The Absolute Best BBQ Joints in Seattle
From brisket to pulled pork to ribs and beyond, look no further for Seattle’s essential smoked meats.
The month of May is National Barbecue Month, and there’s no better time to consider the fact that Seattle’s BBQ scene is underappreciated. We may not be as famous as Kansas City or Memphis, but pitmasters here have been diligently tending to their meats and enriching Seattle with a large and still growing smoked meat scene. Today, our barbecue options include strip mall restaurants, quaint barbecue shacks, whiskey bars, pop-ups, and more—all with creative spins that are distinctive to Seattle barbecue. With so many options available, here is a list of where to start.
Owner Jack Timmons, a Texas native, went above and beyond to bring the Central Texas barbecue experience to Jack’s BBQ. His meats are dry-rubbed and cooked low and slow with sauce on the side. The brisket is smoked over 14 hours over hardwoods imported from Texas. Better yet, the same brisket is used to make the chili used for the Texas classic Frito Pie: a package of Fritos topped with brisket chili, cheese, sour cream, and jalapeños. Even its pecan pie is based on a Texas State Fair winner. Save the date for Thursday beef ribs served only on Thursdays at SODO, South Lake Union, and Algona locations and set to run out quickly.
The Barbeque Pit
So treasured and beloved is this barbecue institution that when Barbecue Pit lost its Central District storefront, a group of Seattle University students worked to revive the business in the old spot of R and L Home of Good BBQ where the owner “Pookie”, as he is known to his regulars, continues the legacy of serving quality barbecue in a space that has done so since the 1950s. Get the rib tips, tender, generously sauced with a gratifying crisp on the edges. The gumbo and mac and cheese run out quickly and don’t leave out the slightly tangy, rich in bacon, collard greens.
Famous Kitchen in Issaquah is the new kid on the scene of Cantonese-style barbecue. Nestled in a strip mall with non-descript signs, one might miss the hanging selections of meats inside. In true Cantonese barbecue fashion, Famous Kitchen’s char siu pork and BBQ duck are offered alongside a long-running menu of soups, congee, rice dishes, and noodles. Ordering one or both with a dried scallop and egg white fried rice and braised beef brisket with radish is a smart choice for variety. Its honey-glazed barbecue pork or spareribs and the salted duck are unique BBQ finds that only a place like Famous Kitchen can dole out, but people more often vie for the pork belly with shatteringly crispy skin.
Wood Shop BBQ
Wood Shop BBQ bears the influence of owners Matt Davis’ Central Kansas barbecue roots and James Barrington’s Texas roots. What’s born from the union is unforgettable brisket that’s roasted 12 to 14 hours and its pulled pork, rubbed with their signature “Sawdust Rub” and smoked over a mix of Texas hickory and post oak. You can order these meats by the pound but also piled high in a sandwich with a tender brisket bun that soaks up some juice and sauce. The small bowl of brisket chili and creamy jalapeño mac and cheese are essential.
Pecos Pit grew from its first location on 1st Ave South in 1980 to become a large-scale franchise with stores and food trucks throughout Seattle. On Mondays and Tuesdays, you can get any of their classic slow-cooked meats like the shredded pork or sliced beef brisket as a burrito. The “Burrito Willie” sounds like an invention borrowed from the back kitchen staff meal—barbecued meats wrapped with pinto beans, tomatillo sauce, cheese, and sour cream in a large flour tortilla—but hey, do as the pros do. Ordering at Pecos means adopting their lingo. Ask them to “Spike It” to add a hot link to anything on the menu.
Carolina Smoke BBQ
Carolina Smoke’s offerings reflect some of David Hayward’s Charleston background, but he is clear that he is doing barbecue his own way, to his liking. His 12-hour brisket is smoked over a mixture of mesquite, alder, hickory, and cherry wood pellets, which he says helps to control heat and flavor. Carolina’s meats come with an assortment of sauces. The notable sweet apple butter sauce with mustard and apple butter is on the mild end of a scale of barbecue sauces that top off with the XXX, which uses the trifecta of Scoville greats, scotch bonnets, ghost peppers, and the Carolina Reaper.
After trying over 200 barbecue places across the country, esteemed barbecue judge and writer Adrian Miller named Little Red’s one of the 20 best black-owned barbecue joints in the nation in his book Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. Lil Red is a mix of owner Erasto “Red” Jackson’s love of barbecue and Leleith’s Jamaican heritage. The burnt ends plus the pork ribs with jerk sauce is the way to go at Red’s, but it’s impossible to not recommend the escovitch fish, curry goat, and the jerk chicken. It is the only barbecue place in town where you can get these island flavors.
