Greater Boston’s barbecue scene is getting some fresh meat. In February, Chris Schlesinger announced he was selling perhaps the region’s most inventive barbecue joint, East Coast Grill in Inman Square, to several staffers. Larry Jimerson shuttered Larry J’s House of Q in Chelsea last month — less than two years after opening — to break ground on Larry J’s BBQ Cafe on the South Boston waterfront. And last week, Michael Schmidt wrapped up construction on his long-awaited Union Square spot, the Bearded Pig, with hopes to open soon. Even standbys Redbones and Blue Ribbon diversified, joining the food truck frenzy. Take a tour of nine restaurants and food trucks that have opened recently, hoping to out-smoke the area’s best.
Blackstrap BBQ 47 Woodside Ave., Winthrop
Blackstrap has the pedigree to be outstanding. Chef Chris Thompson and his partner Kate Economides met while working at Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill. Economides and her husband, Jim, opened and sold the All Star Sandwich Bar before joining Thompson in bringing barbecue to sleepy Winthrop two years ago. Rather than sticking with one region’s barbecue, they cherry-pick, exploring methods from the Carolinas, Texas, Memphis, and Kansas City, Mo. Favorites such as burnt ends of brisket ($12.99 single meat plate; $14.99 duo; $15.99 trio) get the most attention, but more unusual fare dots the menu, like the Celtic ($10.99), a smoked corn beef sandwich with fried egg, coleslaw, and mustard, or the Hog ($7.99 solo; $10.99 plate), a kielbasa sausage wrapped in bacon, smoked and deep-fried, served on a roll. Both dishes were conceived while toying around on slow nights, Economides says. At this mostly takeout joint, experimentation is the name of the game.
T he Red-Eyed Pig
1753 Centre St., West Roxbury
This tiny Carolina-style takeout spot, which opened in West Roxbury Center late last year, clearly encourages eating with your hands. Only flimsy plastic silverware is offered and the poor forks threaten to snap under the weight of bulky beef brisket ($12.95), charred outside with a moist center. Meaty ribs ($14 half rack, $24 full rack) have very little fat. Equally generous Uncle Jim’s smoky fried chicken ($10.95 half, $16.95 whole) and smoked chicken ($9.95 half, $15.95 whole) lean heavily on the house-smoked flavor, but they are perfectly cooked throughout. Not everything measures up to the meats. Most sides are merely passable, and in the case of the cheese spinach, don’t bother. One item stands out in name and taste: green chili and pork belly doughnuts ($6.50, pictured above), deep fried with farm cheese, lemon, and smoked paprika salt, then drizzled with garlic aioli.
Sweet Cheeks Q
1381 Boylston St., Boston
Come for the reputation, stay for the biscuits. Tiffani Faison of “Top Chef” opened the most-anticipated barbecue joint in the region next to Fenway Park in November, but it came with a price. That is, it’s quite a bit more expensive than your standard barbecue fare. You’ll still get your money’s worth at her Texas-style restaurant, even though portions are not as large as advertised. The exception are enormous, delicious biscuits ($10 for a bucket of four), served with honey butter. Meats, which can be ordered for group prices, stand out: stringy pulled chicken, perfectly tender brisket, and pork ribs. It’s not flawless: a turkey leg ($16 platter) is splintered and dangerous to eat, though the meat is quite good. All in all, Sweet Cheeks lives up to its hype.
347 Great Road, Bedford
You’re clearly in the suburbs at Firebox, which faces a McDonald’s and closes at 8 p.m. on weeknights (we were turned away on our first attempt). The menu reflects its surroundings, pairing dry-rubbed barbecue with odd choices like Tex-Mex and falafel. The mind-set at this spot, opened by partners David Goldstone and Bryan McConnaughey in 2009, is not by-the-book barbecue; it’s survival at any cost. St. Louis pork ribs ($13.79 third-rack, $16.89 half-rack, $28.99 full rack) are the best meat on the menu, despite being quite tough. The pulled pork sandwich ($7.99, pictured above) is too aggressively smoked, courtesy of their Southern Pride smoker. As we pay, we’re handed a frequent customer card that saves $5 after 10 visits. When you’re spitting distance from the Burlington Mall and chains like Chili’s, you need to get creative to keep afloat.
