MELBOURNE | American BBQ, or American comfort food in general, is one of the more enduring food trends that’s appeared in restaurants, food trucks and pop-up kitchens around the Melbourne. Ranging in style from burgers to smoked meat to Cajun/creole-style food there’s a lot on offer. As regular readers of The City Lane would be aware we are all particularly big fans of American BBQ and are very pleased with the plethora of options available in Melbourne for those with a hankering for some slow cooked meat.
To help the carnivores amongst you to help decide where to go the next time you need a BBQ fix here are (in no particular order) our favourite places in Melbourne to get American BBQ. One important thing to note is that in the end there is no “best” barbecue place and each ‘cuer has different strengths across the core American barbecue staples. In deciding who made the list we focussed in particular on the quality of the ‘holy quadrilogy’ (as well as the location-specific dishes on offer):
- Beef brisket – the dish by which we generally judge a barbecue joint, brisket comes from the breast or lower chest of the cow and the muscles support about 60% of the body weight of the animal. This means that this cut of meat is usually quite tough which makes it ideal for slow cooking.
- Pulled pork – commonly found in sandwiches and burgers, pulled pork is usually made from pork shoulder which is cooked ‘low and slow’ and then pulled apart creating strips of meat
- Pork ribs – whilst these have been available at pubs across Melbourne for some time the American style is characterised by ‘falling-off-the-bone’ meat and a smokiness imparted by the wood used in the cooking process. Available both in dry rub and marinated form.
- Beef ribs – the granddaddy of them all and the one that usually runs out of stock first, a beef rib in its full glory is an imposing task even for the most seasoned meat eater. Typically served without a marinade and with barbecue sauce on the side, the beef rib is best experienced as a single bone rather than cut into pieces.
Oh and before you say anything we’re aware that other American BBQ places exist in Melbourne that aren’t on our list, but that’s because we (1) haven’t tried them and (2) have heard mixed reviews from those who have who we trust. We only want to give you recommendations that we can stand behind.
Ironbark BBQ is one of the mainstays of the Melbourne barbecue scene, having commenced operations in around 2012. Since then Ironbark has had a number of successful pop-up stints in locations around the inner north including the Workers Club and The Rum Diary Bar and in 2015 set down semi-permanent roots at the Kustom Commune in Collingwood.
Ironbark BBQ offer a slightly non-standard BBQ menu with a core of beef brisket and pulled pork supplemented by items like lamb ribs (as opposed to the usual pork), beef cheek and chicken wings. Where Ironbark really excels is with their beef brisket which is one of the two best we have tried in the Melbourne scene. The pulled pork is also a sleeper hit and Ironbark’s version is the most juicy and tender that we have come across – other attempts at pulled pork are often dry and need a lot of sauce to make them work.
In short: Ironbark BBQ are currently ‘on the run’ due to renovations and functions at the Kustom Commune and after a residence at Two Row in December 2015 have set up shop in the kitchen of one of The City Lane’s favourite bars, The Alehouse Project for the month of January 2016. See The City Lane’s review of Ironbark BBQ at the Kustom Kommune here and find details of their January 2016 pop-up here.
Best for: Beef brisket and pulled pork. If you are having trouble deciding (and have brought at least one friend with you) then we would suggest getting ‘The Woody Harrelson’ which is essentially a ‘greatest hits’ platter.
Bluebonnet Barbecue are another of the ‘old hands’ of the Melbourne barbecue scene and have followed a similar journey to Ironbark BBQ, starting as largely a pop-up unit which was serving smoked meat out of The Beaufort and Forgotten Worlds before setting up a permanent location on Johnston Street in Collingwood. Unfortunately, a fire in May 2015 severely damaged their premises but Bluebonnet have since turned what was to be a temporary residence at The John Curtin Hotel in Carlton into what appears to be a more permanent arrangement.
The menu at Bluebonnet Barbecue covers all of the usual suspects with the (notable) exception of the beef rib which appears to have fallen off the menu since moving to the John Curtin, and also adds a sausage which ranges regularly, beef cheek, crispy lamb ribs and smoked chicken. Bluebonnet’s beef brisket is in almost all respects the equal of Ironbark’s with amazing flavour but perhaps falling short due to being slightly on the dry side. However, the real star of the show is the smoked pork belly which with a perfect balance of meat and fat is like a more refined and flavoursome version of smoked ham and is unique amongst the barbecue places we have visited.
In short: Through a series of setbacks including vandalism and a fire, Bluebonnet Barbecue have continued to demonstrate their resilience and are sligning quality smoked meat out of the kitchen at the John Curtin Hotel. See The City Lane’s review of Bluebonnet Barbecue here.
Best for: Beef brisket and smoked pork belly. If the angus beef rib ever appears back on the menu it is amazing and is a must try.
Fancy Hank’s BBQ Joint
Occupying more or less the entirety of the Mercat Cross Hotel just north of Melbourne’s CBD and opposite the Queen Victoria Market, Fancy Hank’s BBQ Joint was one of the first barbecue operators to end its nomadic ways and kick off the trend of setting up a permanent location in the kitchen of an established venue.
Interestingly, Fancy Hank’s are the first barbecue joint on this list to offer the full quadrilogy of beef brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs and lamb ribs and the menu largely sticks to the core staples of this style of food as well as offering a couple of sandwiches for those wanting something that can be eaten without knife and fork.
The beef rib is a must-have at Fancy Hanks although we would add a small caveat that it is ordered by weight and comes in pieces so if you were hoping for a giant bone to be set down in front of you then you will be slightly disappointed (but once you taste it any disappointment will immediately disappear). The other thing that we would definitely recommend having is the andouille sausage – we don’t normally order sausage when we go to American barbecue but the one at Fancy Hank’s is really juicy and has amazing flavour.
In short: We had our first taste of proper American barbecue at Fancy Hank’s several years ago and we have been going back ever since. Their location just opposite the Queen Victoria Market is particularly convenient for CBD workers looking for a barbecue fix over lunch. See The City Lane’s review of Fancy Hank’s BBQ joint here.
Best for: Beef rib and andouille sausage. The craft beer selection is also very solid.
Fancy Hank’s BBQ Joint
456 Queen Street
Ike’s Rack Shack
Ike’s Rack Shack have set up shop in the back of The Beaufort, a nautical-themed dive bar located on Rathdowne Street in Carlton. The Beaufort had for some time had a trend of having barbecue smokers (including both Fancy Hank’s and Bluebonnet) pop-up at their premises since 2012 and in 2014 decided to make smoked meat a permanent part of their food offering.
There is a separate dining area at the back of the venue which offers table service but the full menu is also available throughout the venue – just head up and order at the bar and while you are at it be sure to avail yourself of the extensive drinks list which includes an excellent selection of local and imported craft beers, spirits and cocktails including the classic Dark ‘N’ Stormy.
As the name suggests, the focus of Ike’s is on ribs (both pork and beef) but more recently they have started to offer beef brisket available as well as a range of burgers. The ribs are definitely the standout of Ike’s offering with the pork ribs being the best that we have tried so far in Melbourne and the beef rib arriving as a single imposing slab of meat on the bone and with great flavour to boot. The fried chicken sandwich is also worth trying if for some reason (which we can’t quite imagine) you need a break from red meat.
In short: Ike’s Rack Shack has established itself as the premier place for American-style slow smoked ribs in Melbourne and with a grungy, chilled out vibe and great beer, spirits and cocktail selection it is a place where you will want to stick around after your meal. See The City Lane’s review of Ike’s Rack Shack here.
Best for: Beef and pork ribs. Do also check out the fried chicken sandwich and be sure to avail yourself of the extensive drinks list.
Meatmother have been going strong since 2013, bringing American BBQ classics to the people of Richmond. The venue is small but the flavour of the Texas style American BBQ is anything but. We recommend taking a seat at the bar where you can take a look at the craft beer and spirits selection and have a chat with the bar staff while enjoying your dinner. Speaking of drinks, one cocktail you can’t go past is the bacon whisky sour, which contains real candied bacon.
The beef short rib, which is super tender and falls straight off the bone is the highlight menu item, while the pulled pork sandwich is another one of our favourites. Check out The City Lane’s review of Meatmother here.
In short: A great local’s type spot in which to enjoy a meal or even just have a drink and a snack or two.
Best for: Beef short rib. Also check out the whisky bacon sour.
167 Swan Street
Best of The Rest
Here are a few other places that we’ve been to that aren’t dedicated American BBQ restaurants but contain American BBQ menu items that are well worth your consideration.
Brought to you by the same people who own Meatmother, Meatmaiden is a meat-focused restaurant that delivers a solid smoked meat offering in a CBD location, as well as an unexpectedly good non-meat offering. One to take your vegetarian friends to. There’s also a very impressive craft beer and wine selection. The highlight item on the menu at Meatmaiden is the tender 20 hour slow cooked beef brisket. Oh and there’s lobster mac & cheese. Check out The City Lane’s review of Meatmaiden here.
195 Little Collins Street
287 Wellington Street
Le Bon Ton
Le Bon Ton is an interesting proposition when it comes to its food. Along with American BBQ it does a lot of other American comfort food – BBQ, burgers, fried chicken etc. While nothing at Le Bon Ton could be considered the best of its style, the food is all very tasty and the atmosphere is fantastic. We’ve had many a fun late night enjoying drinks and food at Le Bon Ton and consider it a great choice if you’ve got a group of friends or are looking for a late night feed (they are open until 5:00am on the weekend!). You can find The City Lane’s review of Le Bon Ton here.
Le Bon Ton
51 Gipps Street
Located in Preston, in that oft unexplored part of town known as “North of Bell Street”, Dexter is not a traditional American barbecue restaurant but serves a range of smoked meat-filled buns that we are looking forward to trying soon – we’ve only heard good things from people whose opinion we trust.
287 Wellington Street
Big Boy BBQ
We’ve been to Big Boy BBQ several times, yet somehow non of us have managed to remember to snap a good photo while here. While the Kansas City style BBQ that’s served across Big Boy’s 3 locations isn’t, in our opinion, the best in town it’s still very tasty. What you want to be doing at Big Boy is going for one of their American BBQ filled sandwiches. The Zee Man, with sliced beef brisket, smoked cheese, fried onion strings and BBQ sauce, is fantastic.
Big Boy BBQ
Various locations (Melbourne CBD, Richmond, Caulfield)