West Seattle’s Lady Jaye offers chef-driven barbecue dishes with all the best things that can come with barbecue: a butcher shop, a top-notch whiskey bar, and large patio seating with fire pits and a view of their smoker. Their rotating menu means that every day is an event, like Burnt Ends and Biscuit Wednesday or Smoke Tomahawk Saturdays. You’ll be able to find some staples here you won’t be able to get anywhere else: their Smoked Bologna sandwich or a Bulgogi short rib melt show the wide range of flavors and influences that can be incorporated with barbecue. The team utilizes whole animals, so you can pick up some unique cuts of meat or broth and sauces at their butcher shop on your way out. Don’t miss any of the cocktails by Lady Jaye co-founder Sara Rosales, former Beverage Director at Radiator Whiskey and White Swan Public House.
Smoke Stack Lightning BBQ
Chef Darrel Sawyer runs his barbecue pop-up at multiple locations throughout the city, knowable only by following him on Instagram. Everything at Smoke Stack Lightning BBQ from the buns to condiments and desserts is scratch-made, which makes his brisket sandwich the best way to taste all the fresh handmade products that Smoke Stack has to offer. At Smoke Stack, Darrel is often a one-man team drawing lines down the block. Desserts like his chocolate cake with peanut buttercream and toasted marshmallow are set to sell out just as quickly as his meats.
Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ
Jeff Texas Style in Marysville is only open for limited hours on the weekends, Friday through Sunday until sold out. And sell out it always does. The best way to secure Jeff’s popular Brisket Birria or Texas Twinkies (brisket, cheddar, and cream cheese stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon) is to pre-order off his website for pick up. Eat brisket Jeff’s way and you’ll order the Rodeo Fries, brisket birria on waffle fries with queso and lime crema. However, his menu is always changing to welcome new specials like a smoked prime rib with dipping au jus and melted swiss or a Mother’s Day smoked Tomahawk Ribeye so don’t be too committed to any one item, tune in every weekend to try them all.
The barbecue at Briley’s spans a range of influences including Texas, Kansas City, and Southern influences. This is why you’ll find Pit Beef on its menu along with Central Texas-style sliced brisket and sides like gumbo, hush puppies, and Brunswick Stew. Briley’s regulars often opt for its baby back ribs, smoked with a dry rub and brushed with glaze to order. Briley’s even offers a good selection of desserts but the beignets with cinnamon and powdered is the easy choice. You’d be hard-pressed to find them at any other ‘cue joint in the city.
Ask NWTXBBQ and they’ll tell you, South Texas style means the aroma of sweet mesquite and the direct flow from a Moberg smoker that creates that dark dalmatian bark (“dalmation” refers to the salt and pepper rub used to season meats). It also means that at NWTXBBQ they serve tamales, with brisket of course. They smoke their masa from Milpa Masa to create light crisp edges on the surface and the tamale is filled with your choice of brisket red chili, pork, or turkey green chili. Their tamales supply is limited (read: coveted).
Drunky Two Shoes
From its cute, cartoony BBQ shack exterior, it’s clear that Drunky has a sense of humor. Messy sandwiches are part of the vibe at Drunky, but if you decide to go sans bun, the BBQ Parfait with your choice of meat on layers of baked beans, coleslaw, and cornbread with barbecue sauce might be your most direct way to have every element of the barbecue platter in one bite. Too far or genius? Probably both. What’s indisputable however is that ordering the smoked bone marrow with saltines is a must. The menu has a little something for everyone, including a good selection of salads when roughage is needed. Don’t fret, the option of adding meat to any salad is always an option.
At Emma’s BBQ in Hillman City, owner Tess Thomas sticks to family recipes that have been passed down for generations. They offer a small menu with a lot of soul. Popular choices like pork ribs and brisket come with a choice of sweet cornbread or sliced bread, and a choice of sides where the collards cooked with bits of chopped brisket ends is a must-have. Coupled with the sweet potato pie to finish and a blackberry lemonade to wash it all down, there couldn’t be a more homey barbecue experience.
Wake N Bacon BBQ
The menu at Wake N Bacon lives up to its name. Big appetites are required for its Munchies menu, where you can get their meats and barbecue sauce on a baked potato or fries. This is why you can count on Wake N Bacon to offer a barbecue hot dog variation known as the Dogg Father, a quarter-pound beef frank loaded with bacon, smoked pulled pork, Carolina Gold barbecue sauce, and slaw. For a more traditional option, its pulled pork is made with a well-seasoned pork butt that is smoked overnight and served with all the fixin’s of pickled red onion, bread and butter pickles, white bread, and a side of Reuben’s red barbecue sauce.
Generations of Seattleites think fondly of grabbing a box of char sui and fried rice at Kau Kau. Walk by its longstanding King Street location in the International District and it’s hard to miss its hanging pork ribs, roasted duck, and char sui. The showstopper at Kau Kau is the whole roasted pig, great for large parties and gatherings but totally justified for one with leftovers to last for weeks. Kau Kau is also known for its barbecued duck with plum sauce, a slightly tart and sweet accent that pairs well with that crisp, salty shard of duck skin.