The best barbecue in South Florida

I have eaten lots of barbecue in the past few months. Not all of it was good. Here is my list of recommended down-home and barbecue restaurants across South Florida. I have no doubt there are more. But this will get you started.

BROWARD COUNTY

Betty's Restaurant and BBQ -- 601 NW 22nd Road, Fort Lauderdale, 954-583-9121. While owner Betty Taylor includes barbecue in the name of her restaurant, diners come here for much more. There's country-fried chicken, ox tails, fried chicken gizzards and hog maws. Food is the selling point at this Fort Lauderdale classic. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Charlie's Bar-B-Q -- 1302 S. Federal Highway, Dania Beach, 954-924-0109. The Cuban-American owner has roots in Texas, so unlike many barbecue joints in South Florida, Charlie's has a way with beef brisket. It's fork tender and you taste the tomato in Charlie's sauce before you taste the smokiness that tends to pervade many sauces. Lunch, dinner.

Chez Porky's -- 105 SW Sixth St., Pompano Beach, 954-946-5590. A fun, friendly, off-the-beaten path spot. The chicken wings with seven different sauce options are great. Fantastic as well are the rich, slow-cooked barbecue and Louisiana-style food. Also, don't miss the house signature soup, Caribbean coconut. The kitchen seems happy to blacken anything (bread, mussels on the half-shell, steak, chicken, fresh seafood and shrimp). Prepare for a family-size feast if you order the excellent barbecue pork dinner, served over a bed of rice. Lunch, dinner. -- Judith Stocks

The Floridian -- 1410 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-4041. Open since 1937, this classic Fort Lauderdale restaurant is known for its oversized breakfasts, hamburgers and milkshakes. But it also does a fine job with meatloaf and a few other Southern specialties including biscuits and gravy. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q -- 1236 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-5046. First-timers at Tom's should know that lining up to order is part of the program. But the wait is worth it, particularly the baby back ribs. It doesn't seem to matter what time of day you arrive, there's always a line. Lunch, dinner.

Georgia Pig -- 1285 S. State Road 7, Fort Lauderdale, 954-587-4420. From the oak-fueled fire pit, Wayne and Jo Ann Anderson serve one of the best hand-chopped pork barbecue sandwiches in South Florida. Opened in 1953, Southerners and non-Southerners alike are drawn by the friendly staff and barbecue sauce that you wish they'd bottle. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Jack's Bar-B-Q Smokehouse -- 500 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Wilton Manors, 954-567-9595. The baby back ribs are some of the best we've tasted. And Jack's may be one of the few South Florida rib joints with a drive-through window. Jack's also does a good job with deep-fried catfish. Lunch, dinner.

PALM BEACH COUNTY

Fran's Chicken Haven -- 1925 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-395-0781. This is some of the best fried chicken you'll ever eat. That may explain why it's been open since 1964. The menu also includes excellent fried shrimp and crab cakes, Buffalo-style chicken wings and chicken liver diners. Side dishes are sold by the quart and include potato salad, coleslaw and collards. Lunch, dinner.

Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ -- 3011 Yamato Road, Boca Raton, 561-997-9557; 6691 W. Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach, 561-742-7449; and 710 Linton Blvd., Delray Beach, 561-330-6705. Tuesdays are all-you-can-eat ribs nights and Thursdays are all-you-can-eat catfish nights at this three-location Boca Raton-based chain. Lucille's wins the prize for best hillbilly decor with its combination of license plates and bric-a-brac decorating every wall. While it started as a barbecue joint, there's now just as much emphasis on salads, wraps and half-pound burgers. In keeping with barbecue tradition, servings are large. Lunch, dinner.

