Restaurant Reviews

Smoke BBQ Masters Many Barbecue Styles

Florida isn't known as a barbecue state, nor Fort Lauderdale as a barbecue city. But while we may not have a nationally recognized style 'cue of our own, what South Florida diners do have are strong opinions about what makes good barbecue, who has the best barbecue, and what their favorite style should (or should not) taste like.

More than any other American food, barbecue is the ultimate regional speciality. Texas brisket rub is different from St. Louis rub. North Carolina pulled pork has its own distinct style. Alabama's vinegary, mayonnaise-based white sauce is nothing like the brown Worcestershire- and molasses-sweetened one you'll get in Memphis. And barbecue lovers of all stripes will gladly wax rhapsodic about the food from back home.

In case you haven't noticed lately, it's a good time to love barbecue in South Florida, because it is officially "on trend."

"I'm flexible. And I think that's what makes this barbecue so unique."

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Take, for example the new Smoke BBQ in Fort Lauderdale, which opened last month in a newly renovated space off Galt Ocean Mile. If you're familiar with the original location in Delray Beach, about the only thing you'll recognize here might be the Edison-bulb sign above the order counter that reads "Pig Out."

This isn't just a second location for Smoke but rather a deliberate conceptual change, an effort to deliver a more authentic barbecue experience, say Smoke BBQ owners Scott Kennedy and Steve Chin. Together they opened the first incarnation of the concept in late 2014, in the hustle and bustle of downtown Delray Beach off Atlantic Avenue in the same space that formerly housed the duo's first restaurant venture, Union, a late-night haunt with an Asian flare and clubby vibe.

When the newbie restaurateurs decided to swap formats late last year, slinging 'cue instead of sushi rolls, they were confident that executive chef and famed Kansas City competition barbecuer Bryan Tyrell would be able to put them on the map for good barbecue in South Florida.

But there were some concerns from the start. The nightlife-influenced downtown vibe meant Smoke BBQ would be forced to deviate from what most people associate with a traditional barbecue experience. That translated to formal sit-down service, the continuation of Union's slam-packed three-for-one happy hour, and two DJs mixing music into the wee hours of the morning on weekends. Today, it's still the type of place where patrons order piles of cherrywood-smoked chicken wings and Parmesan-fried Brussels sprouts alongside Tyrell's Kansas City-style brisket and ribs.

"In the beginning, we had hoped to make a significant investment in the layout of the location to create the environment which would most compliment a barbecue experience," says Kennedy. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Instead, we focused our efforts on Fort Lauderdale, which has provided us a blank canvas to pair our barbecue with a more authentic experience."

Kennedy and Chin know good barbecue. Before they decided to venture into the restaurant industry with Union back in 2011, they were the kind of guys who would smoke a few racks or ribs (and sometimes a whole brisket) before heading out for a round of golf on the weekend. With a healthy appetite for smoked meats combined with years of pilgrimage to some of the best barbecue cities in the nation, each was confident he knew his 'cue.

So this time around, they decided to do things differently with Smoke. They would open a smaller, more casual location. They would serve barbecue on plastic trays covered in brown butcher paper, in a dining room where patrons could seat themselves. No raging happy hour here, but rather a tasteful selection of craft beer by the bottle. Rather than a team of servers, there would be an order counter where customers could peruse the selections before ordering and watch as the chef cuts meat to-order. Tables would have bottles of sauce and rolls of paper towels. And leftover to-go packaging would be a do-it-yourself sort of thing.

Now, rather than the Kansas City-style 'cue Smoke Delray Beach has become known for, Smoke Fort Lauderdale offers an expanded variety of meats. Each is smoked in-house daily — anywhere from five to 16 hours, depending on the cut — and served in a variety of regional styles. Some of it doesn't even adhere to any particular region at all but instead offers the chef's own unique blend of many.

That's all thanks to Smoke Fort Lauderdale's new pit master, Mike Porcari. He always loved barbecue too, but he didn't always cook it. In fact, the formally trained chef says he learned the craft within the past two years working under Will Banks, a seasoned smoker with several generations of barbecue knowledge under his belt and owner of Blue Willy's BBQ in Pompano Beach.

