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10 Hottest BBQ Restaurants in Philadelphia

By Danya Henninger
July 14, 2014
Photo by: Danya Henninger

BBQ is better when it’s hot out. Maybe it’s because shorts and tanks give sauce-covered fingers less chances to leave streaks, or because smokers work better when they don’t have to battle outside chill. Whatever the reason, summer eating is all about good ‘cue.

Can you find it without going on vacation? Unequivocally, yes. From counter-service canteens to sit-down dining rooms to hole-in-the-wall take-out joints, here are the 10 hottest BBQ restaurants in Philadelphia.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Nick’s Charcoal Pit

    “Lose the oil...let us char-broil!” proclaims the menu at this Deep South Philly BBQ joint, and following those instructions is a very good idea (even the hot dog comes with crunchy black grill marks). Takeout or delivery is the name of the game, though there are a couple of seats if you just can’t wait to sink your teeth in.

    Don’t Miss: Babyback ribs are a good bet — order by the rack or by the pound — but the charbroiled filet tip sandwich is one of the best between-bread meals in the city (on a Sarcone’s Bakery roll, of course).
    Side Show: If you do get the ribs, definitely pair them with the coleslaw: creamy and crunchy and just the cooling, sweet match those umami-covered bones need.

    1242 Snyder Ave.; 215-271-3750

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse

    Brooke Higgins convinced North Carolinian husband Jim that her native Northeast Philadelphia was the place to put down roots for their BBQ restaurant, and the success of the sprawling warehouse eatery on Delaware Avenue has proved her right. The Monday night all-you-can-eat buffet at the BYO is legendary.

    Don’t Miss: Saucy, juicy pulled pork is a popular favorite, with good reason, but don’t overlook the smoked chicken wings — the perfect thing to get your meat feast started.
    Side Show: Though other toppings were tried when the joint first opened in 2002, it’s crispy fried onions that won the right to add crunch to the creamy, must-try mac ‘n’ cheese.

    7500 State Rd.; 215-333-9663

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Percy Street Barbecue

    In the three-plus years since opening on South Street, native Southerner Erin O’Shea has built on her preopening research trip to Texas with partner Michael Solomonov, so while the ‘cue here started as Lone Star classic, it has since expanded in style and quality. The best-in-the-city craft canned-beer list (more than 100 kinds and growing) is the perfect complement.

    Don’t Miss: Slabs of smoked brisket slapped on brown paper and served with three sauce types on the side will make any BBQ fan sigh happily (pictured at the top of this piece), and the free-range Amish chicken in Old Faithful sauce slides off the bone with surprising intensity of flavor.
    Side Show: The single-serving hot skillet of O’Shea’s jalapeño-cheddar cornbread is nearly a meal in itself.

    900 South St.; 215-625-8510

  • Phoebe’s BBQ

    Oklahoma-style “ribs with attitude” have been flying out of this South Street West storefront for 20 years now (just don’t always expect they’ll come with a smile; you were warned, after all). As of last year, the various saucy meats and sides also are available from the mobile food cart, usually piled on a roll, often together — get updates on location at @PhoebesBBQ

    Don’t Miss: Pulled pork is succulent and hearty — the one-lb. “meal deal” with two sides and cornbread will provide plenty of leftovers.
    Side Show: Mac ‘n’ cheese is the best bet, especially if you plan to mix it with the meat on your fork.

    2214 South St.; 215-546-4811

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Rex 1516

    Though high-end “Southern comfort” has been a theme of this South Street West spot since it opened, it was just last year that chef Justin Swain jumped into the true ‘cue game with a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker he calls "Rex2D2." When you’re craving the taste of real BBQ but also want nice flatware and excellent cocktails, this hits the mark.

    Don’t Miss: Creekstone beef brisket is a bit of heaven on a plate, smoked for 10 hours before being portioned and packed so it can be brought to temp to order while still staying juicy. There’s even some crispy bark surrounding the telltale pink smoke ring.
    Side Show: Baked beans made with burnt ends from the brisket are a solid choice, but the housemade Sriracha sauce threatens to steal the show.

