All of Philadelphia’s Essential Barbecue Joints
Ribs, burnt ends, and other barbecue staples.
When you compare it to cities in the South like Memphis or Austin, it’s difficult to see Philadelphia as a barbecue town. We don’t have an ingrained culture of smoked meats here—there’s no regional argument between Pennsylvania towns about barbecue sauce ingredients, a la North Carolina, or public disagreements between pitmasters about exactly what type of wood elicits the most perfect smoky flavor. The vibe in Philly is one of surprised joy that you can scoop up a pulled pork sandwich here or a ribs platter there when the craving hits. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.In the last 10 years, there’s been a proliferation of barbecue spots across Northeastern cities (our guide to America’s best barbecue even includes places in New York City), and Philadelphia is no exception. We’ve got a variety of restaurants, ranging from takeout counters specializing in one particular style of barbecue to sit-down restaurants where you can spend an afternoon with friends over beers, briskets, and ribs. But the best part of our burgeoning barbecue scene? The category of restaurants that have no interest in recreating other region’s barbecue. They’re doing something all their own, perhaps inspired by a regional barbecue tradition, but not beholden to it. Those are our favorite spots—the places celebrating Philly’s own little weird world of hoagies, Mexican food, and a thousand other influences—all the while keeping it slow-smoked, juicy, and very, very meaty.
A good indication of a great barbecue spot? That they sell out regularly. Barkley’s does so quite often, so get there early if you want to try the beef ribs, smoked chicken, or pulled pork sandwiches. If you’re not headed up to Strawberry Mansion, where its brick-and-mortar restaurant is located, check the restaurant’s Facebook page to see if the food truck is out and about—it often parks at the Berlin Farmer’s Flea Market or Linvilla Orchards. The BBQ joint also delivers using Black and Mobile, a delivery service that specializes in black-owned restaurants.
How to book: Takeout only. Call 215-763-7427 to order ahead or place your order in person. Delivery available through Black and Mobile.
Big Bad Wolf is strip-mall barbecue at its best. The spot’s signature item is pork-belly bites, which are smoked until they’re flavorful and juicy, then sliced, breaded, fried, and soaked in a sweet and spicy sauce. Big Bag Wold has plenty of other items, but the pork belly bites are the money shot.
How to book: No reservations. Call 484-480-4676 to order pick-up.
Seafood towers are trendy, but what if barbecue towers are the next big thing? Try one at Craft Hall, stacked with three different meats and three sides with options like spare ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket paired with collards, mac ’n cheese, and cornbread. In addition to being a barbecue spot, Craft Hall is part brewery: Mainstay Independent Brewery’s beer is brewed on site, so it’s a good spot for an evening of drinking.
Deke’s is another spot that does the Philly barbecue mash-up of a brisket cheesesteak, as well as a couple of other sandwiches inspired by this city’s obsessive love of hoagies. Also notable: the mac ‘n cheese, a requisite barbecue side, is made with large shells and plenty of cheddar and is completely amazing. The Germantown location also has daily happy hour specials, for those wanting to get their drink on.
How to book: Takeout only at the 4901 Ridge Avenue location. Walk-in only at the 137 Berkley Street location.
Fette Sau (German for fat pig) is the place to go with a big crew when you want to settle in for an evening of rowdy drinking (and lots of smoked meats). It’s counter service, which makes it easy for everyone to order and pay for themselves, and the long picnic tables make it easy to pile in a group. The brisket is generally good as are the burnt end sandwiches, which combines both pork and beef. It’s also a great spot to go with a group that includes vegetarians, as the sides are so good that I’ve been known to go for those alone.
How to book: Walk in or order takeout or delivery online
Henri Hott’s is the place to stop on your way to the beach, or on your way home from a day-trip when you’re sun-tired and just need some good meat. The restaurant has suspended the beloved buffet for now, but you can still fill up on ribs, brisket, and smoked chicken, as well as fried shrimp, crab cakes, fried chicken, and many freshly made pies and bundt cakes.
The Lucky Well
Chad Rosenthal finally brought his Ambler-based barbecue spot to Center City in 2020, just in time for all our summer ‘cue needs. His menu focuses on Memphis-style dry-rubbed ribs, but the restaurant’s offerings include elegant vegetable starters as well as burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, pulled pork, and smoked sausage. The vegan burnt ends are also standouts, made with a brined and smoked sweet potato that hits all the savory, smoky barbecue notes without a single animal product.
Mike’s BBQ is probably the most beloved and well-known barbecue in the city, iconic for selling out early and often, and for the brisket cheesesteak sandwich which is just as delicious as it is as over-the-top. The brisket is excellent, as is the pulled pork, and the ribs will haunt you for the rest of your life. Get them in a classic platter, or try them in the cheesesteak or the pulled pork Italiano, which is inspired by a Philly roast pork sandwich.
North By Texas
R. Scott Hanson’s barbecue pop-up is one of those preorder-only, once-a-week events that have grown in regularity quite quickly. What began as a monthly thing has now become a Sunday afternoon staple at Cadence Restaurant in Kensington. The pop-up is all about highlighting Texas-centric barbecue with a strong Mexican influence: all the meats are available in handmade corn tortillas made from locally sourced masa that Cadence grinds themselves.
Smoke’s menu ranges from the classic: a straight-up meat-and-three platter with your choice of pork, brisket, smoked sausage or ribs, to the less traditional pork belly tacos or nachos. It’s the kind of spot where families go all the time, for a quick, easy, delicious dinner.
How to book: No reservations, but lots of indoor and outdoor seating. Order ahead for take-out online or by calling 856-627-0007.
Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse
Sweet Lucy’s is one of those places that people have been going to in Philadelphia for their whole lives. It’s a casual, family-friendly spot that just does the basics: hickory-smoked pork, chicken, brisket, sausage, and turkey. You can combine them in any number of ways: in sandwiches, on platters, even on toasted Italian rolls for a barbecue hoagie. But however you choose to eat it, the meat is smoky and moist and the vibes are very friendly.
Zig Zag BBQ
Chef and co-owner Matt Lang doesn’t let a single style define him at Zig Zig—his background is in Texas-style barbecue, so brisket anchors the menu, but there’s much more to love. Recent specials include a smoked half-chicken covered in urfa chili, sumac, and tons of sesame and jerk-spiced pork belly. Also notable are Lang’s sides, which follow no rules except to be absolutely delicious: macaroni and cheese drenched in queso sauce and sprinkled with hot Cheeto dust or a savory corn pudding with roasted hatch chilies and queso chihuahua.