The 8 Best Barbecue Joints in South Florida, According to Top Pitmasters
Meet the ambitious smoked meat pioneers finally giving Miami its low-and-slow due.
When Buffalo Bills wide receiver and budding barbecue mogul Isaiah McKenzie was a kid growing up in Miami, barbecue didn’t mean much more than a catchy jingle for a chain restaurant.
“What we had for barbecue, was like Chili’s Baby Back Ribs,” he says, proudly gazing over a plate of brisket and smoked turkey at his La Traila Barbecue in Miami Lakes. “I didn’t know nothing about brisket or pork. Maybe you had some burgers or hot dogs at a cookout or something, but if you went out for barbecue? You were going to Chili’s.”
His business partner and pitmaster Mel Rodriguez found a similar dearth of options when he arrived from Austin. “When I first got here, I went to this place that had like 4.8 stars on Yelp, and it was the worst barbecue of my life,” he says. “So I went to some other places that had been around for years, and same thing. I started asking the managers what was up with this, and they’d all say, ‘This is our style.’”
The fact is, despite what Rodriguez was told, Miami never really developed much of a barbecue “style,” and that may be part of the reason why we were severely lacking in quality options for so long. The city’s best stuff was mostly limited to grills outside strip clubs and gas stations. For years, barbecue here in South Florida struggled to forge any kind of real identity.
“The palate in South Florida, it was like the Alabama-style, where you’d have a 55-gallon drum on the side of the road, serving ribs and chicken slathered in barbecue sauce,” explains Richard Hales, owner and pitmaster at Society BBQ in Midtown. “Introducing people to smoked meats was a challenge.”
But that has started to change, and Miami barbecue has blossomed into a beautiful blend of American standards with a distinct Caribbean influence. Spots like Society and La Traila have taken the smoky, minimalist Texas-style ‘cue and transformed it into two of the best new barbecue restaurants in America. Meanwhile, other pitmasters have found inspiration from local sources, channeling it to create a barbecue totally unique to this time and place.
Up in West Palm Beach, Tropical Smokehouse made waves by throwing island flavors and seafood on a barbecue menu. The offerings range from Smoked Mahi and fish dips to Jerk Turkey—creations you most certainly won’t find at any classic stateside smoke shack.
“We wanted to vibe off Caribbean flavors, but being part of Florida, we also have those Deep South traditions,” says Rick Mace, Tropical’s chef and pitmaster. “Spare Ribs are what we’re becoming known for. But the seafood is very reminiscent of the coastal Barbacoa observed by Europeans who first arrived here.”
So what does South Florida’s barbecue scene look like in 2022? Like the region itself, it’s a literal melting pot, a mix of what was here before and what generations of newcomers have brought in from the rest of the world. And while it may still take some time for us to form a rock-solid regional identity when it comes to barbecue, there are plenty of outstanding joints—both old and new—that truly give old Chili’s a run for its money. Here are the best of the best, according to our all-star roster of local experts.
The basics: Fusion maestro Richard Hales, of Sakaya and Blackbrick Chinese fame, dips his hand into the barbecue world, eschewing his usual cuisine-merging for strict Texas-style eats. His slow-smoked brisket might be the best outside of the Lone Star State, and the massive sandwiches he’s plating up are enough for two meals. Hales downplays the importance of his sauces, preferring to let the white oak-induced char and the quality of the meat speak for themselves. But try a little of his Miami Little Haiti Habanero Sauce, and you’ll know he’s just being modest.
What the pitmaster says: “I think Society BBQ is great,” says Coco Cuig, owner at Pitmaster at Mad Butcher in Wynwood. “They use the same smoker we do—it’s real clean, real slow-smoked and perfect, and that’s not easy to do.”
La Traila Barbecue
The basics: Austin pitmaster Mel Rodriguez brings classic Texas-style brisket, turkey, and pulled pork to South Florida, teaming up with Bills wideout McKenzie for some celebrity cache. While the meats are the headline-grabbers, the half-pound Pit-smoked Burger incorporates brisket scraps, creating some of the more unique flavors you’ll find squished between a bun. Even with his mastery of Texas technique, Rodriguez also nods to local cuisine with Brisket and Queso Empanadas and a standout Tres Leches for dessert—that is, assuming you’ve still got room.
What the pitmaster says: “I like what they’re doing with brisket, how they’re keeping it true to that real, Texas market-style,” says Society’s Hales. “Though I think you can have some fusion in barbecue, I love that they stick with that.”
