176 Wicksteed Ave., 647-559-2080, adamsonbarbecue.com
Adam Skelly’s barbecue is so mind-blowingly good that it’s worth venturing into the wilds of a Leaside industrial park for. The cavernous concrete space is a smokehouse pure and simple, with rolls of paper towel on the tables and a menu penned on butcher paper taped to the wall. Everything here takes a spin in the Oyler1300, a massive wood-burning smoker: brisket, already on the cusp of disintegration, melts in your mouth, and pork ribs flecked with caraway seeds are perfectly pink inside. Sides are as nature and the Deep South intended: kitchen-sink potato salad, creamy slaw and rich beans flavoured with beef tallow. There are no spoons in the collection of plastic cutlery—instead, the slices of Wonder Bread served with each platter are meant for soaking up escaped sauces.
Beach Hill Smokehouse
172 Main St., 416-792-8275, beachhillsmokehouse.com
Central Texas barbecue madness took hold in Toronto sometime around 2016, but this east-end smokehouse waited a few more years to start perfuming the air around Main and Gerrard with the scent of burning maple. It was worth it. The frills are few—everything is served by weight on trays lined with butcher paper, naturally—but the meats are exceptional. Brisket is the standard by which most barbecue spots are judged, and Dallas-native pitmaster Terrance Hill’s is consistently on-point, pulling apart at the slightest tug. But the house speciality are the massive beef ribs, each bite a transcendent blitz of salt, pepper, fat and maxed-out beefy bliss. For a less gut-busting experience, the meats are also available in sandwich form, none more eye-catching than the Austin: a sauce-slathered bun of pulled pork, served with a single spare rib tacked to its roof like a meaty hood ornament.
This cavernous Queen East space disproves the rule that the best barbecue must come from out-of-the-way smokehouses. The brisket is some of the best in the city—it sets a lofty standard for the rest of the pitmaster platter, which turns out to be a bit more Jekyll and Hyde: the St. Louis cut ribs are slightly overdone, and the fried chicken could use a few more seconds in the fryer. But it’s a safe bet that no idealized barbecue place could successfully execute—or would even try to pull off—a Korean fried cauliflower dish, an herb-crusted slab of blackened sea bass on a minty frisée slaw, or a bracing shrimp ceviche. The disparate culinary traditions mostly hold together, save for a rye and ginger made with cold brew that registers a culinary clang—something from the wine list is a better way to go.
Cherry Street Bar-B-Que
275 Cherry St., 416-461-5111; 111 Richmond St. W., cherrystbbq.com
The faint whiff of white-oak smoke wafting over the Port Lands these days is courtesy of Lawrence La Pianta, who opened a slice of central Texas just across from the vacant lot that often hosts traveling Cirque du Soleil shows. (There’s also a second location at the downtown Assembly Food Hall.) Brisket, pulled pork and side ribs, all sold by weight, take centre stage, scribbled on butcher paper so it’s easier to cross something off when it sells out. Brisket can be a fickle cut; it’s best to arrive early to capture it at its peak—peppered, salted and cut as thick as the accompanying slices of bread. A cheese-stuffed sausage link, or two, is a better use of tray space than the pulled pork. Sides are traditional (slaw, onions, pickles) and it’s hard not to love an order of baked beans carrying the weight of the brisket’s burnt ends.
When Stack opened, the food wasn’t great and the kitchen lacked focus. Although the menu remains bloated—it’s a crowd-pleasing place, after all—the cooking is now top-notch. The sampler platter is superb: fatty slices of brisket have a charred-just-right crust, the baby back ribs are cooked to perfection, and the deli smoked meat has that necessary hint of pickling spice. The smoked chicken, coated in tongue-tingling pepper sauce, is also excellent.
Of the countless restaurants that were part of Toronto’s southern barbecue boom over half a decade ago, St. Clair West’s Stockyards was always one of the very best. The menu here is much the same as it’s always been—sandwiches, burgers, fried chicken and what might be the city’s best ribs. Owner Tom Davis still spends most of his time in the back of the joint, and his commitment to his craft has made this humble spot one of the city’s most consistent restaurants. His griddle-smashed burgers are arguably some of the finest in town. The smoked chicken and ribs are only on offer Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, a testament to Davis’s obsession with quality.