August 23, 2019

10 old-school Detroit barbecue joints everyone should try

Before there was Slows Bar BQ, decades ago, small neighborhood barbecue joints of a much different vibe — like Nunn’s, Vicki’s, Lee’s, and Park’s — helped turn Detroit into a barbecue town.

The old-schoolers are plexiglass-divided restaurants that are fragrant, small-ish, and often carryout only. Your meals arrive with slices of white bread used to sop up the excess tangy, sweet, or hot sauces, as is standard in the south. The shops are often owned and operated by people who come from a long line of barbecue masters with deep Southern roots, and each caters to the city’s love of ribs and chicken.

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Nunn's Bar-B-Que II
19196 Conant St., Detroit; 313-893-7210; nunnsbbq.com
Nunn's is one of the pit-style Detroit classics, and the meat from the ribs and chicken slide off the bone without much encouragement. Down the menu, the potato salad is a zesty side that's among Nunn's best, and the vinegary greens are a fan favorite. For dessert, check out the kenta cake, a mildly sweet frosted pound cake that seems to be a Nunn's original.
Photo by Jeff Fournier

Nunn's Bar-B-Que II

19196 Conant St., Detroit; 313-893-7210; nunnsbbq.com
Nunn's is one of the pit-style Detroit classics, and the meat from the ribs and chicken slide off the bone without much encouragement. Down the menu, the potato salad is a zesty side that's among Nunn's best, and the vinegary greens are a fan favorite. For dessert, check out the kenta cake, a mildly sweet frosted pound cake that seems to be a Nunn's original.

Photo by Jeff Fournier
Nunn's Bar-B-Que II
19196 Conant St., Detroit; 313-893-7210; nunnsbbq.com
Nunn's is one of the pit-style Detroit classics, and the meat from the ribs and chicken slide off the bone without much encouragement. Down the menu, the potato salad is a zesty side that's among Nunn's best, and the vinegary greens are a fan favorite. For dessert, check out the kenta cake, a mildly sweet frosted pound cake that seems to be a Nunn's original.
Photo by Tom Perkins

Nunn's Bar-B-Que II

19196 Conant St., Detroit; 313-893-7210; nunnsbbq.com
Nunn's is one of the pit-style Detroit classics, and the meat from the ribs and chicken slide off the bone without much encouragement. Down the menu, the potato salad is a zesty side that's among Nunn's best, and the vinegary greens are a fan favorite. For dessert, check out the kenta cake, a mildly sweet frosted pound cake that seems to be a Nunn's original.

Photo by Tom Perkins
Lee's Texas Style Bar-B-Q
14001 Fenkell Ave., Detroit; 313-452-4940
When you think of Texas, you think of big steers and giant slabs of spice-rubbed brisket. But the ribs and chicken are the specialty at Lee's, along with seafood and all the made-from-scratch soul food sides like the rich five-cheese mac and cheese. Co-owner Felicia Poole tells us that the "Texas-style" is a reference to their process, which involves slow-cooking ribs and chicken over charcoal instead of roasting on a spit or via any other short cut. Poole says that's how her granddaddy did it, who opened five Lee's locations in the late 1970s. "He was from Texas, so he was the 'Texas Man,'" she says. The Lee's chain closed down, but Poole recently revived the Fenkell and Schafer location where she slathers Lee's ribs and chicken in the family's tangy sauce. And whatever you order for dinner, don't forget to cap off the meal with her homemade sweet potato pie. 
Photo by Tom Perkins

Lee's Texas Style Bar-B-Q

14001 Fenkell Ave., Detroit; 313-452-4940
When you think of Texas, you think of big steers and giant slabs of spice-rubbed brisket. But the ribs and chicken are the specialty at Lee's, along with seafood and all the made-from-scratch soul food sides like the rich five-cheese mac and cheese. Co-owner Felicia Poole tells us that the "Texas-style" is a reference to their process, which involves slow-cooking ribs and chicken over charcoal instead of roasting on a spit or via any other short cut. Poole says that's how her granddaddy did it, who opened five Lee's locations in the late 1970s. "He was from Texas, so he was the 'Texas Man,'" she says. The Lee's chain closed down, but Poole recently revived the Fenkell and Schafer location where she slathers Lee's ribs and chicken in the family's tangy sauce. And whatever you order for dinner, don't forget to cap off the meal with her homemade sweet potato pie.

