It Is Time To Chow Down With Toronto's Top Barbecue

People like to joke that there is no skill when it comes to barbecue. You get a hot surface, you place good quality meat on it and - surprise - it tastes delicious. However, Toronto's best barbecue restaurants hint that there may be techniques of the trade beyond opening up a cold one and standing near the grill.

Southern style barbecue establishments, which rely on cooking for a long time at a low temperature, have become all the rage in Toronto. Perhaps this is because time is a rare commodity in any city. In any case, tender and juicy meat with the smoky flavor of wood sure is a nice way to complete a day. Or start one, for that matter.

You can smell the crispy skin of Electric Mud BBQ even before you turn the corner. With affordable meals, like brisket on a bun or Carolina-style pork ribs, people easily ditch their own backyards for a hipster garage complete with a record player. Or go a wee bit fancier and eat at Barque, where the melt-in-your-mouth meats are accompanied by sauces that you can brush on with your own grilling brush. This may make you feel like you have actually done something other than eaten your weight in animal products.

Fire. Meat. Good.


The Stockyards has the expected delicious BBQ but also some rare vegetarian options. The fried chicken is a winner, coming with spicy or sweet dipping sauces. You could also serve it over a waffle to double up on your crunch. Dishes have a Southern touch and Torontonians are treated to more reasonable BBQ prices. If you usually get a half rack of ribs, a whole rack may be possible here (although you may want to ask yourself: even though I can, should I?). The thin fries they serve alongside their dishes have been compared to McDonalds, in a good crispy, homemade, kind of way. The real McDonalds across the street doesn't stand a chance.

Southern Bourbon flavour might not be something you are constantly craving. Yet Southern Bourbon Bar-B-Q is betting it will happen and that they will be your go-to. With expertly handled ribs and brisket that have distinct dry rubs and fall off-the-bone perfection, customers are likely to be repeat. Patrons like to exclaim at the enormous portions, where a side could be confused for a main. Luckily, the restaurant is located on Harbord Street, within steps of the University of Toronto and hence – hungry students. The sauces come sweet, should you want to taper the fatty meatiness. Southern food? Yes. Southern servings? Definitely.


There is something amusing about cooking Southern food in the Great White North. Smoque N' Bones realizes this and cheekily draws from Memphis, Texas, Kansas and the Carolinas. They do appreciate "all things BBQ" and prove it in the form of ribs, pork, brisket and sausage. Like coffee, you can order in pounds (which may or may not be a tongue in cheek way of explaining how you leave the restaurant heavier). Sides contribute to the heavenly heaviness with collard greens, sweet potato waffle fries and mac n' cheese on the menu. Hey, we get cold up here in the North. We need as much insulation as we can get.

North Toronto

Stack Smoked put extra m's in their Twitter handle. You can see why when you walk and and you are hit by the smell of 4,000 square feet dedicated to Southern pit BBQ. If you prefer your smoke in food rather than cigarettes, this is your place. The hand carved options are many: smoked meat sandwiches, brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs and grilled chicken. There are over 10 types of burgers and 5 types of fries. The food just keeps coming out of the smoker. If you are going with a group, try sharing the ultimate platter with baby back ribs, 1/4 chicken, pulled pork, brisket and smoked meat. With sides, it can certainly feed a crowd, or at least 4 hungry people.

Some smokehouses declare "vegetarians welcome" but they mean it in the winky emoticon sort of way. Sure, they may be welcome if they like to watch other people eat. Greenwood Smokehouse is the rare barbecue establishment that caters to the non-carnivorous. It does mostly do meat, with pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket and smokehouse ribs making heavy appearances on the menu. They have the meaty king of sandwiches in the form of the "Danforth Decker" with pork, rib, brisket, bacon and cheddar on challah. Vegetarians can chow down on the sides, salads or have a mushroom burger with smoked pineapple guacamole and sprouts, which is out of this world.

East Toronto

Toronto has the nickname Hogtown, which some feel was due to the early meat packers and others thing was an insult from our neighbours to the north. Whatever the reason, Toronto is having the last laugh. Hogtown Smoke is part restaurant, part food truck and completely and totally delicious. Scott Fraser, Executive Pit Master at Hogtown, is an advocate for the burgeoning food truck scene but even with the existing limitations, he has found his way to bring succulent meat to the masses. Pig out platters allow you to choose three of the following: pork, brisket, sausage, burnt ends, wings, spare ribs, back ribs, 1/4 chicken. There are tons of homemade sauces and sides to stuff you until you won't be denying the title Hogtown.

Let's be honest. You don't choose to go out for BBQ on a day when you are wearing ironed pants. You don't go for BBQ when you want crisp linens and an oaky Chardonnay. You go when you want to drink beer, eat good meat and wipe your hands on your pants. Electric Mud BBQ is the type of restaurant that makes you believe that doing all of these things is more than okay. Ribs are sticky and tender and people regularly suffer through snowstorms to get a table here. Loud music blares, you won't stay long, but man, will you be satisfied. And isn't that what BBQ is all about? Loosen your tie a little.

West Toronto
Photo courtesy of Beast

Chef Scott Vivian spent time early in his career cooking under Jamie Kennedy, the chef most often associated with farm-to-table cuisine in Toronto. When he opened his own restaurant, Beast, in 2010, it was no surprise that it celebrated local farmers and producers with indulgent dinner and brunch offerings. As expected with a name like Beast, many parts of many animals are utilized to add pizzaz to dishes. A dinner example is their take on a Canadian poutine, with fried gnocchi standing in for the french fries, braised rooster replacing plain gravy and cheese curds staying the same (why mess with perfection?). The popular brunch presents dishes that can't be found anywhere else. Challah french toast is topped with duck confit, cranberry mostarda and whipped creme fraiche.

When your homestyle restaurant is doing well, what do you do when you are Chris Sanderson? You open the backyard up and bam, you have two restaurants for the price of one. In the backyard of Rose & Sons is The Big Crow, with picnic tables and an outdoor camping feel. People wait in droves for slow-smoked wings, baby back ribs and even ox tongue. On weekends, ribeye and lobsters are offered together until they sell out for a messy experience perfectly suited for the great outdoors. All that barbecue goes down nicely with hard and soft drinks. If you are with a group, try the fruit punch pitcher. It is possible to make reservations, and we recommend doing just that. Only in Toronto can you reserve a picnic table.

High Park/Roncesvalles
Barque Smokehouse
Photo courtesy of Jill Chen

If you are a person who hears the words "baby back ribs" and salivates, you must make a trip over to Roncesvalles for a spectacular meal. Lucky for us, owners and childhood friends Jonathan Persofsky and David Neinstein left the corporate world to dedicate more time to their passion of genuine pit BBQ. Every piece of meat is treated like a work of art, and the word succulent doesn't even begin to do it justice. Nosh on the complementary popcorn with dipping sauces as you wait for the meal, and try your best not to drink the homemade BBQ sauce. Tuck into a sandwich with meats ranging from sliced smoked pork to blackened smoked chicken with candied smoked bacon. You may find yourself making socially awkward noises as you devour your sandwich, but it is rare that you find meat cooked to perfection. There is nothing wrong with enjoying it.


Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney