London’s Best American Barbecue
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words: Helen Graves
London is finally catching onto the fact that American barbecue doesn’t mean pappy pulled pork soaked in gloop. Guys, if you can buy it in a can in Tesco then that boat has well and truly sailed. Leave the pulled pork alone unless you really know what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, there are many places to buy bad American barbecue in London, because cynical, spreadsheet-focused restaurateurs think that it’s easy to cook. In fact, the opposite is true.
Low and slow barbecue cooking is a skill that’s developed, ideally, over many years of experience, and even then that skill needs to be combined with a certain intuition.
These are the restaurants we think really make the grade.
David Carter ran Smokestak as a street food stall serving barbecued meats in London’s car parks and street food markets before he opened this permanent restaurant in 2016.
Smokestak produces arguably the very best barbecue in London and certainly the top brisket; although David is very keen to point out they’re not ‘just’ a barbecue restaurant. That means you’ll find slightly cheffy, creative dishes among the ribs, including whole Cornish mackerel with green nam jim, a Thai dipping sauce.
Do get that brisket if you go, though. The reason it’s so good is that they’re very disciplined about cooking it, and even have a dedicated brisket guy, Roberto. There’s nothing on it but salt and pepper but it’s the juiciest, fattiest hunk of smoked cow in town. Eat it either straight up or in a brioche roll with red pickled chillies.
Oh, and do not miss the sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
Smokestak, 35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB
London Barbecue School
Want to eat some of the best quality barbecue you’ve ever had while learning how to cook it at the same time? London Barbecue School, based in Peckham, is for you.
Founder Alastair Instone uses ceramic barbecues to teach groups of individuals or private classes, and he invites some of the country’s best barbecue cooks to host guest classes, too.
The brisket and hot links from the Texas barbecue masterclass taught by professional barbecue competitor Lap-fai Lee are both excellent. Oh, and if you’ve never tasted hot links then you should rectify that immediately – this spicy pork or beef sausage usually surprises people.
London Barbecue School runs lots of classes throughout the warmer months including those for veggies, so check the website for details.
London Barbecue School, Dovedale Business Centre, 22A Blenheim Grove, SE15 4QN
You’d expect a restaurant run by a former winner of the world’s most prestigious barbecue competition (The Jack) to be good, and that it is. Jackie Weight fell into cooking ‘cue by accident after she was given a barbecue cooking class certificate as a present, and was surprised to find out she was good at it. Very good indeed.
We love her hot links best, which are densely spiced with a really good ‘snap’ – that satisfying springy bite you get when you chomp on a sausage, meaning it’s been made with a natural casing and slowly smoked.
This is the place to head if you want the traditional barbecue ‘tray’ experience, which means lots of meats and a range of sauce styles. Also, don’t miss the ‘onion bundle’ which is a deep-fried tangle of onion slices, a bit like an onion bhaji.
Blue’s Smokehouse, High Street, RG12 1DS
You’ll currently find these guys at the massive food market just north of Elephant and Castle, Mercato Metropolitano. Founder Michael Gratz hails from Kansas City and so the barbecue is faithful to that region’s style.
This means you’ll find a range of smoked meats, cooked over different woods, served with a sauce that is smoky and rich with tomato and molasses.
Their burnt ends are great – that’s the sticky, caramelised pieces from the ‘point’ end of the brisket, which, put simply, is the fattier end of the meat. You’ll also find smoked turkey, a very American barbecue tradition which is rarely seen this side of the pond and we love that they do two types of coleslaw, to please fans of both the creamy and tangy styles.
If you really fall in love with the flavour then you can buy their sauces and rubs in some of London’s best butchers including O ‘Sheas and Allen’s.
Prairie Fire, see website for locations (they move around a lot)
The Rib Man
The Rib Man’s ribs can be polarising, as some people don’t like their ribs to fall off the bone, instead preferring something to gnaw at. This all depends, then, on how you feel about very slow cooked rib meat. It’s certainly not something that would be tolerated in a professional barbecue competition, but then, this isn’t a professional barbecue competition, it’s just lunch.
Mark Gevaux began cooking his ribs after he was injured in a car accident and lost his leg. He now sells his ribs on Brick Lane and at West Ham home games.
Without doubt, a huge part of his success is his Holy F*ck sauce, a potent blend of peppers, scotch bonnets and super hot Naga chillies, which he sells to many thousands of customers and chefs around London.
It’s addictive when dolloped onto one of his rolls, which are piled so full of rib meat they’re served in a special container to catch the spillage. The sauce really makes the sandwich, as he’s somehow managed to capture the fruity flavour of those chillies, not just the heat. We know people who put it on everything.
The Rib Man, 91 – 96 Brick Lane, E1 6HR
Pitt Cue Co.
Where would this list be without the pioneers of proper American barbecue in London, Pitt Cue Co.? They started out with that airstream truck underneath the Hungerford Bridge, which caused such a buzz it threatened to break Twitter. From there, they opened a tiny restaurant in Soho, which generated such queues they congested the street outside – and this was before queuing was even really a thing. Now, they’ve got a full-on City-slick outfit.
We know that some people are upset they can’t get the pulled pork and other rustic delights offered by their previous restaurant at the new site but guys, their style has evolved and we have to embrace that.
You shouldn’t miss any of the Mangalitza pig dishes, made with animals bred on co-founder and chef Tom Adam’s farm in Cornwall. We’d been appreciating these curly haired beasts for a long time during regular visits to Hungary (where they originate) and were delighted to see them welcomed on menus in London. Particularly prized for their fat, these beasties produce melt-in-the-mouth meat, which makes spectacular sausages, chops, lard and, well, anything, really.
Also get the bone marrow mash, obvs.
Pitt Cue Co., 1 The Avenue, Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YP