The best BBQ restaurants in Toronto
The best BBQ restaurants in Toronto are now some of the most popular in the city. The art of Southern slow cooking has been wholeheartedly embraced up north, and these places prove that our Canadian pitmasters do right by time-honoured traditions.
Here are the best BBQ restaurants in Toronto.
176 Wicksteed Avenue, 416 316 5216
Adamson Barbecue encapsulates every romanticized expectation I have of Texas barbecue joint. That’s probably because Adam Skelly modeled his lunch-only spot – located inside a Leaside-area warehouse – after the famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin.
Skelly also owns and operates the Stoke Stack BBQ food truck. He launched it to the public back in 2013 before being swept up into the world of private catering.
His BBQ is crave-worthy stuff done in a reverential Texas style. He distinguishes himself from Hogtown’s breed of smokehouses with a 6,000 pound Oyler wood-burning smoker from Mesquite, Texas. Skelly and partner, Alison Hunt have to feed it manually to keep it going.
I order at the counter where simple pieces of butcher paper advertise sandwiches ($9-$11) and meats by the the quarter pound or pound with sides including slaw, potato salad and pinto beans.
I grab a thorough sampling and watch as Adamson staff slice up brisket and turkey by hand, lob ribs off the rack with a cleaver, cut up sausages into discs and top trays with voluminous piles of pork.
Trays come in a variety of sizes and are best enjoyed shared at one of the seat-yourself communal tables in the massive mess hall.
The brisket ($7/quarter lb., $22/lb.) comes encrusted in salt and spices. The bark isn’t crispy; rather it’s caramelized over an unctuous layer of sweet, gelatinous fat. It’s impossibly tender and I can tear it apart with my hands. A cut towards the end is a little firmer, while a slice from the centre can barely hold its shape, it’s like a puddle on my plate and it melts in my mouth.
Big, meaty spareribs ($6/quarter lb., $18/lb.), gristly tips and all, are dry rubbed and smoked until the meat pulls almost effortlessly from the bone.
The turkey ($7/quarter lb., $22/lb.) is a surprise standout. Skelly brines his poultry for a long time and I can taste it along with the gentle flavours of sugar maple, oak and cherry wood smoke (the same that kisses all these meats). The meat is super moist and juicy, while the texture is ultra smooth and not stringy in the slightest.
At my table, the succulent pulled pork ($6/quarter lb., $18/lb.) instinctively lands on a slice of white bread. It’s chunky and comes with a Lexington sauce – a vinegar based dressing that adds a sweet and tangy quality to the meat.
The lunch counter is open on weekdays from 11 a.m. until whenever the meat sells out. According to Skelly, 2 p.m. would be ideal, which means BBQ enthusiasts should get there early to avoid disappointment.
299 Roncesvalles Avenue, 416 532 7700
Barque Smokehouse is a new addition to Roncesvalles , located at the corner of Geoffery in the old Bistro 299 space. This casual smokehouse boasts an assortment of classic southern barbecue, crafted cocktails, and seasonal desserts. As its name implies, Barque takes a twist on the classics while still remaining true to their flavour.
Having made reservations in advance, we were seated promptly avoiding the 15-20 minute wait. Take note: The word’s out, so plan ahead! However, bar seating was available and takeout was a popular alternative.
Exposed brick, unfinished wood paneling, and mid-century chairs give the space a modern edge without being fashionably uncomfortable – a place for families or even a date.
The rotating drink specials were: Smokey Lemon Bourbon Sour ($10), Mint Julep ($9), and a Bacon Caesar ($8). The Lemon Bourbon was like sunshine in a glass. The smokey notes from the brulee lemon garnish brought out the peat of the Bourbon. By far though, the Caesar with a honey-dipped-candied-bacon-rim was the crowd pleaser. The spiciness of the Caesar contrasted beautifully with the savoury sweetness of the bacon – a constant juxtaposing flavour found in most dishes that evening.
For an appetizer, we decided to try the Brisket Poutine with Veal Gravy ($10). Is it too bold to say that a restaurant can be judged solely on their poutine? If so, it blew us away and by the end of the night they were sold out! The gravy covers your tongue in umami heaven.
