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Where are the Region's Best BBQ Ribs?

  • d

What are the region’s best BBQ ribs? I want to know your opinion. Please take sides out of consideration. This is a search for pure, good ole fashioned smoked ribs.

FYI: In order go get a better feel for the flavor of the meet, in my judging, I have ordered the ribs with the sauce on the side.

On a scale from 1-10 (ten being best):

Andy Nelsons – 7 (Meat is tender, falls off the bone with ease. Get them dry, great rub);
Smokey Hollow – 6 (now closed);
Klobys BBQ – 6 (meat was very tender);
Johnny Boys Carryout - 6 (a little salty, but the sweet sauce was pretty good);
Rocklands – 5 (I had a bad cut);
Old Glory – 3 (this is being kind);
Johnny Mac Ribs - 3 (not smoked, to much fat, no taste);
Randy’s Ribs – 2 (inedible).

Still on my list to try: Dixiebones; Big Bad Wolfe BBQ; and Willard's Real Pit BBQ.

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  1. Are you ordering the same type of ribs at each place, or are you mixing baby backs, St. Louis, or other according to the stated "specialty of the house"?

    I'd also add to your list Dale's Smokehouse in Indian Head, MD, Sonny's on route 236, just a blcok or so south of where 236 splits off SW from Route 5 in Mechanicsville(?), or Bear Creek, way down Route 5 between Leonardtown and St. Mary's City. Lefty's in Waldorf might also be worth a try, though it's not among my faves. In the Baltimore area, Mr. Chelsea's on Reisterstown Road might be worth checking out. There's also Pig Picker's which share a space with Sea King Seafood, just off of Route 40, across the street from the Crab Shanty in Ellicott City(?)

    Of the ones I'm familiar with from your list, the only surprise is Randy's. Is this the Randy's in Hughesville? If so, I'm puzzled. I'm not saying they are outstanding, but in my experience, they've always been at least in the "good" range - never in the "inedible" realm. Maybe you hit them on a really bad day?

    9 Replies
    1. re: Warthog

      Before I go to each place - myself and my BBQ excursion partner do our best to research and find out their specialty, aka baby back, St. Louis, etc. Yes it was the Randy's in Hughsville. Normally, when it comes to BBQ I will clean my plate regardless of its taste. At Randy's neither one of us could finish and we each had over a half of a slab left when it was all said and done.

      1. re: dorf

        Just curious, what was the specific problem? Poor quality meat? Over or under cooked? Abysmal sauce? Cold? Partially hot and partially chilly - the infamous tell-tale of precooking and subsequent inadequate microwave skills?

        As a side note, the latter is a problem that eventually happened once too often, and stopped me going to Bare Bones in Ellicott City.

        I only ask because In all the time I've been doing similar explorations, I've only failed to finish ribs once, and as I've said, I've found Randy's to be at least "acceptable" or "worth coming back" every time I've tried them, and sometimes up to "really good".

        1. re: Warthog

          Unfortunately with Randys, the entire experience was abysmal. The meat was extremely tough and very hard to chew. It had little to no taste. Also, during this trip, we got one slab dry and the other with sauce and the one with sauce was drowned in the sauce, which overpowered the taste (what litte there was) of the ribs themselves. Lesson learned, since then we have always asked for the sauce on the side. I hope it was just an off day for them and this is not the quality of product they put out regularly, but we did not feel like it was worth the drive to give them a second chance.

      2. re: Warthog

        Sonny's is my current spot of choice. Yes, that is Mechanicsville. It's replaced Flavors of the South in Huntington (I believe), which is just off 2-4. But dorf, you might like Flavors of the South, its good I just prefer Sonny's nowadays.

        Warthog, how does Dale's compare to Sonny's? I haven't yet stopped in.

        1. re: Bonz

          Is this the "Sonny's" chain from the south?

          1. re: alkapal

            No. This Sonny's is a tumble down shack with a stack of wood in the front and a nice old feller (named "Sonny") siting inside in his white undershirt.

            1. re: Bonz

              Bonz and Warthog, this sounds like the type of BBQ place that I grew up with. (Archibalds BBQ and Dreamland BBQ in Alabama if anyone is familiar). A place where the the emphasis is on the BBQ and each rib is prepared with "love and smoke."

              1. re: dorf

                Yeah man! That's EXACTLY why Sonny's is my current #1.

        2. re: Warthog

          Gotta agree with Dale's Smokehouse down Rt. 210 in Indian Head. I was there last Sunday at around noon and the ribs were excellent. Nice dry rub crust, good smoke ring, excellent smokey flavor, and a very moist. The place was buzzing with folks eating in and carrying out.

          On a sad note though, T&J's Ribs, another local joint and strong contender, seems to have been reduced to a pile of ash some time this past summer. I hope they rebuild the cinderblock shack and start smoking again. Their smoked chicken was something to behold.

        3. you should also try the Mighty Midget in Leesburg. Ribs available only on Fri-Sat until they run out. You can call ahead to reserve a rack.

          1. Not a bad list, although I've only tried the first three. I'd put Smoke in Federal Hill on there too at a 5 or 6 -- the meat I had was a bit fatty, but the flavor was good.

            1. Adam's Ribs--Annapolis, Edgwater, Prince Frederick, Severna Park. The Edgwater location (never been to Severna Park) has the best of any of the locations, but they are all equally very good.


