Thursday, July 25, 2013

On the Barbecue Trail: Ann Arbor & Beyond

The barbecue revolution is in full swing and there are plenty of signs of it all around. Several places around town are cooking low & slow over hardwood, resulting in some very respectable bbq. From Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti to Pinckney, there is some good bbq to be found in Washtenaw County

Chef Chris’ Boogie Woogie BBQ
Pinckney, MI

Boogie Woogie is a bit out of the way, but well worth the trek if you are looking for some serious bbq. There is no getting around the fact that the big trailer smoker in small strip mall puts out some of the best bbq you will find in the area. As I got out of my car, I was hit with the unmistakable smell of smoke from a low & slow bbq pit. I took a quick peek at the temperature gauge on the massive grill – dialed in to exactly 225, right where it should be. I knew I was in good hands.

The worst part about my trip was that I couldn’t bring myself to not try nearly everything on the menu. Chef Chris’ isn’t just a bbq man, he also has a few Cajun items on the menu as well and I am not one to turn down a bowl of gumbo. Luckily I had Mrs. T and my buddies P and CLB for backup, so between the four of us we managed to order most of the menu.

  • Pulled pork: smoky, nice smoke ring, not a strong rub. Mrs. T got the sandwich served on their housemade roll, which was great – pillowy soft, yet did not disintegrate under the mount of pork.
  • Ribs: some of the best ribs I’ve had (standard caveat: outside of Memphis). I prefer my ribs dry with a plenty of bark and smoke. Chef Chris nailed the ribs for my preferences.
  • Hot Links: spicy with a cracking snap from the natural casing.
  • Brisket: perhaps the only miss of the meal, it just did not have that tender texture that is so tough for a pitmaster to perfect.
The sides were all on point as well. Mrs. T loved the mac & cheese, which was not the soupy stovetop variety that a lot of bbq places do, but rather baked & topped with breadcrumbs. The gumbo was loaded with shredded bits of smoked meat.

I really can’t say enough good things about Boogie Woogie, so I’ll just add that I’m bummed that it’s a bit of a hike for me to get to from Ann Arbor.

Satchel’s BBQ
Ann Arbor, MI

A bit closer to home is Satchel’s BBQ, my go-to spot to satisfy my bbq craving in town. Satchel’s may not do anything great, but they do a lot of stuff very well. The pulled pork is always juicy, though a little lacking in smoke for my taste. The brisket, on the other hand, comes strong with the smoke, but is inconsistent on the texture. I’ve had some unbelievably tender batches of brisket and some tougher batches. I’ve said it to anyone that will listen that brisket is notoriously difficult to bbq and can dry out quickly even if you’ve cooked it properly unless you do a brisk brisket business – dry brisket is the price we sometimes have to pay for not living in Texas.

The ribs at Satchel’s might be the surprise winner here. They have all the evidence of properly smoked ribs – pink smoke ring & chewy bark. They are served dry, similar to Boogie Woogie, which is my preference. I like to hit them with a bit of vinegar sauce.

I usually go for the red beans & rice side at Satchel’s, which are an excellent compliment to the bbq. The mac & cheese is the soupy stovetop variety that might remind some people of Velveeta shells & cheese, which may be a positive or negative depending on your point of view.

Ron’s Roadside BBQ
Ann Arbor, MI

If you like off the beaten path bbq joints, Ron’s is your spot. I heard about this place a while ago and had to use different internet sources to verify the address because I was convinced that there was nothing out on Pontiac Trail northeast of Ann Arbor. After finally making the trek out to Ron’s, I was glad to say I was very, very wrong.

barbecue joints love chalkboards
Ron’s is actually an extension of Romanoff’s Catering, an Ann Arbor institution founded in the 60s. Ron himself has quite a story, a classicly-trained chef who spent time working with the Barefoot Contessa and would later go on to open a BBQ joint in upstate New York before returning home to help out in the family business. We should all be glad he did.

As far as I could tell, everything is made from scratch here, from the rolls for the sandwiches to the side of jambalaya. It’s hard to pick a favorite for best bbq among this list, but for atmosphere, Ron’s cannot be beat.

Red Rock
Ypsilanti, MI

If Boogie Woogie and Satchel’s are at the roadside, hole-in-the-wall end of the bbq spectrum, Red Rock is at the other end. Located in downtown Ypsi, it occupies a huge bar space that has been adorned with wood-paneled walls and a huge blackboard listing a variety of MI beers and craft cocktails.

The bbq is certainly not an afterthought here though. Burnt ends are on the menu (though they tend to run out quickly). The smoked wings are an excellent prelude to the main event. The brisket and pulled pork are both better than average, with a hint of smoke and piled high on buttered texas toast.

Ann Arbor, MI

Though not technically a bbq spot, I would be remiss if I did not mention the sandwich offerings at Biercamp. Biercamp is a smoked, cured, and cased meat emporium, with about 20 different kinds of brats and equally as many bacon choices, including my personal bacon relative – guanciale. In addition to these, they have a rotating selection of sandwiches throughout the week – pulled pork, brisket, roast beef, all served on a sturdy bakery roll. They don’t have the variety of sauce options you’ll find at a full-service bbq spot, but you won’t find better meat anywhere. As an added bonus, you can wash it all down with your favorite Faygo varietal (Rock N Rye for me please).
Others of Note

Blue Tractor
Ann Arbor, MI

Call me a hater but I have never really been impressed with anything I’ve had at Blue Tractor. The space is great and they do have some decent beers, but I can’t recommend the bbq.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse
Ann Arbor, MI

I’m not sure how a place that makes possibly the world’s best fried chicken can turn out such average pulled pork, but they do it. Dry and unflavorful is how I would describe it. Zingerman’s does a lot of things great but bbq isn’t one of them.


  1. Try R.U.B. too. It doesn't look like it would be very good, but I've found it decent for the price. Not on a par with the ones at the top of your list, but serviceable for a location close to U-M and stadiums.

  2. this is very nice to see BBq opening all over the county. this will add flavour to our food.

  3. The meat was marinated well and it was tender and juicy. Best Food Truck In LA

  4. I am heading to that area soon and hope to try some of this awesome looking BBq