From Memphis to Texas to Alabama and back to our own backyard, Detroit has attracted pit stylings for as long as folks have been migrating here for auto jobs. We all have our favorite spots -- some are tourist destinations; others are holes in the wall only appreciated if you happen to live down the street and can get a whiff of the smoker. Lucky for you, we've rounded up the best of them.
When you’re looking for a Southern-style, vinegar-based BBQ that’s a step away from the sweeter sauces around town, you’ll want to go for this North End, family-owned spot, known for its succulent rib tips.
Check out the smoky, ribs-done-proper that come out of Vicki's smokehouse, which have caught the attention of the likes of Anthony Bourdain, who gushes over all things Detroit comfort food.
A place that tackles nearly every style of barbecue, cranking out moist and tender Carolina pulled pork, Texas beef brisket, and Kansas City burnt ends. Order any of it in your burritos, sandwiches, and the daily specials that lunchers swear by.
Food trucks are almost a cliché in Detroit, but when it comes to brisket with a nice protein-to-fat ratio, you'll gladly seek out Detroit BBQ Company on the GPS, often found at the Royal Oak Farmers Market and other foodie events. Beware: It routinely sell out faster than you can say meat sweats.
Some say Slows helped put Detroit back on the foodie map. Given the line that’s always spilling over here, you’ll understand why, with its wide selection of ribs, brisket, signature sweet and spicy sauces, and local brews.
This Eastern Market staple is a gathering place for folks with a craving of classic BBQ, wings, live music, and cheap cocktails.
Think Elvis meets classic BBQ. Old-style ribs and brisket, plus barbecue-stuffed egg rolls, and a cool rocker vibe. Deep in Ferndale on Nine Mile.
Texas-style barbecue in Detroit is hard to come by, which is what makes Lockhart’s so special. Dry rubbed and slow cooked for upwards of 14 hours, you’ll find nothing but classic flavor in the ever-trendy Royal Oak.
Shelby Township (& other locations)
Think chicken and waffles, heavenly brisket sandwiches that come with smoked au jus, and you’ll understand why this chain works so well in metro Detroit.
If you’ve ever come across Stonewood proprietor Gary Wakeford, you’ll know the love and care that goes into his meaty ribs. They’re marinated and smoked, giving them a rich flavor that lingers in your mouth for days.
Sweetwater Tavern is primarily known for its award-winning chicken wings, but don’t let that deter you from assuming that you can't get your barbecue fix here. Get the rib tips and wings combo and you’ve landed upon a blissful meaty match
Put a pin in the gentrification of Greektown with the renaming of the eponymous casino to Jack. Red Smoke Barbecue has that upscale vibe and the typography to match the neighborhood, but the BBQ, taking on nearly every regional style, is solid. Watch for the regular specials, like sliders in your choice of BBQ-marinated meats.
It's outside of Detroit proper, but Union Woodshop is the haul that Detroit's pitmasters demand you visit. The chefs are methodical about their green hickory-smoked traditional BBQ. Regionalia is captured in its sauces, from Decatur, Alabama (mayo-based, peppery and tart) to our backyard in Hell, Michigan (laced with ghost peppers). The kitchen takes as much care with the rest of its menu covering just about any type of food you could possibly want -- pizza, sandwiches, burgers, salads -- and it's all legitimately good.
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Serena Maria Daniels is a freelance writer and editor in Detroit who would rather be licking her fingers of BBQ sauce than deal with angry emails from her editors. Follow her saucy exploits at @serenamaria36.
1. Parks Old Style BBQ7444 Beaubien St, Detroit
2. Vicki's Barbeque3845 W Warren Ave, Detroit
3. Lazybones Smokehouse27475 Groesbeck Hwy, Roseville
4. Slows Bar BQ2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit
5. Bert's Marketplace2727 Russell St, Detroit
6. Zeke's R&R BBQ240 W Nine Mile Rd, Ferndale
7. Lockhart's BBQ202 E 3rd St, Royal Oak
8. Bad Brad's BBQ6525 23 Mile Rd, Shelby
9. Stonewood Smokehouse28775 Utica Rd, Roseville
10. Sweetwater Tavern400 E Congress St, Detroit
11. Redsmoke BBQ573 Monroe St, Detroit
12. Union Woodshop18 S Main St, Clarkston
Parks has been serving hearty Southern-style BBQ since 1964. The casual joint is famous for its rib slabs smothered in sauce and served with your choice of two sides. If you want it all, Parks offers combo platters with several meats, but save room for one of five comfort desserts, including peach cobbler and sweet potato pie.
