It’s no secret—Floridians love their barbecue.
Now that summer shines in full force the lure of smoky barbequed meat is at its prime; smokers are filling the air with smoky glory, grills are sizzling and searing, and red-checkered tablecloths are out on bright display. Alongside are heaps of comfort food like creamy mac-n-cheeses, perfect semicircle scoops of potato salad, collard greens, beans and other indulgent sides. Hungry yet?
When it comes to barbecue, there are a plethora of options. Many focus on specific methods from various regions. The Carolinas are known for their vinegar and tangy mustard-based sauces with main specialties in pork and pulled pork sandwiches topped with a fresh slaw. The Memphis region is known for their dry rubbed ribs that are so flavorful they are made to eat without sauce. Famous for ribs, St. Louis typically bastes them repeatedly in a tomato and vinegar sauce. Chicago is known for their spicier hot links, sauces and soft, flavorful rib tips. Texas specializes in beef brisket and pork shoulders, slow smoked to tender with little need for accompanying sauces. Kansas City loves their smoked meats, covered in liberal amounts of tomato-based barbecue sauces. Alternatively, it’s common for Hawaii barbecues to cook pork whole, with sweet Kalua sauces, pineapple and sides of rice and macaroni salad. Florida is actually best known for its smoked fish—though we believe local chefs do a fantastic job at bringing the best of other regional barbecues to the Tampa Bay area as well.
Although these are not all the Bay Area barbeque joints, this local list will easily satisfy your hankering!
If you are looking for a barbecue restaurant with modern influence, look no further than Proper. Its hip St. Pete location, bar libations and industrial country stylish vibe make for a perfect night on the town. If you are hungry, The Proper Sampler will stuff you to the gills with smoked chicken, pulled pork, garlic sausage beef brisket and all four proper barbecue sauces. They also offer southern style small plates like gator bites, wood fired oysters, fried green tomatoes and barbecue pork nachos.
A Tampa institution since 1978, Kojak’s House of Ribs brings family history to the world of barbecue. All thanks to inspiration from a retired detective in Midwest City, Oklahoma, there is no mystery on where to find great ribs. This oak-lined property not only specializes in ribs, they have a juicy, smoked chicken (prepared in a custom smoker) offered as a lunchtime special for only $6. Nothing is fried here—instead, try their popular parsley potatoes and a family-made desert.
From humble beginnings in the back of a gas station in 1954, Johnson Barbeque became a Plant City staple almost immediately and has consistently stayed that way for 63 years. Here you will find traditional fixings like their signature St. Louis style ribs. Through the years, they’ve added more unique menu options as well. We are enamored with their smoked fried chicken—a half chicken dry rubbed, smoked, battered, fried crispy and topped off with sweet honey butter.
Located in the Carollwood area inTampa, Hank’s offers delicious dry rubbed and slow-smoked meats. In addition to specializing in barbecue, they also serve a variety of southern-style dishes that are “reminiscent of a 4th of July neighborhood block party.” Red checkered table covers welcome sizable portions of ribs, brisket, fried catfish, jumbo wings and gator tail. Be sure to try one of their house-made endings (desserts) if you still have room!
Originating from the unsuccessful quest to find a perfect pulled pork sandwich, Harry M. Wright founded this Land O’Lakes staple in 1985. An instant success, Hungry Harry’s offers signature barbecue plates in generous, affordable portions. Though diners may tell you to try their chicken and pulled pork, their ribs are equally delicious. When trying to choose between their 15 sides, certainly consider ordering a heaping scoop of their corn casserole.
Known for their ribs and mac-n-cheese, Urban Brew & BBQ is the first of five restaurant concepts under the “Urban” umbrella that helped transform St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District to what it is today. The restaurant strives to season and smoke the meat so that it doesn’t need sauce, and provide sauce flavors that are based on different flavor categories—sweet, spicy and tangy. Enjoy a cold Urban brew inside or on their outdoor back patio area.
Jazzy’s BBQ was founded by retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Johnny Ray Smith and his wife Pamela, a former Buccaneers cheerleader. Inside you’ll find ample seating and the aroma of delicious oak wood smoked food. In addition to their saucy ribs and beef brisket, their pulled pork sandwich is a popular choice. If you like a bit of heat, try their spicy habanero hot sauce. Order up their homemade 7-Up pound cake when it’s available.
Started as a food truck and now upgraded to a brick-and-mortar location on Gandy Boulevard, the Smoke Shack delivers classic southern home-style barbecue with a twist of gourmet. A unique menu find is their barbecue Sunday, made from layers of baked beans, their signature truffle mac-n-cheese, and choice of brisket or pulled pork. Other popular items include their sweet heat chicken wings and Brunswick Stew.
In their polished modern country chic interior, UNION72 in Wesley Chapel offers barbecue that not only melds barbecue flavors from various regions, but also introduces both Asian and Cuban influence. Must-tries include their Texas style dry rubbed brisket and St. Louis style dry rubbed ribs. Grab a jar of their delicious iced tea and watch for outstanding weekly pit master specials. We tried (and loved) their popular B-B-Cuban special made with smoked pork, Swiss cheese, homemade pickles and a creamy Carolina sauce, pressed on Cuban bread.
To try barbeque from various regions under one roof, Holy Hog is the place to go. The Tampa-born restaurant now has four brick-and-mortar locations and two in Amalie Arena. The crowd favorite is their Kansas-style burnt ends (slow smoked candied brisket points), with other offerings that include a Texas-style brisket, St. Louis ribs, and signature sauces like their sharp Carolina mustard. Holy Hog also embraces Tampa’s rich Cuban history with menu items like their citrus mojo riblets and pineapple mojo barbecue sauce.
A family affair since 1970, Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q welcomes you with a “can’t miss” neon sign topped with their famous Jimbo character. Located in Tampa off of bustling Kennedy Blvd, you’ll find that stepping inside transports you back in time with their casual country atmosphere. Jimbo’s is well known for their slow-smoked dry rubbed ribs and mouthwatering hush puppies. They also serve a breakfast, where you can get pulled pork with your eggs.
Ted Peters is a perfect example of classic Florida barbecue. With roots spanning back to the 1940’s and five generations of family operating the establishment, you can actually taste the Florida barbecue history. Here you’ll find no barbecue sauces or smoked mammals, just simple smoked mullet, Spanish mackerel, salmon and mahi-mahi. Be sure to watch their spot on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” to see an inside look at their operation, how their fish spread is made and their secret to great potato salad.