The skies keep getting smokier over Denver — because good barbecue keeps coming to the city. In the works for spring and summer this year are Smok BBQ inside the Source Hotel, Hank's Texas Barbecue on East Colfax Avenue, the reopening of Owlbear Barbecue on Larimer Street, and BBQ Supply Co. adjacent to the Evans Avenue light-rail station. But why wait? Great ’cue can be had at a number of excellent smokehouses around the city — some in the heart of downtown and some in nearby towns within an easy drive (because finding smoked meats can often be an adventure). Here are the ten best barbecue joints in the metro area, in alphabetical order.
Georgia Boys BBQ
250 Third Avenue, Longmont, 720-999-4099
141 Fifth Street, Frederick, 303-833-3140
Depending on where you live in the metro area, the two Georgia Boys locations can be either a quick jaunt or a full-on day trip. Consider, though, that many of the finest pit masters in the country ply their trade in rural areas; just think of it as a quest for something rare and wonderful – like unicorns, leprechauns or perfect brisket glistening with fat. The Southern charm at either location runs thick, as do the daily specials, so keep an eye out for occasional étouffée, sweet-potato casserole and homey side dishes, especially around the holidays. Georgia barbecue is big on pig, so you can’t go wrong with the pulled pork. But be sure to save some room for a side dish of a real Georgia specialty: Brunswick stew. It’s like a meaty cross between chili, succotash and leftover barbecue.
GQue Championship Barbecue
5160 120th Avenue, Westminster
GQue owner Jason Ganahl competed on the competitive barbecue circuit for years, earning the Rocky Mountain BBQ Association’s Team of the Year award and placing high in several of the top national competitions sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. His recipes translate well to a restaurant setting, and his meats are among the most consistent across the board, whether ribs, brisket, wings, sausage or turkey. And sides are done right, too, with smoky beans, tangy slaw with a sweet hint of apple, and kettle chips meant for munching. Do yourself a favor and get a sampler platter of everything GQue smokes: Your belt may complain, but you won't regret it. Ganahl's time on the competitive circuit taught him to aim for big flavors over regional specificity, so every bite is bold and beautiful.
Kitchen Table BBQ & Comfort Food
3242 East Colfax Avenue
Dave Kilroy’s little kitchen that could keeps on chugging. After a move from its original storefront on East 22nd Avenue, the Kitchen Table relocated to East Colfax, inside Goosetown Tavern. Kilroy has gained a loyal cadre of Midwesterners and barbecue fans who keep the place busy, buying up every last scrap of meat – brisket, ribs, pulled pork, chicken and sausage — that comes out of the restaurant’s smoker. During the right time of year, you can even score a smoked brisket pot pie, and the sides alone are worth a stop. Kilroy’s output is consistent and even-handed, so you can’t go wrong with anything you order, but the burnt ends are somehow just a little homier, a little more Kansas, making each bite nostalgic as well as damned good. With the move, the Kitchen Table is now open for both lunch and dinner, extending the savory fun for Colfax denizens.
Piggin' Out Smokehouse
9987 Morrison Road, Lakewood
One look behind the country-style shack that houses Piggin' Out Bar-B-Que in almost-rural Lakewood will let you know that the owners understand what smoking meat means. There you'll find a big steel smoker on a trailer that's stained in streaked shades of bronze from smoke and fat. The interior of Piggin' Out isn't much to look at — it's mostly a takeout joint, but this year some additional indoor seating was added. There's chicken and turkey on the menu along with standard sides, but the best bets are the pulled pork, the pork ribs and the chopped brisket. Sauces are honest, Kansas City-style concoctions that come either rich and sweet or as a spicy version of the same.
Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que
2387 South Downing Street
The last three years have been big for barbecue in Denver, with a whole new crew of pit masters smoking up ribs, shoulder and brisket in nearly every Southern style. Roaming Buffalo was an early addition to the 2015 smokehouse scene, opening near the University of Denver and holding our attention with what can only be called Colorado-style barbecue, featuring lamb shoulder and bison back ribs in addition to housemade jalapeño-cheddar sausage. You'll also find the usual suspects — beef brisket, chicken wings and pork ribs — seasoned lightly and smoked gently so that the meaty flavors come to the forefront. Sides are worth celebrating, too, with kicked-up versions of classics, like honey-lime slaw and poblano mac and cheese. And a feast wouldn't be complete without a cup of the kitchen's luscious caramelized banana pudding. Follow your nose and check the specials board for the occasional barbecue tacos, smoked beef ribs or a meat-loaded baked potato. On Friday and Saturday nights, stop in for a smoked prime rib supper, one of the most exquisite cuts of meat in town.
