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When Tom Davis opened The Stockyards in 2009, he raised the bar for the Toronto barbecue scene. Today the joint is as busy as ever. Ribs still sell out during the early hours of dinner service when they’re offered (that’s Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, for the record). Don’t leave without trying the buttermilk fried chicken; it’s a labor of love, brined and marinated for 48 hours to achieve incredible juicy flavor. The pit beans are another must-order, especially after getting the nod from Canadian barbecue queen Danielle Dimovski (a.k.a. Diva Q) as the best in North America.
The Stockyards, 699 St. Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 416 658 9666
With just two tables and four bar stools — eight seats altogether — Appalachia packs a lot of personality into a small space: wood paneling, country music, and a trophy skull mounted on the wall. Still, the emphasis is on meat, with a locavore-approved menu of house-smoked Ontario pork, chicken, and beef. The thick-cut brisket, served on a fluffy, golden brioche bun, is a filling lunch option. It’s served with a side of creamy coleslaw. Come after 5pm to try the applewood-smoked ribs with house-made barbecue sauce; it’s nicely balanced, with a great kick of heat.
Barque Smokehouse is one of those cool neighborhood spots that makes Roncesvalles so appealing. By day, it’s a bright, casual option for a filling lunch, but by night, it’s a bustling hot spot for trendy locals. The design is industrial meets rustic, with jars of spice rub, wood paneling, and exposed concrete. It’s hard to resist the complimentary popcorn, laced with a hot and slightly sweet seasoning blend. Don’t fill up before you try the ribs, served bare but for a lip-smacking lemon and pepper rub. On their own they’re excellent; brushed with the house-made Carolina sauce, they’re extraordinary.
Barque Smokehouse, 299 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 416 532 7700
Big Crow eschews the Southern trend and takes a distinctly Canadian approach to barbecue. There’s no more authentic take on our national grilling experience than eating outdoors and wrapping up in blankets if the evening gets too chilly. That’s exactly what you’ll get on the winterized patio at Big Crow. The menu changes seasonally, but it always includes smoked and grilled options from the traditional (pulled pork, chicken wings) to the unusual (octopus, beef versht). Local beer is well represented, with staples like Beau’s Lug-Tread and Steam Whistle and some lesser-known craft brewers including Woodhouse and Sweetgrass.
Big Crow, 176 Dupont St, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 647 748 3287
Electric Mud might seem like a prime example of hipsters jumping on the bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing it right. With a lively rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack and a bourbon-heavy drinks list, this is exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when you think ‘barbecue joint’. The menu is a little less traditional: must-try items include the burnt rib ends (they’re more appealing than they sound). Another good pick is the aptly named crack rolls; these doughy sesame buns are served with smoked butter, and they’re a lot more addictive than cornbread. Bring a crowd to take advantage of the sharing plates and cocktail pitchers.
Electric Mud, 5 Brock Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 416 516 8286
Pig Out BBQ is a relative newcomer to the Annex, but it’s quickly become one of the neighborhood’s most reliable takeout spots. Serving huge, reasonably priced portions, Pig Out has an obvious appeal for the U of T student crowd. The creamy mac and cheese is dangerously satisfying; it’s available as a side, but pulls double duty as a decadent topping for meatloaf and burgers. Pig Out may be tiny, but there’s often space to sit, since most customers take their barbecue to go.
Pig Out BBQ, 650 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 416 792 6120
Though not a barbecue joint per se, The Rooster Rotisserie and Grill deserves its place on this list for serving some of the best grilled chicken outside of Little Portugal. Located in Bloorcourt Village, The Rooster is more neighborhood takeout spot than dining destination. Here it’s all about hot sauce, not barbecue sauce, so if you’re sensitive to spice, give the Rooster a pass. Seating is limited, but people-watching by the window makes resting your legs on a sunny day worth it.
Sunday mornings have been a lot less painful since Lou Dawg’s opened in 2009. This barbecue joint has become an essential stop for Torontonians on a night out along King West, who come in search of all things fried and filling after last call. (The King Street location stays open until 4am Thursdays through Saturdays and 11pm the rest of the week.) Whether you’re looking for something to keep you going all night or you’re just taking a pause on the way home, you can’t go wrong with the brisket sandwich. It’s a huge serving of smoky meat piled high on a dense, chewy bun. Save any leftovers for the morning after.
Lou Dawg’s Southern Barbecue, 589 King St W, Toronto, ON, Canada +1 647 347 3294