Not all BBQ is created equal. Nor are BBQ restaurants.

If you go to a fine dining italian restaurant and you order spaghetti, it’ll probably taste good. Chances are, if you go anywhere else and order spaghetti or make it at home, it’ll also taste good.

This does not happen with barbecue restaurants. They are all over the map. The fancier the establishment means nothing. The location means even less. Prices? Don’t get me started. Nothing is a good indicator until to take your first bite. restaurants are segmented between BBQ Joints, Fast Casual BBQ and Full Service BBQ.


To manage your expectations. BBQ is traditionally all about the meat – not the decor, the service, ambiance, a fluffed menu of extras or even convenient hours. They are unlike any other cuisine, so it helps to adjust your expectations accordingly before heading into the restaurant or leaving your review of them online.

BBQ Joints

Absolutly a no-frills type of establishment. Zero.

They may or may not greet you when you come into the door. Be happy if you get a nod of acknowledgement. BBQ Joints are typically off the beaten path, family owned type of establishments. You never know what you will get, it may be the hidden gem of BBQ you’ve been searching for all your life or it could taste like dog meat.

The taste could also be offset by the lack of a working air conditioner, you never know. BBQ Joints are a staple throughout Texas and Kansas, but a rarity in Arizona. If you come across one, I encourage you to stop in and grab a plate despite the gamble.

In my humble opinion, a day eating BBQ is never a bad day.

Some of the best BBQ joints in Texas have to die for BBQ, but no sides, no sauce, no menu, but have done it this way for 116 years and provide you with only a plastic knife (if you really need it) and a smile when you take your plate. The original Kreuz Market in Lockhart comes to mind. I haven’t found anything authentically like this in AZ yet, but if you do, shoot me an e-mail.

The definite plus side to heading to a BBQ joint? It’s likely they are cooking their meat low and slow over locally sourced wood. Doubt you’ll see an oven anywhere.

Fast Casual BBQ

This makes up the majority of Arizona BBQ. The difference between BBQ Joints and Fast Casual BBQ? Well, think about fast casual in the same manner as a BBQ Joint, but brought into the current century.

While many places still cook on open pits, offset smokers or brick oven smokers, conventional ovens are still prominent. If you’re really into this BBQ stuff, it’s best to call ahead and ask what they’re smoking on.

It’s up to you to decide if BBQ joints or fast casual is your preference or not, but with the current Chipotleization of restaurants, I like the former. You’ll likely go to a counter, get your food while you are ordering, or they’ll bring it out to you real quick like. It’s also a no frills type of experience, but what we’ve come to expect if we aren’t eating at a full service restaurant. Take Pork on a Fork for example.

Full Service BBQ

Basically, they’ve got a wait staff and cloth napkins. Everything you can expect at an Olive Garden, but sans breadsticks and sub in BBQ. While there are more full service BBQ restaurants popping up, they are still mostly found in Scottsdale – where people still need other people to bring them their food. You are there to enjoy the meat and there is rarely the need for a waiter to explain the daily specials to you. It’s brisket all day long.

In AZ, this would be like your Bobby Q in mid-town Phoenix. It’s a date night place, or somewhere you want to wear more than overalls to.

If you are that kind of fancy.

Full Service BBQ restaurants have a near 0% chance of cooking their meat the traditional way – over any sort of wood or charcoal. Chances are it’s in an oven, or at best, smoked for a short period over wood then finished in an over. Which isn’t necessarily a horrible thing – once you impart the desired smoke flavor, you can continue cooking it on any heat source you’d like.

It’s cheating, but I’m not here to judge.

Regardless of what type of BBQ restaurants suits your needs, get out there and try them. Then come back and let me know what you loved and what you didn’t. So as long as we are all eating BBQ.

  1. Barbecue does have this sense of meat over mess. That is part of what makes it such a delicious choice for american food! I’ll have to pay more attention between BBQ joints, fast food restaurants, and full service restaurants. As you said, in most cases, no matter how or what day you get BBQ food, it is a good day.

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