The 11 Best BBQ Joints in Denver, According to a Local Expert
From Memphis dry ribs to tangy Carolina vinegar, these are your best bets for BBQ in Denver.
Denver’s no Kansas City, but it sure does foster some lean, mean, barbecuing machines. In addition to hosting an array of skilled pitmasters and smoking hot barbecue joints citywide, Denver is also home to Denver-based food writer, James Beard Award winner, and certified barbecue judge Adrian Miller. Miller’s 2021 book release, Black Smoke, highlights the history, evolution, and innovation of Black barbecuers and industry contributors throughout the US, and solidifies him as an expert on all things barbecue. And according to him, “Denver has experienced a barbecue renaissance.”
Though Denver’s barbecue scene is still a smoky, saucy mix of Southern flair meets Western influence and everything in-between, there are definitely some must-stop shops throughout the city that beckon from barbecue heaven. No matter your preference—hot wings, low and slow pulled pork, sauce on the side or right on top of everything—there’s a BBQ joint in Denver’s incredible food scene for you. Below are Miller’s picks, with first a few of our own as well.
Ragin' Hog BBQ
The first of our picks, this mom-and-pop-style, husband-and-wife-owned, Arkansas barbecue-slinging joint is definitely one to visit. Next year will mark a full decade that Ragin’ Hog has been in business, though Stacy and Colleen Van Tuyl have been cooking for their neighbors long before that. What to expect? Well, the ‘cue here has flavors and techniques spanning the South, from brisket and burnt ends to smoked chicken to hot links. Get yours between two buns or opt for the “Hog Pile” combo, with your choice of one meat and two sides. Definitely don’t skip the Collard Greens, Brunswick Stew, or rich Buttermilk Pie—if you’ve got any room left.
Post Oak Barbecue
Owner Nick Prince is originally from Fort Worth, but it was a trip back to Texas in 2008 that inspired him to pursue a newfound passion for BBQ. In 2019, that passion resulted in the opening of this spot where all meats are cooked in 100% wood pits using post oak directly from Austin. Miller is a fan of the St. Louis cut heritage pork spare ribs, and also recommends the BBQ tacos, “which is a very current trend in Austin, merging Tex-Mex with BBQ,” Miller explains. Proteins are also available loaded onto sandwiches, baked potatoes, and even their homemade jalapeño bacon “dirty” mac and cheese topped with crispy onions and barbecue sauce.
Rolling Smoke BBQ
Terry Walsh started Rolling Smoke as a food truck back in 2014 and now he and partner/GM Wade Williams have three brick and mortar locations: the original at the Stanley Marketplace, University & Dry Creek to the south, and the latest inside the city of Golden’s new food hall, Golden Mill. Everything here—including the baked beans, mac 'n cheese, and collard greens—are slow cooked over pecan wood for hours. You can load up pretty much any combo of meats and sides on a plate. Miller recommends you “go for the pork spare ribs and brisket,” first.
AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q
From square cut, thin tavern-style Chicago pies served at Grabowski’s to Budlong’s Nashville hot chicken, restaurateur Jared Leonard has brought a lot of flavor to the Mile High. At his BBQ joint across from the Evans light rail station, meats are smoked central-Texas style over whole logs of Texas post oak. “They have two specials that I love, their pastrami and their beef ribs,” says Miller—if you catch those on the menu, they’re a must. And did we mention their custard-filled cornbread?
Located inside The Source Hotel (though outposts now include Fort Collins and Junction Food and Drink), Smōk sits within sight of the former location of Acorn (now Bellota) where Chef Bill Espiricueta worked for six years before opening his BBQ joint in 2018. Espiricueta is from Texas and learned about the art of barbecue in Kansas City, so it’s not surprising that his offerings span regional influences. Along with all the meats by the pound, you can also find tacos, smoked wings, and both red and green chili. Miller’s choice? “I go for their BBQ nachos,” he says, along with a tip: If you ask, you can get a mix of brisket and pulled pork on top.
Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Q
When talking about defining Denver-style BBQ, Miller thinks that this spot owned by Texas-raised Coy Webb and his Colorado native wife Rachael is leading the way. “What I love is that they do pulled lamb and bison ribs, they do Colorado BBQ,” he explains. Even their sides like the smoked poblano mac 'n cheese and house-made green chile potato chips have a Southwestern flair. Also, you can get their “BBQ sammies” made with a mix of beef and pork smothered in BBQ sauce and served on a hamburger bun for just $3 on Saturdays and Sundays at their original location near DU and Tuesdays - Sundays at their newer spot in Golden (which is also happens to serve booze too).
Jabo's Bar-Be Q
This spot is located in a South Denver strip mall, so it's easy to overlook, but then you'd be missing out on owner Dwight "Jabo" Lawson’s hickory-smoked offerings and 20+ sauce varieties. We know, purists think sauce belongs on the side (or not on the table at all), but Jabo’s sauces are a treat on their own. They run the gamut, from choices like smoky mango and pecan to mustard-based, all of which can be mixed if you're feeling adventurous and come in mild, medium, and hot varieties depending on your spice preference. Choose wisely then throw your sauce on the super-sized pulled pork sandwich—and absolutely opt for Carolina-style which comes complete with slaw on top. And don’t miss out on the real surprise—and Miller’s favorite item here—the magic that is Jabo's Utah Sconut, a donut-like treat smothered in honey butter.
GQue BBQ - Westminster
Originally from Missouri, owner Jason Ganahl knows his BBQ. And before opening his first location in Westminster, he took to the competitive barbecue circuit where the GQue team dominated many national and regional events. Now, you can get a taste of his slow-smoked eats anytime at four locations across the Denver Metro—they’ll also be serving up ‘cue during games and events at Mile High Stadium. The menu has all the classic meaty choices you could want all available by the pound, quarter-pound, or sandwich style. But the can’t-miss move? “Their smoked chicken wings are pretty bomb,” says Miller.
Wayne's Smoke Shack
Miller says this one is “worth the drive and worth the wait,” and while the wait might currently be a little longer as Wayne’s works on reopening after Marshall Fire damage, showing up to support it when it does open will mean selling out fast. Typically opening at 11 am Thursday to Saturday, Wayne’s authentic Texas-style BBQ is made with care and local ingredients include meat from area ranchers. This place is gimmick-free; it's all about that smoky flavor taking the lead. And it will lead you straight to a serious case of meat sweats as you gorge on brisket, pork ribs, beef sausage, and more. Smoked catfish and salmon also make appearances along with scratch-made sides like creamy mac 'n cheese, and slow-cooked green beans. Just remember to save room for a scoop of peach cobbler for dessert.
Rollin' Bones BBQ
There might be a lot of food trucks roaming around Denver, but you’ll certainly want to track down our second pick. This fully rigged smoker-on-wheels serves up standards like beef brisket (slow-cooked at least 14 hours on Texan mesquite) and Carolina pulled pork alongside Western specialties like Colorado lamb ribs and mouthwatering rotating specials like smoked Oaxaca hot wings, among others. Pair literally any main with four-cheese mac or hickory-smoked BBQ beans and you’re done for (in a good way). Follow the truck for updates on where to find it.
Smokin' Yard Bbq
Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram and @e_buehler_ on Twitter for more updates on Denver food and other Mile High shenanigans.