Though some claim that in Florida, the further south you travel, the further north it seems, South Florida is a mecca for southern-style barbecue.
But what exactly is barbecue?
To many, the term “barbecue” (or BBQ, Bar-B-Q or barbeque) is unquestionably synonymous with all manner of grilled foods: Hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey burgers, veggie patties, baby back ribs, chicken wings and any other fire-roasted, grilled edibles. That’s barbecue. Or is it?
To devotees, “barbecue” means pork spareribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, sausage, chicken and turkey, rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over low dry heat, flavored with the smoke of hardwood — preferably hickory — with sauce optional.
For purists, barbecue is a process and not a product. It’s strict, and its qualities are defined by experts, many of whom cook and compete based on a rigorous set of standards.
No disrespect to ardent followers of this venerable school of low and slow cuisine, but we’re going to focus here on what’s on the plate and not in the kitchen (or in the pit).
Like most of the country, South Florida has a plethora of popular national chains, serving steaming heaps of sauce-slathered, moist-cooked ribs and chicken finished in a hot oven or on a grill. They call it “barbecue” and that will suffice for most of their customers, who blissfully believe they’re eating the genuine article (or haven’t really given it much thought either way).
But for those who crave a bit more authenticity on their plate and in their mouth, South Florida offers a number of tasty options.
Here’s a look at some favorite SoFla stops for ’que.
Scruby’s in Pembroke Pines brags that their baby back ribs dish is their top seller, but pork spare ribs here are consistently meaty, smoky and very satisfying. They also serve beef brisket and chicken wings, and a rich and tasty Brunswick stew. Even nachos (!) are on the menu. Smoked chicken is quite good, and the usual retinue of side dishes is also top-notch. Sweet Corn Nuggets, a fried and breaded starter served with butter and honey, is a popular offering.
Shorty’s began their rib reign in South Miami circa 1951. The original building burned down in 1972, was rebuilt on the same spot and later heavily damaged during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. After rebuilding yet again, the crew also expanded north and west to Davie, Deerfield Beach, Doral and West Miami. The solid menu of ribs, pork, pork steaks and chicken is supplanted with burgers and a local south Florida favorite, churrasco (grilled skirt steak). The side dishes are all very good, but the tangy cole slaw is exceptional. Tip: Be sure to check their website for printable discount coupons before visiting.
Sonny’s is a regional chain, founded in 1968, with 123 locations dotted throughout Florida and the Southeast. Based in Maitland, near Orlando, their log-cabin-esque locations were formerly ubiquitous in South Florida, but they’re now down to single spots in Broward (Davie) and Miami-Dade (Florida City, south of Homestead). In addition to their popular spare ribs, the menu includes reliable favorites like baby backs, brisket, chicken, turkey, sliced and pulled pork, and Brunswick stew. There’s also a (gasp!) salad bar with a good selection of greens and accompaniments.
For some SoFla barbecue aficionados, Tom Jenkins’ homey downtown Fort Lauderdale eatery is the gold standard for the area. Their menu of pit-smoked pork, ribs, brisket and chicken offers consistently excellent barbecue five days a week (closed Sundays and Mondays). They also serve fried catfish and stellar sides, including collard greens, corn on the cob, coleslaw, baked beans and macaroni and cheese. The single location is country-casual and takes no reservations, but the barbecue is as good as it gets – anywhere. If you’re picking up or dropping off at the nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, this is well worth a side trip.
There are a number of other single locations dotted throughout south Florida. (Wish we could cover them all. Maybe we’ll continue this tour down the road.)
One example, Dixie Pig – an unassuming little stand on Dixie Highway just south of Commercial Boulevard in a mixed business area of Oakland Park – states unambiguously that they serve “Real North Carolina ‘Vinegar Base’ BBQ,” and so they do – outside, no less. There’s no interior seating here, though the tables are all under cover, in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Pulled pork, chicken and beef are the stars, but the ribs are excellent, too. Breakfast is served as well, with omelets that include their barbecued meats, along with the usual fillings. They offer a surprisingly diverse menu with meatloaf, hoagies, fried chicken and more, but their terrific barbecue is the best reason to visit.
If You Go
4495 North Dixie Highway
Oakland Park, Fl 33334
Scruby’s BBQ (3 locations)
251 N. University Drive
Pembroke Pines, Fl 33024
Shorty’s Bar-B-Q (5 locations)
South Miami (#1)
9200 South Dixie Hwy
Miami, FL 33156
Sonny’s Bar-B-Q (various locations)
2699 S. University Drive
Davie, FL 33328
Tom Jenkins’ Bar-B-Q
1236 South Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
Richard Pachter is a writer and social media marketing executive living in Boca Raton. Visit him online at www.richardpachter.com.