7 of Connecticut's Best Barbecue Joints
When you think of states with great barbecue (or ’cue), which ones come to mind? Missouri? Texas? The Carolinas? Tennessee? Pick any one of those and you wouldn’t be wrong. But, really, the best barbecue is that which you can easily drive to. That said, you wouldn’t be settling by venturing out to any one of these smoked-meat sanctums. Catering to virtually every style of meat — from pulled pork to pork ribs, from beef ribs to beef brisket, from chicken to sausage — and sauce — from tomato based to vinegar based, from finger-lickin’ sweet to relief-seeking hot, from on the meat to on the side — Connecticut’s barbecue joints have it covered. As always, we want to know what you think. What other barbecue joints should we try? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
59 W. Center St., Southington, 860-620-9133
You can smell the delicious barbecue and other smoked-meat offerings before you see or taste them at Smokin’ With Chris in Southington. Grab a table on the large back patio inseason or in the quaint bar room or dining room, where there’s often live music. The owner, Chris Conlon, opened his restaurant in 2004 to bring together his love of good food and good music, and it’s been a winning combination.
With a large and diverse menu, there’s something for everyone here. On our recent springtime visit, we opted for the meat lover’s combo to get a little taste of everything. Enter the shredded brisket, pulled pork and mouthwatering, sloppy ribs. Personalize your meal with three different barbecue sauces — the Memphis southwestern style JR’s Sauce, the slightly sweet Kansas City style Chris’s Sauce and the traditional vinegar-based Carolina Kicker. All entrees come with two sides including sweet potatoes, cornbread and potato salad.
2895 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, 203-333-2733
Walrus + Carpenter in Bridgeport’s trendy Black Rock neighborhood is a perfect combination of rustic, chic gastropub (think scuffed hardwood floors and pressed-tin ceiling) with traditional Southern comfort food (think fried chicken, collard greens and, of course, barbecue).
There are several options from the restaurant’s back-lot smoker like maple-bourbon baby back ribs, pit-smoked pork shoulder or jezebel spare ribs. You can also opt for larger meals designed to be split among the table like The Notorious P.I.G., which serves four and includes treasures like maple pork belly, andouille sausage and so much more. You definitely won’t be hungry when you’re done.
But that’s just scratching the surface. A lengthy list of small and large plates aim to please. Sides include baked mac and cheese, creamed kale and asparagus. Start your meal with a few scrumptious snacks for the table like deviled eggs or deep-fried, blue cheese-stuffed olives. And of course there are a wide variety of craft beers on tap, a nice wine list and a full bar.
482 S. Main St., Middletown, 860-358-9828
This Middletown barbecue haven is little more than a hole in the wall. Taino Smokehouse has space for only seven tables or 26 people inside, but in season, the restaurant opens its back patio and balloons to seating for 250. It’s the brainchild of Chris Szewczyk and his wife Jenny, who opened Taino in 2012 after Chris gave up his job in the tech industry. This fall they will open a second, larger location in Meriden.
Their pork, beef and chicken products are wood smoked in Taino’s large Ole Hickory Pits smoker. The pulled pork and brisket dinners are succulent and kicked up a notch by the restaurant’s spicy barbecue sauce. BBQ dinner entrees can be paired with sides like creamy mac and cheese, coleslaw and cornbread. If you prefer your meat on a bun, there are plenty of sandwiches and burgers, plus fried chicken and wings, to fill up on. Or take the meat home by the pound!
967 Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7), Ridgefield, 203-438-6033
Named for the notorious leader of the Dodge City Gang in Las Vegas in the late 1800s, the restaurant, which opened last summer to great acclaim, specializes in what it calls “outlaw barbeque,” a mixing and matching of various barbecue styles from around the country. The result is a mouthwatering assortment of big, bold and dangerously addictive barbecue that seeks to offer the best of Texas, Kansas City and other regional styles. The cut-with-a-spoon-soft brisket is a must try, as is the beef rib. Other highlights include smoked pork ribs, pulled pork, BBQ nachos, chicken wings, and all the classic barbecue sides one expects. There is a sitdown restaurant and bar that has a rotating lineup of mostly local craft beers, including some hard-to-find gems.
89 Arch St., Hartford, 860-724-3100; 2152 Poquonock Ave., Windsor, 860-999-3834
You know a barbecue place is serious when in addition to just napkins, the condiments counter has a sink. Owned by Jamie "The Bear" McDonald, a former competitive eating champ, Bear’s has earned serious praise for its Kansas City style. Offerings include slow-smoked ribs, brisket and Bear’s specialties like the Mac Attack (delicious mac and cheese topped with pulled pork and barbecue sauce). However, our favorite meat at Bear’s is the Kansas City original — burnt ends.These super slow-cooked delicacies are the stuff dreams, or at least cravings, are made of.
Bear’s currently has two full locations, plus a recently opened takeout-only spot in South Windsor with a limited menu, but more projects are on the way. McDonald is teaming with Tyler Anderson, chef-owner of Millwright's in Simsbury, for the new bar and restaurant Cook and the Bear in West Hartford, expected to open this summer. The Hartford Bear’s is set to move to a bigger location with a full bar around the corner, and McDonald has leased space within Hartford’s Union Station that he hopes to have open by the end of June with a different type of barbecue menu.
10 West Main St., Clinton, 860-669-6868; 943 Poquonnock Road, Groton, 860-449-6868
This beloved local barbecue spot is a great choice for travelers looking to dive intosome North Carolina ’cue. The Groton location is a stone’s throw from Interstate 95 and the Submarine Force Library & Museum, home of the USS Nautilus. It is an inviting wood space with a self-serve checkout counter and more of a true restaurant feel than many barbecue spots. The restaurant’s slogan, “Barbecue is not the sauce … it’s what the sauce goes on” adorns one wall. Fortunately for barbecue aficionados, here the sauce goes on an assortment of tasty slow-cooked meats. We sampled more than our fair share of burnt ends, brisket and pork ribs. Although each was good, our favorite was the highly acclaimed brisket.
31 Danbury Road (Route 7), New Milford, 860-355-4111
The aromas wafting around a barn are not always the most pleasing of smells. But the red barn on Route 7 that is The Cookhouse defies that reputation in a big way. As soon as you walk inside the spacious, two-level restaurant, you know it’s a place that specializes in “America’s favorite country food,” as owner Rob Ryder has called it since opening in 1997.
With recipes collected from family and friends in the Deep South and Texas, The Cookhouse’s many options will transport you to those barbecue meccas. For starters, the sweet creamed corn pops are delicious fried nuggets of molten sweet corn, mom’s macaroni & cheese packs a wallop with bacon, jalapeños and three cheeses, and the BBQ sundae is a Mason jar full of pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw, barbecue sauce (no hot fudge!) and a pickle spear. The Cookhouse chili also carries a hearty kick, with beef and pork trimmings topped with pepper jack cheese, salsa and lime sour cream.
Pick your favorite meats — brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork, andouille sausage and burnt ends — you’ll find them here, with either a traditional tomato-based sauce or a North Carolina vinegar style. Barbecue dishes come with your choice of two sides, including horseradish mashed potatoes, sweet ’tater fries and creamed spinach. Monday is prime rib night ($18.99 and kids eat free) and on Tuesdays and Thursdays there’s all-you-can-eat barbecue for $20.99. A stone’s throw from the Housatonic River and a short drive from Candlewood Lake, The Cookhouse is all about family, right down to the plates, which proudly proclaim “Fat Tommy’s Slo-Smoked Barbecue,” in honor of Ryder’s father.
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