The best barbecue joints in the D.C. area

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I’ve argued for years that barbeque is a year-round food. The demand for substantial platters of smoked meats does not revolve with the axis of the globe. I’ve lived in Kansas City and Texas, two of America’s well-known barbecue hotspots, and nobody there would dare say that the food is only appropriate for consumption during the summer. While you’re at it, you may as well compare the Alamo to a little boutique in San Antonio. The restaurant industry’s staff has been decimated by a virus, disrupting its supply chains, and I have never previously created a barbecue guide in the winter. The scene in the D.C. area has been completely demolished by these combined forces. Recently, I’ve seen undercooked brisket that required me to grip a piece between my teeth and pull off a mouthful with my free hand, as well as day-old barbecue that was passed off as being brand-new. These encounters assist to explain why this guide lacks certain well-known names. (I should also mention that Garden District and Rolling Rib Part II were closed for the season.) I don’t think for a second that you can’t get a good plate at Fat Pete’s, Money Muscle BBQ, Hill Country Barbecue Market, or DCity Smokehouse. I had the misfortune of visiting these locations on days when they weren’t at their best, for better or worse. It occurs, particularly lately when kitchen supervisors may be served tiny briskets or shiners (those ribs with little any flesh) by meat suppliers or pit crew workers who may be out with covid. The fact that the omicron variation has decreased customer demand, at least in sit-down eating, and forced some operators to store meat they hadn’t sold the day before doesn’t help.

Allman’s Bar-B-Q

Co-owners Andrea and Matt Deaton of Fredericksburg’s Allman’s Bar-B-Q. For The Washington Post, Scott Suchman At Allman’s, co-owner Matt Deaton has full racks of ribs cooking on the smoker. For The Washington Post, Scott Suchman The Allman’s BBQ pulled chicken sandwich. For The Washington Post, Scott Suchman The short-lived partnership between the pitmaster and Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Mountain Song BBQ, was created by Matthew Deaton, who you may recognise as its creator. Deaton has gently landed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he has teamed up with co-owner Matt Haney to bring this iconic restaurant into the age of artisan barbecue. Mountain Song was a pandemic-related tragedy. The pitmaster’s first task was to bring in two Lang reverse-flow smokers so that Allman’s could resume using live fire rather than ovens for cooking. Deaton has simplified his barbeque technique over time. It may be considered elemental: On beef and pig, his rub consists mostly of salt and pepper. He explains, “I really want the meat to tell the narrative. My recommendation is based primarily on Deaton’s pulled pork and spare ribs (smoky, straightforward, and honest) and his fantastic chicken, a pile of pulled chicken mixed with Allman’s house sauce, a clove-heavy condiment that locals love so much, according to Deaton, they will go through a whole bottle in one seating.

Grubbing Hard BBQ

Grubbing Hard BBQ uses a smoker to cook its ribs. For The Washington Post, Deb Lindsey At the Grubbing Hard BBQ pop-up at Bella Vita Farm last month, customers waited for their meal. For The Washington Post, Deb Lindsey A plate at Grubbing Hard BBQ contains baked beans, mac & cheese, apple slaw, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, ribs, and pork belly burned ends. For The Washington Post, Deb Lindsey Matt Chanin discovered his real calling in his parent’s lawn after being furloughed from the law office where he was pushing paper for lawyers early in the epidemic. When Chanin lost his job, friends pushed him to start his own business. Prior to losing his employment, Chanin enjoyed grilling meats on his parents’ patio. Announcing his DIY barbeque project on Facebook, Chanin said, “I have, like, 15 vehicles queued up in front of my parents’ home ready to grab food.” Chanin had outgrown the family’s backyard and had relocated to a commissary kitchen in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a year before. A brick-and-mortar location for Grubbing Hard is still on Chanin’s to-do list, but the pitmaster has amassed a loyal following via events and pop-ups, depending on a surprising array of meats that he smokes at the commissary in reverse-flow and cabinet smokers. Self-taught in the art of smoking, Chanin was formerly a student of Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin. However, he is now establishing his own style, which includes a cheesesteak sausage (yes, you read that correctly), massive, mouthwatering spare ribs, and dark, crusty slices of brisket that rely on one of Texas’s worst-kept secrets: Lawry’s seasoned salt. Watch Chanin, 25, climb this list if you give him a few more years and the correct tools.

