At first glance, it may seem as though Cleveland is seriously lacking in quality BBQ options, especially when compared to our friends down south. And that’s because... well, we kind of are. Luckily, the allure of delicious, slow-smoked meats and stick-to-your-ribs sides seems to be catching on up north, thanks to a handful of establishments doing it right. Here are nine of the best BBQ spots in Cleveland (plus one coming soon):
There is perhaps no name more synonymous with Cleveland barbecue than Hot Sauce Williams. This Cleveland institution first gained national notoriety when Anthony Bourdain and Michael Symon visited for an episode of No Reservations. Since then, it's made rounds on national TV, with appearances on Man vs. Food and a nod on The Today Show. Aside from the barbecue, don’t miss the famous Polish Boy, a kielbasa sausage covered in fries and slaw, stuffed in a bun, and doused in spicy barbecue sauce.
Behind Cleveland Clinic’s mammoth campus, it's easy to miss Doc and Lennies, but it sure is a shame if you do. It's quietly pumping out superb homestyle meals with Southern flair, including dripping smokehouse ribs. The portions are huge and the staff is super friendly. This is one of Cleveland's best-kept saucy secrets.
Pitmaster William Boyd has a passion for fresh food, and that passion is evident in most everything that emerges from Angry Barbeque’s kitchen. Friendly staff are happy to walk you through a lengthy chalkboard menu, featuring all of the usual meaty suspects, each cut smoked in its own secret marinade, plus creamy mac and cheese (that you can and should get topped with brisket and BBQ sauce), and kick-ass cornbread.
Let’s face it: the primary allure of The Brew Kettle is, well, the brews. But if you give a man a beer, he's going to ask for a plate of food... eventually. Luckily, The Brew Kettle makes standout pulled pork and barbecued ribs, alongside all the rest of its bar-food staples. Those who are feeling brave should try the barbecue spaghetti, pasta tossed with slow-smoked pork and secret sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and scallions, and served with a side of slaw. It's like Cincy-style chili, but way, way better.
Small and ultra welcoming, The Rib Cage could easily serve as every local's favorite neighborhood bar. But it’s the food -- locally sourced, sustainable, St. Louis-style smoked meat dishes, plus a bevy of sides, including bourbon baked beans and crunchy, sweet corn on the cob -- that entices you to stick around for much more than the booze (meaning bourbon). And don’t pass up on an order of the flavor-packed wings, easily some of the best in Cleveland.
This tiny takeout place is seasonal and primarily known for its hot dogs and ice cream. But trust us: you’ll want to forego those in favor of the absolutely delicious barbecue. Strap on your bib and tuck into a messy Jimbo sandwich -- slow-smoked beef brisket, topped with horseradish sauce, Gorilla BBQ sauce, mozzarella, and pickles. Or try the Bird Town sandwich, which is smoked chicken breast with chipotle cheddar cheese sauce and pineapple.
All of the elements are in place here to be everyone’s favorite barbecue restaurant: a clean, comfortable atmosphere, friendly staff, and most importantly, some damn fine barbecue. Opt for the tender beef brisket and a sampling of sides, including rich mac and cheese and crispy fried okra. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a gigantic slice of the peach cobbler, which you definitely won’t need, but certainly must have.
Since launching a food truck more than two years ago, owners Shane Vidovic and Ted Dupaski have quickly gained notoriety for their legit slow-smoked, Texas-style barbecue (just look at the charred crust on that brisket), so much so that Proper Pig is set to open its own shop in Lakewood this spring. That’s great news for those who prefer their barbecue stationary, with a cool side of beer, or bacon on a stick.
At first glance, this smokehouse and microbrewery may appear to be planted in the middle of nowhere. However, the hickory-smoked meats and secret recipe barbecue sauce, excellent craft brews (mostly made on location), and some crazy good wings (really, though, don’t miss those wings), make Lager Heads well worth the trek.
OK, so this is more of an honorable mention, since Mabel's doesn’t open until April 11. But since pretty much everything local celebrity chef Michael Symon touches turns to gold, we’re certain this will be no different. Therefore, no “Best BBQ in Cleveland” round-up would be complete without mention of one of this year’s most anticipated restaurant openings. We’ll be first in line.