Photo by Tom Perkins
Lee's Texas Style Bar-B-Q
14001 Fenkell Ave., Detroit; 313-452-4940
When you think of Texas, you think of big steers and giant slabs of spice-rubbed brisket. But the ribs and chicken are the specialty at Lee's, along with seafood and all the made-from-scratch soul food sides like the rich five-cheese mac and cheese. Co-owner Felicia Poole tells us that the "Texas-style" is a reference to their process, which involves slow-cooking ribs and chicken over charcoal instead of roasting on a spit or via any other short cut. Poole says that's how her granddaddy did it, who opened five Lee's locations in the late 1970s. "He was from Texas, so he was the 'Texas Man,'" she says. The Lee's chain closed down, but Poole recently revived the Fenkell and Schafer location where she slathers Lee's ribs and chicken in the family's tangy sauce. And whatever you order for dinner, don't forget to cap off the meal with her homemade sweet potato pie. 
Photo by Tom Perkins

Lee's Texas Style Bar-B-Q

14001 Fenkell Ave., Detroit; 313-452-4940
When you think of Texas, you think of big steers and giant slabs of spice-rubbed brisket. But the ribs and chicken are the specialty at Lee's, along with seafood and all the made-from-scratch soul food sides like the rich five-cheese mac and cheese. Co-owner Felicia Poole tells us that the "Texas-style" is a reference to their process, which involves slow-cooking ribs and chicken over charcoal instead of roasting on a spit or via any other short cut. Poole says that's how her granddaddy did it, who opened five Lee's locations in the late 1970s. "He was from Texas, so he was the 'Texas Man,'" she says. The Lee's chain closed down, but Poole recently revived the Fenkell and Schafer location where she slathers Lee's ribs and chicken in the family's tangy sauce. And whatever you order for dinner, don't forget to cap off the meal with her homemade sweet potato pie.

Photo by Tom Perkins
Uptown BBQ Detroit
15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-861-7590; uptownbbqdetroit.com
Uptown, a barbecue and soul food legend, sits on Livernois between the Lodge and the University of Detroit. Even if you've never been there, you might have caught a whiff of its huge, black smoking cans parked out front of the shop. The puffs reach the Lodge when the wind blows south, offering hints of the meaty ribs left scarlet from the smoke treatment. Uptown's racks come coated in a thick glaze of deep red, slightly sweet sauce that's wrapped up neat in your carryout container. Mention Uptown in conversation and the sides will invariably come up. Don't miss the mac and cheese and black-eyed peas.
Photo by Tom Perkins

Uptown BBQ Detroit

15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-861-7590; uptownbbqdetroit.com
Uptown, a barbecue and soul food legend, sits on Livernois between the Lodge and the University of Detroit. Even if you've never been there, you might have caught a whiff of its huge, black smoking cans parked out front of the shop. The puffs reach the Lodge when the wind blows south, offering hints of the meaty ribs left scarlet from the smoke treatment. Uptown's racks come coated in a thick glaze of deep red, slightly sweet sauce that's wrapped up neat in your carryout container. Mention Uptown in conversation and the sides will invariably come up. Don't miss the mac and cheese and black-eyed peas.

Photo by Tom Perkins
Uptown BBQ Detroit
15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-861-7590; uptownbbqdetroit.com
Uptown, a barbecue and soul food legend, sits on Livernois between the Lodge and the University of Detroit. Even if you've never been there, you might have caught a whiff of its huge, black smoking cans parked out front of the shop. The puffs reach the Lodge when the wind blows south, offering hints of the meaty ribs left scarlet from the smoke treatment. Uptown's racks come coated in a thick glaze of deep red, slightly sweet sauce that's wrapped up neat in your carryout container. Mention Uptown in conversation and the sides will invariably come up. Don't miss the mac and cheese and black-eyed peas.
Photo by Tom Perkins

Uptown BBQ Detroit

15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-861-7590; uptownbbqdetroit.com
Uptown, a barbecue and soul food legend, sits on Livernois between the Lodge and the University of Detroit. Even if you've never been there, you might have caught a whiff of its huge, black smoking cans parked out front of the shop. The puffs reach the Lodge when the wind blows south, offering hints of the meaty ribs left scarlet from the smoke treatment. Uptown's racks come coated in a thick glaze of deep red, slightly sweet sauce that's wrapped up neat in your carryout container. Mention Uptown in conversation and the sides will invariably come up. Don't miss the mac and cheese and black-eyed peas.

Photo by Tom Perkins
Vicki’s BBQ
3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906
Vicki's is one of Detroit's barbecue old-timers that's up at the top of the list in any conversation on our barbecue heavyweights. That partly owes to the St. Louis-style cut ribs that Vicki's cooks over an open pit (though you can also get them smoked). But the highlight in what's basically a highlight reel meal is the vinegar and tomato-based sauce. Though there's a heavy dose of acidic vinegar, this isn't Carolina-style, but perhaps a unique composition that mixes in the best of several barbecue worlds. Could you call it Detroit-style? Perhaps. Also worth noting is the packaging — the ribs come tightly wrapped in cellophane and sit in a nest of fries soaking up the pool of excess sauce that you won't want to leave behind.
Photo via Google Maps

Vicki’s BBQ

3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906
Vicki's is one of Detroit's barbecue old-timers that's up at the top of the list in any conversation on our barbecue heavyweights. That partly owes to the St. Louis-style cut ribs that Vicki's cooks over an open pit (though you can also get them smoked). But the highlight in what's basically a highlight reel meal is the vinegar and tomato-based sauce. Though there's a heavy dose of acidic vinegar, this isn't Carolina-style, but perhaps a unique composition that mixes in the best of several barbecue worlds. Could you call it Detroit-style? Perhaps. Also worth noting is the packaging — the ribs come tightly wrapped in cellophane and sit in a nest of fries soaking up the pool of excess sauce that you won't want to leave behind.