Texas Jack’s

The Texas’s pork platter In addition to a variety of sides, Jack’s serves brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and chicken wings. In a report by The Washington Post, Laura Chase de Formigny
This Arlington smokehouse, now in its eighth year, has maintained a very stable pit crew throughout a period of considerable industry turmoil. Even though my most recent order of ribs was scrawnier than those in the recent past, Wanner Zuniga and Edwin Abrego are still in charge and they continue to provide consistently good barbecue. The pitmasters are magicians with their Southern Pride smokers, drawing out the kind of wood smoke fragrance you’d anticipate from a custom-made, 1,000-gallon off-set. Their pulled pork continues to be the standout dish, along with their brisket (which is a little saltier than I recall from past trips). This year, the sides in the kitchen—at least the ones I tried—were its weak point. A mushy mound of corkscrew mac and cheese that was as floury as it was creamy, a mayo-heavy salad with no spice.

Monk’s BBQ

All things considered, Brian Monk Jenkins and his wife Kirsten have had a decent life in Loudoun County. The couple’s smokehouse rural Purcellville, Virginia, has witnessed an increase in business during the epidemic, unlike some of its competitors in the larger metropolis. The restaurant’s faithful patronage of Monk’s is something the restaurant’s namesake pitmaster also owes to his ability to begin catering services last year. Such dedication is not something that just happens. The seven smokers that are located on the patio adjacent to the main dining area have been manned by the Monk’s staff for many years. The toughest aspect for any smokehouse to control is consistency, which is often translated into experience. With a Brobdingnagian variety of house-smoked wings, pulled pork, burnt ends, sausages, chicken, pastrami, turkey, spare ribs, brisket, and even bacon on a stick, Monk’s has one of the most ambitious menus in the country. On my most recent visit, the brisket was tighter than normal and the pulled pork had a dash or two less salt than usual. However, everything else was flawless. Order the smoked Gouda mac and cheese because anything worthwhile is worth going overboard with. Am I correct?

Federalist Pig

I’m not sure who has been more impatient about Fed Pig’s long-delayed opening in Hyattsville, Maryland—me or pitmaster and partner Rob Sonderman, the man who opened DCity Smokehouse and introduced artisan barbecue to Washington. Last winter, Sonderman and his boss, Steve Salis, unveiled the 25-foot Fedmobile and smashed through the bureaucracy preventing Fed Pig from opening its smokehouse in Hyattsville. The trailer, which has been modified with its own wood smoker, is parked next to the incomplete storefront and serves many of the dishes that the restaurant is unable to prepare just yet. In addition to overseeing the whole Fed Pig business, Sonderman is also in charge of Salis’s newest venture, Honeymoon Chicken in Petworth. I worry that the overworked pitmaster is to blame for the discrepancies I saw at both the Fedmobile and the old Adams Morgan facility. Even so, I’ve enjoyed my meals at both establishments: AdMo’s tender brisket, the trailer’s crispy spare ribs, which were a good balance of sweet and spiciness, and AdMo’s superb pulled pork, which was seasoned with crushed bits of fried skin to give this hearty barbecue dish some structure.

Smoking Kow

Before launching two brick-and-mortar sites, Smoking Kow’s pitmaster and owner Dylan Kough initially launched the business as a food truck. For the Washington Post, Dayna Smith When you enter Smoking Kow’s Alexandria location, the fragrance of wood smoke fills the air and whets your hunger more quickly than a strong negroni. Since my previous visit, pitmaster and owner Dylan Kough has stopped using cherry wood for his cooking and has switched to just using hickory, which gives every protein a sweet, slightly smoky flavour that instantly makes you think of bacon. Pitmasters will advise you that using hickory too heavily will give meat a bitter edge. Kough has the correct touch; his barbeque has the allure of the close-knit smoky character. The kitchen still insists on shredding its brisket rather than slicing it, but this time I didn’t mind since my meat was covered in luscious bits of bark with a surface as black as coal. Spare ribs are now Kough’s specialty instead of baby backs, and they are excellent, being both quite smokey and sticky with a butter-and-brown-sugar sauce. Kough considers himself a fan of Kansas City ribs. He like sauce, which is why I find his barbecue restaurants to be such contradictions. His foods are fine without them.

HammerDown Barbeque

HammerDown had been clinging to the bottom of this ladder for a while, but in 2022, Ken Soohoo made a significant advancement. The first time we spoke, he offered a brief response to my question about what he is doing differently: nothing. The creator of HammerDown said that I had finally arrived at the smokehouse when their meats were just out of the smoker. However, Soohoo said in our second interview that he had made a few adjustments to his briskets, cooking the meat at a higher temperature to aid in setting the bark. Additionally, he claimed that Bing, his younger brother and fellow pitmaster, is smoking chicken thighs more regularly and in smaller quantities. I just visited, and both meats stood out—is this just a coincidence? The brisket, which was so exquisitely supple, had a peppery, rough bark and a rich red smoke ring. It was exact. It’s possible that the chicken was even better: The tawny thighs were expertly seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, onion, cumin seed, and other ingredients, which resulted in mouthwatering bites after mouthwatering bite. The pulled pork and ribs were also excellent. The smokehouse really laid the hammer down this year, living true to its moniker.