1. Hot Sauce Williams7815 Carnegie Ave, Cleveland
2. Doc & Lennies Restaurant8933 Cedar Ave, Cleveland
3. Angry Barbeque4640 Belden Village St NW, Canton
4. The Brew Kettle8377 Pearl Rd, Strongsville
5. The Rib Cage2214 Lee Rd, Cleveland Hts
6. The Gorilla12102 Madison Ave, Lakewood
7. La Soul1001 E Tallmadge Ave, Akron
8. Proper Pig Smokehouse17100 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood
9. Lagerhead's Smokehouse2832 Abbeyville Rd, Medina
10. Mabel's BBQ2050 Elyria 4th St, Cleveland
Hot Sauce Williams serves hearty portions with a vinegar-based sauce at a reasonable price. The interior is very casual and old school, and the menu offers your classic comfort food. The fried chicken is some of the best in Cleveland, and also try the Polish hot dog— it was featured on Man v. Food. Best of all, though, may be its drive thru option. But you may not get far before you have to turn the car around for seconds.
This Fairfax joint should be your go-to place for good eats in large proportions. The family-style restaurant offers Cajun, Creole, Mexican and Italian options. The rustic interior features exposed brick walls and calm green decor on the first floor, with an overlooking balcony on the second. It’s great for on-to-go, too, with quick service and always-hot meals. Look out for daily deals on seasonal specialties. D&L is open all day Tuesday through Friday and for lunch on Saturday.
Angry Barbecue marinates its meat in a secret recipe for a lengthly 72 hours, setting this Canton favorite far above the competition. The decor, like its name, is fun with an attitude: a snarling pig face greets you as you walk in. Try the BBQ Fried Baked Chicken—chicken is placed in a smoker for an hour, cut into nuggets, and batter fried. The spicy sauces are appropriately named “Sweet,” “Angry” and ”Mad as Hell,” and the same goes for weekly specials, like Manic Monday Mac & Cheese. Eat up at Angry BBQ and get happy.
The Brew Kettle in Strongsville is the city’s only all-in-one restaurant, brewery and winery, but when it’s done right, all you need is one. The restaurant features smokehouse and other American fare including wings, quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers, flatbreads and salads. The family-friendly spot has a “Little Brewers” kids menu, too. One of the coolest draws to TBK is that you’re allowed to make your own beer!
The Rib Cage is serving up authentic, seriously smokin’ BBQ. A supporter of Community Greenhouse Partners, TRC stocks its meat from sustainable and ethical suppliers for a noticeably more delicious taste in every bite. The modest joint located south of Cedar is welcoming and homey with a blues soundtrack playing always. The St. Louis-style ribs are a must try, and choose from one of nine sauces (or mix and match) to go on top. And for your late-night cravings, the Cleveland Heights BBQ joint serves dinner until 2am daily.
You know you’re at the right place when you see a 10 ft gorilla sculpture in the parking lot. The strictly carry-out spot specializes in hotdogs, bbq and ice cream. A Southern-inspired menu, operating under the name BoBo’s Smokin’ BBQ, offers sides, burgers and smoked meat by the pound. Try the Prime King— for only $5, you get a delicious sandwich with a quarter-pound of thick-sliced smoked beef brisket paired with Swiss cheese, sliced onions and BoBo’s Groovy BBQ (Kentucky Bourbon, peach puree and espresso). Damn good.
La Soul makes everything fresh from scratch. The family-friendly joint is great for groups with plenty of restaurant tables (versus picnic tables) and the service is attentive. Try the catfish nuggets or “soul rolls”— smoked turkey and cabbage stuffed into a fried roll, a Southern-style take on Chinese egg rolls.
There's a proper way to do Central Texas barbecue -- salt-and-pepper-rubbed and cooked over an oak wood fire -- and an improper way. You can bet that the meat coming out of Proper Pig Smokehouse falls into the former category. After delighting shoppers from a food truck at the Cleveland Flea, the down-home barbecue specialist set up permanent shop in Lakewood. There are four pillars to the menu: pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, beef brisket, and Texas hot link sausage. Sides like baked beans and mustardy potato salad are available, but don't overcrowd your plate -- enjoy your food the Central Texan way and let the meat shine through.
Medina's local craft brewery serves BBQ and other American fare alongside tasty, good-quality beer. The rustic interior with woodsy decor is fitting, and TVs line the bar with a dozen taps. Inside the restaurant itself, is a small pilot brewery for one-offs and experimental beers, a perfect twist for your can’t-go-wrong meal.
James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Symon is inventing his own style of barbecue at this Gateway District restaurant. The so-called Cleveland style incorporates Eastern European spices and mixes Ohio’s own Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard into the barbecue sauce. At Mabel’s, Symon is serving up brisket, pork belly, turkey, kielbasa, and ribs -- in sandwiches or with a side of sauerkraut and pickles. The drinks menu is heavy on whiskey and beer, the latter of which includes Midwestern craft brews and special Belgian sours. As for seating, the industrial space is filled with communal tables.