Last Updated on October 1, 2020 by Jeremy
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If you would've asked us about Pittsburgh's barbecue scene when we started this site, we probably would've replied with a sarcastic “what barbecue scene?”
To put it bluntly: while there were a few gems scattered around, the offerings around the city were quite sad.
This is all changing, however, and many barbecue joints have opened up around Pittsburgh that are starting to put our ‘que scene on the map. (Or perhaps our map, at least.)
As with most articles of this nature on our site, we do not publish definitive best-of lists as we do not want to hand out the top spots until we've truly tried them all. Instead, we go on quests to find the city's best meals, like our quest to find the best pizza in Pittsburgh or the best reubens in Pittsburgh to name a few, and update our guides with the best spots as we visit them.
In this one we're looking for the best barbecue in Pittsburgh, and we've been to a number of amazing spots so far!
This list is a collection of barbecue joints we've personally visited in Pittsburgh. It is not comprehensive. As we visit more spots we will add them to this guide! If you have a recommendation, we'd love to hear it in the comments below!
The Baseline Barbecue All Others Are Compared
In every quest we always establish a baseline for how we rank restaurants in the list. A baseline is not the best of the best, nor is it the worst, and for barbecue it is simply a good all around meal that is a step above the kind of barbecue we'd make at home (and since we are no strangers to 14 hour smokes that start at 6 am on Saturday, this means the bar is somewhat high).
After all, if we are going to go out of our way to pay a premium for meat, it better be prepared better than we can make it ourselves! So aside from flavor (both of the meat and sauce), we also look out for appreciable bark, tenderness, and a smoke ring when it is potentially available.
For our barbecue quest, our current baseline is Pittsburgh Barbecue Company.
This popular Pittsburgh barbecue joint checks a lot of boxes for is including offering large portions at great prices, a small amount of bark and smoke ring, and a really delicious flavor from the dry rub that all comes together for nice final product. Even better? They have two locations around the region (one in Banksville and one in Murrysville east of the city)!
Going further, one of the things we absolutely love about Pittsburgh Barbecue Company is their sauce. They have a really flavorful and tangy barbecue sauce that is well rounded, not too spicy, and is the kind of sauce you want to (and can) buy by the gallon.
We are quite serious in making the statement that it is one of the best barbecue sauces in the city, and when you put it on their meats you get an overall wonderful package that we really enjoy. For that, we call it a good baseline.
Pittsburgh Barbecue Company is located at 1000 Banksville Road in Pittsburgh and 6625 William Penn Highway in Murraysville.
Below Average Barbecue
What makes barbecue below average? Well, relative to our baseline we look for some misses overall. As our baseline is a sum total of the flavor (meat and sauce), bark, smoke rings (if applicable), tenderness, and price, for something to fall below this it has to be lacking in a few categories.
In some instances this does not mean that the barbecue is bad (far from it, we still eat at a few of these regularly), just that they're not up to the level in all the categories mentioned above. They may thrive in just one category and have some drawbacks in others, and overall just are under our baseline.
Area 51 Barbecue
Area 51 BBQ is located in Belle Vernon, PA, just about 45 minutes south east of the city and offers a fairly traditional barbecue spread that is, in one word, tender. To say that the meats are fall-off-the-bone quality is more appropriate, and for that we have to give some serious respect.
The one comes in at a decent price, but is in our below average tier as the sauce flavor profile was exceptionally sweet (with the hotter being even sweeter than the mild) and the meat had little bark or smoke rings to speak of. So while the tenderness is always a good thing, we couldn't quite get over the flavor profile at the end of the day.
For those who make the drive for the tender meat alone, be sure to ask for the sauce on the side.
Area 51 BBQ is located at 4612 PA-51 in Belle Vernon.
Smokin' Toad's BBQ
This spot serves up what we think is a fairly limited menu for a barbecue restaurant but does include full entree options like smoked-and-fried wings, smoked meat sandwiches, and full entrees of pork belly, brisket, and more (two or three meat set combo plates are available, but not a la carte for traditional mix-and-match ordering).
