18 smokin’ Madison barbecue joints

Pulled pork and brisket and ribs, oh my!
18 smokin’ Madison barbecue joints
Photo by Martha Busse

By Dan Curd

In the South, when it comes to religion and barbecue, folks are equally zealous about both. In fact, for some barbecue is a religion. To be clear, there “barbecue” means the act of slowly smoking over hardwood, or the end result. Pretty much everything else is contentious: what type of wood to use (hickory and oak are most favored), what type of sauce (if any) to use, and whether to rub, marinate, mop or sop. This uniquely American cooking style has spread across the country, with other locales adding their own interpretation on how it should properly be done. It may be old-fashioned, but barbecue has never been more popular, and you needn’t journey far to enjoy it.


$ < $10
$$ $10–$15
$$$ $15–$25
$$$$ $25+
(price indicates cost of a dinner entrée)
BOM Best of Madison 2014 winner

Blowin’ Smoke
1336 Montondon Ave., Waunakee, 215-0069
Sometimes big things start small. After owner and Kansas City native Robert Bishop took second place in his third barbecue competition, he decided to start a catering business. Next came a well-liked food cart on the Square, and now a full-service dining room in Waunakee. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Kansas City-style barbecue that favors a dry rub and a sweet and spicy ketchup-based sauce. $$

Bonfyre American Grill
2601 W. Beltline Hwy., 273-3973
The first test of any good restaurant is that it smells good. When you enter Bonfyre, it’s impossible to ignore the alluring aroma wafting from its wood-fired grill and oven. Grilled items include several steaks with a choice of sauces, a pork porterhouse, baby back ribs and ahi tuna. Exceptional, however, is the rotisserie roasted chicken, either herbed or with a barbecue glaze. $$

Brickhouse Barbecue
408 W. Gorham St., 257-7675
This is no roadside honky-tonk, but a cavernous urban hangout complete with a rooftop patio. The lengthy menu is an eclectic litany of smoked and char-grilled favorites, imaginative appetizers and twelve classic side dishes. The bar is equally long on brands of bourbon and has forty beers on tap and many more bottled craft brews. $$ BOM

Chef DJ’s Blair Street BBQ & Catering
605 E. Washington Ave., 251-1000
Probably the first thing that you’ll notice is the pink VW bug parked out front that looks like a pig. Chef DJ says his ‘Q is like they do in Memphis, where pulled-pork sandwiches come topped with coleslaw. Ribs get a dry rub before smoking and then a slather of sauce at the end. Rarely seen outside the South is his BBQ spaghetti—pasta swimming in a hybrid marinara/barbecue sauce and served with pork on the side. $$

Delaney’s Charcoal Steaks
449 Grand Canyon Dr., 833-7337
Most steakhouses today use infrared broilers to cook their meat. At Delaney’s, top-quality steaks are always hand-cut, aged in-house and grilled over an open flame. The finished product arrives at the table sizzling on a metal platter. Owned and operated by the same family for more than forty years, the supper club prides itself on being a bit old-fashioned. $$$$

Double S BBQ
111 Jefferson St., U.S. Hwy. 18, Cambridge, 886-8292
Co-owner Shon Jones hails from Texas and his melt-in-your-mouth brisket proves it. Other Lone Star State favorites include armadillo eggs (bacon-wrapped, smoked jalapeño poppers), cowboy pinto beans and chuck wagon cornbread. There are a couple of Cajun specialties, too, including boudain, a spicy sausage stuffed with pork and seasoned rice. Worth the trip alone is the heavenly buttermilk pie. $

Eldorado Grill
744 Williamson St., 280-9378
It would be heresy for a Tex-Mex eatery not to include barbecue. At Eldorado Grill, it’s no afterthought, either. Baby back ribs, pulled pork and, of course, brisket are all seductively smoky and tender as the Texas dew. Served with chipotle potato salad, green chile beans and homemade slaw, everything tastes that much better with a longneck bottle of Lone Star. $$$ BOM

Fat Jacks Barbecue
6207 Monona Dr., Monona, 221-4220
Smokin’ since 1986, this family-owned business is the city’s second-oldest barbecue restaurant. The specialties are Southern-style hickory-smoked spareribs and baby back ribs. The accent here, however, is idiosyncratically Wisconsin with cheese curds, salad bar and Friday night fish fry. Regulars look forward to Thursday and the all-you-can-eat ribs and chicken special. $$ BOM

Habanero’s Mexican Grill
2229 S. Stoughton Rd., 223-9222, 3001 N. Sherman Ave., 244-1992
In Mexico, the tradition of cooking food over a mesquite fire is thousands of years old. There’s something inexplicably appealing about eating meat and vegetables hot off the grill, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with piquant pico de gallo. In addition to a fajita burrito with sweet peppers, onions and your choice of meat, Habanero’s is famous for its carnitas, Mexico’s answer to pulled pork. $