Once upon a time, good barbecue was strictly a southern affair. But, in recent years, Cleveland has gotten in on that sweet, smoky action in a big way. Barbecue is the food of summer. The food of family. Maybe even the food of America.
Whether you’re after chicken or ribs, a dry rub or the tangiest sauce, we’ve got it all here on the north shore. Our top picks run the gamut from legacy joints with recipes passed down through generations to startups featuring fresh spins on the classics.
When celeb chef Michael Symon turned to barbecue, it had to be in a distinctly Cleveland way. Mabel’s BBQ uses Eastern European spices, adds Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard to the sauce and even smokes the meat over local fruitwood. Their beef rib can’t be topped, but we’re partial to the “This Is Cleveland” platter.
Smoky aromas waft from Proof, a subterranean enclave with meat-centric dishes, local brews and craft cocktails. Start with some chicharrones, and keep the party going with honey cornbread or mac-and-cheese. And you bet your sweet you-know-what they’ve got burnt ends—slather ‘em with one of six housemade sauces. Pro-tip: Just don’t wear your white T-shirt.
This partnership between a Canadian entrepreneur and Pitmaster Eddie Jay will leave your mouth smoking. What else would you expect from a place boasting a “Hotter Than Hell” barbecue sauce? Their specialty Ohio City Platter — loaded up with pulled pork, beef brisket and BBQ ribs — is not to be missed.
Located in the Campus District, Boney Fingers smokes their pork, brisket, chicken and ribs for up to 16 hours. And, for those barbecue diehards, they’re open for breakfast on weekdays, too. Check out the Boney Boy — a beef polish sausage topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, cheese sauce and BBQ sauce. Yes, please.
In 1942, Texas native Virgil Whitmore, Sr. decided he wanted to put the spice mixtures he sold to local establishments to a better, more delicious use. Several decades later, Whitmore's Bar-B-Q is still a local institution, with two locations on Harvard and Kinsman run by Whitmore's very own grandsons, Vance and Virgil. Whether it's their polish boy, the crispy, juicy wings or a rack of ribs, you're guaranteed to do some finger-licking.
What began as two friends in a food truck (purchased for $1,000 on Craigslist) has blossomed into a Lakewood BBQ institution. Order up a half slab or The Proper Slopper and dine on a cafeteria tray just like the old days. Oh, and try the bacon on a stick. We’re not sure if it technically qualifies as barbecue, but exceptions can be made.
Owner Robert Hill Jr. and his three sons offer farm-to-table barbecue at their Cedar-Lee and Ohio City locations. The brisket, ribs and pulled pork slowly smoke all day (yep, 24 hours) inside The Rib Cage’s custom-built brick smokehouse. Fun fact: The Hill family smokes all of the meat with local wood straight from Amish Country.