Here in Hawaii, barbecue doesn’t just mean smoked meats topped with a tangy sauce. It also incorporates grilled meats, with Japanese, Korean, local and traditional American influences, reflecting our island’s diverse landscape. We’re also lucky to have the local-style plate barbecue lunch, which is defined by two scoops rice, mac salad, and meat slathered in soy sauce-based teriyaki sauce -- the island’s iteration of barbecue sauce. If you’re looking to fill a meaty hole in your soul that only barbecue can sate, then you’re in luck -- Oahu’s barbecue culture is one of the best and most diverse in the nation. We’ve rounded up the most amazing smoked and grilled meat flavors in the area, whether they’re local or influenced from Korea, Japan -- or Texas.
Classic barbecue comes with a view at this Windward-side hole in the wall, which serves dry-rubbed meat that’s been smoked for hours over a combination of hickory and tropical woods. Try the popular beef brisket or pulled pork shoulder, served on a platter with seasoned rice and sides, or piled high onto a homemade French cottage roll packed with onions and garlic. The desserts here are totally worth saving room for: shave ice, ice coffee floats, and some delicious specials (if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the malasadas).
Kalihi (and Blaisdell and Kailua farmers markets)
Located in a residential neighborhood in Kalihi, this tiny apartment-style eatery serves up local-style barbecue for lunch only. As its name implies, dishes are smoked with guava -- strawberry guava, to be exact -- which lends a sweeter note to its smoky meats, poultry, and seafood. Order a plate lunch of spicy pork, butterfish collars, salmon belly, burgers, duck, kalbi short ribs, or meat chili. Or, if you would prefer to go to the beach and work the hibachi yourself, this joint has you covered: grab your favorite from the selection of pre-smoked, frozen meats to take home and impress your friends.
Put on your best (read: worst) grubby clothes and head to the Kau Kau Grill, located at the Makers & Tasters marketplace. This killer food truck offers tender, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs smothered in barbecue sauce. Pro tip: try the "trust us" combo, in which you’ll also receive a handful of garlic shrimp for just a few bucks more.
If the thought of high-quality marbled meat makes you drool like one of Pavlov’s dogs, you should probably stop whatever you’re doing and head to Yoshi, where you can order cuts of succulent US prime and Kobe Gold Grade beef, either marinated or au naturel. If you want to learn about the true glories of Japanese cattle, however, go for the A5 Wagyu -- the highest grade possible -- and let the soft, buttery meat melt in your mouth.
Bob’s Bar-B-Que has been serving up delicious, classic, local-style barbecue to Oahu residents and tourists alike for over 38 years. Hit the walk-up counter, where you’ll find hibachi, traditional barbecue, and sweet-and-tangy teriyaki. With so many options to choose from, your best bet is the Super Combo: a delightful, meaty medley of beef and baby back ribs, kalbi, teri beef, and teri chicken, all served with heaping spoonfuls of rice, plus mac salad. You could split this extravaganza with a friend (or two) and austerely save the leftovers, or -- and this is the recommended option -- embrace your inner meat beast and go to town solo.
Even the mini rack of pork spare ribs at this Southern soul joint will quell hunger pangs: the barbecue here runs sweet, tangy, and -- most importantly -- plentiful. Be prepared to paint your face with the good stuff. If you’re up for a serious challenge, go for the full rack -- or supplement your half-rack with some tender, smoky beef brisket (and consider names for your future food baby).
If you have a sudden, inexplicable craving for Southern barbecue, perhaps the scent of Molly’s wood-smoked meats found you all the way from central Oahu. The restaurant formerly known as Molly’s Smokehouse serves up rich, country-style comfort food, including Texas-style barbecued chicken, baby back ribs, pulled pork, and the amazing brisket that it's known for. Wash it all down with a glass of sweet tea, the Southern confection/quaff that’s basically eleventy-billion parts sugar to one part water.
For a barbecue splurge with a Korean twist, this yakiniku restaurant offers up quality meats that you cook yourself on a tabletop grill. Pop your Kobe beef brisket, pork belly, or prime rib in the center, then cook your kimchi, onions, zucchini, or corn in separate compartments on the grill’s perimeter. The best feature (aside from the hot, hyper-fresh dinner in front of you): there’s a vent situated just above the grill that sucks away the smoke -- so you aren’t stuck with the scent in your hair and clothes afterward.
