Lil Red fuses barbecue, soul food, and Jamaican traditions.
It’s portable, sauce-swabbed, and generally associated with open air (and plenty of napkins). In this most bizarre of summers, barbecue is a food that meets the moment.
Seattle owes Erasto Jackson’s wife a debt of gratitude; her Jamaican roots broadened this talented local boy’s culinary horizons, and gave rise to one of the city’s most exciting destinations for smoked meat. At his counter service restaurant on Rainier Ave, exacting barbecue triangulates brilliantly with soul food and the Caribbean nation’s traditions of seafood and jerked meats. It’s nigh impossible to choose when a single menu might offer jerk spareribs, burnt ends, curry goat, smothered pork chops, spot-on brisket, and escovitch fish. Whatever you decide on, know that Jackson’s arsenal of rubs gives each meat distinct flavor, plantains are a perfect barbecue side dish, and the mac and cheese alone is worth a trip. Actually, stop what you’re doing and go right now.
A merry band from Pike Place Market’s Radiator Whiskey decamped to West Seattle and opened this smokehouse with a serious brown liquor program. The turkey drumstick, a smoked and savory billy club drizzled with lime crema, was an early signature, but Lady Jaye built major neighborhood goodwill with its family meals of smoked prime rib or pork cheeks during the pandemic. Protein prowess reins here, from the smoked bologna sandwich laced with potato chips to a DIY sandwich platter built around tender pork collar pastrami. As at Radiator, salads pack way more finesse than you might expect.
The unflappable pitmaster known to most simply as Pookey has a new home on Yesler, writing a smoky new chapter at the Central District address that spent the past 66 years as a restaurant called RL Home of Good Bar-B-Que. While the digs have changed, the wood-rustic decor and vintage photos of musicians like Sam Cooke and Michael Jackson came along, creating instant context for longtime Pookey fans. Most importantly, the ribs remain tender as ever. From meaty rib tips to brisket to pulled pork heaped atop a piece of white bread, the Barbeque Pit’s quality hasn’t wavered as it hopscotched between locations over the past few years. A few things have changed for Covid times though: The restaurant has retired its cash-only policy and, for now, its dining room seating.
Part of the charm in Ballard’s longstanding urban barbecue and bourbon joint is the dining room’s sharp aesthetic; here utilitarian stacks of fuel wood assume a double identity as design element, and a more stylized bar hides in the back. But owners Grant and Hannah Carter have embraced our weird reality with a new fenced off patio space on Ballard Ave, and online orders for takeout. Thankfully plenty of constants remain: The menu still balances classic smoked chicken, brisket, ribs, and pulled pork with barbecue-driven bar bites like nachos or pickled deviled eggs. Customizable mac and cheese lets you add in a choice of sauce and anything from bacon to smoked jalapenos. And exceptional bourbon cocktails are available as kits or on that charming new deck.
To be sure, this spot in Lake Forest Park has a fan base. But way more of Seattle’s barbecue nerds should be singing the praises of Brileys, a beacon of carefully smoked meat. Rather than pick a particular region’s style, owners Kyle Brierley and Skyler Riley patchwork a menu out of their favorite traditions: brisket in the vein of Texas, Kansas City–style ribs; gumbo and Brunswick stew round out the sides. A sizable patio offers glimpses of Lake Washington—as well as picnic benches, umbrellas, and the occasional game of cornhole.
Tess Thomas’s pink storefront on Rainier is a family business; that’s abundantly clear even in this era of scurrying into restaurants for quick, minimally interactive takeout. Brisket is tender, rib meat can’t wait to part ways with the bone, and no shortage of extra steps go into the sides. This means fluffy corn bread and mac and cheese that isn’t overly soupy; the greens—cooked with bits of chopped-up brisket end—might be the best barbecue greens you’ll eat in this lifetime. Yes, you’ll be crazy full by the end of it all, but if Thanksgiving happened in summertime, it would taste like Emma’s sweet potato pie.
Jack Timmons has been on a sauce-spattered tear of late. In 2014, he opened a laid-back SoDo barbecue joint, combining scholarship, geekery, and outright zeal the way only a native Texan turned Microsoft alum can. Three custom offset smokers the size of a freight train still turn out all the classics, plus the best brisket in town (and the filling for some excellent breakfast tacos). But now you can find permanent or popup Jack’s outposts in Columbia Tower, South Lake Union, Ravenna, and a handful of other locations from Bellevue to the South Sound. Timmons has added a fried chicken popup at his SLU address, but back at his original roadhouse, the parking lot has been reborn as a patio, the ideal spot to knock back some uber-refreshing cocktails.
A popular barbecue food truck begat an equally popular restaurant in the Central District, both of which deliver an ever-so-slightly upgraded take on great barbecue. Unabashed barbecue geek Matt Davis, a former furniture maker with a degree in wood technology, does right by the classics (pulled pork, brisket, ribs) but also knows how to smoke a portobello mushroom. Wood Shop’s meat is unquestionably good enough to stand alone, but it’s especially fun in one of the mac and cheese bowls, garnished with barbecue sauce and pickled red onions. Right now Wood Shop’s truck still circulates, but the restaurant is only open for takeout and delivery.
The former chainlet has settled into a single location on Fauntleroy, with a ton of catering business and a walkup counter where regulars can swing in for lunch specials or hot link sandwiches. Barbecue options are vast and versatile, from meat by the pound to combo meals, all liberally doused in a house sauce more tangy than sweet—no wonder Jones sells it by the enormous jar. Ribs and brisket are more homestyle than high-concept, and the corn bread is as indulgent as any dessert (though that’s no reason to skip the pie).
Chopped brisket, shredded pork. Brioche sandwich buns and burn-your-lips-off sauce. Barbecue purists might scoff at these smoked meat sandwiches, which bear more than a passing resemblance to a sloppy joe, but legions of local fans lined up at the counter aren’t here to parse barbecue semantics. They’re here for various iterations of smoked meat, drenched in sauce, and accompanied by classic barbecue sides. The original institution in SoDo (which consists mostly of outdoor seating) has spawned a truck and additional franchises, like the shiny newer outpost in West Seattle.
Whether you find the name eye-rolly or hilarious, it’s hard to argue with the barbecue that originates, rather unexpectedly, from this narrow old Pike/Pine storefront. Owner Zac Johnson jumped through permitting hoops galore to install two commercial smokers upstairs that yield tender dry-rubbed brisket, pulled pork, and St. Louis–style ribs, all of which radiate the subtle flavor of Johnson’s many-spiced house rubs. His sauce hits that not-too-sweet spot between vinegar and Kansas City–style versions.
Meat from Pecos Pit fills the sandwiches at this counter in Pike Place Market, almost directly beneath the neon sign. From chopped beef and cheddar to pork and a vinegary slaw, just about every item on the menu benefits from the addition of a hot link. Online ordering and the market’s handy color-coded curbside pickup system makes takeout surprisingly easy.
The family behind the Raney Brothers BBQ food truck apply their brisket, chicken, and pulled pork to all manner of comforting creations. There’s the melt—aka smoked meat chopped, mixed with celery and onion, and grilled with melted cheese. Reliably great smoked wings, and burgers topped with brisket or pulled pork. And of course the sandwich concoction known as “the Dude”: a heap of barbecue meat on top of a slab of meatloaf, garnished with slaw, grilled onions, and cheese. Right now, the dining room and patio on Airport Way are open on weekdays.