By adding a sampler option for one ($20) or two ($36), the approachable menu allows you to try a lot for a little. (Choice of three: Spicy Pork Ribs, Brisket, Beef Ribs, or Chicken Thighs.) The server implored us to get the chicken – but who gets chicken eating out, right? WRONG! The chicken was succulent, needing no sauce.
The beef ribs were covered in a caramelized smokey bark (or should I say barq) and was my favorite by far, although everyone else preferred the chicken. I found the brisket braised beyond recognition and the peppercorn marinade lack luster. The pork ribs were a tad dry but the spicy rub was like crack. For sides, definitely try the Pickle Platter ($4). The sourness is a great palate cleanser balancing the savouriness of the meats with the sweetness of their sauces.
In keeping with its southern roots, a slab of housemade Pecan Pie was in order, with a side of Greg’s famous Roasted Marshmallow Ice Cream. Not really a Pecan Pie eater, but I found myself scraping the plate.
Barque is the perfect welcome to summer and now with brunch on the weekends you have even more opportunities to try it out.
699 St. Clair Avenue West, 416 658 9666
The Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder has been winning hearts in Toronto ever since it opened on St. Clair West. Serving big, juicy, mind-blowing burgers and somehow even juicier chicken along with other meaty fare and classic biscuits, this smokehouse is a favourite for lunch, dinner, takeout and brunch.
The interior is relatively cramped, but adds to the small town American BBQ feel. It’s kind of split down the middle: one side being the kitchen where you can see fries being tossed, burgers being flipped and bread being delivered and sliced, with bar seating facing the kitchen and the opposite wall. There are antique touches like a TTC fare collector tip jar.
A smash hit at Stockyards is the chicken and waffles, so traditional and wildly popular that it’s only available until 3 p.m. You get four pieces of fried chicken on a Belgian waffle drizzled with chili maple molasses citrus glaze garnished with a few sprinkles of rosemary for $16. If you have one chance to visit Stockyards, get this and the Green Chili Pimento Cheese burger ($9.50).
All their burgers are always freshly made, and this one is arguably one of the best in the city. A house pimento cheese made with garlic infused mayo, smoked jalapenos, and aged cheddar goes on the burger while it’s still hot. It’s topped with butter lettuce but doesn’t come with crispy onions necessarily, though don’t worry: they’ll be forced upon you.
The BAT ($9.75) is also a favourite – indulge in Stockyards’ house smoked hickory bacon, arugula, and a fried green tomato coated in seasoned cornmeal, with lemon aioli on sourdough.
As for their non-alcoholic bevvies, there’s always Boylan’s soda ($3). The glass bottles and necessity of a bottle opener add to the rustic feel of the Stockyards experience.
For an even more authentic and homemade vibe, though, try the homemade ginger lemon iced tea ($4).
The restaurant is a good option for breakfast and lunch as it’s unlicensed. They do brunch on Sundays and lines are out the door. They simply walk outside and tell folks they’re better off giving up on waiting when they near service’s end around 2:45 p.m.
4-Electric Mud BBQ
5 Brock Ave, 416 516 8286
Electric Mud BBQ somehow managed to open without much fanfare last weekend in the space formerly occupied by Stampede Bison Grill — this despite the fact that the new venture comes courtesy of the pair behind what was arguably 2012’s most hyped restaurant, the nearby Grand Electric. Conceptually speaking, this new offering doesn’t depart much from its predecessor: while the tacos have been replaced with Southern-inspired barbecue and the hip hop has given way to classic rock, the ample bourbon, volume on the stereo, lack of reservations and the generally hip vibe (there’s got to be a less dorky way to say that) make it easy to determine the shared lineage of the two establishments.
We arrived shortly after 5pm in the hopes of beating a possible line-up to find the restaurant half-full, a state that you’re unlikely to see too often as word gets out about the place. By the time 6pm came around the room became loud and lively, filled with curious diners and plaid-clad servers darting between the 10 or so tables. Worthy of note, if you’re not comfortable being seated inches away from your fellow patrons, be forewarned that the four-seat tables are rather cosy and that if you’ve arrived as a twosome, you’re likely to make acquaintances with your table-mates (lighten up, Toronto — this isn’t a bad thing).