During our first visit we were able to sample the wings as well as the Plain Jane (a massive pulled pork sandwich) and thought that the meats were prepared fine, but do not have that extra oomph from an exceptional rub, smoke, or tenderness that we often seek out from barbecue. Great when drinking at the brewery next door, we have to say, but a bit lacking on its own right.
Smokin' Toad's BBQ is located at 110 S Pike Road in Sarver, PA.
Double Wide Grill
Double Wide Grill is a gastropub in Pittsburgh's South Side that has a large menu of food items (not just barbecue) but is heavily focused on the ‘que all the same.
While some of our biggest objections with this restaurant stem from the slow service we received, the barbecue itself was simply fine. The meat was tender and the sauce had a nice tangy edge, but did not go all in to be exceptional in its own right. We'd certainly order barbecue here over their other food, but the restaurant could just as easily go all in on barbecue and serve up a more interesting final product as well.
Double Wide Grill is located at 2339 East Carson Street in South Side. They have a few other locations around the city as well.
I'm quite torn on YinzBurgh BBQ for a number of reasons. We had some good meats (such as the ribs which were fall off the bone tender) and some not so good meats (an incredibly lean brisket that was fairly dry and not that strong in flavor). We also had some rather stellar sides and sauces (that rival some of the other spots much higher in this list).
Where our overall impressions of this particular spot would warrant it perhaps being in the next higher category, we unfortunately have to call this one below average for another point- the price. A self-prepared combo of three ribs, a small amount of brisket, two sides, extra sauce, and a drink was over $30 which seemed like simply too much for the meal overall when other places in the city can be about $10 less for a similarly sized order.
YinzBurgh BBQ is located at 4903 Baum Blvd in Bloomfield.
Rowdy BBQ is a walk-up barbecue stand off of Route 51 just south of the city and offers an array of meats, burgers, and other sandwiches (like Philly cheese) to name a few.
This one wins many points for being among the cheapest barbecue in the city and offers fairly tender ribs with a sauce that is on the spicy side (something we can appreciate). However, we were a bit turned off by the pulled pork sandwich as it was served with a sauce that was conventional to the point that we equated it to a popular sloppy meat sandwich that we had in our childhood years.
That being said, Rowdy offers up some exceptional other non-barbecue products so if you do make it out to their spot just be a bit selective in what you order and you'll still have a great meal!
Rowdy BBQ is located at 3900 Saw Mill Run Blvd just south of the city.
The Dream BBQ
The Dream BBQ is a smaller barbecue joint that only offers ribs, chicken, and a small array of sides that are reasonably priced (five wings, five ribs, and two sides cost me just about $18).
The flavor of the ribs here is quite good, both with a nice, spice-forward bark as well as a strong smoke flavor that I loved. The two sticking points I had with this one are that the wings, on the other hand, had little meat on them at all and the meat was not tender in the slightest. Perhaps not the chewiest meat out of all of those on this list, but it definitely had a bite to it.
So while I would be tempted on calling the ribs above average for the flavor, as it was quite good, I couldn't get over the tenderness overall.
The Dream BBQ is located at 7600 Braddock Avenue in Homewood.
Above Average Barbecue
To be above average barbecue a spot has to exceed our baseline in a few categories. Flavor and tenderness is our first priority, but a good sauce or smoke (when applicable) can give them a boost as well. Throw in a good price and now we're talking.
In these instances they may not be as well-rounded as our baseline selection overall (that bar is fairly high as far as quests go), but have one of the above features that is just a bit better that gives us a craving we seek out.
So perhaps above average isn't the best of words here in this particular quest, but instead is about barbecue joints you want to seek out for one or two very particular qualities that are done exceptionally well.