On the drive to Makapuu Lighthouse, keep your eyes peeled for a food truck like no other: it looks like a log cabin and is located on the mountain-side of a road, as all great barbecue should really be. The meat here is hand-rubbed with a custom blend of spices, and smoked over keawe wood, which infuses the smoky pulled pork, brisket, chicken, pork ribs, and spare ribs. Go all out and try a combo plate, which lets you sample a variety of the smoked meats, plus coleslaw, baked beans, cornbread, and a pickle spear. After a day of snorkeling, hiking, or (let’s be real) just driving around the island, stuffing yourself silly with home-cooked smoked meat is a nice reward.
When a place proclaims to have the "best suckin’ ribs in Hawaii," it's definitely making a bold claim -- especially when it looks more like an old-fashioned supper club than a barbecue joint. But with over 18lb of ribs cycling through the restaurant every week, this joint’s popularity might just speak for itself. The ribs are adored for their homemade barbecue sauce, which the chef describes as a mix of Asian and Texas influences.
1. Uncle Bobo's Smoked BBQ51-480 Kamehameha Hwy, Ka‘a‘awa
2. Guava Smoked1637 Republican St, Honolulu
3. Japanese barbecue Yoshi1316 Young St, Honolulu
4. Bob's Bar-B-Que1366 Dillingham Blvd, Honolulu
5. Hughley's Southern Cuisine99-080 Kauhale St Ste C4, ‘Aiea
6. Molly's Smokehouse23 S Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawā
7. 678 Hawaii1726 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu
8. Henry Loui's2850 Paa St, Honolulu
This homey, vibrant, cafe with incredible ocean views offers classic barbecue -- that's been smoked for several hours -- crafted with a homemade hickory and tropical wood dry rub. Beef brisket, pulled pork shoulder, and a variety of sides make this hole-in-the-wall counter serve joint a must try. Also available are shaved ice and malasadas.
Situated in the residential neighborhood of Kalihi, Guava Smoked is an unassuming eatery offering local-style barbecue (for lunch only). The place gets its name from its smoking process, which, interestingly, involves guava. Therefore, sweeter meats, poultry, and seafood can be found here, along with pre-smoked frozen meats to be taken home.
Marinated or natural cuts of US Prime, Kobe Gold Grade, and A5 wagyu -- the crème de la crème -- are served at Japanese Barbecue Yoshi, a Yakiniku BBQ-style eatery found in Makiki. Yakiniku refers to a Japanese style of barbecuing that involves bite sized meat and vegetables cooked over charcoals.
Classic, local-style barbecue can be found at this counter-serve Kalihi mainstay. Be sure to come hungry and order the Super Combo, an aptly named medley of beef. baby back ribs, kalbi, and teri chicken and beef. In addition to perfectly smoked meats, Bob's Bar-B-Que also offers traditional hibachi with sweet-and-tangy teriyaki.
Sweet, tangy pork spare ribs put this counter-serve eatery in Aiea on the map. Whether you go for the challenging full rack or the more conquerable half, Hughley's Southern Cuisine does not disappoint. Also avaiable are other Southern-inspired eats, like catfish, fried okra, peach dumplings, and mac and cheese.
South meets west at this Southern BBQ joint, which provides a number of American country-style comfort food dishes and sides. Authentic Texas BBQ, pulled pork, gumbo, catfish, brisket, and a variety of combos can be found on the menu at Molly's Smokehouse.
An outpost of the popular Korean chain, 678 Hawaii is a late-night, yakiniku-style barbecue joint in Ala Moana. Guests grill at the table here, allowing them to sear their meats (Kobe beef brisket, pork belly, or prime rib) and vegetables to their own likings.
With a creative menu of ribs, Henry Loui's may very well live up to its claim of having "the best suckin’ ribs in Hawaii." This sports bar/casual eatery in Mapunapuna draws from Asian and Texan influence to create its memorable, homemade barbecue that has made this spot a local favorite.