The Quest for the Best Barbecue in Pittsburgh

Posted By Jeremy in Eat & Drink


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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As with most articles of this nature on our site, we do not publish definitive best-of lists as we do not want to hand out the top spots until we've truly tried them all.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 Barbecue in Belle Vernon

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

Smokin' Toad's BBQ in Sarver

Smokin' Toad's BBQ is located in Sarver, PA, and is connected to Cellar Works Brewing.

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 (but does not have mix-and-match options for those wanting to sample a large number of meats in a single sitting).

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 in South Side

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.

Rowdy BBQ

Rowdy BBQ South of Pittsburgh

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.

Choppin' Block BBQ

Choppin Block Barbecue

Choppin' Block BBQ is a takeaway barbecue joint located in the Strip District, just a few blocks east of the main shopping section on Penn Avenue. The shop offers an array of barbecue and smoked meats ranging from ribs to pulled pork, brisket to Parma sausage.

Apart from the Parma sausage (which was delectable, full of amazing flavor, and is something we'd order weekly if we could), our main complaint with Choppin' Block was that our brisket and ribs were outright tough. Cut them with a knife tough. So much so that it really detracted from the meal.

Ignoring this, the meats had some decent flavor and an array of delicious sauces that we truly enjoyed (go for the spicy cajun or the black and gold mustard sauce).

All things being equal, put together its location and a combo meal that includes three generous portions of meat, two sides, corn bread, and a drink (extra) for just over $20 and you have a great little spot in the Strip District for meat lovers. We just have a really hard time getting over the lack of tenderness in the meat from our first visit.

Choppin' Block BBQ is located at 2627 Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

Wilson's Barbecue

Wilson's Barbecue in the Mexican War Streets

If we were to hand out the distinction of best hole-in-the-wall, Wilson's Bar-B-Q in the Mexican War Streets is just that. This one room shop includes one industrial cooker that serves up two products- ribs and half chicken. You have to call by lunch to pick up for dinner, and if you walk in off the street looking for something at 6pm you may walk away disappointed.

We'll be the first to admit that the meat at Wilson's is not the most tender, there is not much bark or smoke ring to speak of, and the sauce is much more of an acquired taste compared to most traditional barbecue joints (you'll understand when you try it).

But it all comes together for something that we really enjoy even if we are the first to recognize that this one may not make the cut for many people. Is it below our baseline? By definition purposes yes if only because the guidelines we've established aren't a fit for Wilson's. But we will still go eat it often- so take that as you will.

Wilson's Barbecue is located at 700 N Taylor Avenue in the Mexican War Streets.

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.

Mitch's BBQ

Mitch's Barbecue

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

Brian's Barbecue in Finleyville

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.

Clem's Cafe

Clem's Cafe in Blairsville

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 Barbecue in Presto

Located just south of Pittsburgh in Presto is Two Brother's Barbecue– a small trailer near Trader Jack's that is serving up barbecue that locals just can't get enough of.

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

Pittsburgh Smokehouse wings

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.

Pork & Beans

Pork & Beans in Downtown Pittsburgh

To be honest, Pork & Beans has the potential to be the best barbecue in Pittsburgh. We do not say this lightly. All of their meats are incredibly tender, full of flavor, and they have an array of sauces that are among the very best in the city.

We knock them down for one reason and one reason only- this downtown hot spot is quite frankly too expensive when it comes to barbecue.

Yes, we expect to pay a premium when ordering a platter of meat. Yes, we know it'll cost more when it is fantastic. And yes, we know it is a premium to be in a prime location such as the Cultural District. Factor in all of these things and we still walked away thinking Pork & Beans was far too hard on the wallet.

We'll still pay this- the meat really is that good to help justify it. But when I think about price as much as I do about the meat I have a hard time giving them the very top spot.

Pork & Beans is located at 136 6th Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

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.

Spork Pit BBQ

Spork Pit BBQ in Garfield

Spork Pit barbecue is the brain child of the owners of the nearby restaurant Spork, and focuses on all things Texas style barbecue.

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.

Walter's BBQ

Walter's BBQ

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

Blowfish Barbecue

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.

Showcase Barbecue

Showcase Barbecue in Homewood West

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.

Gaucho Parrilla

Gaucho Parrilla in the Strip District

We wind down our list with a barbecue joint that isn't traditional American barbecue, but is instead Argentinian. Gaucho Parrilla in the Strip District 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.

Just be prepare for a line as this one is known for waits around the block up to an hour or more. Or, if you want to skip the line, try and visit after the lunch rush, around happy hour on Friday, or skip the line altogether and find their Asado food truck on the go (the only three instances where we've ever got in without a wait).

Gaucho Parrilla is located at 1601 Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

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!

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1 Comment

  1. Twelve whiskey BBQ is amazing!

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