Parks Old-Style Bar-B-Q7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; parksoldstylebar-b-q.com; Tucked away from East Grand Boulevard on the edge of New Center and the old North End, Parks Old-Style stands between Custer and Horton streets, on the east side of Beaubien. It was built, from the ground up, in 1963-1964 and has stood the test of time. Unusual for many inner-city barbecue joints, it actually has seating for customers. Parks also stands out due to the vinegar-based sauce on its trimmed ribs ($19.90 a slab), though behind it are subtler flavors, including mustard and perhaps cayenne. Owner Roderick Parks admits it perhaps is an acquired taste, though he points out it has “delighted the multitudes since 1964,” adding that Parks “also features a ‘sweet’ sauce for the sensitive palate and an extremely hot sauce for the more venturesome.” You also get the Parks promise: “I’ll put my ribs, chicken and sauce up against anyone, anytime.”
R.U.B. BBQ 18 W. Adams St., Detroit; 313-964-0782; rubbbqdetroit.com: The stars are the meats, of course, and R.U.B. does better on those than on its sides. Fabulously tasty is an appetizer of wings that come with the sauce cooked on instead of letting the diner choose. If the correct formula for rib tenderness has the meat splitting down the middle, rather than cleaving cleanly away from the bone (and there are so many rules in this world, aren’t there?), R.U.B. has accomplished that goal with its baby backs, which leave some shreds for gnawing. They’re a little tougher than some. Also pleasing are the pulled items, both mellow pork and smoky chicken moist as can be. Prominent in each booth is a six-pack of squeeze-bottle sauces. R.U.B. is proud of its home-state dedication, including a collection of more than 20 Michigan brews.
Real BBQ 42452 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-667-3996; realbarbq.com: Opened just last year, they tout their high-quality smoked meats, which include choice Angus beef, Southern-style ribs, chicken and pulled pork sandwiches, as well as a host of sides, including baked beans and mac ‘n’ cheese. The sandwiches are affordably priced — all less than $8.
Red Rock Barbecue 207 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-340-2381; redrockypsi.com: At Red Rock, the menu is meaty: Even the starters are heavy on the protein. Sliders — traditional, brisket or pulled pork — are available at $2.50 each. The burnt ends of the brisket are served in bite-sized chunks ($9). They’re naturally quite dry given the preparation, but with a little sauce, they’re delicious. And Red Rock also serves a basket of eight chicken wings ($9) with a great crispy exterior. Four homemade sauces adorn the table, all straightforward but made very well: A vinegar-based sauce, a simple tomato-based sauce, a mustard sauce, and a sweet and spicy, the last of which is arguably the most interesting. There’s a gentle sweetness to the dry rub on the St. Louis-style spare ribs, available in a half ($17) or full slab ($23), and when we ordered, they were cooked to that ideal point where they’re still moist and not yet falling off the bone. For entrées, Red Rock also prepares a smoked half-chicken ($12), pulled pork ($13), thinly sliced brisket ($15), and a large portion of their mac ‘n’ cheese ($10), which arrives quite creamy underneath a perfect amount of crusty, singed cheese.
Red Smoke Barbecue 573 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-2100; redsmokebarbeque.com: Red Smoke, located in Greektown, serves up barbecue that’s somewhat upscale. The decor is clean and modern, with comfortably soft lighting. The brick walls are finished with a thin layer of translucent plaster, and the open kitchen sports shiny, rust-colored ceramic tiles and a wheeled cart full of split hickory logs. Order a plate of pulled pork to try out all the sauces. There is sweet and smoky Mississippi mud, tangy honey mustard, fruity cherry molasses, smoky roasted poblano, and the spiciest sauce of them all carries the house moniker. The beef brisket is also fork-tender, and the pork ribs are dry-rubbed and far tastier. The meat has just enough connective tissue left to keep it attached to the bone but it comes right off in the teeth.
Round House BBQ 2760 W. Jefferson Ave., Trenton; 734-671-6100; roundhousebbq.com: Architecturally unique, Round House BBQ is entered via a breezeway connecting a stainless steel diner to a round-shaped former ice-cream parlor. The stainless steel number is part-kitchen, part high-key dining area, whereas the round house has a moodier setup with a small bar. Either way, it’s a family restaurant and a crowd-pleaser at that, thanks to the quality barbecue. Our pulled pork could have been a little crispier (we love the burnt ends), but the brisket was perfect — a hard feat to accomplish — the ribs were excellent, and the sides were pretty darn good too. Try the corn fritters, which come with a cinnamon dipping sauce, or the baked beans, freshened up with bits of bacon, rib and onion.
Slows Bar BQ 2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828; slowsbarbq.com: There’s a reason the owners named the place Bar BQ — the ambience is more bar than restaurant. Yet the food gets just as much attention as the beers and the informative, reasonably priced wine list. Slows’ baby back ribs are appropriately tender and succulent. “Slows Spicy” sauce goes best on these; it’s fruity and hot but doesn’t go overboard. The correct cooking and saucing of pulled pork is an obsession in North Carolina, and on that you’d use “NC Sauce.” St. Louis spare ribs are done blacker than the back ribs; many would like “Sweet Slows” sauce on these, with its woodsy tang. Beef-eaters can try hickory-smoked short ribs or a pound of thin-sliced brisket. All of this food keeps the place packed, and a steady crowd waits at the bar.