Since joining the Smoke BBQ team in October, Porcari also spent several months training under Tyrell, a process that helped each blend their two styles — one old-school, one new-school — in an effort to create what they'll tell you is some of the best barbecue around.

"I draw from the regional techniques I've learned over the years and then add my own creative tweaks," says Porcari, who spent several months experimenting with different cuts and temperatures before arriving at the final smoke time and heat for each item on the menu. "I'm not sticking to any one method. I'm flexible. And I think that's what makes this barbecue so unique."

That means Texas brisket that's lean and juicy; coriander and cracked pepper-rimmed smoked pastrami that flakes apart in your hands; gigantic beef ribs that take up a half-tray; meaty pork spare and baby back ribs; half-roasted chickens with a thin, crispy skin; and Carolina pulled pork you can drown beneath a puddle of the sweet and tangy house-made mop sauce.

Everything can be ordered as a one- or two-meat combo meal, each served with a choice of two sides. That includes a new-and-improved baked mac 'n' cheese that's creamy without being too salty or sweet, a jalapeño-cilantro potato salad that ups the ante on the original perfectly, and root beer baked beans that are sweetened with soda rather than sugar. Coleslaw and a sliver of yellowcake cornbread and a side of cinnamon butter are complimentary.

Porcari is apparently a good student and smokes his meat exceptionally well — especially the brisket and pastrami. For the brisket, smoked overnight, he produces tender slices of beef with the perfect amount of smoky essence and a ratio of fat and lean meat that's just right.

But it's that smoked pastrami — a three-week brining and smoking process that is an art in itself — that has made repeat customers out of many. It's reminiscent of the now-famous smoked pastrami sandwich Blue Willy's offers every Thursday, but unlike Banks', Porcari's ruby-red smoked pastrami is available daily (or until it runs out) and cut a tad thinner, offering less of a peppery crust. That's thanks to a rub that favors coriander over cracked pepper, leaving more of the tangy, smoked flavor of the meat to shine through. It's stacked between your choice of rye bread or a fluffy potato-bread bun, and topped with a grainy mustard.

Smoke's two sauces are also Porcari's creation. The reddish-brown barbecue comes in mild or spicy and is perhaps a cross between Memphis and Kansas City style: tomato-heavy, tangy, not too thick, and flecked with pepper.

Of course, Smoke BBQ does one thing no one else in South Florida is doing right now: three types of ribs. There's baby back, spare, and beef. The baby backs were Chin's sister's idea, an ode to their father's favorite meal. Like all the ribs, they're served dry, which might startle you. Don't let it; Chin and Kennedy know that everyone's tastes are different and that you should let the customer choose how much distraction he wants from pig meat and fat. If you're the sort to need a little kick, just douse them with the house barbecue sauce. The meat won't fall off the bone (it shouldn't); rather, it's pliant and juicy — the way competition barbecue should be.

The weakest link here are the pork spare ribs, which were devoid of any real flavor outside the meat itself, meaning more barbecue sauce — lots and lots of barbecue sauce — was necessary. But I'm absolutely head over heels for the bone-in beef rib looking like something out of a Flintstones cartoon. Each two-pound piece of meat is rubbed in Porcari's flavorful blend of espresso, course-ground pepper and sea salt, onion, and garlic before it's smoked for several hours, rendering it soft and moist. You'll need two hands to hold it — and possibly two dining companions to finish it.

Forget the slightly upscale vibe of Smoke's Delray Beach barbecue restaurant; the feeling at this new spot is completely different. Luckily, Kennedy, Chin, and Porcari have the hardest part — the smoking of the meat — down to an art.

The only problem might be that Smoke is trying to be the best at everything all at once. It's the type of move that could call into question the entire premise of looking for good barbecue in South Florida, even if everything is coming out good.

Smoke BBQ
3351 NE 32nd St., Fort Lauderdale. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 954-530-5334, or visit

  • Beef rib, $19.99 plate (with two sides) or $16.99 per bone
  • Pastrami sandwich, $11.99
  • Baby back rib platter, $13.99
  • Half-chicken, $11.99 (with two sides) or $8.99 à la carte

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna