Sometimes all you want to dig into in the summer is a plate of juicy brisket, a tender pulled-pork sandwich or a rack of smoked ribs that leaves you reaching for more napkins and an extra-cold beverage. Luckily, it’s barbecue season in Oregon, and there’s no shortage of opportunity to enjoy the best of all of that meaty goodness. The ultimate accolade: The barbecue expert at Texas Monthly even says Portland has the best Texas barbecue scene outside of Texas.
What defines good barbecue in Oregon? BJ Smith, co-founder of Kim Jong Smokehouse at the Pine Street Market food hall in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown district, has been a chef in Oregon since 1996 and knows his barbecue. He says most of Oregon’s top spots use Pacific Northwest wood and meat, but it’s the techniques and tools that bring the differences.
“We’re all smoking meat slow and low to develop lots of flavor,” he says. “The main difference is the smoker [gas-powered, wood or electric]. We use three different types for the different meats. Some just use one.” Also, some chefs sauce their meats; Smith simply does a dry rub and provides sauces at the table, letting the lamb, beef, chicken or duck speak for itself with just a light sprinkling of Jacobsen Salt to add a bit of a crunch.
If your mouth is watering, that’s a good thing. From roadside dives to something a little classier, here are our top spots for tasty barbecue around these parts of the state:
Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge
Smoked pork ribs are the specialty at Apple Valley BBQ in Parkdale, where it’s smoked — along with the brisket and other meats — with local cherry wood delivered each week from their neighbors at Mt. View Orchards. Local produce, local beer and wine, house-made buns, and stellar cornbread and bread pudding make this spot a must-visit. At Skyway Bar and Grill in Zigzag, Chef Jason Hornor has turned a 40-year-old roadside diner into a cozy favorite for skiers and families looking for solid Northwest BBQ. Sit next to their vintage indoor fireplace and go for broke with the Ludicrous, an open-faced sandwich with house-smoked pulled pork, brisket or tofu plus mashers, cheese sauce and cheddar on a ciabatta bun.
A serious foodie destination, Storrs Smokehouse in Newberg is the sister restaurant to the Painted Lady Restaurant, a tribute to chef/co-owner Allen Routt’s Southern roots. Routt serves up his family recipes — mouth-watering brisket, pulled pork, chicken wings and St. Louis-style pork ribs — paired with Pacific Northwest flavors like the house-made Oregon pinot noir barbecue sauce and homemade ice cream and biscuits. The Cascade BBQ Food Truck, based in Corvallis, brings the smoky goodness to cities across the valley with its plates of tri-tip, wings, pulled pork, hot links and classic sides, as well as portobello mushroom for non-meat eaters. Oregon BBQ Company serves award-winning ribs, brisket and more from its drive-through shack in Albany, dubbed the “Purple People Feeder.” The local owners are engaged in numerous community partnerships, celebrating barbecue’s magical power of bringing people together.
In La Grande, bring the family to Smokehouse Restaurant, a funky diner on the town’s main street since the ’60s. Their down-home barbecue — everything from the pulled-pork sandwich to ribs — is a nice way to fuel up for adventuring in the Wallowas, Blue Mountains and beyond. (Also look for to-go house-smoked barbecue specials at Hines Meat Company, nearby in La Grande.) Farther south in Burns, come for the raved-about tri-tip sandwiches at Juniper Cookhouse, stay for the home-baked pies. From biscuits and gravy to peanut butter bars, they’ve got all meals of the day covered.
It’s all about sustainable meat at Primal Cuts Market in Bend, which buys its beef, lamb, pork and poultry — and sometimes specialty meat like bison, duck, pheasant, rabbit and elk — from ranchers in Central Oregon and elsewhere around the state who raise their animals without exposure to growth hormones, pesticides or other chemicals. Take home meat by the pound from the freezer or stop in for a wholly satisfying lunch — their house-made “porkstrami” on a Sparrow Bakery hoagie or a selection of meats on a charcuterie board. You can sip a pint of local beer or cider at Sisters Meat and Smokehouse while chowing down on a smoked-turkey sandwich or French dip made with house-smoked roast beef, among other mouthwatering menu items.
In Klamath Falls, Wubba’s BBQ Shack cooks Kansas City-style barbecue that people drive across the state for. With dozens of finger-licking-good dishes — from beer-battered cheddar curds to tri-tip and sticky baby-back ribs — Wubba’s turns first-timers into lifelong fans. In Central Point, Mary’s BBQ Place keeps it simple, relying on classic family recipes and a sauce so good, she sells it to go. What’s better than pulled pork on a bun? Pulled pork on a stuffed baked potato, of course.
In Northeast Portland, Podnah’s Pit has long been a favorite for slow-smoked meats using oak hardwood — no electricity, gas or charcoal. Hungry diners come from far and wide for Matt’s BBQ on North Mississippi (named food cart of the year in 2016), beloved for its tender, juicy brisket and queso mac ’n cheese, as well as fine Texas-style ribs on weekends. Holy Trinity Barbecue cart has also been called the hottest barbecue on the West Coast, with Texas-style brisket, ribs and sausage (considered the trinity) worth writing home about. Sides are playful spins on the classics, like their version of coleslaw, a tangy slaw made with ramen noodles and sunflower seeds. West of Portland in Aloha, Premium Smokehouse serves up satisfying family-style combos, from chicken and ribs to brisket and pork. Try their signature sandwich, the Gooch, with chopped brisket, pulled pork, hot links and pork belly.
Events to check out:
Carnivores will have plenty to indulge in at these barbecue-focused events this fall: Smoked! (September) is one of the marquee events at Feast Portland, a celebration of regional bounty with beef, pork, fish and fowl prepared by local and other world-class chefs. Wild About Game (October), a game meat cook-off between Portland and Seattle chefs, attracts big crowds at the Resort at the Mountain in Welches.