From succulent slices of brisket to fall-off-the-bone ribs, Seattle’s grills and smokers are bursting with great meats and delicious flavors. Here’s where to sink your teeth into some of the tastiest barbecue this side of the Mississippi.
The heart of Seattle’s barbecue tradition centers on a “smoke shack” in the SoDo district. For three decades, fans have lined up outside Pecos Pit (2260 First Ave S; pecospitbarbeque.com) for sloppy takeaway sandwiches overflowing with chopped meat—smoked pork or brisket—and drenched in a sauce hot enough to make your mouth emit sparks (even the mild version has a strong kick). Most fans “spike it,” which is Pecos speak for adding a smoked hot link to your sandwich. Take note: Pecos only serves lunch.
In the heart of Pike Place Market, Pike’s Pit Bar-B-Que (1505 Pike Place Market; pikespit.com) has a special arrangement to sell meat from Pecos Pit, including its own version of those chopped meat sandwiches, equally messy and with custom add-ons like pickles, bacon, and blue cheese dressing for even more flavor.
Stick downtown for cult favorite Hole in the Wall (215 James St; holebbqseattle.com). As the name implies, this no-fuss, lunch-only establishment is all about the food. Pork is smoked low and slow for 16 hours before being pulled by hand, while brisket sandwiches are slathered in its coffee-based Bullwacker barbecue sauce for mild, tangy spice.
Another local favorite is Bitterroot BBQ (5239 Ballard Ave NW; bitterrootbbq.com) in Ballard, which has a deserved reputation for superb brisket, smoked for upwards of 18 hours and served in a dining room clad in rustic reclaimed wood. Don’t miss the impressive bourbon selection and hearty sides like roasted vegetables or braised greens with bacon. If you’re feeling ambitious, order the Cowboy Killer platter, which pairs brisket with a half chicken, pulled pork, and baby back ribs. The pulled pork at Bitterroot—a perfect balance of moist meat and crispy charred bits—is another star. It’s fantastic as a main event but even better as a topping for the rich mac and cheese. However, Bitterroot’s crowning pulled pork achievement might be its barbecue nachos—tortilla chips almost completely concealed beneath a gooey blanket of pulled pork, melted cheese, a scattering of black beans, sour cream, and barbecue sauce.
Nearby at a cheery storefront called The Boar’s Nest (2008 NW 56th St; ballardbbq.com), pulled pork is a perfect vehicle for exploring the lineup of eight sauces. Each is named for the barbecue region it represents, from South Carolina’s yellow mustard-based sauce to less common styles like Alabama’s signature white barbecue sauce, made with mayonnaise.
In SoDo, Jack’s BBQ (3924 Airport Way S; jacksbbq.com) is a light-strung roadhouse temple to the barbecue traditions of central Texas, particularly its obsession with brisket, smoked until this tough cut of meat is tender and yielding, ringed with a salty, crunchy crust. Jack’s does us the extra favor of adding its brisket to chili, sandwiches, and a spicy Caesar salad. Craving ribs? Jack’s does a great pork variety, but on Tuesday nights, you’ll also find beef ribs on the menu. It’s one of the only places in Seattle where you can experience these savory smoked behemoths. Just be sure to come early or they might be gone.
The Barbeque Pit (2509 E Cherry St) in the Central District is another neighborhood gathering spot, free of frills (and cash only) but worth a trip for the fall-off-the-bone spareribs, which start with a sojourn in the brick smoker behind the counter before being coated in a slightly sweet sauce. Those ribs (and rib tips) keep company with classic Southern sides like collard greens and sweet potato pie.
In Seattle, good brisket—and good barbecue in general—isn’t limited to restaurants; a few new food trucks have livened up the scene. Campfire BBQ (campfireforyou.com), a food truck done up to look like a log cabin, is well worth hunting down for smoky brisket slices, each one sporting a telltale pink smoke ring, gently rendered fat, and the rich, dark crust known in barbecue parlance as bark. Order brisket by the pound, on its own with a few sides, or (best of all) in hefty sliders topped with crunchy cabbage.
In the same tasty line of thought, destination-worthy ribs can be found at Wood Shop BBQ (woodshopbbq.com), a food truck run by two unrepentant barbecue geeks known to haul loads of hickory from Texas to fuel a custom smoker. Wood Shop’s ribs come on a bed of pickles and white bread, suitable for mopping up extra sauce. And for a mind-blowing take on pulled pork, order up a dish called The Woody. It starts with a base layer of velvety macaroni and cheese, with the slightest kick of jalapeño, and is topped with a hearty portion of pulled pork then a colorful scattering of pickled red onions for a tangy final bite. Here, as in all of Seattle’s top barbecue places, there are tons of options, but only one constant—the need for extra napkins.