22 Madison area barbecue spots to enjoy all summer long

Nothing says summertime quite like some good old-fashioned barbecue.
Courtesy of North and South

Nothing says summertime quite like some good old-fashioned barbecue. As soon as the warm weather hits, Midwesterners are ready to turn up the heat on the grill and throw on some delicious ’cue. While Madison is not necessarily known for the best barbecue in the United States — the Carolinas, Kansas City, Memphis and Texas claim the traditional styles — pitmasters in the city are serving ribs, pulled pork and brisket that deliver jaw-dropping flavor, putting their own spins on the American classic. Grab some wet wipes and devour one of these local barbecue renditions, Wisconsin-style.

Beef Butter BBQ

Beef Butter Bbq

Courtesy of Beef Butter BBQ

Patrick Riha started Beef Butter BBQ as a mobile restaurant before opening on the north side in November 2018. At Beef Butter, brisket is king. The brisket is made with black Angus prime meat, which is trimmed down to a quarter-inch fat cap, seasoned with coarse salt and pepper and smoked for 12 hours. Riha uses $60,000 smokers with a water bath that keep the meat moist and the smoky flavor intact. Along with brisket, Beef Butter has more than 40 varieties of house-made sausages, which can be found at the restaurant’s meat market. In addition to a specialty HVAC system, Beef Butter installed a 20-foot conveyor belt to deliver food to customers’ cars. “We went all-out responding to the pandemic to keep our employees and customers safe,” Riha says. He recently opened Camp Beef Butter at 5407 County Highway M in Westport. This second location is open Fridays and Saturdays with music, a limited food menu, a beer trailer, a large LED TV and fire pits. 3001 N. Sherman Ave., 640-5000, beefbutterbbq.com

Fat Jack’s Barbeque
Fat Jack’s has been a staple in Monona since 1986. Over the past 35 years, the Baryenbruch family has kept the same recipes. All the meats are slow-roasted in a pit oven over Wisconsin hickory. Owner Mary Baryenbruch says the restaurant’s specialty is ribs. The original recipe features pork spare ribs slow-roasted over Wisconsin hickory, basted in a citrus glaze and then charbroiled. A few years after opening, Fat Jack’s added Tennessee-style pork back ribs with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. The menu has other classic barbecue staples, including pork butt, smoked chicken and slow-roasted beef. Get a full sampler of all the barbecue items or try a couple with a combo plate. If you’ve never tried the ribs here, check out the weekly special on Saturdays. 6207 Monona Drive, Monona, 221-4220, fatjacksbarbeque.com

Marie’s Soul Food
Marissa Marie Holmes keeps the menu simple at Marie’s Soul Food on Monroe Street. The curbside-only restaurant has three proteins: pork ribs, baked chicken thighs and fried chicken. It’s those three and some standout sides, and that’s all you need. Unlike most other places serving barbecue, Marie’s has only one barbecue meat — but that singular item is a standout. The pork ribs are slow-cooked so the meat is tender enough to fall right off the bone. Ribs are served with or without barbecue sauce, but trust us, you’ll want the specialty sauce slathered on your ribs. Marie’s is great for families, offering meals for groups as well as a la carte options. Marie’s also offers two kids’ meals for less than $5 so your little ones can enjoy some ribs or chicken. All orders are taken by phone, and the staff asks that you call 30 minutes before you’re ready to pick up your meal. 1637 Monroe St., 405-5729, mariessoulfood.godaddysites.com

North and South Seafood & Smokehouse
Since opening its first location in Madison in 2015, North and South has aimed to deliver delicious seafood and authentic barbecue. The restaurant expanded to DeForest in 2017 and Verona in 2019. North and South uses cooking styles and cooking methods from popular barbecue regions in the United States. Expect Kansas City-style back ribs, Tennessee-inspired spare ribs, Memphis pulled pork, Carolina chicken breast and brisket made in a Texas way. Owner Erin Stoesz says the brisket is the “shining star on the menu.” It’s served alone over Texas toast, in tacos, with nachos and in sandwiches. Customers who love brisket can try the burnt ends sauced with Kansas City sweet barbecue sauce. Stoesz says North and South’s barbecue is authentically smoked over hickory and applewood. Everything is smoked low and slow without roasting, baking or boiling. All the rubs and sauces are made in-house from North and South’s original recipes. 6604 Mineral Point Road, 829-0093; 958 Liberty Drive, Verona, 497-0256; 605 S. Main St., DeForest, 842-2601; eatnorthandsouth.com