Vicki’s is a hole-in-the-wall hometown legend among BBQ lovers and locals. Aside from the large “V” sign, the red brick building is nondescript. TV chef Anthony Bourdain stopped in for a special episode of CNN’s “Parts Unknown”— so you know the food is damn good. The no-frills menu is straightforward and short, but each offering is done right.
They’re not lazy about their meats— from the delicious taste it’s clear Lazybones cares about slow cooking over Michigan applewood and preparing plates of glazed goodness. The smokehouse uses only quality ingredients like Black Angus Beef, Grad A Fresh Pork and Amish Country Chickens. The food from this hometown hero is so good we suggest the sampler platter. This carryout BBQ joint boasts Texas-worthy pulled pork and burnt ends, with a $5 bi-weekly special, and combo platters starting at $15. There is no indoor seating, so take your food to go, or enjoy it at a picnic table on their outdoor patio.
From the award-winning and rightfully TV-famous Yardbird sandwich to the 100+ beer selection, this pork-packed mainstay has thoroughly earned all the attention it gets. The Cooley’s (who own the place) have done almost as fine a job boosting other businesses in Corktown as they have boosting the average local waist size.
Bert’s Market Place is your all-in-one spot for food and entertainment. The restaurant is known for their juicy smoked BBQ ribs served with an original (secret) recipe sauce. The homestyle South food is seasoned to perfection and slow cooked on the spot. The family-friendly restaurant is perfect for lunch or dinner, or for late nights out (Bert’s is open until 3am on the weekends). For entertainment, there are weekly events including Monday Jazz performances, Friday ballroom dance lessons, and Saturday karaoke shows.
Zeke's R&R (rock 'n' roll) BBQ in Ferndale is surprisingly the only barbecue eatery in a city that plays host to the annual smoked-meat bacchanal that is Pig & Whiskey. In the old AJ's Café space on 9 Mile, Zeke's serves barbecue with a side of rock 'n' roll in both its décor and live rock shows -- a natural fit, given that one of the owners also owns Small's Bar in Hamtramck. Try Zeke's poutine—it'll have you on a stairway to heaven.
This BBQ spot in Downtown Royal Oak, named after the town in Texas, is known for its tender and juicy ribs and great beer selection. Also not to be missed is the Lockhart Special, featuring smoked brisket, 1/4 rack of ribs, sausage, pulled pork, and two sides.
The Shelby outpost of this small Michigan chain sets the scene with BBQ-themed murals, hickory-smoked meats, and house made sides. Also available are chicken and waffles, incredible beef brisket sandwiches, and Southern-inspired appetizers like pig candy (sugared bacon) and "East" and "West" style potato skins.
This family-friendly neighborhood pub is serving up seriously good BBQ, but what really sets The service is what really sets Stonewood apart is the service. The staff is friendly and attentive, making you feel right at home. Check out Stonewood for the small-town feels with big-time flavor.
It’s a good thing that Sweetwater Tavern is located within walking distance of must-visit Detroit hotspots like the Renaissance Center, Hart Plaza, Ford Field, and Comerica Park because after a meal here, you’re going to want to get your steps in. Plain and simple, the Sweetwater specialty is wings, which are delivered fresh each morning and marinated in herbs and spices for 24 hours. But Sweetwater is proud of every item it serves, meaning you shouldn’t miss out on dishes like potato skins packed with bacon and cheese, pan-fried pond catfish, jumbo fried shrimp, and the Sweetwater Burger served with bacon, Swiss, and “Sweet Sauce.” Head here for lunch, dinner, or after a nearby event for some late-night munchies.
Expect every regional style of barbecue at Red Smoke, a 'cue joint opened in a restored historic building. There are more than twelve sides to choose from alongside your chicken, pork, brisket, back ribs and spare ribs. Make sure to top off the meal with a local Michigan draft beer on tap.
This BBQ stop in Clarkston has a reputation for delicious slow-smoked ribs, wood-fired pizzas, and Vermont cheddar mac and cheese. But there's no better way to explain their process, so we’ll let Union Woodshed do the talking: “It begins and ends in the backlot, with a green hickory smoker that's on a constant low-temp tear with an assortment of meats. It's a ritual that starts with a careful rub and ends only when we think its time to pull the meat from the bath of smoke we surround it with.” Nom. Their pizza is fired in an 800 degree inferno, made fresh daily.