Park Avenue BBQ & Grille -- 47965 N. Congress Ave., Boynton Beach, 561-357-7427; 969 SE Fifth Ave., Delray Beach, 561-279-7427; 13897 Wellington Trace, Wellington, 561-795-7427; also in Lake Park, Lake Worth, North Palm Beach, Stuart, Tequesta and West Palm Beach. What began as a single operation on Lake Park's Park Avenue has now blossomed into eight locations. Everything is done well here, from baby back ribs to fried chicken. Be sure to order the corn fritters, which you might describe as a kind of savory donut. Lunch, dinner.

Red's Backwoods BBQ -- 1345 Palmetto Park Road, Palmetto Park Square, Boca Raton, 561-417-0797. While there are more authentic versions of barbecue across South Florida, Red's will satisfy your barbecue jones with ribs, chicken, burgers, steaks and catfish. Lunch, dinner.

Tom's Place -- 7251 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, 561-997-0920. Incredible barbecue, from ribs and sliced pork to chicken and beef. The menu also includes catfish, shrimp and beef stew, but stick with what comes off the coals. Baby backs are a perfect combination of tender and chewy. Sides include flawless baked beans and well-seasoned collards. Lunch, dinner.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

The Pit -- 16400 SW Eighth St., Miami, 305- 226-2272. Even for most Miami-Dade residents, eating at the Pit is a road trip. As you head west on Eighth Street, it appears like an oasis in the desert. The baby back ribs are delicious, but so are the deep-fried biscuits. Lunch, dinner.

MULTI-COUNTY

Shorty's Bar-B-Q -- 9200 S. Dixie Highway, Miami, 305-670-7732; 11575 SW 40th St (Bird Road), Miami, 305-227-3196; 2255 NW 87th Ave., Doral, 305-471-5554 and 5989 S. University Drive, Davie, 954-680-9900. Original owner Shorty Allen opened the first shrine to pork in 1951 on South Dixie. A fire destroyed the building in the early '70s, but an almost identical barnlike restaurant was rebuilt. New owners have since opened on Bird Road and in Davie, but the specialties remain: ribs, chicken barbecue beans, Brunswick stew. Pies rule at dessert time, with stellar Key lime and banana cream. Lunch, dinner.

Smokey Bones BBQ -- 809 S. University Drive, Plantation, 954-474-3833; 21733 State Road 7, Boca Raton, 561-852-7870; and 10260 Forest Hill Blvd., Wellington, 561-383-8240. Think of Smokey Bones as part barbecue restaurant and part sports bar. There are good ribs and other barbecue favorites as well as salads and sandwiches. Plenty of good draft beer on tap. Lunch, dinner.

Stevie B's Rib Cafe -- 288 Indian Trace Road, Weston, 954-349-6636; 2116 N. Flamingo Road, Pembroke Pines, 954-432-3322; and 8177 Glades Road, Boca Raton, 561-470-7427. This transplant from the Windy City features what they call Chicago-style barbecue, described on the menu as first baked in a barbecue sauce and then popped onto the grill for the finishing touches. There are baby back ribs, chicken and ribs. Lunch, dinner.

Tony Roma's -- 6601 S. Dixie Highway, South Miami, 305-667-4806; 18050 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach, 305-932-7907; 6728 Main St., Miami Lakes, 305-558-7427; 9525 N. Kendall Drive, Miami, 305-595-7427; 18851 S. Dixie Highway, Cutler Ridge, 305-255-4475; 3300 NW 87th Ave., Miami, 305-994-7511; 606 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Hallandale, 954-454-7427; 7920 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, 954-962-7427; 2445 University Drive, Coral Springs, 954-340-8665; and 365 N. Congress, Boynton Beach, 561-736-6263. It's hard to believe that the now-worldwide chain got its start in North Miami back in 1972. In many ways, it originated the kind of casual barbecue restaurant we're seeing more of. The baby back ribs are the drawing card, but there's lot of other good stuff on the menu. Lunch, dinner.

Please phone in advance to confirm information on hours, prices, menu items and facilities. John Tanasychuk can be reached at jtanasychuk@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4632.

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