LWR Life contributor Shellie Terry shares the secrets to finding the best barbecue in town.
What goes better with summer than a barbecue? I’ll wait. That’s right — there’s nothing that caps off a day by the pool or at the beach or that rings in the Fourth of July quite like some finger-licking, saucy chicken or fall-off-the-bone smoked ribs. But if slaving over a hot grill in the middle of a Florida summer sounds like torture, no need to worry. Several East County joints are sweating over the smokers for you, and they are definitely bringing the barbecue goods. We found five of the best authentically smoked and grilled options, plus all the bonuses that make a barbecue spot special: the technique, the atmosphere and, of course, the delicious side dishes.
Party in the Front, Smoking Business in the Back
4705 U.S. Highway 301 N., Ellenton; HickoryHollowBBQ.com; 941-722-3932
Everything about the Hickory Hollow look is kitschy — from the year-round Christmas decorations to the portly pink pig sculpture greeting customers from the road. But when it comes to the menu, things get serious. From smoked turkey to char-grilled pork shanks to Carolina-style barbecue, the Hollow staff, led by second-generation owner Jarrett James, is cooking up great hickory-smoked flavors around the clock. “All of our processes are low and slow,” says James, who sources his hickory wood chips from Virginia. Although the Hollow’s traditional barbecue sauce is tomato-based, it’s the North Carolina vinegar-based sauce that stands out. “If you like salt-and-vinegar potato chips, this is what you want,” James says. Plentiful options fill the menu, from seafood to sirloin, and the locally sourced veggie favorites, including corn pudding and squash-and-cheese casserole, complete the unmatched Hickory Hollow experience.
Cook It Slow, Serve It Fast
C&K Smoke House BBQ
12119 U.S. Highway 301 N., Parrish; CKSmokeHouseBBQ.com; 941-776-1440
A smoke signal rises from the back of C&K Smoke House BBQ in Parrish to let you know you’ve arrived, and this is the real deal. Carl and Kimberly Rhodes (the C&K) got their start in the meat-smoking restaurant business in 2003 after Carl, a former pastor, got bored with retirement. The couple chose the barbecue path to bring some much-needed homestyle cooking to the area. They slow smoke their meats — chicken, ribs, pork and brisket — over oak and citrus wood with a dry rub of mixed seasonings. The meats are served minutes after customers place their orders, with a choice of sauces presented on the side. The result is full-flavored, moist meat across the board. “It’s a flavorful, mouth-watering, lip-smacking experience,” Carl Rhodes says. Made only better when you add the crave-worthy, buttery garlic potatoes, we say.
A Master Class in Meats & Sides
Highway 64 and 57th St. E., Bradenton; AldaysBBQ.com; 941-809-2589
Don’t let the humble food truck/trailer on the roadside fool you — Alday’s is a powerhouse party caterer throughout the region, fronted by its two walk-up locations, one on Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota and the other on Highway 64. Owners Jeff and Lisa Alday opt not to baste the oak-smoked meats, which include tender brisket, juicy half chicken and salmon. Instead, tangy mustard and sweet and mild sauces are offered in do-it-yourself squirt bottles. Alday’s has also mastered tastes and textures throughout its sides. Green beans are perfectly boiled soft and paired with the snap of still-crisp white onion, and potatoes are expertly chunked in a creamy salad. But stay till the end, folks, for the banana pudding. It’s made with sweetened condensed milk, Jeff Alday says, plus a secret ingredient: “It’s sour cream,” he half-whispers with a chuckle. We’re not going to argue. Just keep it coming.
Now This is Barbecue — Florida-Style
19 East Road, Sarasota; StottlemyersSmokehouse.com; 941-312-596
Across from an RV park behind a gas station and under a Tiki hut is where you’ll find some of the best brisket around at Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse. Sounds about right for hosting an Old Florida shindig. Five years ago, Steve Stottlemyer doubled down on his Texaco station, widely known for its delectable fried chicken. The addition of the pecan hardwood smoker and open-air restaurant has created the ideal spot for a family meal or some late-night boogie with the top local bands, including One Night Rodeo and Kettle of Fish. We must insist that you start your meal with an original: the cornbread smokestack. The hands-down best cornbread around is topped with pulled pork or beef brisket, remoulade, barbecue sauce and coleslaw. You could begin and end the night right there, but Stottlemyer’s rounds out its menu with salads, chicken, fish, pizza, tacos and more.
Cute & Quirky Perfection
14475 S.R. 70 E., Bradenton; NancysBarBQ.com; 941-362-2833
Nancy Krohngold’s cheery, bright-red restaurant is a landmark in downtown Sarasota, with its tractor decor and alluring smoky scents. She brought the same quirky vibe to a Lakewood Ranch strip mall, featuring a diverse menu of oak-smoked meats prepared with a secret 14-ingredient dry rub. For the full-on experience, we opted for the Nancy’s Bar-B-Q Texas Holy Trinity, which includes a half slab of ribs, brisket (pray from some burnt ends) and a Texas Hot Link, paired with Nancy’s own chipotle and sweet barbecue sauces. Holy smoked meats, indeed! And your vegetarian friends will be happy as well, with tasty original side dishes including savory edamame succotash and just-right sesame crunch slaw, which drive home super-fresh veggie flavors with or without their meaty counterparts.