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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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Best Barbecue in Pittsburgh

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Barbecue can inspire heated debate and intense devotion.  Aficionados argue over style, sauce, and cuts of meat, over which state does it best and which wood to use.  And diehard fans are known to drive great distances for the taste of a perfect spot.  But in the waning days of summer, forget arguing technique and plan a barbecue picnic.  Below Pop City highlights a few esteemed Pittsburgh joints.
 
Pittsburgh Barbecue Company
The ever-expanding Pittsburgh Barbecue Company is now located in a new wooden cabin on a stretch of Banksville Avenue in the southbound lane near the Days Inn. Nestled in the base of a hill, this establishment has the charm of a country barbecue shack on the edge of city limits.

For the past seven years owner Arthur Cohen has earned a reputation for quality barbecue, slow cooking meats over wood smoke for up to 15 hours. The menu includes ribs, chicken, Texas-style beef brisket, and vinegar-based, Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches.  Ask for coleslaw on top to complete the experience.
 
Sauce here is served on the side, letting the time-earned smoke flavors stand out.  “Sauce on the side, nothing to hide,” Cohen says.
 
Sides are $2 and include the winning hickory baked beans (with five types of beans), baked apples, and a moist cornbread that’s as good as dessert.  Rack of Ribs $22, Pulled Pork Sandwich $7 (but go for the pound of pork at $16, a better deal that makes several sandwishces) Combo: any meat, 2 sides,and drink $11.45.  

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11a.m to 8p.m.  1000 Banksville Avenue, Pittsburgh.  412-563-1005.  Murrysville location:724-468-3390. Open March through December.
 

Smokin’ Memphis Style Barbecue
This Wood’s Run establishment is home of the Barbecue Babes--sisters Francine Gooden and Rita Garmany.  These sisters traded in finance and corporate chef management careers for the barbecue life two years ago and haven’t looked back.
 
Along with a few staple dishes there’s usually something new on the menu every day.  “We consider ourselves the boutique of barbecue,” Garmany says.  Some days they have Southern fried chicken, other days black-eyed peas and rice, fried tilapia, or corned beef and cabbage.
 
But the wood-smoked barbecue is a constant: pulled pork, ribs, and barbecue chicken. And several sides are always available: five cheese mac, potato salad, green beans, fresh collards, and corn muffins.
 
On Saturdays, Smokin’ Memphis reaches even farther south for inspiration and offers Jamaican-style Jerk Chicken.  The seasoning is made in-house and includes 18 different spices.
 
Our suggestion? Plan a picnic in nearby Riverview Park, or along the North Shore River Trail, both less than a mile away.
 
Dinners: ½ chicken $8.99; pulled pork $9.99; 4 ribs $10.99.  The Sampler: 1 bone, 1 wing, 1 mini pulled pork sandwich, 3 small sides $7.99.  3231 Brighton Road, Wood’s Run (Northside).  412-766-3400. Noon to 9p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
 

Z-Best Barbecue
Z-Best is a grilled-meat oasis in the Hill District.  Occupying the lone building on a grassy block, Z-Best is located at a scenic bend in Herron Avenue.  Patrons are first greeted by wafting aromas and then the friendly grill masters before entering the restaurant.
 
Ribs and chicken are slow cooked over a charcoal grill at the building’s side, along with wings and fish.  Dinners come with cornbread and two sides: stewed cabbage, sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, greens, and more.  One diner described the baked beans as tasting just like lemon cake. (We don't disagree.) Of course, when asked about the recipe, it has to remain a secret.
 
Z-Best is located across the street from the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading and Cultural Center and community garden.  Plan for a picnic on the gently sloping hill and arrive in time to watch the sun slide behind the grill’s cloud of smoke.  Or climb Milwaukee Avenue to Herron Park for the best panoramic view of the city of Pittsburgh.
 
Z-Best’s has two other locations; on Penn Avenue in Garfield and on Federal Street in the Northside.
 
All there locations are now offering breakfast, including classic combinations like chicken and waffles, fish and grits, and biscuits and gravy.
 
