Whether you like your pork pulled and saucy, your beef dry-rubbed and fall-off-the-bone tender or perhaps either/or shredded into a street taco or sliced into an anything-but-traditional banh mi, Orlando has some stellar options for those who crave the smoky-decadent goodness of quality barbecue. The rep of the renowned 4Rivers Smokehouse generally precedes itself – and for good reason – its food is as good as it’s lines are long, but with an ever-growing number of locations, locals have less distance to travel (and can always call ahead for pickup). In Windermere, Yellow Dog Eats prides itself on quality Q -- not to mention great beer and live music. Both Ocoee and Apopka have farther-flung local favorites in Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ and the beloved Porkie’s Original, where both barbecue- and motorcycle enthusiasts cruise in quite regularly for generous helpings of both. Down in a hip habitat on Mills Ave., Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa infuses international flair into its takes on the traditional (try the sticky-sweet plantains as a side!) and not far from there, the practiced culinary artisans of Shin Jung Korean turn out plate after plate of traditional soups, stews and more – along with some of the most succulent barbecue – bulgogi, kal bi and more – the city has to offer.
ShinJung Korean Restaurant
True, this is not a traditional entry for a barbecue list, but we'd be remiss without including the deliciousness that is Shin Jung, an Orlando-local favorite that serves a vast menu of Korean specialties including what many gourmands consider the best bulgogi (Korean short rib BBQ) and kal bi (thin-sliced BBQ rib eye) in the city. These, along with pork and chicken BBQ offerings, can be cooked tableside if ordered in for-two portions. Along with Shin Jung's superb BBQ, fans of Korean cuisine will find beautifully executed soups, stews, dumplings, noodles and other entrees, along with excellent – and spicy – kimchi. (407-895-7345)
Porkie's Original BBQ
Barbecue aficionados in just about any town will often cite more local, off-the-path venues among their favorites and such is the case with Porkie's, a casual, friendly, little place with a massive following they've built over the decade-plus they've been open. Slow-cooked oak- and hickory-smoked ribs are the specialty, but Porkie's burgers, chicken, steaks and hearty sandwiches have some serious proponents. Porkie's has a regular Bike Night, so you can come for the Q and stay for the show as motorcycle enthusiasts roll in for a family-friendly event that draws impressive crowds. Porkie's sauce selection ensures there's a delicious drizzle for every palate. (407-880-3351)
Uncle Kenny's BBQ
Generous portions and fall-off-the-bone goodness awaits Q-obsessed carnivores at this Clermont outpost, a family-run business that has accrued multiple honors on the Florida and – perhaps more impressively – Kansas City barbecue circuits. Chicken, pork, ribs, brisket, and other delights abound. Meat here is slow-cooked with oak and a signature dry rub that will have fans of midwestern 'cue salivating. Looking for spice? Try the jalapeno-cheddar sausage alongside a host of traditional, carb-laden sides. Uncle Kenny's offers up a choice of sauces – and they're so popular you can even buy them by the bottle at several locations around the area or online. Come hungry. (352-394-1225)
Harry & Larry's Bar-B-Que
There's just something about beef brisket and slaw that gets the mouth watering. Or maybe you're a rib aficionado. Or have a thing for smoked turkey. The beauty of Southern barbecue is that you don't really have to choose. Just get a multi-meat plate and dig the H in. One taste of Harry & Larry's wares and you're transported back to that last roadside smoker you hit up on your way from somewhere to someplace else and the only thing you remember is trying to get one more taste of the sauce out from under your nails before resorting to that old Wet-Nap in your glove compartment. Brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey beckon. Stop in for a slab or buy it by the pound and haul it home and become the hero of dinner. ((407) 614-5950)
4Rivers Smokehouse - UCF
4Rivers' UCF/East Orlando location is, delightfully, just another satellite wherein fans of the superb barbecue can expect a superb, if caloric, experience. This Orlando-based, Texas-style barbecue empire serves up brisket, ribs, pulled pork and smoked turkey and a host of other foodie delights. Though crowds are common, no one seems to mind waiting – though you're welcome to opt for take-out instead. Barbecue's not a neat cuisine and even 4Rivers' sandwich menu – the Messy Pig and its two layers of slaw, in particular – pushes the envelope. Some fans swear by the desserts, as well. (Fried Oreos, anyone?) If you've got a sweet tooth, they are Southern-inspired and sinful as you-know-where. (844-368-7748)
While the food-truck resurgence has brought with it a vast array of gourmet treats that at one time would have seemed offbeat to serve out of a truck, classic American barbecue has never suffered from this disadvantage. The pair behind Caro-Bama combined the BBQ pizazz of their respective home regions (the Carolinas and Alabama) to the delight of diners who definitely don't mind eating their sandwiches with a fork. And that's pretty much a necessity. The basics begin with pulled pork, brisket or chopped chicken. From there, it's up to you to decide which of the sauces and toppings to slather on. Caro-Bama makes it easy, though, offering up a roster of proven favorites from which to choose if creativity's less your thing than consumption. (407-342-5066)
Ellie Lou's Brews & BBQ
Ellie Lou's web site promises they'll "rub you the right way," and as they've cultivated many a fan out in Ocoee (and a host of others who make the drive from more central Orlando-area locations to get their Q fix), it appears they're holding up their end of the bargain. With offerings like the Pork & Bleu (chopped pork with EL's signature bleu cheese cole slaw), classics including fried green tomatoes and cheddar grits along with delicious dry-rubbed ribs – you choose your sauce – this is a family-friendly haven with a place in its heart for beer lovers. Start your little brew-masters young with a root beer; they've got it on tap. (407-347-9515)
Yellow Dog Eats
This charming, off-the-beaten-path venue is charming and rustic, evocative of some diamond-in-the-rough surprise you'd stumble upon while road tripping. Its food is surprising, too. Sandwiches, salads, scrumptious starters and a whole lotta barbecue. A host of offerings showcase piles of YDE's signature pulled pork, including the Fire Pig (a wrap with apple wood-smoked bacon, gouda, fried onions and sriracha) and the Rufus (pork topped with thick-cut Brie, cherry ring peppers and topped with raspberry melba sauce). Ribs are available by the half-rack, as well. And YDE's house slaw is a sweet, tangy treat. Live music in the restaurant's outdoor beer garden adds ear candy to the menu. (407-296-0609)
4Rivers' Winter Park location (not its original outpost; its success quickly outgrew that venue) is its flagship – the central restaurant around which this Orlando-based, Texas-style barbecue empire operates. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork and smoked turkey are a few of its signature items. Not surprisingly, so are crowds. No one seems to mind waiting but you're welcome to opt for take-out instead. Barbecue's not a neat cuisine and even 4Rivers' sandwich menu – the Messy Pig and its two layers of slaw, in particular – pushes the envelope. Some fans swear by the desserts, as well. (Fried Oreos, anyone?) If you've got a sweet tooth, they are Southern-inspired and sinful as you-know-where. (407-474-8377)
Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa
Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa's location amid the multicultural stretch of Mills on which it sits is ideal, and not merely for the hip vibe its confines – particularly the lovely open-air section – help breed. With Caribbean, Latin and Asian culinary influences finding its way into the menu, PF's allows lovers of traditional Southern Q and those with a hankering for flavors from far-flung places to have fun sampling the menu. Here you'll find the surprise of soy, citrus and curry along with the sweet, smoky profiles you'd expect. Succulent pork belly, tender brisket and pulled share the bill with an array of street tacos, BBQ banh mi and other intriguing selections. (407-921-1696)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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