The cocktail list is on the short side with four offerings in total, and despite the extensive bourbon options, they won’t just make you whatever you want (we tried and failed to get an Old Fashioned cooked up for us). This didn’t prove to be an issue, however, as the Clydesdale (a mix of bourbon, lime, grapefruit and agave for $8) proved a well-suited companion for the smokey fare — perhaps that’s why there were nine of them on the bill? Also popular based on a scan of the room is the Big Boi Rootbeer (also $8), which while less boozy, also pairs well with the food on offer.
So how is that food? Pretty fucking good. While mulling the bourbon list, we split the Hot Links ($8.50), which are an explosively juicy take on Louisiana-style Andouille chock full of garlic and smoke. Served atop a spread that’s at once like vegetable cream cheese and ranch dip, the accompaniment helps to pull back the overt smokiness of the sausage and adds another layer of fat-filled flavour to an already indulgent dish.
“Nothing here is altogether that good for you,” a server later explains to a nearby table. But that’s a matter of opinion. Sure, this isn’t the most healthy food you can eat — but it sure makes you feel good, and that’s worth something to me. Case in point: the Southern Fried Chicken (also $8.50) is out of this world. I’ve been impressed by similar offerings from the Stockyards and Riverside Public House in the past, but the folks at Electric Mud somehow manage to fashion an even crispier exterior than what you’ll find elsewhere, and the blend of spices used put a certain Colonel to shame.
It’d be a shame not to order the Coleslaw ($3.50) alongside your chicken, as it’s also one of the better slaws I’ve had. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, there’s just a hint of Asian influence but what’s most noticeable is how light it is. Although the sauce is clearly mayo-based, it’s got enough underlying acid to cut some of the fat that’s coming through from the chicken. Word to the wise, though, the portion is small — so if you’re sharing it might make sense to get two of these.
Naturally we had to try the ribs (see lead photo). Regardless of how good all the other items on the menu are, if a barbecue joint doesn’t do a bang up job on their ribs, the whole enterprise should be called into question. Nothing of the sort will be happening here. It’s a shame we just updated our best ribs in Toronto post, because if we were to do it in a month, you can bet these would be on it. Sticky and tender (almost to fall-off-the-bone but not quite — i.e. perfect), they’re not exactly traditional. Beyond the fact that they’re topped with peanuts and chives, you’d have difficulty placing the sauce within any American barbecue style or tradition. They’re both sweet and acidic, but not to the same degree that you’ll find with most Southern preparations.
If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s on the portion size to price ratio. At $13.50, I’d like more than three ribs, especially given that this is the type of food that’s meant to share. That said, I found the prices for the other dishes we tried more than fair. Take the Duck Ham ($13.50), for instance. The generous portion of wonderfully smokey duck would surely fool more than a few people in a blind taste test. I mean it really, really tastes like a traditional pork-based ham. The texture is a give-away, though. This meat is juicier than your standard offering and the skin bursts with salty flavour. I should also add that the pickled accompaniments (which also come with the fried chicken) are a nice little touch and, once again, offer a useful bit of acidity when you need it.
We skipped dessert in favour of more bourbon, sampling offerings from Baker’s and Elijah Craig — neither of which broke the bank at $8 and $6.50 respectively. It’d be easy to get in trouble here, though. The list has well over 30 bottles, much of which you’ll have difficulty finding at the LCBO (what a surprise).
Given that this review comes mere days after the place has opened, there’s not much point getting into the service. There were a few minor hiccups, but the staff were friendly, worked well as a team, and made us feel welcome and at home. That’s all that really matters. This is a fun, casual place to eat, so please no complaints about the loud music. And if the name doesn’t sound altogether that appealing, do bear in mind that it’s a reference to a Muddy Waters album .
Let the lineups begin!
99 Queen St. E, 416 947 7000
The Carbon Bar is the latest offering from Nota Bene owners Yannick Bigourdan, David Lee, and Franco Prevedello. Given their shared history with venues as illustrious as Splendido , it’s no surprise to see this project is as ambitious as it is. What is a shock, however, is the keen departure from anything approaching fine dining in favour of casual service and down-home cooking.