Right Bauer Brewing
Since opening in October 2018, Right Bauer Brewing has been pairing its craft beer with a menu of barbecue favorites. Owner Martin McNally says his brother Terry is a “passionate backyard barbecuer,” so when choosing a menu, barbecue seemed to be an obvious choice given his expertise. The bestseller is the pulled pork sandwich using pork butts that are smoked for 12 hours, then topped with housemade barbecue sauce and creamy coleslaw. Smoked wings are also a crowdpleaser. After being smoked for two hours, the wings are deep-fried to order in beef tallow then doused in a choice of housemade sauce — go with the mango habanero for a bit of kick. Vegetarians don’t have to miss out either, as Right Bauer has a dry-rubbed, smoked jackfruit barbecue sandwich that’s a must-try. The jackfruit’s texture is reminiscent of pulled meat and equally as tasty, so you won’t miss the real thing. For the ultimate Right Bauer experience, pair a house-made beer or soda with barbecue and board games on the patio. 239 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-5002, rightbauerbrewing.com

Smoky Jon’s #1 BBQ

Smoky Johns

Larry Chua

There’s a reason why “#1” is in Smoky Jon’s name. Since launching the business 46 years ago, owner Jon Olson has won more than 200 world, national and local barbecue awards (including 23 Best of Madison awards) for Smoky Jon’s meats, rubs and sauces. Olson first started barbecuing when his father asked him to cook chicken during the second half of a close Green Bay Packers game. From there, he grew his business and gathered accolades in the barbecue world. “We were the ones that really brought a top-quality product to town and all the awards,” Olson says. While you can enjoy pork shoulder, chicken, smoked turkey, prime beef brisket and smoked beef hot links, if you’ve never been to Smoky Jon’s, Olson says you must order the ribs. They’re St. Louis-style, which means heavily sauced spare ribs using Smoky Jon’s signature sauce and rub. Olson says making the best ribs is about “the marriage of the meat, the smoke, the sauce and doing it all in medley, in the right way.” While the ribs can be served without sauce, 95% of customers get the sauce slathered on them — you’ll definitely need plenty of wet wipes after finishing the meal. 2310 Packers Ave., 249-7427, smokyjons.com

Thirsty Goat


Courtesy of Thirsty Goat

At Thirsty Goat, it’s about two Bs: barbecue and beer. Thirsty Goat has 38 beers on tap that you can pair with some classic barbecue. The most popular meat is the prime brisket which is smoked for 12 to 14 hours. All of the rubs and sauces are made in-house and diners can select whichever sauce they prefer. The house sauce has accents of Guinness, coffee and sweet basil. The sweet and tangy sauce is just that. Those who can handle the heat can choose chipotle habanero, and for those who prefer a smokier flavor, opt for the bourbon sauce. Apart from the brisket, you can add the sauces to pulled pork, smoked chicken, smoked kielbasa and ribs. Thirsty Goat also has a dog-friendly patio and frequently hosts live music. 3040 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 422-5500, thirstygoatbrew.com

New Additions

Liberty Station

Courtesy of Liberty Station

In the past two years, four barbecue spots have expanded to Madison with new locations. Liberty Station American Tavern & Smokehouse opened last June on Rimrock Road and specializes in three meats: Texas brisket, Carolina pork shoulder and St. Louis spare ribs. Liberty Station, which started in Scottsdale, Arizona, chose Madison for its third location. The newest barbecue restaurant in Madison is City Barbeque, which started in Columbus, Ohio. The location near West Towne Mall is the company’s only spot in Wisconsin. Everything is smoked using one of three on-site hickory wood smokers. Near City Barbeque is Doc’s Smokehouse, which recently reopened after an extended temporary closure. Doc’s is a mini-chain of four locations that started in Dyer, Indiana. In addition to smoked meats, you’ll find Milwaukee-based Usinger’s Sausage on the menu. On the other side of town, Mission BBQ opened August 2020 near East Towne Mall. The company started on Sept. 11, 2011, 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, and since then has given more than $10 million to national and local charities, including the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial and the USO.

More Barbecue in the Madison area:
Bob’s BBQ Emporium 8164 U.S. Highway 14, Arena, 477-0782, bobsbbqemporium.com
Bob’s Bitchin’ BBQ 167 N. Iowa St., Dodgeville, 930-2227, bobsbitchinbbq.com
Bulgogi Korean Taco Library Mall, Instagram @bulgogikoreantacos
Five Star Korean BBQ 605 E. Washington Ave., 630-9840, 5starkoreanbbq.com
Karahis & BBQ 705 S. Gammon Road, 709-5252, karahisandbbq.com
McGee’s Chicken 2702 E. Washington Ave., 442-0220; 950 W. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-2888, facebook.com/McGeesChicken
Melly Mell’s Soul Food 213-3020, mellymells.com
PA’PA’s BBQ Ahuska Park, Monona, 575-6489, papasmobilekitchen.com
Primal Cue 709-9277, primalcue.com
Smokin Bones BBQ & Catering 43 S. Stoughton Road, 286-5823, smokinbonesbarbecue.com
Ziggy’s BBQ Smokehouse & Ice Cream Parlor 135 S. Main St., Oregon, 291-0915, ziggysbbqsmokehouse.com

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.