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.
What defines good barbeque in Oregon? BJ Smith, co-founder of Kim Jong Smokehouse in Portland and owner of Smokehouse Provisions in Vancouver, 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’s 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:
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 Rhododendron, 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 housemade Oregon Pinot Noir BBQ sauce and homemade ice cream and biscuits. Bo-Mack’s BBQ in Albany is much more down-home but also a family business fueled by a love of good barbecue. The ranching family uses the best cuts of meat they can find and smokes them for 14 to 18 hours with homemade dry rub, served with house-made sauces. Try their slow-smoked beef, pork sausage and pork baby back ribs, capped off with their cornbread muffins and their signature peach cobbler.
A mom-and-pop place located in a converted train car in Baker City, Big Chief’s BBQ is full of charm — and solid barbecue. Diners rave about their indulgent lunch specials, like their tri-tip (made with dry-smoked local beef) grilled cheese sandwich and Texas-style pulled beef sandwich, served with dill pickle chips, onions and their housemade sauce. 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.
It’s all about sustainable meat at Primal Cuts Meat Market in Bend, which buys its beef, lamb, pork, 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 charcuterie board.
Everyone raves about the pulled pork nachos at Home State BBQ in downtown Ashland, but don’t forget to save room for beef brisket and the sassy slaw, made with local ingredients and hormone-free meat. When you’re full (and thoroughly satisfied), take some pie-in-a-jar home with you. 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 makes first-timers become lifelong fans.
Good news, Portlanders love barbecue. Bad news, you might have a hard time choosing. In Northeast Portland, Podnah’s Pit is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with the ultimate Southern specialties and drinks. Podnah’s meats are all slow smoked using oak hardwood — no electricity, gas or charcoal — and you can taste the savory attention to detail. From the folks who brought us Laurelhurst Market, Reverend’s BBQ has made a name for itself in Sellwood. Reverend’s is best known for out-of-this-world fried chicken, but regulars will recommend the brisket with deviled eggs.
Finally, carnivores will have plenty to indulge in at these BBQ-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.
What’s your top BBQ spot in Oregon? Hit us in the comment section below.