Best BBQ in Florida: Here's 12 restaurants, food trucks from Palm Beach to Pensacola

·11 min read

Summer is here and the time is right for some grilling. It's a favorite outdoor activity but occasionally you want to enjoy barbecue that someone else grills.

There's something about Floridians and barbecue. Maybe it's because the term "barbecue" — the English word from the Spanish "barbacoa" — has origins from the language of the Taíno people in the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, who called it "barabicu."

Here's some of our favorite barbecue to try from a restaurant or food truck.

Okeechobee Prime Barbecue

An array of smoky meats at Okeechobee Prime Barbecue in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Alissa Dragun)
An array of smoky meats at Okeechobee Prime Barbecue in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Alissa Dragun)

1959 Wabasso Drive, West Palm Beach; 561-305-7835; OkeePrimeBBQ.com

Palm Beach County steakhouse king Ralph Lewis opened a roadside barbecue trailer as a Memorial Day pop-up in 2019. But by popular demand, the ‘cue stand took root in that spot just across a side street from his family’s iconic, 1947-era Okeechobee Steakhouse.

It’s now a popular weekend stop for Texas-style barbecue, me ats smoked over Florida oak and cherry wood, plus steakhouse-worthy fixings. The stand’s menu offers 13-hour smoked brisket, baby-back and St. Louis-style ribs, pork belly burnt ends, tender smoked turkey, plus sandwiches like the Boss Hog (pulled pork, burnt ends, smoked onions and house-made Southern bourbon barbecue sauce on a potato roll).

Enjoy your ‘cue at one of the shaded outdoor tables or take it home. Bonus: the related Okeechobee Prime Meat Market, which stocks a good variety of provisions, wines and ready-to-heat dishes, is just steps away.

Okeechobee Prime Barbecue is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach Post 

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Hickory Hollow

Hickory Hollow in Ellenton serves Carolina-style pork barbecue, pictured here with corn fritters and black eyed peas.
Hickory Hollow in Ellenton serves Carolina-style pork barbecue, pictured here with corn fritters and black eyed peas.

4705 U.S. 301; Ellenton; 941-722-3932; hickoryhollowbbq.com

Open since 1984 and operated by the local James family, Hickory Hollow is an Ellenton landmark occupying a former two-bedroom, one-bathroom home and predating the nearby stretch of interstate and the popular Ellenton Premium Outlets. Currently open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday starting at 11 a.m., the restaurant offers cozy indoor as well as outdoor seating with a funky, Old Florida feel. The humble eatery also happens to be one of the best barbecue joints you'll find in Florida.

While the restaurant serves sweet and hot versions of a highly craveable tomato-based sauce, they specialize in eastern North Carolina barbecue that they smoke using white hickory imported from Virginia, the meat marinated in a sweet vinegar that makes each morsel a tangy delight. You'll also want to try the char-grilled baby back ribs served with their sweet tomato-based sauce, and the garlic roasted beef open-face sandwich drenched in jus.

All the main dishes come with corn fritters, which are deep-fried orbs of joy, and a choice of two sides from the rotating list of 20-plus. Be sure to order the collard greens. Served fresh and firm, the inherent bitterness is offset by a broth that recalls the same inspired vinegar flavors that propel their Carolina-style pork to greatness. You also must try the squash and cheese casserole and the corn pudding. Finally, save room for dessert, especially if they're serving peach cobbler. — Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Related: The best BBQ restaurants and food trucks in Sarasota and Bradenton

Tropical Smokehouse

3815 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-323-2573; EatTropical.com

In late 2020, chef Rick Mace left his fine-dining kitchen at Café Boulud Palm Beach for the underappreciated world of Florida barbecue. He traded truffle-season dinners for a handmade fish smoker, caviar-and-blinis for gator sausage and mojo pork.

