Although the classic barbecue debates rage on, the new generation of pit masters is less interested in regional styles—they’re too busy sourcing heritage meat, experimenting with nontraditional flavors, and pairing fall-apart-tender ribs with serious drinks.
At his open-air smokehouse in Fort Worth, TX, for example, Tim Love’s signature dish, a bone-in beef shank, is served South of the Border–style, with spicy ricotta, borracho beans, and house-made flour and corn tortillas. The menu includes paella of seafood and rattlesnake-rabbit sausage cooked over an open fire and ramen made with leftover bones. Explains Love: “We’re trying to open people’s mind to the ways that you can cook with wood.”
In a suburb of Birmingham, AL, chef Josh Gentry says the stand-up meals of convenience around the pit—smoked meat–stuffed tacos—were the inspiration for his latest venture, the Little Donkey, which is a marriage of the traditions of Mexico and the South. He’s unapologetic about his fried chicken—not your typical barbecue offering—marinated overnight in chile-infused buttermilk.
Craft beer and cocktails have also made their way into the new and improved barbecue scene. In D.C., The Standard is a biergarten-cum-smokehouse where you can get liter steins of Bell’s Two Hearted IPA and Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier with your pulled-pork sandwich. And at Bludso’s Bar and Que, on-tap mint juleps and Texas margaritas, a summery combination of tequila, limeade, and PBR, complement the spare ribs and smoky brisket.
In Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, Fette Sau has a serious selection of North American bourbons and whiskeys. But what really makes this outpost of Joe Carroll’s Brooklyn original distinctive is its emphasis on the quality of the meats, rather than the sauce. From the Duroc and Berkshire pork to the black Angus beef, everything is naturally raised and hormone free.
Many new BBQ joints treat sauce preference less like religion and more like, well, preference. You get to choose your adventure at Chicago’s Bub City, where on-table offerings include a sweet, tomato-based sauce, a Worcestershire-spiked sauce, and Louisiana-style hot sauce.
It’s enough to get us fired up about the future of barbecue.