Like music and literature, barbecue has a canon. In this case, it’s brisket, ribs, and pork—smoked, low and slow, until a humble cut becomes something exalted. Some of Seattle’s barbecue specialists adhere faithfully to tradition. Others fill their smokers with bologna and infuse their menus with jerk chicken and plantains. If you’re after barbecue of the grill variety, check out our guides to Korean barbecue and Japanese yakiniku. Otherwise, grab some napkins—maybe a bib—and settle in.
Seattle owes Erasto Jackson’s wife a debt of gratitude; her Jamaican roots broadened this talented local’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 Avenue, 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.
The interior—with its bourbon bar in the back—is urbane, but owners Grant and Hannah Carter have embraced Ballard Avenue’s high-end streatery game. The menu still balances classic smoked chicken, brisket, ribs, and pulled pork with 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. (During the day, sibling sandwich shop Mammoth operates out of here.)
A popular food truck begat an equally popular restaurant in the Central District, both of which deliver a subtly upgraded take on great barbecue. Owner Matt Davis smokes everything on hickory and post oak, doing right by the classics. His Kansas roots (and Kansas City barbecue influence) surface in the tangy sauce, but Davis also knows how to smoke a portobello mushroom. Wood Shop—and its large side patio—are open for lunch and dinner.
Lake Forest Park
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. All these carefully smoked meats show up unadorned, or in a series of sandwiches, garnished with just enough slaw or sauce. A sizable patio offers glimpses of Lake Washington—as well as picnic benches, umbrellas, and the occasional game of cornhole.
The unflappable pitmaster known to most simply as Pookey now plies his trade on Yesler, continuing his decades of smoking meat in the neighborhood. While the digs have changed in recent years, the wood-rustic decor and vintage photos of musicians like Sam Cooke and Michael Jackson create instant context for longtime fans. Most importantly, the ribs and brisket remain impressive as ever.
At Tess Thomas’s pink storefront on Rainier, 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.
Algona, SoDo, South Lake Union
Jack Timmons has built a sauce-spattered empire that stretches from a roadhouse in Algona to a new location in Bellingham. It all began at his laid-back restaurant in SoDo, where three custom offset smokers turn out all the classics, plus the best brisket in town. Sides display just as much care, like the housemade beef bacon on the wedge salad, as do the excellent breakfast tacos that offer solace to homesick Texans. Timmons, a Dallas native himself, recently opened a Tex-Mex spot called Jackalope in Columbia City that reframes his smoked meat amid enchiladas and fresh flour tortillas.
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 present more homestyle than high-concept, and the corn bread is as indulgent as any dessert (though that’s no reason to skip the pie).
SoDo, West Seattle
Chopped brisket, shredded pork. Brioche sandwich buns and burn-your-lips-off sauce. These sandwiches 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 (with mostly outdoor seating) spawned additional franchises, like the shiny newer outpost in West Seattle.
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 menu’s decidedly saucy, and not in the tomato-based way: smoked bologna sandwiches, smoked Delmonico cheesesteaks, a vegetarian chili made with smoked tofu, hominy, and Fritos. It’s hardly your classic barbecue menu, but protein prowess reigns here. Order the DIY meat-and-three combo and you’ll discover the salads pack way more finesse than you might expect.
Pike Place Market
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 makes takeout especially easy, even in Pike Place Market crowds.
The family behind the Raney Brothers BBQ food truck fuel their smoker with wood from Washington fruit trees. The resulting brisket, chicken, and pulled pork anchor all manner of comforting plates. There are melts—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.