The basics: During the height of 2020’s lockdown, sidelined Kyu chef Raheem Sealy set up a smoker at the end of his cul-de-sac in North Miami, and immediately became the town’s leading COVID silver lining. The menu’s simple, like you’d expect out of a neighborhood operation, with a 16-hour smoked prime brisket and 24-hour brined oak-smoked chicken that crush anything coming out of his former employer’s kitchen. In true Miami tradition, he’s also smoking homemade sausages and dishing up collard greens. But you’ve gotta get there early—Drinking Pig’s pop-ups at Smorgasburg on Saturdays and in North Miami on Sundays close up shop as soon as they run out of the good stuff.
What the pitmaster says: “Raheem is doing amazing things with Drinking Pig, and the moment he goes brick-and-mortar, he’s going to kill it,” notes Coig. “You don’t have spots like that—with the real pitmaster, right there, seeing behind-the-scenes. He has real dedication and persistence, and is bringing that culture to Miami.”
The basics: The PBC’s most talked-about barbecue joint isn’t leaning on other regional styles, but rather forging a new style for South Florida. Pitmaster Richard Mace is doing it big with a seafood-heavy smoked fish menu, highlighted by the spicy Wahoo Dip and the Lemon Pepper Cobia. Tropical also gives props to the region’s island influences, with Jerk Turkey Breast and Mojo Pulled Pork, and even throws in a Cajun Gator Sausage for the folks out in the Everglades. The prime brisket will still please barbecue purists, but Tropical really shines when it comes to carving out a space of its own.
What the pitmaster says: “I think Florida’s barbecue identity, as opposed to other styles, is [that] we smoke a lot of fish,” Mace says. “No one else can lay claim to that. We also wanted to do some things that are reminiscent of South Florida, vibing off Caribbean flavors, Cuban, Latin, barbecue, and otherwise.”
The Mad Butcher
The basics: Only in Wynwood is the neighborhood’s best barbecue spot better known for its backroom speakeasy. But before you start slurping Champagne at NDA, take some time to appreciate the best beef ribs in the city. These dino-sized monsters are slow-cooked and barely cling on the bone, with a rich, smoky flavor that lingers long after you’ve finished. The brisket is equally as impressive, prepared by owner and pitmaster Coco Coig, who learned the craft from Drinking Pig’s Raheem Seeley.
What the pitmaster says: “We take the ribs out of the smoker when they’re almost like butter—that’s when it’s going to melt in your mouth,” says Coig. “I don’t wrap the beef rib, I just let it get that beautiful bark with the crisps in it. We do the same thing with the brisket—go through the whole process without wrapping—and it’s coming out great.”
The basics: Bill Durney opened up this airy, Texas-style barbecue joint among loading docks and meat distributors in an industrial section of Allapattah to great fanfare. Though the food can skew pricey for barbecue—and especially barbecue in Allapattah—other local pitmasters note the space’s open picnic-table vibe as a reason it stands out. You’ll also find an impressive selection of craft beer to pair with the eats, along with convenient walkability to the Metrorail.
What the pitmaster says: “I go to Hometown because they’re consistent with what they do,” says LA Traila’s Rodriguez. “It feels like Texas barbecue, ya know? Like old-school. It’s got this flow through it, a little bit of smoke in the air.”
4 Rivers Smokehouse
The basics: For the early part of the 2010s, the only big name in Florida barbecue was Four Rivers, a Winter Park original that spread throughout the state. The local offshoot offers flavors designed for the region, including smoky Sazon Pork and brisket, plus barbacoa bowls. 4 Rivers also offers copious options beyond meat and sides, with BBQ Street Tacos, Burnt End Melts, and the Six Shooter Sandwich, a base of cheese grits topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, and jalapenos.
What the pitmaster says: “We started 13 years ago touting we were true Texas-style,” says founder and CEO John Rivers. “But people don’t care if it’s Texas-style, they just want good food. So we tried to incorporate things from Miami and South Florida to make it representative of the region.”
Tom Jenkins BBQ
The basics: Back when South Florida was a veritable barbecue desert, there was still Tom Jenkins, a no-frills mainstay that’s closed on Sundays for church and on Mondays for fishing. The lunch crowd hasn’t slowed down since the restaurant opened as a little roadside trailer on Federal Highway in 1990, hawking classics like barbecue chicken, pork ribs, and chopped brisket and developing a loyal cult following along the way. The sauce is equally legendary, still a staple in refrigerators across Broward County.
What the pitmaster says: “Tom Jenkins, to me, shouts authentic—it’s just an old barbecue joint, and I appreciate that,” says Rivers. “I love the smell, I love the feel, and those ribs are some of the best. Sometimes I’ll drive down to Tom Jenkins just to have those ribs.”