Four Bone Rib Dinner $10.50, ¼ Chicken $7.00, Wing Dinner $7.00.  639 Heron Avenue, Hill District.  412-235-7163.  Monday through Thursday 11:30a.m. to 8p.m.  Friday and Saturday, 11:30a.m. to 10p.m.
 
Mr. Ribbs
James Posey knows Uptown well.  For the past 16 years he and his giant barrel grill have stood on this busy stretch of Fifth Avenue, cooking ribs and chicken in all types of weather.  “When [customers] see that kettle and that smoke coming out of it,” Posey says, “the majority of people say ‘That's the Real McCoy right there!’ and stop and come get it.”
 
The large ribs are tender and full of juice. Posey uses a tomato-based sauce that he says took him a year and a half to perfect.  On Fridays and Saturdays a mustard-based sauce is also available; as well as fried cabbage and potatoes. Posey says his ribs can be enjoyed wet or dry-- meaning with or without sauce.
 
“The sauce just put that final touch on it, just like icing the cake,” he says. “You can’t go wrong.”
 
Posey’s wife, Gaye Posey, makes all of the homemade deserts including apple, peach, and pear cobbler, lemon cake, triple chocolate cake, and banana pudding.
 
Mr. Ribbs is located near the Consol Energy Arena.  Come in before the next Penguins game, or on your way home from work or take out for the Steelers game.
 
Chicken and rib combo dinners $7.00 to $23.50.  1315 Fifth Avenue. 412-281-4292.  Monday through Friday 11a.m. to 11p.m.  Saturday 3p.m. to Midnight.  Sunday 12p.m. to 6p.m.
 

Wilson’s Bar-B-Q
George Wilson has served barbecue in the Northside for over 50 years. His chopped wood pile, wafting smoke and “Ribilicious” signage are as much a trademark of the Mexican War Streets as Victorian architecture and tree-lined streets.
 
Wilson grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and worked in Pittsburgh’s meat packing industry many years ago.  But he’s been in the barbecue business so long he says if a Pittsburgher hasn’t heard of Wilson’s,“either they ain’t born, or they just got off the boat.”
 
Wilson says his  wood smoked pit and homemade sauce (hot or mild) sets him apart from the rest.  He learned most recipes from his grandfather, and has since passed those on to his daughter.  But Wilson says she now adds her own twist to those same dishes.
 
“I would say she's much better than me now,” Wilson says.
 
Whole slab $20.65.  ½ chicken $4.50.  Side $1.07-$1.65.  700 N. Taylor Avenue, Northside.  412-322-7427.
 

Manny’s  BBQ
At PNC Park, barbecue takes on a strange and decidedly Pittsburgh twist.  Pirates baseball legend Manny Sanguillen has operated this one-of-a-kind concession stand since 2002.  On sunny game days, pedestrians crossing the Roberto Clemente bridge on foot can spot Manny’s BBQ by the rising clouds of smoke along the stadium’s River Walk.
 
Manny’s main event:  the Pulled Pork and Pierogi Stacker.
 
It might sound strange, but it’s really good. Potato-filled pierogis burst with creaminess over pulled pork topped with caramelized onions on a soft and salty pretzel bun. An only-in-Pittsburgh sandwich.
 
The former All-Star catcher is on hand most games and more than willing to sign autographs and take pictures.
 
Smoke Barbecue Taqueria
A newcomer to the Pittsburgh barbecue scene, Smoke Barbecue Taqueria opened earlier this year in just outside the Waterfront in Homewood. Smoked meats--including pulled pork, chicken, and brisket--are served with homemade tortillas and traditional Mexican toppings.
 
Tacos $3-4.  Sides $2.25.  225 East 8th Avenue, Homestead, PA 15120.
412-205-3039.
 
 
Andrew Moore writes Development News for Pop City.
 
 
Have barbecue tips of your own?  Share your favorite destinations,
side dishes, or secret recipes below…

Captions:Rita Garmany at Smokin' Memphis; a customer, and barbecue, at Z-Best; George Wilson; sisters Rita Garmany and Francine Gooden at Smokin'; Pittsburgh Barbeque Co.

Pittsburgh Barbeque Co. copyright Tracy Certo.

All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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