Jim's Smokin' Que
Jim's Smokin' Que is a mobile cart that you are likely to find at one of the region's many breweries. During our first visit, they offered a spread of smoked chicken, ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and meat-topped mac and cheese to name a few.
On our first visit, we were only able to sample a half-rack of ribs and found the meat to be incredibly tender and with a modest smoke flavor. It would fall off the bone with the slightest tug and almost melted in our mouth.
While we quite enjoyed the meat, we thought the sauce on this one was lacking a bit as it was a fair bit sweet and was not balanced out with as much notable spice as we'd otherwise prefer. Still, we look forward to trying more from this one if their other meat is just as tender as the ribs!
Jim's Smokin' Que is a mobile cart that can be found around the city. Recent locations have been shared on their Facebook page.
Mitch's BBQ is an interesting barbecue restaurant in Warrendale as aside from the standard spread of barbecue they also make ramen and kimchi (with their meat being an optional add-on for the ramen)!
But as far as the barbecue itself is concerned, the meat at Mitch's gets an above average from us primarily for the price point (a massive tray of meat plus a monster tray of pork rinds and cornbread is just over $20) and an array of flavorful sauces.
The meat itself is fairly tender and has a modest bark and smoke ring we'd expect from solid barbecue (similar to our baseline), but when you add in several pretty stellar sauces and a modest price point you certainly get our attention. Definitely check them out next time you are in the North Hills!
Mitch's BBQ is located at 16070 Perry Highway in Warrendale.
Brian's Barbecue in Finleyville (about 45 minutes south of the city) is a seasonal barbecue joint serving up an array of options.
The meats here are quite tender and the ribs are fall-off-the-bone caliber with a really modest smoke ring as well. The sauce skews heavy on the tomato and is a bit light on the spices (which is sadly not for us), but their spicy sauce has a nice kick that we fully appreciate and will order every time.
Overall, Brian's gets a nudge up for us for the meat quality alone and we are mostly upset that it is hard for us to not visit Finleyville more frequently to sample additional meats from their menu.
Brian's Barbecue is located at 1314, 3532 Marion Ave in Finleyville. They are seasonal and close over the winter.
Burk's BBQ is a popular barbecue joint in Oakmont, located about 20 minutes east of Pittsburgh.
The restaurant primarily focuses on sandwiches made with barbecued meats and has standard offerings like pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, and combo sandwich options like The Standard (with brisket and pulled pork together) or The Missing Link (with hot sausage and brisket) that are loaded up with meat at rather affordable prices ($9-$12).
Going beyond sandwiches, the restaurant also serves ribs and an array of sides (go for the cowboy baked beans), but does not offer a traditional meat platter like others on this list- although the sandwiches more than makeup for that.
During my visit, I opted for The Standard and a half rack of ribs, and was quite impressed with the portion sizes, price, and most of all the tenderness of the meat. The sandwich was more than enough for a large meal on its own and the meat was quite succulent. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone worthy that did not require a knife at all. Throw on their vinegar based sauces and you have a great meal that will assuredly have leftovers.
My only regret here is that the ribs only got a nice bark and smoke ring on half of the meat, suggesting to me that they could have been stacked in the smoker for part of the surface area to not get smoked properly. The meat was still tender and flavorful on that side, but I'm really hoping that my order was an unfortunate one-off.
All things being equal, I was still quite impressed.
Burk's BBQ is located at 319 Maryland Avenue in Oakmont, PA.
Those who wish to visit Clem's Cafe are in for a bit of a drive as the restaurant is located about 60 minutes east of the city in Blairsville, PA.
If you make the trip you'll be rewarded with some of the most tender meats in the region that can be cut with a plastic fork (a rare feat here!). A monster combo plate of a quarter rack of ribs and half pound of pork runs just over $10, and is a steal by any standards.
Our only regrets is that the meat comes out doused in sauce (swimming, really) and visitors are best to ask for this one on the side in order to get a fine appreciation for the meat alone first. But even with this slight knock as the sauce is somewhat flavorful as well, we have to say, tender meat wins the day.
