Dining and Drink

12 Smokin' Madison BBQ Joints

Pulled pork and brisket and ribs, oh my!

In the South, when it comes to religion and barbecue, folks are equally zealous about both. In fact, for some barbecue is a religion. To be clear, there “barbecue” means the act of slowly smoking over hardwood, or the end result. Pretty much everything else is contentious: what type of wood to use (hickory and oak are most favored), what type of sauce (if any) to use, and whether to rub, marinate, mop or sop. This uniquely American cooking style has spread across the country, with other locales adding their own interpretation on how it should properly be done. It may be old-fashioned, but barbecue has never been more popular, and you needn’t journey far to enjoy it.     

Blowin’ Smoke
Sometimes big things start small. After owner and Kansas City native Robert Bishop took second place in his third barbecue competition, he decided to start a catering business. Next came a well-liked food cart on the Square, and now a full-service dining room in Waunakee. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Kansas City-style barbecue that favors a dry rub and a sweet and spicy ketchup-based sauce. 1336 Montondon Ave., Waunakee, 215-0069 

Bonfyre American Grille
The first test of any good restaurant is that it smells good. When you enter Bonfyre, it’s impossible to ignore the alluring aroma wafting from its wood-fired grill and oven. Grilled items include several steaks with a choice of sauces, a pork porterhouse, baby back ribs and ahi tuna. Exceptional, however, is the rotisserie roasted chicken, either herbed or with a barbecue glaze. 2601 W. Beltline Hwy., 273-3973

Delaney’s Steak | Seafood | Wine
Most steakhouses today use infrared broilers to cook their meat. At Delaney’s, top-quality steaks are always hand-cut, aged in-house and grilled over an open flame. The finished product arrives at the table sizzling on a metal platter. Owned and operated by the same family for more than forty years, the supper club prides itself on being a bit old-fashioned. 449 Grand Canyon Dr., 833-7337

Eldorado Grill
It would be heresy for a Tex-Mex eatery not to include barbecue. At Eldorado Grill, it’s no afterthought, either. Baby back ribs, pulled pork and, of course, brisket are all seductively smoky and tender as the Texas dew. Served with chipotle potato salad, green chile beans and homemade slaw, everything tastes that much better with a longneck bottle of Lone Star. BOM 744 Williamson St., 280-9378

Fat Jack's BBQ
Smokin’ since 1986, this family-owned business is the city’s second-oldest barbecue restaurant. The specialties are Southern-style hickory-smoked spareribs and baby back ribs. The accent here, however, is idiosyncratically Wisconsin with cheese curds, salad bar and Friday night fish fry. Regulars look forward to Thursday and the all-you-can-eat ribs and chicken special. BOM 6207 Monona Dr., Monona, 221-4220

Habanero's Mexican Grill
In Mexico, the tradition of cooking food over a mesquite fire is thousands of years old. There’s something inexplicably appealing about eating meat and vegetables hot off the grill, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with piquant pico de gallo. In addition to a fajita burrito with sweet peppers, onions and your choice of meat, Habanero’s is famous for its carnitas, Mexico’s answer to pulled pork. 2229 S. Stoughton Rd., 223-9222, 3001 N. Sherman Ave., 244-1992

It’s a local culinary landmark and one of the city’s best restaurants. Chef and co-owner Patrick O’Halloran is a master of modern Italian cuisine. Indubitably, Lombardino’s Tuscan-style wood-burning grill has contributed to its success. Choices change frequently and include a selection of wood-grilled dishes, but always on hand is an eighteen-ounce bone-in ribeye. BOM 2500 University Ave., 238-1922 

Red Rock Saloon
With a successful location in Milwaukee under its belt, Red Rock expands to Madison. Best known for live country and rock music and a bucking mechanical bull, it’s very proud of its hardwood-smoked barbecue. In addition to baby back ribs, brisket and pulled pork, it specializes in eleven different wing recipes, each one hotter than the last. Another signature snack is the BBQ sliders made with either beef or pork. 322 W. Johnson St., 709-5200

Samba Brazilian Grill
Brazil’s thrill of the grill rivals our own. There called churrascarias, it’s a repast of various skewered meats, sausage and poultry cooked over charcoal. At Samba, after a trip to the galactic salad and appetizer bar, a parade of grilled meats arrives at your table, each course hand-carved by your waiter. The feast concludes with pineapple caramelized with sugar and cinnamon. 240 W. Gilman St., 257-1111

Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ Restaurant
A Madison barbecue pioneer, Smoky Jon Olson has won numerous national championships for ribs, his specialty. More importantly, after almost four decades his loyal Madison fans continue to sing his praise. The rustic dining room serves a variety of sandwiches and dinners; all are available to carry out along with family-style meals that serve four to eight. His award-winning sauce and rub are available here and at many area markets. 2310 Packers Ave., 249-7427

State Street Brats
It opened as the Brathaus in 1953. Today it’s a nostalgia stop for throngs of visiting UW–Madison alums. What began as a small, dark tavern eventually got a facelift, an added second story and a faux German façade. A new owner and name came in 1989. Food fads have come and gone, but little changes here where the focus remains on char-grilled brats, burgers and steak sandwiches that are undeniably memorable for so many. BOM 603 State St., 255-5544 

That BBQ Joint
After eating a lot of other people’s barbecue, owners Maureen White and Clement Henriques were fired up to open their own place. As its name accurately suggests, expect good cooking but not fancy fittings. The Southern-style pulled pork and ribs are exemplary and only made better with one of their exceptional sides. Three homemade sauces include a rarely-seen-around-here tangy South Carolina-style mustard sauce. 1511 Williamson St., 709-1300

Madison Magazine Subscription

Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.

Gift subscriptions now available!

Subscribe Now

The Dining Guide

Shopping & Style

Sign-up for our event newsletter

This Week's Circulars