Servers wear jeans and t-shirts, and even the sneakers are officially part of the uniform (every staff member wears Adidas, but each are identifiable by their own unique colour of shoelace). In comparison with the vests and ties over at Nota Bene, it’s a distinctly unglamourous approach.
The dining room, on the other hand, embodies glamour. Occupying the former home of the Electric Circus nightclub ( not the same spot that hosted its gaudy TV namesake ), the space has also been used by Disney as a rehearsal studio. Nods to both are evident in one corner of the gargantuan room with a huge neon sign as well as a shelf of Donald Duck figurines by the chef’s table. The fixtures are equally evocative of the club and studio history: accordion extensions drape globes of light across the room, which is dominated by booth seating. As you enter, there’s a collection of mixing boards affixed to the wall outside the restrooms.
The down-home concept is also betrayed by the fine service pedigree at work here. Coats are checked upon entry, and while the stereo blared a comforting mix of modern day indie rock, the service felt more polished than you might expect.
David Lee’s menu, under the care of Chef de Cuisine Hidde Zomer, focuses on locally sourced ingredients and sharing plates. While a few dishes such as the Hamachi Tartare ($14 – yellowtail, slices of asian pear, clementines and sweet mini teardrop peppers are dressed in a Kombucha vinegar), and crispy chicken skin ($6, with a sweet chili vinegar) are classic Lee, the meat offers a serious departure.
Queso de Cabeza ($13) is essentially a fried breakfast for dinner, with porchetta-laden baked beans, brioche toast, a fried egg, and pickled beets. The dish is crowned by a generous helping of pig’s head that’s been deboned and cooked sous-vide, before being fried. I loved it, but couldn’t tell you when might be the appropriate time to order it again.
The kitchen spends a lot of time smoking in its wood fire pit, and the result is a ridiculous Pit Master Platter ($29 per person, minimum 2 people), encompassing the best brisket I’ve had in the city, alongside pork side ribs, jalapeño sausage, smoked turkey, and pulled pork, with a choice of sweet or vinegar based sauces. It’s a heavy undertaking and requires at least a side order of collard greens ($5) to help the stomach cope. All the meat is seasoned only in salt and pepper, showcasing the quality of the cuts they’re using.
The wood from the smoker also makes its way into the well-crafted cocktail program, with the charcoal shaken into margaritas ($16) to produce a black tone. Those sweet teardrop peppers are also in play in The Alibi ($16), a blend of tequila, Chartreuse, lemon, and buckthorn guajillo chili syrup. Most of the bar’s focus is on either tequila or brown liquor of some variety, and the wine list is restrained, with bottles at either a $39, $59, or $79 price point (don’t worry, there’s a secret list of some fancier bottles available on request).
The beers also appear to have been found in a stockroom from the place’s nightclub days, with Labatt Blue on offer alongside enormous bottles of 50 ($12 for 710ml). There’s a range of craft beers too, and a decent selection of local and international draught. Bites are offered at the bar, such as kettle corn ($4), or split pea fritters with pico de gallo ($7).
I’m really impressed with The Carbon Bar. It’s a huge space, and offers a welcome note of pomp to the city. The food might be more the kind of fare I’d expect at somewhere like Barque , but given how much I like it there, that’s actually a compliment. It’s great to see serious restaurateurs break from fine-dining, while still offering something upscale.
275 Cherry St. 416 461 5111
Cherry Street Bar-B-Que takes a reverential approach to this famous Southern-style food. A short jaunt from Cherry Beach, the Docks drive-in and Cabana Pool Bar in the Port Lands, the restaurant offers walk-up service where you place your order at the counter and order drinks from the bar inside or on the patio.
It’s practically empty inside when I visit on a recent weeknight, but the patio is positively bustling. Because the restaurant doesn’t have neighbours, the outdoor DJ is spinning tunes at max volume and it feels like a party as local sports teams take advantage of the late-setting sun.
The daily smoked margarita ($9) is popular at the bar.
I get a variation featuring sour cherries with fresh ginger and habaneros amp up the tartness, while smoked honey adds sweetness and depth to the refreshing drink.