Sloppy Mama’s BBQ

Selvin Garcia and Fredi Hernandez are in charge of three 500-gallon smokers and two BQ Grills that co-founders Joe and Mandy Neuman have set up outside their Arlington, Texas, restaurant, a former Pizza Hut. As you can expect, Garcia and Hernandez have a lot of flames to tend to and a lot of grates to watch out for because of this chaotic assortment of cookers. We burn a lot of wood, and it’s a generally inefficient operation, claims Joe. Despite the inefficiencies, the pit team is churning out some of the best bbq in Sloppy Mama’s eight-year history: tender brisket with ribbons of soft, rendered fat; juicy chopped pork dusted with Joe’s custom-made rub, an 18-ingredient avalanche he’s dubbed Happy Sprinkles; and spare ribs cooked long enough to bathe them in white-oak smoke but not so long that the meat slips from the Garcia, Hernandez, the Neumans, and maybe even local barbecue fans will have much better lives shortly since Sloppy Mama’s will soon replace its mini-campground of cookers with two 1,000-gallon barrels from Primitive Pits, the same Georgia firm that made the new smokers for 2Fifty Texas BBQ.

Bark Barbecue Cafe

Until you understand that Bark’s creator, Berj Ghazarian, also shares ownership of the manufacturing firm next door that supplies chocolate sauces, gelato, fruit fillings, and other dessert ingredients to restaurants, the sleek, minimalist café in a Kent Island industrial park appears out of place. Ghazarian’s “road to Damascus” experience about BBQ occurred on a trip to Texas more than ten years ago. He began with the typical backyard cooks when he got back, but soon went on to the competitive circuit before realising it wasn’t for him. Ghazarian has developed a formula that is effective: Ghazarian and his right-hand man Lorenzo “Ren” Price cook briskets, ribs, chicken, and pig belly on a pair of Moberg smokers in the business park’s parking lot, although they generally utilise those meats in sandwiches, rice bowls, or as an occasional special for day employees. The trick is this, though: Even though the platter isn’t featured on the menu, you may still request a platter of the meats. You’ll get some of the best regional barbecue: Slices of prime brisket that are pepper-heavy and slow-smoked to a jiggly consistency; smoked pork belly prepared like brisket, complete with a bark made crusty with coriander, cloves, and more; spare ribs that are smoked once and then smoked a second time in a braising liquid infused with a peach-hoisin sauce, gochujang, and more; and smoked chicken (adapted from a recipe

2Fifty Texas BBQ

In a multiday, multistep process, 2Fifty BBQ creates its own sausage, turning beef scraps (and sometimes pig) into smoky, flavorful links that are smoked at very low temperatures in smokers like the ones shown. For The Washington Post, Deb Lindsey I believe that one tale sums up Fernando Gonzalez, the brains behind the outstanding barbeque at 2Fifty: He engaged Mauro Chiefari, a former pitmaster of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, in December to advise at what was already the top smokehouse within miles of the capital for a number of days. Gonzalez instructed himself to pretend as though he knew nothing about BBQ before Chiefari’s stay so he could better learn from the visiting pitmaster. Gonzalez had already improved his wagyu and prime brisket seasoning and cooking techniques, which were unmatched in Washington, by the time Chiefari departed. The 2Fifty team was also taught how to create their own sausages by Chiefari, which is a multiday, multistep process that involves taking beef scraps (and sometimes swine) and turning them into flavorful, juicy links that are smoked at very low temperatures. Chiefari’s advice, nevertheless, shouldn’t be mistaken for a makeover. Gonzalez and Debby Portillo, the Salvadoran co-founders of 2Fifty, continue to utilise their Texas-style smokehouse to express their personal histories. You may find it in regular sides like fried sweet plantains and caramelised pineapple or in specialties like beef tacos and barbecue pupusas. This is BBQ from Central Texas with a heart for Central America. People even notice it from a distance because it is so unique, as was the case when I shared a video of my spread of 2Fifty meats. I received a private message from Matt Lang, the former pitmaster of Texas Jack’s and current proprietor of Philadelphia’s Zig Zag BBQ, quite soon. Lang emailed me, “They’re playing hardball.” “Slow pitch softball is being played by everyone else.”

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