Smokin’ Barbecue, Arizona Style

By: Edie Jarolim

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September 4, 2012

Arizona's barbecue restaurants give you plenty of slow-cooked reasons to lick your fingers clean.

About the author

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim is the author of three travel guides, including "Arizona for Dummies," and one dog guide, "Am I Boring My Dog?" Her book, "Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All," is a memoir about her career as a guidebook editor for Frommer’s, Rough Guides, and Fodor’s and as a Tucson-based freelance travel writer. Her articles about Arizona have appeared in numerous national publications, including "National Geographic Traveler," "Sunset," and "The Wall Street Journal."

You’d expect a state known for cowboys and cattle ranches to have a way with smoked meat, and Arizona doesn’t disappoint.

From no-frills shacks to full-service dining rooms, and from Texas to Midwestern styles, you’ll find Arizona barbecue to suit your taste.

Bigfoot BBQ, Flagstaff

The concept, a re-created barbecue shack in the back of a mall clothing store in downtown Flagstaff, seems unlikely.

But you’ll suspend disbelief once you pull your plastic chair up to a scratched wooden table and tuck in to such classics as tender ribs, hickory-smoked on the premises and sided by sweet potato fries; or such elaborate creations as the Smokin’ Bulldawg – Andouille sausage smothered with brisket, cheese and onions.

This place is a family favorite, not least because of the box of free peanuts and the invitation to throw the shells on the floor.

Redneck’s Southern Pit Barbecue, Kingman

This low-key barbecue joint comes by its name honestly: Bubba and Tammy Floyd are originally from Tennessee and started their business by selling their hickory-smoked meat from a trailer at country fairs and rodeos.

When – bowing to popular demand – they opened a permanent space, they chose a location in downtown Kingman and helped spearhead the area’s renovation efforts.

The pulled-pork sandwich, served with creamy coleslaw and beans with large chunks of bacon, tops the list of must-tries.

Don’t have room for the dreamy peach cobbler or frozen lemon pie? Get a slice to take away.

Hog Wild, Cottonwood

A large sign in front announces that Hog Wild is a “Chicago-style restaurant.” You’d be hard pressed to mistake sleepy Cottonwood, near Sedona, for a bustling metropolis, or to imagine sitting outside on a Windy City deck in winter as you can here.

It’s only when you spot such specialties as the juicy one-pound pork chop and piled-high Italian beef sandwiches on the menu that you detect the owners’ Illinois roots.

Barbecue aficionados from all regions particularly rave about the baby-back ribs, marinated in sweet sauce and smoked over mesquite wood before being pressure-cooked, but the beef brisket has its die-hard defenders, too.

Joe’s Real BBQ, Gilbert

Keeping it real is a mission for Joe Johnston, and his friendly family-owned and -operated restaurant lives up to that ethos.

These choices, as with every decision Joe makes for his restaurant – from the restoration of the 1929 building down to the recipes – are the results of painstaking research.

So barbecue purists and locavores alike revel in the carefully prepared meats, slow-cooked over renewable Arizona pecan wood, sides and from-scratch desserts like root beer cake (yes, they even make their own root beer).

Catalina Barbeque Co. & Sports Bar, Tucson

Down home southeastern and southwestern cooking meld in the dining room of the Starr Pass Golf Club, a more upscale venue than you’d usually find for the likes of chicken-fried steak, bourbon creamed corn, brisket rellenos and pulled-pork quesadillas.

But the wood-smoked meats – slow-grilled and available in heaping platters with a variety of piquant sauces – are as authentic as any you’ll find in more casual spots. Plus, it’s nice to be able to gaze out on the greens.

Those who think that Jack Daniels and barbecue are a match made in heaven will enjoy the full bar.

Rodney’s BBQ, Willcox

This is the type of place that road foodies dream about, a welcoming hole-in-the-wall with authentic home cooking.

Owner/chef Rodney Brown, who hails from Indianapolis, describes his barbecue as Midwestern style, which means the sauce is tomato based and tangy.

There are picnic tables out back, but your best bet is to order your pulled-pork sandwich or hot wings to go. Then take your meal across the street to Railroad Park, where you can enjoy it near the statue of cowboy film star Rex Allen (his equine co-star, KoKo, is buried there).

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