As the days get longer and the weather warmer, nothing has come to signify the lazy repose of a hot summer day like the smoky scent of slow-cooked barbecue. At its most basic, "barbecue" means meat, slow-cooked over an open flame. Beyond that, there are scores of variables — and each one can spur a contentious battle over which way of 'cueing is the "best."
Start with the meat. The South favors pork, with styles ranging from the vinegary pulled pork shoulder in western North Carolina, whole hog in parts of South Carolina, Memphis-style pork ribs served without sauce, and so on. In cattle-country Texas, it's all about the beef brisket. Kansas City: Anything goes — pork, beef, poultry, mutton, and even fish.
Differences only intensify from there. Depending on the region in Texas, beef is flavored with smoke from hickory, pecan, or oak wood, each of which imparts a unique flavor. In North Carolina, hickory predominates. In Georgia, hickory and oak. And then there's cooking style. Memphis prefers slow-cooking in a pit. West Texas "cowboy style" opts for direct heat from mesquite wood.
But the biggest difference may be in the sauce. Memphis ribs are served "dry" — with a blend of spices like onion, garlic, cumin, and paprika — or with a "wet" tomato and vinegar-based sauce. Vinegar-based marinades are most common in much of the Carolinas, with a sweet and acidic mustard-based "Carolina Gold" sauce in some regions. Kansas City is defined by the sweet and tangy tomato-based red sauce made with molasses.
And the side dishes... Never mind. Don't even get us started on sides.
However it's done, most barbecue has one thing in common: It's delicious! Here are our picks for the Top Ten BBQ joints around. Try not to fight over them.
10. Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ: If you're looking for badass barbecue in Boynton Beach or Boca Raton, look no further than Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ. Here the focus is on pork cuts — baby back ribs (which are smaller but extremely tender) and St. Louis-style ribs (which are meatier and fattier) are patted with dry rub, slow-cooked, and then finished off on the grill, creating an ideal moist yet crisp texture. A sweet house sauce seals the deal, but the restaurant offers flavor profiles ranging from smoky to spicy to Carolina mustard. Lucille's is located at 3011 Yamato Road, Boca Raton; call 561-997-9557. Also at 6691 Boynton Beach Blvd. in Boynton Beach; call 561-742-7449. Visit badtothebonebbq.com.
9. Mrs. Smokey's Real Pit Bar-B-Q: America is a melting pot, unifying people from cultures, and Mrs. Smokey's likewise unifies all the barbecue. Using a hickory blend of wood, the spot churns out barbecue from all ends of the spectrum: Southern pork, Texas beef brisket, and Memphis dry-rub and wet ribs. You can order your ribs with just a dry rub of salt, onion, garlic, and spices or smothered in sauce. Same for the pork and the brisket. Point is: It's good — no matter which way you like it. Mrs. Smokey's is located at 1460 10th St. in Lake Park. Call 561-318-5137, or visit mrssmokeys.com.
8. BBQ King: Claiming to be barbecue royalty takes serious gumption — unless you can prove your worth. This bright-orange BBQ bunker with a smoker out back has earned its crown. The Southern-style barbecue joint fills the surrounding neighborhood with the aroma of slowly smoking pork and chicken. Heaps of meat and traditional Southern porcine-filled fare is matched by some less traditional (yet very South Florida) offerings of jerk chicken, smoothies, and seafood salad. BBQ King is located at 2500 W. Davie Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-835-5325.
7. Troy's Bar-Be-Que: Barbecue is the kind of unpretentious fare you'd expect to be served in a roadside shack. Well, Troy's has that down. On the corner of Federal Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Boynton Beach, this unpretentious spot serves moist, open-barrel smoked ribs that will have you coming back — and probably sweating — for more. The sweet and tangy, tomato and vinegar sauce doesn't cover the flavor of the meat — it enhances it. Definitely worth a little roadside pit stop. Troy's is located at 1017 N. Federal Highway in Boynton Beach. Call 561-740-1125.
6. Texas Hold 'Em: Of course, a place called Texas Hold 'Em specializes in Texas-style barbecue, most specifically brisket. The constantly moving spots — locations in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Federal Highway have both changed locations — churn out piles of wood-fired, slow-cooked brisket that could be the envy of any pit master in Texas. Fortunately, it's easy to find — without the plane ticket — with its two locations. Texas Hold 'Em is located at 2528 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, and at 317 SW Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-527-4115, or visit texasholdembbq.com.
5. Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q: Now a Fort Lauderdale institution, Tom Jenkins has been smoking up the neighborhood since 1990. Originally a traveling barbecue trailer, Tom Jenkins became a 40-seat restaurant back in 1996. It may have moved up in terms of location — and air conditioning — but it still uses the same slow, oak-fired cooking process to churn out its Southern-style pork specialties. In South Florida, the saying is "You have to go north to go South," but Tom Jenkins will save you the trip. Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q is located at 1236 S. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-522-5046, or visit tomjenkinsbbq.net.
4. Dixie Pig: Lots of places serve Carolina barbecue sauce, but few actually specialize in Carolina barbecue itself. The 21-year-old Dixie Pig has been serving pork marinated in a special vinegar-based sauce, then slow-cooked with hickory wood and served with a no-mayo, vinegar-based coleslaw. It's a taste of the country. Dixie Pig is located at 4495 N. Dixie Highway in Oakland Park. Call 954-772-5977, or visit dixiepigbarbeque.com.
3. Blue Willy's Barbecue: This much-beloved barbecue truck might be on a short hiatus — owner Will Banks is currently in the process of renovating a new brick-and-mortar location that's expected to open sometime in July — but it's known for its awesome celebration of different styles of barbecue. Banks uses a combination of hickory and pecan woods to slow-cook his simply prepared — only salt and pepper as seasoning — Texas-style brisket, Carolina-style pulled pork, and spare ribs. Homemade sauces — from Carolina (mustard and vinegar bases) to white Alabama sauce (a tangy mayonnaise-based sauce) for chicken — are served on the side. Blue Willy's will be located at 1386 S. Federal Highway in Pompano Beach. Call 954-224-6120, or visit facebook.com/bluewillys.
2. Hickory Sticks BBQ: New Times named this Best Barbecue in our annual awards last month, and that's because Hickory Sticks serves some of the most authentic Texas-style barbecue around. The spot uses a combination of hickory and oak logs, which complement the signature brisket and pork with just the right amount of smoky flavor. After a lengthy slow-cooking process, the meat is basted with just a touch of Texas-style tomato-based barbecue sauce, adding a delicate juicy flavor. Delicious, nontraditional sauce options include spicy chipotle or fruity raspberry barbecue. Hickory Sticks BBQ is located at 899 E. Cypress Creek Road in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-916-7023, or visit hickorysticksbbq.com.
1. The Georgia Pig: Probably the oldest barbecue place to grace the South Florida landscape, the Georgia Pig has been winning the hearts and minds of porcine enthusiasts since 1953. The traditional Southern-style pork specialties are barbecued on an open, live-oak-fired pit and covered with the spot's signature sauce — a thin, tangy, and mustardy orange concoction that doesn't have the tomatoey flavor of many barbecue sauces. This is the ruler of South Florida barbecue, so don't be deterred by lines around the building at lunchtime. The Georgia Pig is located at 1285 S. State Road 7 in Davie. Call 954-587-4420, or visit facebook.com/page/Georgia-Pig-BBQ-Restaurant.