There is no correlation between what a barbecue place looks like, and how good it actually is. This place was the perfect illustration when it was literally just a shed beside a busy road, behind a hotel. Now it’s a new, cabin-style building next to the massive, custom-built smoker which is what matters here. Half racks of ribs and half chickens seem enormous, and the sauce is piquant and peppery with a hint of sweet molasses, and just enough heat. Pork and brisket are smoked Carolina-style for 20 hours. Also, great cornbread. Also, great coleslaw. Service here is takeout only, though there are picnic tables outside.
Spork Pit, Garfield
One of Pittsburgh’s top restaurateurs — Christian Frangiadis of Spork — is really into barbecue. It didn’t really fit Spork, so he decided to build a whole new restaurant across the street, in a long-abandoned building. It’s Austin, Texas-styled BBQ, inspired by the mighty, revered Franklin’s. Brisket is smoked over oak and cherry wood, in a custom smoker built in Houston. There’s a beautiful patio that extends out to Penn Avenue, with garage doors leading to a stylishly minimalist interior. The specialties are beef brisket, turkey, sausage, pulled pork and ribs. For dessert, try the smoked banana pudding.
Pork & Beans, Downtown
It’s Downtown stylish on the outside and sweaty Texas juke joint on the inside, with giant communal wooden tables and an actual chain-link fence. A culinary all-star team, including chefs Richard DeShantz and Keith Fuller, put their considerable talents into the service of perfecting smoked meats at Pork & Beans. Pulled pork, spare ribs, pastrami pork belly and beer can chicken are served with potato rolls and house-made pickles. Of course, there’s plenty of creative license allowed here — Korean pulled pork with green tomato kimchi makes an appearance on the menu, as do jalapeno crab fritters and pork belly potato skins.
Walter’s Southern Kitchen, Lawrenceville
Southern cooking from New York City? Why not, when it’s this good. The team from popular Morgan’s in Brooklyn liked what they saw in Lawrenceville, and turned an old car dealership into one of the nicest indoor/outdoor patios in Pittsburgh. Walter’s design is heavy on the reclaimed wood and corrugated metal. Now it’s cold, so there’s a giant green tent up in front. But come summer the outdoor patio will likely be a hotspot. Dry-rub Texas-style barbecue is the focus here. Brisket is the star, but try the smoked pork shoulder on a brioche bun, with a light, vinegary coleslaw on top. Bottles of BBQ sauce are handy at each table for just the right dosage — there’s a smoky, sweet one and a slightly spicier, peppery one.
Z-Best Barbecue, Uptown
Something about standing around smoking meat all day tenderizes the folks who do barbecue; they’re rarely in a bad mood. Z-Best is extra-friendly, and they’re patiently accustomed to big crowds from PPG Paints Arena next door. The dry-rub smoked ribs are falling off the bone, and the wings are best with a honey mustard sauce. Some of the best sides in town are here, including cabbage, sweet baked beans, cornbread and potato salad.