Where to find the best BBQ in Washington, DC

February 28, 2019
Michael Earle

Growing up in the northern tundra of Michigan, I had a great misunderstanding of barbecue. I grew up under the misconception that barbecue was burned burgers, hot dogs or chicken; or maybe a whole hog cooked over a propane fire.

That’s why my mind was so blown when I found myself faced with true barbecue while travelling through the South, and again when hanging out with any Southern friends while in culinary school. It was during those years that my definition of barbecue changed from charred burgers to that of big slabs of meat slow cooked for a long period of time over some smoking hardwood.

Now that I know what good barbecue is, I have made it a point to explore the best barbecue spots in each of the cities that I visit. Here is my list of essential spots you need to hunt down the next time you find yourself in Washington, DC, and are in need of feeding your inner carnivore.

DCity Smokehouse (Bloomingdale neighbourhood)

DCity Smokehouse is probably the spot I visit the most. I live in the Bloomingdale neighbourhood and I’m there almost weekly. The atmosphere is small and intimate. I recommend sitting at the bar where the bartender is friendly and can provide recommendations. Regardless of what I may be craving that day, I’m most likely ordering a quarter pound of brisket with its incredible mix of savoury meatiness and smoky flavour. Although they do serve you a little four ounce cup of sauce, you’ll probably have no desire to use it – the meat is that good. I also suggest ordering a small side of their pepper jack mac and cheese. It’s a creamy mix of rotini pasta and spicy pepper jack cheese that pairs perfectly with the brisket.

Short ribs from DCity Smokehouse

BBQ from DCity Smokehouse | Photo by Washington, DC Urban Adventures

Hill Country BBQ (Penn Quarter neighbourhood)

This spot, just two blocks from the National Archives, serves as a haven for Texas-style barbecue in DC, bringing a little taste of the Lonestar State to our nation’s capitol. I like rolling in around lunch time as they offer a really great deal they’ve dubbed Cue and Two. Pick out your choice of two meats and two sides for $23, or three meats and two sides for $26. This is a great deal for anyone looking for a lot of satisfying food.

Smoking Kow BBQ (Alexandria, VA)

I discovered these guys through their popular food truck. I’m a huge fan of the concept of “piggy mac” (pulled pork on a bed of mac and cheese), and Smoking Kow takes this concept to the next level. Their mac and cheese is an uber-creamy blend of cheddar and parmesan cheeses. They then throw on your choice of smoked meat and you can choose from brisket, pulled chicken or pork. The pulled pork is my go-to, but no matter your protein choice happens to be, get ready to enter culinary heaven.

Piggy mac from Smoking Kow in DC

Bring your appetites to Smoking Kow | Photo by Washington, DC Urban Adventures

Federalist Pig (Adams Morgan neighbourhood)

This barbecue joint in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood is a great spot, and is one you can find on our Tastes of Adams Morgan tour. They celebrate styles of ‘cue from all over the country, like Texas and Carolina. This little joint tends to become very busy on the weekends, and occasionally run out of product before the end of the day, so plan to arrive early. I’m a huge fan of good brisket, but the two products that stood out to me on my platter were the rib tips and the pork belly, and if you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a big mac and cheese fan and theirs does not disappoint.