Barbecue and Pit
When you spot the pink pig on the roof looming over busy York Road, you know you're only moments away from the best barbecue the Baltimore area has to offer: succulent Memphis-style pulled pork and ribs; three varieties of beef, including regional pit style; even smoked turkey and chicken. Ample portions and worthy traditional sides are likely to take care of any spare room under your belt, but the house-made desserts aren't an afterthought.
Baltimore is always in need of barbecue options, and since opening on Harford Road, Big Bad Wolf's has steadily amassed a following and improved the consistency of its offerings. An array of carefully conceived, well-balanced sauces greatly enhance the meat, which is light on rub and perhaps not as smoky as some barbecue devotees might expect. Texture and moistness are generally good, though the beef (both brisket and short ribs) can be hit or miss, while the undercover star is the truly outstanding grilled chicken sandwich.
Probably the largest and most restaurant-like pit beef operation in town, Chaps achieves impressive tenderness in the bottom round, smokily perfuming a rather ribald stretch of Pulaski Highway in the process. The beef is unseasoned, however, and the crappy barbecue sauce doesn't help (available hot sauce and fresh horseradish do). Chaps does, however, excel at sandwich construction, covering nearly every possible permutation of pit-style beef, bird, and pork. The Bulldog, grilled sausage topped with pit beef and cheese, kicks ass. Skip the subpar ribs and fries.
Regarded by many pit-beef freaks to be the current best of the best, Pioneer distinguishes itself by delivering a product that consistently incorporates all of the factors one desires in pit beef: a well-charred and seasoned crust and thin, against-the-grain slices cooked to proper temperature over charcoal. It may sound simple, but such pit beef is, in fact, quite rare. The usual accoutrements are present, including an above-average barbecue sauce, and receiving samples while in line is standard practice. You can even buy lump hardwood charcoal here if you care to dabble in DIY pit beef.
Most of the smoked meat in Baltimore is done in the regional pit-beef style, and the vast majority of the places that do offer more exotic barbecue stick to the smoky/sweet Memphis approach, all of which makes Rub a serious minority. Its Texas `cue relies less on heavy smoke and sauce and more on dry spice rubs (hence the name) and low, slow heat for a less showy flavor. The vibe is about as roadhouse-y as you can make a rowhouse, and the rich go-withs compete favorably with the main courses. In fact, though the beef brisket is supposed to be the big deal here, try the Brownsville hot wings.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201