It’s a wild, tropical dream for a guy from Medina, Ohio, but for Mace it was a chance to pay homage to Florida, the state that earned his fascination more than seven years ago. The result is Tropical Smokehouse, a West Palm Beach ‘cue joint that combines classic barbecue-smoking techniques with a love for locally caught fish and New-World Florida flavors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

West Palm Beach's Tropical Smokehouse takes a Florida and Caribbean approach to barbecue. (Photo courtesy of Tropical Smokehouse)
West Palm Beach's Tropical Smokehouse takes a Florida and Caribbean approach to barbecue. (Photo courtesy of Tropical Smokehouse)

What it means for you, intrepid diner, is barbecue that’s worth a drive. It means smoky meats like prime brisket, heritage pork baby back ribs, smoked jerk turkey breast, smoked lemon-pepper cobia and even Cajun gator sausage. It also means the fish dip is made with freshly smoked local fish, the wings get a sour orange marinade, the queso is studded with smoky chorizo.

The side dishes sing the praises of the South as well as the Caribbean: white cheddar mac, smoky black beans, Caribbean slaw, sweet plantains.

Mace cooks the meats on a fearsome, 500-gallon smoker that’s parked out back. He had it custom-built in Georgia. He built the smaller, indoor fish smoker himself.

“We want to express Florida barbecue as best as we can by giving it a stage,” he says.

Located on West Palm’s busy South Dixie Highway, Tropical Smokehouse offers indoor and outdoor seating as well as a full cocktail bar. — Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach Post

Big Nick's BBQ

An order of brisket with fried okra and hush puppies from Big Nick's BBQ in south Fort Myers.
An order of brisket with fried okra and hush puppies from Big Nick's BBQ in south Fort Myers.

9211 Cypress Lake Drive, Fort Myers; 239-204-2498; bignicksbbq.com/; takeout only, no seating

Big Nick's BBQ opened its first location in Florida in Fort Myers in January 2022. In just a few months, it became a local favorite. Founder Tim Fisk grew up in Fort Myers and left for North Carolina in the early 2000s to help with his father's barbecue business. His dad, Nick Fisk, is the Big Nick's namesake. When his father died, he continued the legacy. "We cook everything fresh for that day's service," Tim Fisk told The News-Press. "That's the old-fashioned way, the way they do things in Texas and Kansas City. In Florida, though, especially Southwest Florida, it's pretty unique. It's taken people here some time to understand how we operate, why that freshness makes such a huge difference." It only took us a few bites. — Annabelle Tometich, The News-Press in Fort Myers

Shorty’s Bar-B-Q

9200 S. Dixie Highway, Miami; 305-670-7732; shortys.com

The line outside the original Shorty’s Bar-B-Q has been as iconic as the southern Miami favorite itself. As a kid, you may have thought that line outside the log-cabin-like structure interminable, but you knew the payoff would be glorious: smoky spare ribs, pulled pork sandwiches doused with that warm barbecue sauce you’d sprinkle from a shaker and corn on the cob with all the butter you could slather. All of it devoured at the long picnic tables you’d share with other barbecue lovers.

Miami may have grown in unimaginable ways and the highway that runs by the original Shorty’s location may be perennially traffic-choked, but the old-school spot is still there and still smoking beneath a neon fringe and signature striped awning. Founded in 1951, the place is as resilient as Miami itself, having come back after a devastating fire in 1972 and later after it took a beating from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Your payoff, should you make the drive, is a menu where classics still reign: barbecue sandwiches piled high, Texas-style smoked brisket plates, combo platters for the famished and undecided, dreamy baked beans studded with bits of pulled pork and, because why not, key lime pie.

Shorty’s has locations in West Miami and Davie — but if you’re a newbie, go with the original and commune with the spirits of vintage Miami. — Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach Post

Back Beach Barbecue

The Back Beach Barbecue celebrated three years on June 24.
The Back Beach Barbecue celebrated three years on June 24.

19714 Panama City Beach Parkway; 850-249-0822; backbeachbarbecue.com

The ribs are so good at Back Beach Barbecue in Panama City Beach that on Friday and Saturday, ribs are only available until they sell out. The barbecue joint has become a local and tourist favorite since opening in 2017 and keeps its reputation with its delicious barbecue and annual Hog Bash event.

Sold by the pound, Back Beach’s wide selection of meats includes everything from Texas-style brisket, pulled pork, turkey breast, spare ribs, chicken, and homemade sausages. The same meat you can have on a sandwich, as well, and with complementary toppings of onions and pickles.

Back Beach Barbecue sells about 500 pounds of brisket and 300 pounds of sausage a day. And no meat goes to waste.

Side items include baked beans, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese (made with Velveeta), Carolina collards and red skin potato salad. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert — the Key Lime Pie and Banana Pudding are house favorites.

Guests may dine inside or out on the covered porch — with plenty of fans to keep cool, pick up the barbecue, have it delivered or get it catered. Back Beach Barbecue operates daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Sunday). — Ebonee Burrell, The News Herald in Panama City

Industry Beer and Barbecue

A brisket meat and three meal ($18) at Industry Beer and Barbecue in Naples is served with two sides, house-made pineapple slaw, house pickles and garlic "buttah" toast.
A brisket meat and three meal ($18) at Industry Beer and Barbecue in Naples is served with two sides, house-made pineapple slaw, house pickles and garlic "buttah" toast.

449 Bayfront Place, Naples; 239-331-4160; industrybeerandbbq.com/

Industry Beer and Barbecue opened in the pre-COVID times of February 2020. Industry's meats — ribs, pork belly, pork shoulder, hot links, brisket — are smoked on the premises. The pimento cheese and pepper jelly are homemade recipes. Every dressing, spice blend and rub is formulated in-house. Pickle chips and pickled onions? Brined in-house. Even the cornmeal doughnuts are an Industry original. — Naples Daily News staff 

Carter’s Grocery in Fort Pierce

Coworkers (from left) Doug Bowers, Andrew Zane, and Ryan Cupelli, from Florida Coast Equipment in Fort Pierce, stop in at Carter's Grocery for lunch on Friday, May 27, 2022, on Orange Avenue west of Fort Pierce. "I came out here years ago, the first time I have seen this place is probably 8 years ago," Bowers said.
Coworkers (from left) Doug Bowers, Andrew Zane, and Ryan Cupelli, from Florida Coast Equipment in Fort Pierce, stop in at Carter's Grocery for lunch on Friday, May 27, 2022, on Orange Avenue west of Fort Pierce. "I came out here years ago, the first time I have seen this place is probably 8 years ago," Bowers said.

15901 Orange Ave., Fort Pierce; 772-464-0540; cartersgrocery.com 

The best ribs on the Treasure Coast can be found on Orange Avenue west of Fort Pierce at Carter’s Grocery. Craig Carter took it over in the 1970s and renamed the small grocery store. It’s a one-stop-shop for home-cooked food, drinks, beer, lottery tickets, hunting and fishing supplies and fuel. It serves its famous ribs, fried or smoked chicken, fries, rice, beans and Mexican soup all day, along with weekly specials. — Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast

Smokin’ Momma Lora’s BBQ

Lines formed throughout the day for items such as this pulled pork sandwich at Lora Rust Wolters' Smokin’ Momma Lora’s BBQ food truck during the Manatee Pride festival on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Smokin’ Momma Lora’s BBQ is scheduled to appear this Saturday at the Cigar Box Guitar & Food Truck Festival at Big Top Brewing in Sarasota.
Lines formed throughout the day for items such as this pulled pork sandwich at Lora Rust Wolters' Smokin’ Momma Lora’s BBQ food truck during the Manatee Pride festival on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Smokin’ Momma Lora’s BBQ is scheduled to appear this Saturday at the Cigar Box Guitar & Food Truck Festival at Big Top Brewing in Sarasota.

facebook.com/smokinmommaLorasBBQ

Events in Sarasota and Manatee counties are always more exciting when attended by Smokin' Momma Lora's BBQ, the wildly popular food truck launched by nurse-turned-pitmaster Lora Rust Wolters about seven years ago. Most famous for her slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches covered in a homemade, Tennessee-style, tomato-based barbecue sauce laced with honey; pitmaster Wolters' team recently picked up a best burger award for their version of a Big Mac. And the one I devoured in March at the Manatee Pride festival on Bradenton Riverwalk definitely eclipsed anything you'll find under the Golden Arches.

