Restaurant Reviews

The Burning Oak's Barbecue Is Low and Slow and On-the-Go

Now here's something you don't see every day: drive-through barbecue. But there it is, a window at the west side of the Burning Oak's red stucco building in North Lauderdale, a spot that once housed a Fish & Hook.

Today, customers can roll through and order massive smoked turkey legs, platters of beef brisket, pulled-pork sandwiches, and even barbecue-spiced rock shrimp — all without leaving the car.


Ironically, the only item on Burning Oak's menu that can't be ordered from your Kia happens to be a burger. The brisket burger is a meaty monstrosity of four ounces of brisket layered atop an eight-ounce beef patty — a hulking creation that stands several inches tall, a literal tower of meat that teeters between two Kaiser buns. With all that meat, the sandwich can take up to 15 minutes to prepare — too long for a busy drive-through lunch rush.

"When we first opened the food truck, it was more about our passion for good barbecue. The truck was a hobby."

tweet this

According to co-owner Craig Young, the burger is even better when topped with a scoop of the house mac 'n' cheese. Face it: You don't want that in your car, and eating it while driving would be a hazard worse than texting.

Young, who opened the Burning Oak with friend and business partner Julio Villarreal in early March, should know. He created the burger, and it has been one of the most popular menu items so far.

The two locals developed their take on Southern 'cue when they began serving in 2013 from a food truck, Legend's BBQ. The name was a reference to the three "legendary" meats (chicken, beef, and pork) that have been feeding the world's population for thousands of years.

When the business went from hobby to full-time job after a successful first year, Young and Villarreal decided to expand from their red wood cabin on wheels outfitted with a custom-built smoker on deck to a standalone brick-and-mortar establishment. The pair chose a building at the corner of West McNab Road and SW 81st Street, at the Shoppes of McNab just west of the Florida Turnpike. The location — with no barbecue restaurants for nearly ten miles in each direction — was intentional. But the drive-through window wasn't.

Today, it's one of the many things that set this barbecuing duo apart from other, more established 'cue joints. The duo also stands as one of just a handful of area food-truck proprietors to make the transition to a store in a few short years.

"When we first opened the food truck, it was more about our passion for good barbecue. The truck was a hobby," says Young, who left a career in banking to work the truck — and now restaurant — full-time. "As time went on, it went from a hobby to a real business, and eventually we decided to go all out and open a full-service restaurant."

Like most Florida barbecue chefs to sprout up in recent years, Young and Villarreal consider themselves barbecue lovers first and restaurateurs second. After years of trial and error and research, the pair have come up with a few secret steps that help ensure that their 'cue comes out different from all the rest.

It starts with the wood, oak sourced from Georgia. It lends the perfect smoky essence, says Young, a flavor so intense they honored their establishment with its name. While the beef brisket cooks low and slow overnight, prep and cook for the ribs, chicken, turkey, and pork begin at 5 a.m. each day, meaning the smell of cooking meat continually permeates the air on this block.

There are also the rubs, one each for pork and beef. The key here is balance — neither too salty nor too sweet — a blend of 12 spices that infuses the meats for up to an hour through a thick coating of yellow Hellman's deli mustard. It may seem like a questionable practice, but Young swears it helps the seasoning permeate the meat faster.

The shrimp and beef rubs are also used to form the base of the coating for the fried green tomatoes, thick-cut beefy ones that fry up sweet and tangy beneath a spicy blend. It hardens into a thick shell, allowing the tomatoes to stay tender and juicy, enough so that you almost don't need the homemade chipotle mayo dipping sauce.

Young also isn't afraid to share his final secret: apple juice. It's sprayed on the meat once every hour throughout the smoking process, its sugary juice adding an extra touch of flavor.

The Burning Oak specialties include smoky St. Louis-style spare ribs. The restaurant goes through 100 racks a day, long, flat bones served dry, carrying pork marbled with fat. Like any good spare rib, the meat won't fall from the bone, but the outer layer will give a satisfying "pop" as you bite in, revealing tender pink meat below.

There are also very South Florida, mojo-infused pulled pork and jerk-spiced chicken, each offering a hint of Caribbean tang. Order both with a combo meal, and get the macaroni 'n' cheese side. A four-cheese blend of two types of cheddar, Swiss, and American forms a smooth, butter-based cream sauce that coats tender elbow pasta and the occasional hunk of homemade cornbread, used to add texture and a touch of sweet in place of the usual bread crumbs.

Come Thursday, the best option is to get in line for Flintstones-sized oak-smoked beef ribs, served two per order with two sides and a thick slice of cornbread. The last meat to cook that day, it is unloaded from the smoker around 1 p.m. Fattier than pork ribs, each two-pound Brontosaurus-like bone comes out crusted in a thick red seasoning, delivering a salt-and-pepper bite.

It's best to eat these with your hands, ripping meat from bone with just your teeth like some ravenous caveman. The fat will run like a greasy river down your hands and wrists, but it's worth it for just a few minutes of unbridled meat-eating, and no one will question your manners.

While plenty of longtime South Florida barbecue joints are still known for the "best" ribs, pulled pork, or brisket, the Burning Oak is quietly competing for its own such title. Above all, its mission: to deliver thoughtful, high-quality barbecue to an area of Broward that could use a little more meat. With a few quirky cooking techniques, Young and Villarreal are living out that mission well without relying on the regional trappings of big-shot barbecue cities. Think inspiration, not imitation.

And, thanks to that drive-through window, now getting good barbecue in west Broward is even easier than you'd imagine.

"It doesn't take 20 years of experience to know what's right and wrong," says Young. "It takes passion, dedication, and love for what you do."

The Burning Oak
8006 W. McNab Road, North Lauderdale. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-933-1944.

  • Fried green tomatoes $5
  • St. Louis ribs $12/$21 (half or full rack)
  • Mac 'n' cheese $5
  • Beef rib $25 (two ribs, two sides, and cornbread)
  • Peanut butter pie $4

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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