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Best Rubs and Ribs Andrew Z. Galarneau's educated search for the best barbecue

In too many Western New York places, sauce covers a multitude of barbecue sins. Overcooked spareribs that smoosh into a puddle of meat and bone under a knife. Beef brisket chewy and arid as last Sunday's roast. Pallid pork shreds whose washed-out flavor speaks of crockpot instead of hours inside smoky iron.

Splash on chemical "smoke" mixed with tomato-y corn syrup and lots of customers won't notice.

I will. I've hunted pulled pork outside Atlanta and cross-examined locals for the best brisket in Austin. I smoke my spareribs over oak and hickory for six or seven hours until the meat is crusty outside, moist inside, and leaves clean bone behind each bite.

Sauce is optional.

So after eating at 15 Western New York places offering barbecue, here's where I'd send my friends.

Now, barbecue preferences are personal. Arguing barbecue is the second-favorite sport at barbecue tournaments. If you love a place I don't, don't let me rain on your coleslaw.

It leaves more of the good stuff for the rest of us.

Restaurant: Donnie's Smokehouse - 883 Jefferson Ave., Buffalo; 884-2191

Atmosphere: Little place with a big load of BBQ trophies

Pork Ribs: Best baby back ribs around - perfectly tender and saucy

Pulled Pork: Decent, tender, faint smoke

Beef Brisket: Rated No. 2 - tender, smoky

Other Worthies: Peppery rice and cabbage side a fine departure

Best Bet: Baby back ribs

The Bottom Line: Donnie and Ray will show you how they earned those trophies

***

Restaurant: Suzy-Q's Bar-B-Que Shack - 2829 River Road, Buffalo; 873-0757

Atmosphere: Homey, hands-on service from owners

Pork Ribs: Tender, sweet and smoky - tied for No. 2 spare rib

Pulled Pork: Roast pork with smoke

Beef Brisket: Slightly chewy - smoked roast beef

Other Worthies: Pit ham, smoked and shredded, is worth the trip

Best Bet: Pit ham

The Bottom Line: Exterior looks rough, but you'll be glad you were brave

***

Restaurant: One-Eyed Jack's - 5983 S. Transit Road, Lockport; 438-5414

Atmosphere: Efficient, bustling place packs a crowd

Pork Ribs: Not crusty, but no sauce needed - tied for No. 2 spare rib

Pulled Pork: Moist, faintly smoky

Beef Brisket: The best I found - moist rich, sigh-inducing

Other Worthies: Smokehouse chili hits the spot when snow flies

Best Bet: Brisket

The Bottom Line: Niagara County's senior BBQ joint is worth the drive

***

Restaurant: Kentucky Greg's - 2186 George Urban Blvd., Depew; 685-6599

Atmosphere: Smoky perfumes in parking lot, blues wafting inside

Pork Ribs: Peppery, smoky - no sauce needed. My No. 1 spare rib

Pulled Pork: The pork sweetness edges through the sauce

Beef Brisket: Lean, faintly smoky, a bit dry

Other Worthies: Brunswick stew so good people make it their meal

Best Bet: Spare ribs

The Bottom Line: There really is a Greg, and he really is from Kentucky. Lucky you.

***

Restaurant: Smokin' Tom's BBQ - 555 S. Cascade Road, Springville; 592-7137

Atmosphere: Order at the pickup window, seat yourself

Pork Ribs: Unavailable

Pulled Pork: the best I found - smoky, crusty bits, garlic

Beef Brisket: Done, but not fully tender

Other Worthies: Apple, other house-made pies worth the calories

Best Bet: Pulled pork

The Bottom Line: Almost worth a trip to Springville by itself

***

Restaurant: Famous Dave's - 1753 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga; 892-7427

Atmosphere: Uber-decorated chain with a TV fetish

Pork Ribs: Crusty smoked robs could've been moister, but fine flavor

Pulled Pork: Moist, but not much smoke

Beef Brisket: Adequate - moist and smoky enough. 3rd.

Other Worthies: Varied collection of sauces worth a spin

Best Bet: Spare ribs

The Bottom Line: a chain that get the basics right

***

Restaurant: BW's BBQ - 5007 Lake Ave., Blasdell; 824-7455

Atmosphere: Neon drink signs and deep booths

Pork Ribs: Glazed robs smooshed instead of cut

Pulled Pork: Finely chopped pork anointed with sauce

Beef Brisket: Decent' smoky, tender, lacked richness

Other Worthies: French fries were done right

Best Bet: Brisket

The Bottom Line: Not dazzling, but a solid job

***

Restaurant: Ike and BG's - 1646 Genesee St., Buffalo; 892-4301

Atmosphere: Take-out only, on a tough block

Pork Ribs: Grilled rib, not smoked, takes some gnawing

Pulled Pork: None

Beef Brisket: None

Other Worthies: Ask Ike if he's got the 7-Up pound cake

Best Bet: Spare ribs

The Bottom Line: Its not southern barbecue, but the sauce is addictive.

After barbecuing for 10 years, News staff writer Andrew Galarneau is close to getting it right.

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