Photo via Google Maps
Vicki’s BBQ
3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906
Vicki's is one of Detroit's barbecue old-timers that's up at the top of the list in any conversation on our barbecue heavyweights. That partly owes to the St. Louis-style cut ribs that Vicki's cooks over an open pit (though you can also get them smoked). But the highlight in what's basically a highlight reel meal is the vinegar and tomato-based sauce. Though there's a heavy dose of acidic vinegar, this isn't Carolina-style, but perhaps a unique composition that mixes in the best of several barbecue worlds. Could you call it Detroit-style? Perhaps. Also worth noting is the packaging — the ribs come tightly wrapped in cellophane and sit in a nest of fries soaking up the pool of excess sauce that you won't want to leave behind.
Photo via Tom Perkins

Vicki’s BBQ

3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906
Vicki's is one of Detroit's barbecue old-timers that's up at the top of the list in any conversation on our barbecue heavyweights. That partly owes to the St. Louis-style cut ribs that Vicki's cooks over an open pit (though you can also get them smoked). But the highlight in what's basically a highlight reel meal is the vinegar and tomato-based sauce. Though there's a heavy dose of acidic vinegar, this isn't Carolina-style, but perhaps a unique composition that mixes in the best of several barbecue worlds. Could you call it Detroit-style? Perhaps. Also worth noting is the packaging — the ribs come tightly wrapped in cellophane and sit in a nest of fries soaking up the pool of excess sauce that you won't want to leave behind.

Photo via Tom Perkins
Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q
7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; parksoldstylebar-b-q.com
The sauce at Parks is a different animal than its other Detroit counterparts. It's done in a thinner-but-lively, acidic, vinegar-based sauce, not unlike what you'll find in the Carolinas, though it's clearly Detroit-born and bred. You can choose from three varieties: The sweet pairs well with the ribs. However, you don't want to miss the hot option, but be forewarned — this isn't "Livonia hot," this is "North End Detroit hot," and the cayenne powder-dusted chicken isn't for those who normally opt for the mild or medium spice levels. Edward Parks opened the restaurant in 1964, endured the neighborhood's ups and downs, and now cooks up between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds of ribs weekly. It's a destination, as is evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of Parks' clientele travel from outside the North End.
Photo via Google Maps

Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q

7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; parksoldstylebar-b-q.com
The sauce at Parks is a different animal than its other Detroit counterparts. It's done in a thinner-but-lively, acidic, vinegar-based sauce, not unlike what you'll find in the Carolinas, though it's clearly Detroit-born and bred. You can choose from three varieties: The sweet pairs well with the ribs. However, you don't want to miss the hot option, but be forewarned — this isn't "Livonia hot," this is "North End Detroit hot," and the cayenne powder-dusted chicken isn't for those who normally opt for the mild or medium spice levels. Edward Parks opened the restaurant in 1964, endured the neighborhood's ups and downs, and now cooks up between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds of ribs weekly. It's a destination, as is evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of Parks' clientele travel from outside the North End.

Photo via Google Maps
Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q
7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; parksoldstylebar-b-q.com
The sauce at Parks is a different animal than its other Detroit counterparts. It's done in a thinner-but-lively, acidic, vinegar-based sauce, not unlike what you'll find in the Carolinas, though it's clearly Detroit-born and bred. You can choose from three varieties: The sweet pairs well with the ribs. However, you don't want to miss the hot option, but be forewarned — this isn't "Livonia hot," this is "North End Detroit hot," and the cayenne powder-dusted chicken isn't for those who normally opt for the mild or medium spice levels. Edward Parks opened the restaurant in 1964, endured the neighborhood's ups and downs, and now cooks up between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds of ribs weekly. It's a destination, as is evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of Parks' clientele travel from outside the North End.
Photo via Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q / Facebook

Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q

7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; parksoldstylebar-b-q.com
The sauce at Parks is a different animal than its other Detroit counterparts. It's done in a thinner-but-lively, acidic, vinegar-based sauce, not unlike what you'll find in the Carolinas, though it's clearly Detroit-born and bred. You can choose from three varieties: The sweet pairs well with the ribs. However, you don't want to miss the hot option, but be forewarned — this isn't "Livonia hot," this is "North End Detroit hot," and the cayenne powder-dusted chicken isn't for those who normally opt for the mild or medium spice levels. Edward Parks opened the restaurant in 1964, endured the neighborhood's ups and downs, and now cooks up between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds of ribs weekly. It's a destination, as is evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of Parks' clientele travel from outside the North End.

Photo via Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q / Facebook