    1516 South St.; 267-319-1366

  • Dickey’s BBQ

    Former corporate chef Ka-Ron Thomas launched this outpost of the Texas chain on South Street this February to satisfy his own craving for great BBQ at low prices, and he has succeeded in winning the value game. The narrow order counter is stocked from smokers in the back room, meat cut or pulled to order. Don’t forget to twist yourself a free cone of soft-serve on your way out.

    Don’t Miss: Our favorite — and the chef’s too — is the chicken breast, which is marinated in Italian spices before being hickory smoked. You might even forget to dip it in the sauce on the side.
    Side Show: Green beans swim in juice enhanced by chunks of both smoked ham and thick-cut bacon, which are like nuggets of treasure when one of them shows up on your fork.

    650 South St.; 267-273-0364

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Fette Sau

    Coffee grounds in the rub help give the sustainable smoked meats at this oversize Stephen Starr-Joe Carroll Fishtown ‘cue shack their unique taste. Fill your tray with mix-and-match BBQ and sides at the order counter (you pay by weight) and then stop by the whiskey- and beer-filled bar on your way to your picnic-table seat.

    Don’t Miss: Duroc pork belly is best enhanced by that signature rub, the java-infused dirt melting into the fatty edges and seeping through the seams of fall-apart meat.
    Side Show: If you like vinegary tang, the huge stalks of crunchy broccoli are for you. Only slightly less sharp, but just as good, is the German potato salad.

    1208 Frankford Ave.; 215-391-4888

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    The Twisted Tail

    Chef Leo Forneas works his in-kitchen charcoal grills as well as his smoker, and the meats he serves at this Headhouse Square juke joint cover styles from around the globe, from South American chorizo to Southern spareribs to Euro-style smoked duck hearts. Owner George Reilly’s extensive whiskey selection pairs well with any.

    Don’t Miss: Smoked pork sausage snaps open to give way to fall-apart crumbles of rich meat that begs to be tamed by its dressing of peaches and pickled mustard.
    Side Show: They’re not always on the menu — we tried them at the restaurant’s whole-suckling-pig dinner — but if you can, get the crispy Brussels sprouts, even if you’re not usually a fan.

    509 S. Second St.; 215-558-2471

  • The Lucky Well

    After he closed Rosey’s BBQ, Chad Rosenthal competed on Food Network Star, where he became known as “The BBQ King.” He’s filming his own show now, while also overseeing this relaxed Ambler dining room as pit master and "head honcho" of the Southern Pride smokers.

    Don’t Miss: Since the half-portions will do even enthusiastic eaters well, make sure both the Berkshire pork shoulder and the Creekstone Farms beef brisket land on your table.
    Side Show: Hushpuppies made with grilled bacon and poblano peppers hold together just well enough to dip them in the spicy agave syrup before they fall apart on your tongue.

    111 E. Butler Ave., Ambler; 215-646-4242

  • Zachary’s BBQ

    Chef-owner Keith Taylor learned his ‘cue skills from his grandmother down south, and his third-generation hickory smoking results in seven different “from the pit” meats at his counter-service BYO out in Norristown. Rotisserie chicken is also on offer, as are six different house sauces, from maple mustard to “Hot Kiss ‘n’ Vinegar.”

    Don’t Miss: St. Louis-style pork ribs are dry-rubbed and also glazed with a BBQ sauce, racks cut apart to order.
    Side Show: Collard greens are made with smoked turkey instead of pork, giving them a lighter, easier-to-eat flavor.

    1709 Markley St., Norristown; 610-272-1800

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Places Mentioned

Percy Street Barbecue

Barbecue • Bella Vista

Food22 Decor19 Service22 Cost$29
 
 
 
The Twisted Tail

Society Hill

Food23 Decor22 Service23 Cost$31
 
 
 
Fette Sau

Barbecue • Fishtown

Food24 Decor22 Service20 Cost$30
 
 
 
Rex 1516

American • Southwest Center City

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse

Barbecue • Northeast Philadelphia

Food25 Decor15 Service19 Cost$19
 
 
 
Nick's Charcoal Pit

American • South Philadelphia

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
 
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