurants they've been dining at, politely interrupt and ask where they go for great barbecue. Poor things will probably fall silent, or worse, try to convince you that the chicken-and-rib joints they frequent -- where the meats get parboiled, squirted with liquid smoke, grilled, bathed in sauce, then finished in a gas oven -- are not bad at all. They'd be correct on a technicality: No barbecue is "bad," not even the fake stuff. Still, if they want the real McCoy, by which I mean large cuts of meat that have spent long periods in a hardwood-fueled smoke pit, well, they're going to have to get in their car and take a ride to Broward County. We have more than our fair share.

Actually, I'm going to have to drive long distances for my barbecue, as following this week's review, I am heading back to whence I came (Miami New Times). The exit strategy I've devised is, admittedly, self-serving: Seek out as many good barbecue meals as possible and in the process disappear, like a magician, behind a voluminous puff of smoke. Preferably hickory or oak.

Here then, in my sticky-fingered opinion, are four of the area's finest smokehouses:

TOM JENKINS' BAR-B-Q An efficient barbecue pit, using only seven logs, can cook up to 700 pounds of meat in 14 hours. This sounds like a lot of food, but I'm not sure it's enough to feed the ravenous lunchtime crowds that cram into Jenkins' each day. Since it opened in a small roadside trailer in 1996, this local favorite has expanded into an informal log-cabin eatery with picnic table seating for 40 and a small outdoor dining area behind the parking lot. It has also blossomed into the region's most acclaimed purveyor of barbecue. A giant brick pit behind the counter is piled with rows and rows of pork spare ribs, baby backs, chickens, briskets, and all manner of meats that glow almost religiously in the sunbeams streaming in from a kitchen skylight. A combination of red oak and hickory woods imbue the foods here with a deep, smoky flavor; a spicy/sweet, molasses- and honey-driven sauce is applied with a traditional mop-styled baster. The chopped pork sandwich, stuffed with chewable chunks, not shreds, of meat, make other sandwiches seem indifferent. Side dishes such as baked beans, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese are good enough to make a pig pick up a fiddle. And the sweet potato pie is a must. The keen observer might note that very little smoke emanates from the pit, which is a good thing -- contrary to popular belief, it is a long, steady, controlled heat with very little smoke that yields the best barbecue. Guess I won't be able to slip out of town as invisibly as I had planned.

Make sure to order: Chopped pork sandwich, pork spare ribs, barbecue sauce, sweet potato pie

Wood: Red oak and hickory

Beer and wine: No

Payment: Cash only

JACK'S BARBECUE AND SMOKEHOUSE Jack Mays is a pit-master disciple of Jenkins', having worked at that landmark for six years before opening a smokehouse of his own in January 2002. The restaurant is housed in a former Taco Bell and retains that chain's brick walls and arched windows. A neat scattering of tables and chairs fills the indoor space; there are picnic tables outdoors, as well as a drive-through window -- can't beat that. The barbecue sauce, a family recipe handed down from Mays' father, lends a tangy zip to the meats -- as always, the ingredients are "secret," but I'm certain that I tasted a strong undercurrent of Worcesteshire -- or perhaps tamarind, the main flavoring of that sauce. The fare is consistently delectable, from supermoist spare ribs, baby backs, and chicken to sweet candied yams and the best square of warm cornbread I encountered. Do not leave here without trying the boneless portion of pork that runs along the tops of spare ribs, called "rib tips" -- sensational. Sweet homemade tea and peach cobbler round out what is sure to be a deliriously good meal.

Make sure to order: Pork tips, spare ribs, cornbread

Wood: Hickory and oak

Beer and wine: No

Payment: Major credit cards

CHARLIE'S BAR-B-Q It has been suggested that pit masters are a glum people -- has something to do with the difficulty of retaining good cheer while standing over smoldering brisket for 14 hours a day. Carlos Rodriguez must be the exception, as he chats amiably from behind the counter while chopping chickens and ribs and slicing ham, pork butts, kielbasa sausage, exceptional smoked turkey, and brisket with bodaciously burned edges -- the best in town. After mastering the art of barbecue over the course of a long pit career in his native Lone Star State, Carlos received a call from his daughter Millie imploring him to help her open a real Texas-style barbecue restaurant in South Florida. The result is a spacious emporium of big, bold, beefy fare. Charlie's barbecue sauce is served warm and flecked with pieces of pork -- precious stuff. The ribs and chicken are distinguished by lemon pepper and roasted for several hours over oak logs; this wood has long been preferred by European cooks, as it produces a clean, distinctive but not overpowering smoke flavor. The Bar-B-Q Sampler is a stupendous platter of food, including choice of four meats with two sides and a Parker House roll. Great pecan pie is available whole or by the slice, and banana pudding spins Chiquita into gold.

Make sure to order: Brisket, smoked turkey breast sandwich, banana pudding

Wood: Oak

Beer and wine: Yes

Payment: Major credit cards

THE GEORGIA PIG Dried logs make for a lousy barbecue. What you want is moist, or green, wood, which allows the fire to burn low and slow, steadily, for a long time. Sometimes, when winter wood is scarce, old-timers have been known to soak split logs in pickle and apple juices to soften them. The Georgia Pig, which has delighted smokehouse aficionados since 1953, uses hickory logs -- the all-American choice, especially in the South and Midwest (Kansas City barbecue is defined by the rich, sweet/smoky hickory taste). Although the Pig serves breakfast daily from 6 a.m. and lunch includes non-smoked fare like cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and Brunswick stew, no array of food items nor the coffee-shop setting can distract diners from the brick pit that sits front and center behind the counter and emits irresistible barbecue aromas. The mustard-colored, vinegar-based, Georgia-style sauce is thin and bright, the ribs thick and succulent, the chopped beef and pork sandwiches superb (although points subtracted for warming the meat up via microwave). Red rings encircle the slices of brisket, a universal sign of authentic smoked barbecue. Can't go wrong with coconut custard pie for dessert, slapped down on the table by the friendliest of wait staffs.

Make sure to order: Chopped pork sandwich, sliced beef, ribs, coconut custard pie

Wood: Hickory

Beer and wine: No

Payment: Cash only