The food menu, scrawled on butcher’s paper, bills selections like brisket ($13/half pound), sausage ($6.50/link), pulled pork ($9/half pound), side ribs ($10/pound) and chicken ($14.50/half chicken).
The range of sides ($4.50 each) includes classics like coleslaw, potato salad, bunt end studded beans and mac ‘n cheese along with some unexpectedly healthy-sounding options like smoked broccoli and quinoa salad (which go totally ignored next to the Velveeta smothered macaroni).
Whatever you choose, the meat and sides come arranged on a tray with sliced white bread, pickles and onions in an effort to emulate the most notable smokehouses in the states.
Owner and pit master Lawrence Lapiante doesn’t adhere to a single regional style, but has a variety of influences. He has cooked alongside some of the greats and considers first class pit master Mike Mills among his mentors.
His brisket, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, doesn’t boast that pink ring that so many aspire to, but it’s moist and incredibly tender.
The sausages, produced by the St. Jamestown butcher in Cabbagetown, are seasoned with pepper and taste kind of like pepperoni. Meanwhile, meaty St. Louis cut ribs come glazed in vinegar and butter.
Pulled pork boasts unexpectedly sweet flavours thanks to the addition of fruit juice.
The chicken is perhaps my favourite. It’s brined then smoked until the flesh is juicy and moist. It gets kissed on the grill and gently brushed with sweet BBQ sauce before it’s served.
The griddle smashed Double Stack Cheesy Mac ($11) is wonderful as well. It’s essentially a deluxe Big Mac built on a potato bun, only here the patty is made from brisket trimmings ground fresh every morning.
Brunch served on weekends is especially indulgent. Find options like avocado and eggs over slow-smoked beans accompanied by Caesars garnished with a smoked rib.
176 Dupont St, 647 748 3287
The outdoor hall, encircled by trees features long rows of communal picnic tables that extend back towards the shipping crate-made kitchen where heavenly thick smoke billows from the custom pit and is fanned into the yard. It’s a perfectly laid back kind of place where passing plates around the table and eating with your hands is not just encouraged but almost necessary.
The menu lists starters, little and big crow plates, sides, and desserts. Everything is conducive to sharing and even cocktails by the pitcher can be ordered for the table. I stop in over lunch hour on a recent blazing, hot afternoon and was thankful for the shade provided by the tented canopy.
The headliners at this daily cookout — helmed by executive chef, Christopher Sanderson — are likely the baby back ribs ($26/slab) or grilled lobsters ($36/1.5lb), but for lunch I try out a couple of the smaller plates starting with Porchetta Sausage ($13). The peppery, circular coil of meat is served over a slice of Thuet bread and balanced by a sweet, red pepper condiment. While a simple dish, it’s exceptionally tasty.
The Swordfish ($14) steak with fresh salsa is grilled perfectly so that it’s firm but juicy. This one is topped with a mango and red onion salsa that’s best slopped up by the single slice of bread supplied… if only there was more bread.
Dessert is campy in all the right ways with ice cream sandwiches ($6) loaded onto brioche buns. I try the S’mores assembled from thick cut slabs of Chapman’s vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, crushed graham crackers and toasted marshmallows on top. Picking it up is out of the question; the eggy bun ends up absorbing the ice cream as it melts turning it into a delicious pudding.
As mentioned above, cocktails from Churchill star bartender, Quenton Fortune , are available by the pitcher ($24-26) or glass ($9-12). I try the house punch which today is a refreshing blend of; strawberry purée, limeade and gin, though it’ll be switched up frequently and can be done alcohol free. Local brews like Beau’s Lugtread Ale and Kensington’s Watermelon Wheat are available on tap, along with select bottles and wines.
Big Crow is looking into weatherizing for year-round feasting. Currently the mess hall can seat about fifty at a time and opens for dinner early in the week at 5pm and then for lunch at 11am from Thursday to Sunday. Nightly, they’re open until whenever. Limited reservations are accepted but walk-ins are encouraged. If you do find yourself waiting, there’s standing tables upfront so you can get started on some cocktails and at least feel like you’ve already arrived.
1959 Queen St. E, 416 691 9009
Hogtown Smoke has been open in the Beach(es) for less than a month, and already the food truck’s brick and mortar offspring is on fire. Take-away orders start rolling in via phone before the doors even open, and in the evenings I’m told the wait is 45 minutes or longer.