Clem's Cafe is located at 1985 US-22 in Blairsville, PA.
Two Brother's Barbecue
Two Brother's is one of those places that comes together as a good, full package barbecue place and doesn't have one or two key components that we seek out. The ribs were tender, had a light bark, and a small smoke ring, but came together as a whole offering just a nice final product that we simply enjoy a bit more than our baseline.
One thing that makes Two Brother's a bit more unique is they have an array of non-traditional barbecue items as well for those who want to kick it up a notch, like barbecue pork nachos. So if you are still in the mood for good barbecue but want them served differently, Two Brother's has you covered there as well.
Two Brother's Barbecue is located at 5228 Thompson Run Road in Presto. They are seasonal and close over the winter.
Pittsburgh Smokehouse is a popular barbecue food truck that can be found at various events and breweries in any given week (although they often do not publish their schedule in advance). While this one serves up an array of delicious meats, we need to call out their smoked wings which are, by far, some of the best you'll find in the city.
Throw on some of their spicy Blast Furnace hot barbecue sauce and you have a must-order dish you'll be ordering time and time again.
Pittsburgh Smokehouse is a food truck with rotating locations throughout the month. They also have a dedicated restaurant in Turtle Creek that we have yet to visit.
Excellent Barbecue in Pittsburgh
What makes excellent barbecue in Pittsburgh, you may ask? Well, we set the bar even higher here and we look for a number of exceptional factors like super tender meats, delicious sauces, good prices, and (albeit not too common) a nice bark from smoking when applicable. And unlike our above average meats where we want a few categories, for the barbecue joint to be excellent we want it all.
While it is really hard to say that any place in the region excels at all of these, the ones we call excellent get to about as close as you can get outside of some of the top barbecue cities in the country. As far as local barbecue is concerned we'll take that, and we visit these ones time and time again.
Big Rig's BBQ
Whenever we share this article, we often get a large influx of recommendations of where to check out next. While we are still working our way on getting to all of them, sometimes a spot receives a ton of recommendations and we get there right away. Big Rig's BBQ in Monroeville was one such spot.
This one opened in late 2019 and has been quickly growing a die-hard following. Within a few bites, we knew why that is. The meat here is tender. Not just the brisket. Not just the pork belly. Not just the ribs. All of it. In fact, the platter I ordered here would be in the running for the most tender meats we've had to date anywhere, and that is really saying something (and if you like fatty brisket, ask for slices of those too- only a few places in the area do this one well).
While I would say that this one is a bit lighter on the smoke flavor, and the bark on the meat is also less noticeable than other places, we really can't get over the tenderness, and for that we call this one excellent. Be sure to throw on a side of cornbread and pork burnt end baked beans as well to round out the meal!
Big Rig's BBQ is located at 226 Center Road in Monroeville, PA.
Fourth Street BBQ
We had unfortunately mistimed our visit and were unable to order from the full menu at Fourth Street, but instead got something even better- the meat platter.
The meat platter available at the brewery is a thing of beauty, and includes samples of pulled pork, ribs, pork belly, brisket, a half chicken, and an entire pork chop- plus five different sauces (go for the brown sugar and the Memphis sauces at a minimum). A monster tray for just under $30, making it a great value that turned virtually every head in the brewery when it was brought out.
While all the meats were delicious (including some beautifully smoked ribs), the winners were the brisket and the pork belly. These two meats were among the most tender we've ever had, with the pork belly having a nice crust on the outside but being like butter on the inside, and the brisket literally having a strong taste of garlic butter that is sopped right on top. Do not miss these!
Fourth Street BBQ is located at 308 4th Avenue in Charleroi.