Slows to Go 4107 Cass Ave., Detroit; 877-569-7246; slowstogo.com: Anybody who has dropped in to Slows Bar-B-Q for one of their famous slow-cooked barbecue dishes knows it can be hard to find a table. Or a seat at the bar. Or even a place to stand, sometimes! Well, things changed with the opening last year of Slows to Go, where ‘cue-hungry devotees of Slows can get their orders to go between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. With a smoker capacity seven times that of the sit-down restaurant and a menu nearly as extensive, Slows to Go is an affordable ($9.95 for a pound of rib tips), quick, and saucily delicious alternative to the Corktown location.
Smoke & Spice 7470 Tecumseh Rd. E., Windsor; 519-252-4999; smokenspice.com: The ribs appear unpromising: rather black and dry-looking, with a startlingly pink interior. But in the mouth they are multifaceted chunks of meat, a combination of smoke, tenderness and earthy animal goodness. You may not want to sully that flavor with the sauces: a slightly sweet, mostly tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce; a chipotle; and a runny mustard that’s the most unusual and complex of the three. Wings are not an afterthought: Unlike tasteless industrial poultry, these birds are luscious and meaty, smokier than most wings, which tend to taste just of sauce. Pulled pork and beef brisket are the other two main meats, though there’s also a mild and tender catfish with remoulade and spicy breading, and an apple wood-smoked half chicken worth checking out, if the wings are an indication. It’s a marker of the staff’s eager-to-please mind-set that when our reviewer told the server the ribs were better than Slows’, she immediately ran to the kitchen to tell the cooks, reporting back gratefully that all were thrilled.
Smokin’ BBQ 37310 Gratiot Ave., Clinton Twp.; 586-469-3000; smokinbarbq.com: At Smokin’, all meals for dining-in are served on trays, in some cases quite literally. Expect a full, uncut slab of ribs on a plastic platter lined with checkered paper for $19.99 (or $22.99 with two sides). Combo platters, sandwiches and sides often get their own containers, a mix of sturdy reusable plastic trays and disposable take-out containers. The sandwiches are a little easier to handle: A burger, catfish or any of the smoked meats are available between bread, but consider one of their named specialties, each accompanied with slaw and a side for $8.99. Rapid service is among their chief aims. Food ordered at the counter takes fewer than five minutes to arrive. Open 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Union Woodshop 18 S. Main St., Clarkston; 248-625-5660; unionwoodshop.com: Located on Main Street in downtown Clarkston, the upscale Union Woodshop has a look that is the antithesis of barbecue joints found on the dirt roads hidden from rural highways in the Carolinas and in Texas. The joint’s food, however, shares the flavors that can usually only be derived from low-and-slow wood-smoking, which creates the pink smoke ring that is a sign of authentic country ‘cue. From tender brisket and pulled pork to ribs and chicken, there are no disappointments here. The pizzas, cooked in a wood-burning oven, are as good as the barbecued meats. Do not miss the mac and cheese!
Uptown BBQ 15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-862-7427: Wedged between the Lodge Expressway and the University of Detroit Mercy, Uptown is one of those small joints where your order can be placed through a hole in the Plexiglas that seals in the cooking area. The ribs are excellent, full of pit-cooked smoky flavor, with the short ends a bit crispy but not overdone, just like the perfect backyard barbecue. An order of ribs is a deal, as Uptown charges $17.97 for a trimmed slab drizzled with sauce. Owner Nathaniel Fanning’s signature sauce works well with the meat, sweet and mild, not hot — and so good you’ll likely end up sucking the bones clean. It’s not just ribs: Shrimp is another specialty, and their soul food sides are a force to be reckoned with.
Vicki’s Barbecue & Shrimp3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906: At Vicki’s, it’s worth watching the cook cut the slabs artfully. With a knife, she cleaves each rib, leaving a fringe of meat to hold it all together. Using a pair of tongs, she folds it in half, dunks it in the sauce completely, then pops it into a polystyrene tray and seals it up airtight with plastic wrap. For the hot ribs, the only difference is the application of hot powder to the top and bottom of the ribs, as well as one more generous pour of hot sauce on top for good measure. A sign advises that you may tip the cooks for this graceful operation, and we recommend it. Vicki’s is a bit expensive, costing $21.37 a slab, but with quality like this, who’d argue over pennies. What’s more, slabs come with four pieces of white bread and a serving of the one side at Vicki’s that’s worth ordering: Little wax-paper bags of fresh-fried fries. There’ll likely be so much sauce left over you’ll be able to dunk your fries in it.
Special thanks to our editorial interns Paul Stanczak and Sydnee Thompson for their assistance fact-checking and compiling this column.
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