The Great Florida Barbecue Road Trip
Whether you're on the hunt for the best bark on a brisket or perfectly seasoned chicken, you'll find it all on this smoky adventure
A great road trip has a few goals. Nice places to stay should certainly be on the list, along with a road trip playlist, maybe something crunchy hiding in the glove box, a pillow and a blanket for the lucky ones in the back seat.
And food, yes. A good road trip ought to include downright fantastic food destinations, not just whatever fast food joint appears at the next exit, but places that are the quintessential stop in the next city coming up on the navigation.
In this crazy world we live in nowadays, eating in sit-down restaurants in a bunch of random cities isn’t an idea everyone will embrace. So instead, let’s go on a road trip for food best eaten outside, leaned over on park benches or spread out buffet style on the trunks of cars.
We’re talking barbecue, and Florida is full of it. On this Google map we put together, we start at the southern end of the state and go north, but you could easily begin in St. Augustine and end in the 305. Three days—that’s what it should take to eat your way through some of the state’s best barbecue. Below then are the sights you’ll hit along the way and the schedule to pull this off.
FRIDAY LUNCH: HOMETOWN BBQ
Hometown BBQ began in Brooklyn and landed last year in Miami’s up-and-coming Allapattah neighborhood. The dishes that come out of this kitchen look more like the composed plates of a fine restaurant: smoked wings in mole dust, jerk bacon with scotch bonnet ginger sauce, and queso mac and cheese with tajin breadcrumbs. Hometown is takeout or delivery only these days, so we’d suggest taking your order over to Margaret Pace Park, where you can watch the dolphins jump in Biscayne Bay.
FRIDAY DINNER: TOM JENKINS BAR-B-Q
What started as a roadside trailer in 1990 is now a Fort Lauderdale institution. It’s as famous for the ribs as it is for the open-pit, which bellows wood smoke into the restaurant and creates a constant haze that hangs over the dining room, leaving you smelling as smoky as the pit-cooked beans. It’s takeout only here too, but luckily the Riverwalk and a few breezy park benches are just blocks away.
SATURDAY LUNCH: MICHELBOB’S CHAMPIONSHIP RIBS & STEAK
Naples and Marco Island
After the drive on Alligator Alley, you’ll need to order the babybacks, which the restaurant boasts are the “Best Ribs in America.” We’d suggest a side of the Bill Bigley Sr. Beans & Franks, because where else will you find beans and franks named for a racecar driver? While you can dine inside at the Naples location, we’d suggest getting takeout at the one on Marco, where a blanket on the beach should serve as your table.
SATURDAY DINNER: AL’S FINGER LICKING GOOD BAR-B-QUE
Al’s is what many people think of as barbecue, big slabs of ribs and saucy turkey legs served up on throwaway plates alongside long-simmered greens and other sides that seem straight from a church picnic. You can dine in at Al’s, but the location on Angel Oliva Senior Street (inexplicably just five blocks from the other one) has a charming, social-distancing-approved porch.
SUNDAY LUNCH, ROUND 1: YELLOW DOG EATS
By now maybe you need a break from traditional barbecue, and so there’s Yellow Dog, which puts its pulled pork on nachos and into tacos. It also has fine salads, which isn’t exactly a thing at most barbecue spots. Get there early to snag a seat on the patio at the historic 1910 building.
SUNDAY LUNCH, ROUND 2: BIG LEE’S
This food truck is worth a stop on the tour if only for the story of Patrice and Rashad Jones, who took recipes from their uncle Big Lee and turned them into an institution. They’ve been on the Food Network and also started a youth program that helps troubled kids. Plus, their ribs, chicken and pulled pork just might be some of the prettiest things you’ve seen come out of a smoker. Bring your styrofoam container over to the shaded picnic tables nearby.
SUNDAY DINNER: WOODPECKERS BACKYARD BBQ
Yup, Woodpeckers has all the classics—the ribs and pulled pork and potato salad and gooey soft green beans that come in styrofoam. But we’ve had a lot of that on this road trip so far, and so at Woodpecker’s go for the loaded baked potato, covered in meat, beans, and mac and cheese. The inside has that old-school barbecue charm, but these days, you’ll want a spot outside under the umbrellas that cover the picnic benches. It’s a fitting spot to end a road trip, filled with three full days of barbecue and perhaps a thousand miles round trip, on the hunt for Florida’s finest ‘cue.