8 of Toronto’s best barbecue joints
Our picks for loading up on brisket, ribs and pulled pork
Adam Skelly’s barbecue is so mind-blowingly good that it’s worth venturing into the wilds of a Leaside industrial park for. The cavernous concrete space is a smokehouse pure and simple, with rolls of paper towel on the tables and a menu penned on butcher paper taped to the wall. Everything here takes a spin in the Oyler1300, a massive wood-burning smoker: brisket, already on the cusp of disintegration, melts in your mouth, and pork ribs flecked with caraway seeds are perfectly pink inside. Sides are as nature and the Deep South intended: kitchen-sink potato salad, creamy slaw and rich beans flavoured with beef tallow. There are no spoons in the collection of plastic cutlery—instead, the slices of Wonder Bread served with each platter are meant for soaking up escaped sauces.
Walk behind the Dupont diner Rose and Sons, through a laneway, and you’re engulfed in a cloud of intoxicating charcoal smoke. Chef Sean Malone and his crew slow-smoke ribs, chicken and briskey over a firepit, and serve the meat with sides like sweet slaw and buttermilk potato salad. Diners sit an picnic tables in an open-air mess hall, drinking pitchers of cocktails and bottles of rosé made for the restaurant by Norman Hardie. In winter, the patio becomes a fully heated cabin, topped with canvas, lit by candles and strewn with blankets.
This cavernous Queen East space disproves the rule that the best barbecue must come from out-of-the-way smokehouses. The brisket is some of the best in the city—it sets a lofty standard for the rest of the pitmaster platter, which turns out to be a bit more Jekyll and Hyde: the St. Louis cut ribs are slightly overdone, and the fried chicken could use a few more seconds in the fryer. But it’s a safe bet that no idealized barbecue place could successfully execute—or would even try to pull off—a Korean fried cauliflower dish, an herb-crusted slab of blackened sea bass on a minty frisée slaw, or a bracing shrimp ceviche. The disparate culinary traditions mostly hold together, save for a rye and ginger made with cold brew that registers a culinary clang—something from the wine list is a better way to go.
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Cherry Street Bar-B-Que
275 Cherry St., 416-461-5111; 111 Richmond St. W., cherrystbbq.com
The faint whiff of white-oak smoke wafting over the Port Lands these days is courtesy of Lawrence La Pianta, who opened a slice of central Texas just across from the vacant lot that often hosts traveling Cirque du Soleil shows. (There’s also a second location at the downtown Assembly Food Hall.) Brisket, pulled pork and side ribs, all sold by weight, take centre stage, scribbled on butcher paper so it’s easier to cross something off when it sells out. Brisket can be a fickle cut; it’s best to arrive early to capture it at its peak—peppered, salted and cut as thick as the accompanying slices of bread. A cheese-stuffed sausage link, or two, is a better use of tray space than the pulled pork. Sides are traditional (slaw, onions, pickles) and it’s hard not to love an order of baked beans carrying the weight of the brisket’s burnt ends.
This raucous Parkdale joint is home to some seriously tasty barbecue. The evolving menu eschews the more experimental bites present when it first opened—gone is the Black Forest–style smoked duck with hoisin, and ribs topped with peanuts and chives—in favour of more standard barbecue fair, and the restaurant is better for it. The brisket sandwich may be one of the city’s best: tissue-thin slices of Montreal-style smoked beef are piled high on a soft roll and topped with sweet molasses-barbecue sauce, chipotle mayo and crispy frizzled onion strings. Tangy buffalo cauliflower, crowned with pickled celery, is another standout. No meal here is complete without a bourbon-forward cocktail and Crack Rolls—warm milk buns served with whipped butter accented by smoker drippings.
This perennial pop-up has settled into a permanent home on Dundas West. Drawing on inspiration from across the southern U.S., pitmaster Nick Chen-Yin smokes up a BBQ Belt greatest hits menu: from South Carolina, smoky pulled pork dressed in a vinegary sauce; from Memphis, dry-rubbed pork ribs seasoned with paprika and pepper; and, from central Texas, jalapeño-cheddar sausages that snap like a bullwhip. Classic sides include creamy mac and cheese and savoury baked beans studded with the brisket’s burnt ends. Even if it’s not served directly from the bag, there’s still something shamefully delicious about a good Frito pie, as this smoked chili and crema version proves. To drink: barbecue-friendly beers—and bourbon, of course.
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Stack – the ultimate platter baby back ribs, quarter chicken, pulled pork, brisket and smoked meat Served with fresh-cut fries, mac & cheese, smoky molasses beans, slaw & fresh buns. . . . . . #goodeats #foodpic #foodietribe #phoneeatsfirst #buzzfeast #feedmyphone #goodfoodtoronto #torontofood #eatfamous #dailyfoodfeed #feedfeed #eeeeeats #buzzfoodfeed #lovetoeat #livetoeat #foodforfoodies #foodlife #yyzeats #nomnom_to #meat #ribs #pulledpork #brisket #chicken #fries #macandcheese #beans
When Stack opened, the food wasn’t great and the kitchen lacked focus. Although the menu remains bloated—it’s a crowd-pleasing place, after all—the cooking is now top-notch. The sampler platter is superb: fatty slices of brisket have a charred-just-right crust, the baby back ribs are cooked to perfection, and the deli smoked meat has that necessary hint of pickling spice. The smoked chicken, coated in tongue-tingling pepper sauce, is also excellent.
Of the countless restaurants that were part of Toronto’s southern barbecue boom over half a decade ago, St. Clair West’s Stockyards was always one of the very best. The menu here is much the same as it’s always been—sandwiches, burgers, fried chicken and what might be the city’s best ribs. Owner Tom Davis still spends most of his time in the back of the joint, and his commitment to his craft has made this humble spot one of the city’s most consistent restaurants. His griddle-smashed burgers are arguably some of the finest in town. The smoked chicken and ribs are only on offer Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, a testament to Davis’s obsession with quality.