Spork Pit BBQ
The meat here can be ordered in 1/4 lb, 1/2 lb, and 1 lb increments and are served straight up on a tray with the recommendation to try without any sauce first- something we can appreciate. We opted for a platter of ribs, pulled pork, and brisket to try an array and were quite pleased with the flavors of the pulled pork and ribs. They were tender, had a beautiful smoke ring, and the flavors were quite intense such that sauces were indeed not necessary.
The brisket was a bit lacking as it was a fair bit chewy, but offered up a relatively nice flavor profile as well.
All things being equal, Spork Pitt serves up some exceptional barbecue (and even better sides) such that it just squeaks into our exceptional category. Just keep in mind that the price is on the higher end for local barbecue here as well!
Spork Pit BBQ is located at 5349 Penn Avenue in Garfield and is seasonal.
Walter's BBQ and Southern Kitchen opened in Lawrenceville in late 2018 and offers a large menu of barbecue options including meats straight from the smoker, tacos, sandwiches, and a rather robust brunch offering to name a few.
During our first visit we were able to sample their ribs, brisket, as well as the pork belly and were not disappointed. The ribs were surprisingly tender, with a good smoke ring, and a rather strong flavor from a pepper rub. The brisket was a clear winner after selecting a fatty option which it exceptionally tender with the same style rub as the ribs. The only one we hesitate on is the pork belly which was first smoked, sliced, and grilled, giving it a bit of an unusual texture you would not expect.
Overall, Walter's BBQ pulls off some rather delicious meats. Do yourself a favor and jump straight in on this one for your next visit (and be sure to try their candied bacon as well)!
Walter's BBQ is located at 4501 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.
Blowfish Barbecue is a Pittsburgh food truck (cart, really) that makes some fairly exceptionally barbecue- be it pulled pork, ribs, or chicken and turkey drumsticks (depending on what is offered on any given day at least). The cart is a fairly simple smoker producing delectable products accompanied by their rather flavorful sauces, and proves you do not need an elaborate setup to do justice to meat.
We are a bit biased on this one because it is also mobile, meaning you never know which brewery or event you'll find them at. Exceptional meat, a moving location, and paired with great Pittsburgh beer? Sign us up.
Be sure to order a side of their famous smoked macaroni and cheese here, as they truly make some of the best in the city.
Blowfish Barbecue is a food truck that is often found at Brew Gentlemen, Roundabout, and more. Check their Facebook page for locations.
Located on a quiet corner of Homewood West is Showcase Barbecue. This one is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of joint that only stands out due to two smokers being located on the side of the building and a rather obscure sign.
The menu at Showcase is fairly straight forward with chicken, ribs, and pulled pork being offered plus an array of sides. The meat is fairly tender, packed full of flavor (with a fair bit of bark too!), and their sauce is almost a barbecue / mustard hybrid that has a sufficient tang that we absolutely love- a rarity for the region.
The best part? This one is cheap, and you can have a feast for two for less than just about anywhere else on this list. As far as no frills barbecue is concerned, it is hard to do it better than here.
Just be sure to get there early as they are known to sell out fast!
Showcase Barbecue is located at 6800 Frankstown Road in Homewood West.
We wind down our list with a barbecue joint that isn't traditional American barbecue, but is instead Argentinian. Gaucho Parrilla has been serving up Argentinian style barbecue since 2013 and transcends what you know about meat and puts it on a whole new playing field.
The meat here is so perfectly cooked that it doesn't need a single drop of barbecue sauce as a compliment; however, the restaurant offers an assortment of sauces ranging from garlic to chimichurri as a supplement. Go for the pulled pork, the steak platter, or more or less anything on the menu- whatever you pick will be delicious.
Gaucho Parrilla is located at 146 6th Street in downtown Pittsburgh. They were formerly in the Strip District but relocated in 2020.
More Pittsburgh Barbecue Coming Soon!
As with all our quests, this guide is a work in progress and only features barbecue joints we've personally visited. We've got many more to go and will add them into this guide as we visit them.
Know of any good barbecue joints we haven't tried? Comment below to let us know about it!