1422 Larimer Street
A basement restaurant in a heavily regulated downtown restaurant district can only crank up the smoke so much, but Russell's makes up for that by serving high-quality meats treated right. Restaurateur Frank Bonanno's underground smokehouse, next door to his speakeasy, Green Russell, doesn't seem like the right kind of place to find good barbecue. Despite the hush-hush secrecy of the entrance and Bonanno's reputation for great Italian (he also runs Luca and Osteria Marco), the barbecue at Russell's surprises with complex flavors and mouthwatering tenderness. Prices lean toward fine dining, but portions are gut-busting, so guests get their money's worth. If you're all in for a meat-heavy night, start with a sausage sampler for some of the best charcuterie in town. Beef ribs, a rarity outside of Texas, steal the show, but the kitchen shows expertise with baby back ribs and — dare we mention it? — chicken. And if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the smoked-carpaccio platter: paper-thin slices of kangaroo, elk and water buffalo smoked over Leopold Bros. whiskey-barrel staves.
Smokin Yard's BBQ
900 West First Avenue
At the new Smokin Yard's BBQ, the Yard family (which also runs the original Smokin Yard's in Idaho Springs) cranks up the Ole Hickory smoker for a taste of Southern goodness that doesn't necessarily conform to any one region. The Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwich is mounded with juicy hunks of pork, spicy coleslaw and mustard-based sauce, while the burnt-end sandwich is served unadorned, letting the smoky, black-edged brisket speak for itself. You can reach for one of three barbecue sauces or help yourself to sliced purple onions, pickles and jalapeños to doctor up your picks, of course, but these meats don't need much of a supporting cast. Oh, and if you're so inclined, there are also complimentary boiled peanuts on the condiment bar — a real Southern treat and something for those who have never ventured into the heart of Dixie to try, at least once.
26220 CO-74 Frontage, Kittredge
Did we mention that finding good barbecue should be an adventure? Load up the car and hit the winding road to Kittredge, just a half-hour from downtown Denver. There you'll find Montreal-style smoked brisket, the specialty of the house. The key to this uncommon style is that the beef is cured with spices before being smoked (Switchback uses apple and cherry wood), so the result is pink and juicy and full of flavor, like a backyard version of pastrami. Other surprises await on the menu, too, like rich duck breast, housemade bacon, chicken legs and smoked salmon. Buy them by the pound, butcher-shop style, or try one of the generously stacked sandwiches. You won't regret the drive.
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TRU Colotexmex Bar-B-Que & Catering
599 Littleton Boulevard, Littleton
James Diaz hails from Austin, Texas, but he's not concerned with making hip post-oak smoked meats in the style of Franklin's. Instead, he borrows from his Tex-Mex roots and uses mesquite for a bold flavor in his brisket, ribs, chicken thighs and other meats. For a real treat, stop by when there's smoked tri-tip on the menu, or sample the mesquite-grilled fajita tacos; Diaz makes his own flour tortillas from scratch for an awesome Texas touch. TRU is not much more than a trailer and a smoker, so don't expect all the bells and whistles of a sit-down restaurant, which is the way the best barbecue should be experienced. Visit TRU's Facebook page for daily specials and hours of operation.
Wayne's Smoke Shack
11406 Center Drive, Superior
Texas doesn't get much love from Coloradans, but the barbecue at Wayne's is changing that. Owner Wayne Shelnutt is from Texas — and the finish, flavor and juiciness of his slow-smoked meats are 100 percent Texas, too. The pit master brings the flavors and techniques of Texas Hill Country — the post-oak-and-brisket holy land, with Austin at its center — to Denver's north suburbs, where Lone Star State expats and Front Range natives alike line up for a taste of juicy beef with a coffee-black bark and deep, smoky flavor that can only come from time, patience and love. Pork lovers have plenty to be thankful for, too: Wayne's ribs and pork shoulder sing with the same slow-cooked and savory alchemy that arises when fat and dry rub combine with smoke to coax magic from meat. Wayne's was closed for a month or so at the beginning of 2018, reopening the first week of February with more space and expanded smoking capacity to keep hungry fans happy.