Owners Scott and Kevin Fraser opened this 30-seat eatery after getting stuck in traffic and seeing the storefront for lease. The deal was sealed with the serendipitous inclusion of an enormous backyard that’ll house the three smokers that Scott has already acquired, not to mention the new 500lb barrel smoker that’s on order from Oklahoma. Future plans will see the outdoor kitchen set to one side to make room for seating next patio season.
Inside is warm and cozy. The decor employs reclaimed barn board, tin bucket light shades, and salvaged church pew seating. The menu is scrawled across a chalkboard wall and the bar at the back doubles as the takeout counter.
The menu is not cheap, but considering the generous portion sizes and top quality meats, nothing seems outrageous. Pig Out Platters ($64-$182) will feed three to 10 people and if you order it to stay, you’ll draw envious glares from onlooking diners.
The full spread features a sampling of everything. There’s pork ribs or beef ribs, brisket, pulled pork, Patron-infused chicken and wings.
A choice of three sides (at least) are included with the platters: hearty root beer-baked beans, cornbread muffins, slaw (creamy or vinegar based) or seasoned fries are among the options. Vegetarians should probably just sit this one out.
The glorious array of low and slow cooked meats are served au natural (not sauced) to show off their merits. Sliced brisket boasts black bark and a deep pink ring; crisp golden chicken skin encases juicy poultry that was steamed (thanks to Patron and lime juice injections) as it smoked; beef ribs that should’ve been cut down to short ribs but are instead served whole on mammoth bones. House-made sauces are offered on the side and come in seven varieties ranging from mild to hot and in unique flavours like peanut butter chipotle, mango habanero or ghost pepper hot sauce.
For dining singles and duos there are sandwiches ($13-$16), chicken dinners ($20) and sample platters ($26-$45) all served with a choice of at least two heaping sides.
Currently the bar pours pints of Beau’s for $8, though there are plans to expand the selection with a soon-to-be-installed tap station. Shots of bourbon and tequila range from $5.75 to $14, and glasses of wine hover around $11.
Hogtown Smoke is open daily from noon until 10pm, but be warned that menu items do sell out. Diners looking to indulge should keep an eye out for specials like the $100 wagyu beef brisket and shrimp boils planned for next patio season.
1242 Dundas St W, 416 588 7408
Smoke Signals serves southern BBQ standards cooked in a smoker behind the restaurant. The casual Dundas West destination is hip and minimal rather than rustic. The walls are a concrete grey and giant slabby wooden tables create a communal feel with a polished style.
For $38 you can get a platter for two with two meats and a choice of three sides. Two cuts of fatty, moist brisket are prepared Texas style, the best and simplest way, simple salt and pepper ratios allowing the beef fat to become the main flavour vehicle, smoked for thirteen hours. For our other meat we choose ribs, and add a jalapeno cheddar sausage ($6 a link).
The sausage is made with wonderfully vinegary and spicy house pickled jalapenos, and the gooey cheddar adds creaminess. The ribs are done with a Memphis dry rub, smoked for around four to six hours. The barque on top is smoky and flavourful, but the lean ribs aren’t tender enough to quite fall off the bone.
The owner admits to having OCD when it comes to mac n’ cheese ($8) and it shows, noodles perfectly al dente, sauce perfectly thick and cheesy, and a crackly baked top layer. The sauce is a rich full cream bechamel made with smoked Gouda and Old Bay for punch, with delicate panko crumbs on top.
Frito pie ($8) is an Austin late night classic, layers of corn chips, brisket, chili, smoked cheddar, crema, jalapeno and green onion. The raw jalapeno is really spicy but I feel like it balances the smoky cheddar and rich, heavy chili.
They’ve also got a pulled jackfruit sandwich ($10) for the herbivores in your party. The smoked jackfruit is paired with jerk spice making it savoury and spicy. It’s topped with a coleslaw ($5) which looks familiar with shredded red and green cabbage and carrot, but tastes surprising with Asian flavours of pineapple and mint.
To round it all off you can even get one of their rotating desserts like this sugary, buttery pecan pie.