7 places to get great barbecue right now (and what to get once you’re there)

"Hey, BBQ sandwich: get in my belly."

"Hey, BBQ sandwich: get in my belly." Photo courtesy of Handsome Hog Facebook page

Our food scene tends to be like a hive mind, where all at once we notice a need, and then swarm to fill it. It’s as if everybody simultaneously pocketed the best smoked meats recipes on the way back from their vacation down South.

Below find six great spots, some old, some new, some familiar, some less so, but all smoky, meaty (and sometimes veggie), and worth a look. 

Q Fanatic
Charlie Johnson is a man who was once deeply in love with Italian food (and who isn't, really?), but then wham! The Atkins diet hit America like a slab of bacon hitting the pan. Every man and woman was swearing off pizza and pasta like they were the anti-Christ. So what was Johnson to do? Change aisles, naturally. And we're pretty ecstatic that he did. Applying the cheffly skills he learned in European-style cuisine, Q Fanatic is an amalgam of what Johnson thinks of as the best specialties from every region -- Texas-style brisket, Memphis dry-rub ribs, Kansas City-style sauces. We're also quite partial to the cinnamon and sugar-tinged chicken wings, which they try not to run out of because customers throw a fit if they do. Go and see what the dust-up is all about. 

6009 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis

180 Miller Rd., Champlin

Big Daddy’s
The gold standard. Thirty years of practice and true Southern prowess make the gentlemen of Big Daddy’s the heavyweight belt wearers of local Q, and I’ll fight you if you say anything different. Starting with that parking lot pit on Selby and Dale, they moved indoors only at the haranguing of the health department. Then, they had to re-learn with indoor equipment and walls everything that they had known about open smoke and open air. And they did it. People still drive from many miles around for a true taste of Big Daddy’s. Go for the rib tips, the “Flintstone” beef short rib sandwich, and the BBQ baked beans, laced with an addictive secret ingredient.

625 University Ave., St. Paul

Revival St. Paul
You’ve already fallen hard for Revival’s fried chicken. Now head over to Revival St. Paul for their new BBQ menu, where the brisket is king, the pork belly is so decadent it's almost intimidating, and the pork shoulder eats like meat candy. Chef Thomas Boemer has thought long and hard about sourcing and technique, and it shows. The beef is close to as good as it gets in the business: certified Angus, “never ever” treated with hormones and antibiotics, and humanely raised. The end product means a deeply marbled cut, touched with Boemer’s expertise in powerful smoke and flavor. Get these things, along with their full lineup of Southern sides. Whatever you do, do not miss the ethereal drop biscuits.

525 Selby Ave., St. Paul

Bark and the Bite
You gotta love the plucky tenacity of guys willing to sell barbecue out of the back of a convenience store. In fact, it’s in this sort of gritty perseverance that the true spirit of the craft lies. And so we love to tout Bark and the Bite, who also have a food truck by the same name. Head over to Sunny’s Market in Northeast and push aside the Cheez-its and Hostess in favor of far mightier munchies. We love that they’re serving Jackfruit, a vegetarian natural wonder that takes on the texture and flavor of meats when treated as such. The twice-cooked dry rub wings are also a triumph, or go for Tennessee hot, smoked and fried in duck fat. One hundred percent not vegetarian, one hundred percent delish.

2207 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis 

Fat Chance
Take a chef who knows a thing or two about hard times and wants to help others out of theirs, and toss in some smoked meat piled on big old sandwiches for a fair price. That’s Fat Chance, a new sandwich spot in a far-flung and underserved strip mall in Brooklyn Park across the street from North Hennepin Community College. Brain food looks a lot, well, fattier with house-smoked pulled chicken covered in fried onion petals, cheese sauce, and coleslaw. The owners' nonprofit work with homeless men makes the fare taste even sweeter.

For purists, go on Tuesdays for ribs and rib tips until they’re gone.

Pro tip: If you can possibly fathom it after that big ass sandwich, pick up a sack full of Vietnamese food for dinner from MT Noodles, housed in the same Brooklyn Park strip mall.

8419 W. Broadway Ave., Brooklyn Park

Handsome Hog
If your idea of smoked meat includes a hundred bourbon labels, Benton’s Bacon in the mac & cheese, and a charcuterie bar, then Handsome Hog is your place. While purists may head for the barrel smoker in the parking lot, if you’re the kind of guy who gets dressed for dinner, Handsome Hog has got you. The menu can be described as comprehensive, so there’s a little something for everyone here. Chef Justin Sutherland describes it as “Contemporary Southernish,” so they’re not at all boxed in by tradition or genre. Still, our fave way to go here is the smoked beef brisket, where sexy slabs of meat are planked upon each other and accompanied by Texas toast, house pickles, and sweet corn. It’s the house specialty, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Sprinkle on a little (or a lot) of Crybaby Craig’s hot sauce to seriously up the ante. Add a wedge salad with bacon lardons and pimento cheese with Ritz crackers for a folksy spread in stylish surrounds. Do not forget the bourbon. They do beautiful things with brown liquor.

203 E. 6th St., St. Paul 

Jellybean & Julia’s
It's one of those now or never, all or nothing, family-owned and -operated stories. Jellybean and Julia are a husband-and-wife team who named their store after their two daughters and flung open the doors on their last dime. How can you resist? This hidden gem in Anoka serves not just smoked meats but also comfort food, and breakfast daily. Look to them for savory treats like cornbread waffles flowing with a lagoon of smoky chili, or chicken and waffles with house-made hot pepper maple syrup. Also, pulled pork, brisket, and a house specialty that they cannot retire thanks to popular demand: a grilled cheese with pulled pork, bacon, cheese, grilled onion, jalapeño jam, and roasted garlic mayo.

530 W. Main St. Ste. 8, Anoka