During past visits, I've also been wowed by the Buffalo pulled pork sandwich with Carolina sauce and then there are the cheese fries, which you will want to get topped with pulled pork, jalapenos and more of that Carolina sauce. The crispy cuts of potatoes covered in gooey yellow cheese are an ideal foundation for the shreds of pork blanketed by the tangy sauce with lots of spicy peppers for the delightfully-decadent win. — Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 

The Bearded Pig

Brisket sandwich, ribs, rib tips and slaw at The Bearded Pig, 1808 Kings Ave. in San Marco.
Brisket sandwich, ribs, rib tips and slaw at The Bearded Pig, 1808 Kings Ave. in San Marco.

1808 Kings Ave., Jacksonville, 904-619-2247; and 1700 Third Street S., Jacksonville Beach, 904-518-3915; thebeardedpigbbq.com

Jacksonville's relative newcomer to the barbecue scene has become a city favorite. The Bearded Pig that first opened in 2016 in the San Marco neighborhood was so popular that a second location opened in Jacksonville Beach in 2021. Menu items are tasty throughout, especially the Texas-style barbecue staples brisket and classic sides, including the favorite Mac-N-Cheese. There’s also a dozen beers on tap, including selections from Jacksonville breweries. And you can't go wrong with dessert options that include banana pudding and the Nutella brownie sundae. — Gary T. Mills, The Florida Times-Union

More best BBQ restaurants in Jacksonville: From brisket to ribs, landmarks to newcomers

Captain's BBQ

Captain's BBQ ribs, beet salad and mashed yams in Palm Coast.
Captain's BBQ ribs, beet salad and mashed yams in Palm Coast.

5862 N. Ocean Shore Blvd. Palm Coast; 386-597-2888, captainsbbq.com

Sometimes after fishing or enjoying the beach all day you want good ol' barbecue to cure your hunger and Captain's Barbecue does just that. The restaurant is in Palm Coast right on the Matanzas River, and minutes from the beach. The campground-feel restaurant casually serves authentic barbecue with cuts of meat, most importantly their amazing St. Louis ribs; melts and sandwiches such as their gigantic burger that is topped with pulled pork and bacon. There are also savory sides such as the mac and cheese and mashed yams or refreshing sides like the delicious potato salad and beet salad with goat cheese.

For those that can't make up their mind, Captain's offers a slider trio with pulled pork, brisket and turkey. The restaurant has four house-made barbecue sauces that cover all the bases with tangy, sweet, Carolina vinegar and hot. To wrap up your meal, Captain's offers their famous homemade cheesecake and other sweet treats. With indoor and outdoor seating, all are welcome even if you just got off the boat or are fresh out of the water. —  Caroline Hebert, The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Brisket or ribs? Where to find the best BBQ restaurants near Daytona Beach

County Road Provisions

countyroadprovisions.com

Originally from Lockhart, the "barbecue capital" of Texas, Michael Brooks believes that "traditional barbecue is something to be cherished and respected."

That's according to the website of his St. Johns County food truck and catering business, County Road Provisions.

Brooks, who has lived in St. Augustine for about 20 years, said the business started with him selling barbecue to farmers and laborers in the county.

County Road Provisions food truck is a popular barbecue option in Northeast Florida. (Photo courtesy County Road Provisions)
County Road Provisions food truck is a popular barbecue option in Northeast Florida. (Photo courtesy County Road Provisions)

That blossomed into a food truck and catering business that features brisket, turkey, chicken, beef ribs, jalapeño and cheese sausage, barbecue sandwiches, jalapeño potato casserole, mac and cheese and more.

People can swing by the County Road Provisions truck from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. only on Wednesdays on the grounds of the marine services business at 755 State Road 207 in St. Augustine. Sometimes food sells out before 2 p.m. For information, go to countyroadprovisions.com or call 904-806-7349. ― Sheldon Gardner, The St. Augustine Record

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: July Fourth food: Where to find best BBQ in Florida