Big Moe’s M+M Ribs truck
For times and locations,
The truck certainly isn’t new, but its accessibility has boomed. Owner Maurice “Big Moe” Hill was years ahead of the food truck trend, serving customers curbside from lot locations in Quincy and Dorchester for nearly three decades. Last summer, his truck became a fixture at the SoWa Open Market on Sundays and this year, Moe’s took to Boston’s streets. Now, Hill leaves most of the day-to-day work to his grandkids, Geovanni and Aishah, who have helped establish a marketing and Internet presence. But the food remains the same. If the legendary pork ribs ($8 tray, $11 half-rack, $20 whole rack) run out at SoWa, the beef brisket sandwich ($6) is an excellent backup, sweet and mildly spicy. Like good Southern barbecue, you can wash it down with a tall glass of sweet tea ($2). Even with a changing of the guard, Big Moe still sits in the driver’s seat, overlooking the operation that bears his motto on its uniforms: “Eat well, stay fit . . . die anyway.”
For times and locations, followTwitter@bbqsmith
The Jamaica Plain husband-wife team Tom and Lisa Smith opened this truck last summer, with Tom bringing experience from such hot spots as Formaggio Kitchen and Hungry Mother. They chose barbecue for its mass appeal. “Oh my God, that looks so good,” a couple next to us at the SoWa Open Market exclaims as the “Slawich” ($6) arrives on a bun, heaped with smoked chicken, coleslaw, garlic pickles, and barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, the taste doesn’t live up to the eye test, but the barbecue pulled pork sandwich ($6), the most popular item, exceeds all expectations. It’s topped with soft onions, garlic pickles, and sauce. The surprise hit is the veggie taco ($3), which was created by one of the truck’s regulars and features a corn tortilla with Dighton’s Buckle Farm greens, beans, smoked cheese, cilantro, roasted tomato salsa, pickled cabbage, and avocado-lime cream. Sure, it’s not typical barbecue fare, but when you’re lured to this truck with a vegetarian in the mix, it’s a godsend.
Redbones Food Truck and Rib Shack
300 Athenaeum St., Cambridge
For times and locations of truck, follow Twitter@redbonestruck
As the restaurant is often packed, Redbones introduced two on-the-go alternatives last summer, stripping down its menu for a roving truck and a rib shack in Kendall Square that closes for winter. The food lives up to the restaurant predecessor for the most part. In fact, there may be some subtle benefits to being outside the restaurant, with pulled chicken ($7) picking up some extra flavor from stewing. However, the macaroni and cheese ($5 pint), one of the highlights of the Somerville location, suffers, as it is congealed and fairly cold. The famous St. Louis ribs ($6 quarter-rack, $12 half-rack, $22 full rack) are delicious, with loose meat and only a bit of fat. The truck also outduels its competitors in one key category: to-go packaging, replacing flimsy fair-style boats with durable containers.
Blue Ribbon BBQ Trailer
262 Second Ave, Needham
Like the Redbones Rib Shack, this trailer doesn’t move much. Since May, it’s been camped near an industrial park in Needham, serving a condensed version of the menu offered at the brick-and- mortar locations in West Newton and Arlington. Smoke permeates everything from the meats to the cornbread, thanks to the onboard Texas-made smoker bought by owner Geoff Janowski, who was inspired by trailers during a trip to the Lone Star State. The Kansas City burnt ends sandwich ($8) rises to the top, served on a plain white bun, meat shredded while not overly-torched. A pulled chicken sandwich ($8) is surprisingly chunky, and the most smoky meat on the menu. Memphis dry-rubbed pork ribs ($13 third-rack platter) are extremely fatty, but colossal. And lurking like a prize at the bottom of a cereal box, a piece of white bread soaks up the flavors of the meat platters.
Glenn Yoder can be reached at email@example.com.