The 10 Best BBQ Joints in Denver, According to a Local Expert
‘Black Smoke’ author and BBQ Expert Adrian Miller shares his local faves
Denver doesn’t have a reputation as a BBQ city like, say, Kansas City, Memphis, or Austin. But that doesn’t mean The Mile High lacks BBQ roots. Denver-based food writer, James Beard Award winner, and certified barbecue judge Adrian Miller recently released a new book, Black Smoke, which delves into the history, contributions, and innovations of Black barbecuers, pitmasters, and restaurateurs in the United States.
“Barbecue has very deep roots in the West,” Miller explains, “we were having barbecues in the 1860s; there’s even a newspaper article about a barbecue in Golden in 1863.” But as far as a modern scene, Denver’s was admittedly lacking. “I would say there were only three to four really good places to find barbecue in Denver up until the ‘90s, but then in the 2000s, the number started to proliferate.” Now, Miller believes, “Denver has experienced a barbecue renaissance.”
While Miller is a strong advocate for Denver to finally establish its own BBQ identity—the central Texas influence is indeed strong here—when it comes to delectable smoked meats, we’ve got some true must-trys right here in The Mile High City. So next time you’re craving ‘cue, dig in one spot at a time, ‘cause these Denver BBQ pros are serving up the brisket, smoked wings, and even burgers (made with ground brisket, of course) you need to be eating.
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.
How to order: Order via Toast for pickup and delivery
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.
How to order: Visit their website to order online for pickup
Back in 2015, Karl Fallenius (who spent time working under Aaron Franklin at Austin’s famed Franklin’s) started serving barbecue out of a food truck at Finn’s Manor and quickly gained a cult following. In 2017, that outpost closed and news of a permanent spot nearby on Larimer circulated among his smoked meat-seeking followers. In 2019, more than two years later, Owlbear finally really, truly made its comeback. “My favorite is the coffee-rubbed brisket,” Miller says, “but also the cheeseburgers,” which Fallenius makes with ground brisket and his signature rub. During the pandemic, Owlbear moved to a pickup only model, with all orders placed online, but they also got a little more creative with the offerings. Alongside the must-order brisket and burgers, look for vegetarian options like jackfruit and smoked crimini mushrooms, and specials like house made sausages and cheesesteaks made with smoked and confit brisket.
How to order: Order online for pickup
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?
How to order: Order online for pickup or get delivery via DoorDash
Chris Nicki had big culinary shoes to fill when he opened up Hank’s (named after his dachshund) in the space Solera occupied on Colfax for 16 years. But now, just over two years later, the neighborhood has embraced Hank’s—and Miller’s a fan too. “They’ve got a lot of great stuff, but I really enjoy the River Bear Meats hot links,” he says, along with another Tex-Mex mashup that makes for damn tasty eating, “the Frito pie topped with brisket.” They’re currently open 11 am ‘til sold out Wednesday - Sunday, so go in early for the best selection.
How to order: Call 720-277-3225 to order pickup
Located inside The Source Hotel, 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 pro tip: If you ask, you can get a mix of brisket and pulled pork on top.
How to order: Order online for curbside pickup or get delivery via DoorDash and UberEats
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).
How to order: Call to order pickup: 303-722-2226 for Denver and 303-794-9696 for Golden
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.
How to order: Call 303-799-4432 to order takeout
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 two locations in 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.
How to order: Order online for pickup or get delivery via DoorDash
Wayne's Smoke Shack
Hop in the car early for this one, ‘cause bottom line, “it’s worth the drive and worth the wait,” Miller says. Wayne's opens at 11 am Thursday - Saturday, and it's not unusual for them to sell out and close up early. Why? Their authentic Texas-style BBQ is made with care, and local ingredients including 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.
How to order: Order in person for a lunch fix, or email email@example.com to place an order over $100