              4 Replies
              1. re: naptownlady

                Adams (at least the times I've tried them) does baby backs with a very heavy sweet sauce, and I'm guessing they're parboiled and grilled, not smoked. On the Chicago board, they have a derogatory shorthand term for this style of ribs - "Meat Jello".

                As with pizza, ribs are a matter of personal taste, and I'm fully OK with it if this is the style somebody is looking for. Not my preference, though.

                1. re: Warthog

                  I don't care what the people in Chicago call them, the baby back ribs at Adams Ribs are consistently wonderful.

                  1. re: Denise

                    Just to clarify a bit, the style of ribs that Adam's Ribs does - sweet sauce, fairly heavily applied, baby backs, probably par-boiled and grilled, rather than smoked - is the popular norm in most of the Chicago area, other than in some areas populated by the mid-1900s migration of rural southern blacks to the industrial cities of the Midwest. In those "Northern Migration" neighborhoods, one sometimes finds the more southern style of ribs.

                    The "Meat Jello" phrase was coined in exasperation by those on the Chicago board who were not from the area, and were looking for the style of ribs where they are St. Loius cut and smoked "low and slow" over a wood fire, with only a light swabbing of sauce.

                    In the end, it's just different styles, and which kind one likes is personal preference. I only mentioned the distinction in regards to Adam's Ribs because the O.P.'s rankings led me to believe that their preference may lean more toward the "smoked, St. Louis cut, easy on the sauce" style, and I felt they should know going in that they will not find that style at Adam's Ribs. That said, if they also like the other style, Adam's does do their chosen style fairly well.

                  2. re: Warthog

                    Adams does not par-boil their ribs - they're baked and then finished on the grill.

                2. The Kennedyville Inn outside of Chestertown, MD had the greatest ribs. Chef/Owners have left, although I hear they're opening up another restaurant in a converted mill in Chestertown. Can't wait. Hope they still keep those ribs!

                  1 Reply
                  1. There have been a lot of good suggestions. I found this link from the Washington Post on BBQ in Virginia. Do you agree with what it has to say on the spots you have tried?


                    Does anyone know of a similiar link for Virginia?

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: dorf

                        Myt first advice is *call first*. In a quick glance through that list, at least one place, Uncle Nicky's in the Crofton area, has been out of business for quite a while.

                      2. I know they are not everyone's favorites, but I grew up loving the Corner Stable's ribs in Timonium. And their fries kick ass.

                        I like A. Nelson's too, but comparing them to Corner Stable's is like apples and oranges. Ribs from two different planets.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: debit

                          i second corner stable. I prefer a pulled pork sandwich at andy nelson's, and ribs at corner stable. yum!

                        2. at dixiebones, they have Sunday buffet. also try their potato salad -- THE BEST EVER.
                          while there, try that white bbq sauce (they say for the chicken, but i used on the chopped pork). you will be surprised -- and in a real good wayI

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: alkapal

                            i am no expert, but i think the corner stable is the best around!

                            1. re: alkapal

                              At the dixie bones do they have ribs on the buffet?

                              1. re: Soup

                                Soup, i don't know. have not been able to make the buffet since we discovered the place in august. the ribs on buffet would make for an expensive offering i think. the price of 12.95 doesn't seen like it would allow for ribs. maybe i was wrong to post about the buffet without having been to the buffet, but having eaten at the resto and loved it (and saw some good looking ribs at other tables). i need to INVESTIGATE! yum!

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  I love their baked potatoes w/ BBQ on them. I now go exclusively for those when I go for lunch.

                              2. re: alkapal

                                alkapal, can you go into more detail on the potato salad? Is it sweet? Do they use pickle juice (which I love in potato salad)? I'm in that area frequently to visit my parents.

                                1. re: diablo

                                  diablo, it is a creamy yellow mayo/mustard/egg potato salad (i'm guessing egg, though not chopped egg, or any visible boiled egg). maybe they used pickle juice, but the salad was neither sweet nor vinegary. no pickles, as i recall. potatoes were perfect consistency -- not mushy soft, not too firm (underdone). like goldilocks, "just right." honestly, i have eaten LOTS of potato salad from LOTS of good down home cooks. this is the very very top.

                                  i've got to get back for further analysis. Do go in. as i mentioned elsewhere, ALL their sides were freshly made and tasty (though the collards were cut a bit too large, imo). also, you must try that white bbq sauce! tell me its secret ingredient, if you can. my husband says dill (!) but i cannot tell. magical, though.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Thanks alkapal. I will definitely give them a try when I'm in the area next week!

                                    1. re: diablo

                                      alright!!! before you go, save up room in your tummy!

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        diablo, did you go?

                                        what do you think of allman's in fredericksburg?

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Allamn's doesn't have ribs. Excellent sliced pork q with really good cole slaw and REAL milk shakes made in metal canisters.

                                          1. re: Joe H

                                            yes they do --smithfield baby backs -- the hugest rack of baby backs i have ever seen.

                                            they were new -- only a couple weeks on the menu (right after christmas) and the dry rub needed tweaking (imo, way too much salt).

                                            $19.95. sides are no big deal. ribs showed promise. good flavor and texture, but need rub changes.

                                            need to say, the ribs are only dinner menu (door sign said after 4 pm, but we got some at 2 pm)(maybe that will change).

                              3. May be dating myself a little here but whatever happened to Dotsun's
                                that was Furnace Branch Road...once upon a time they had dynamite ribs

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Hue

                                  They are still there, in the same location - storefront on one side of the road, with the pit across the street. It's about as "frill free" as possible, but they are still decent ribs, based on my last visit. I, too, have wondered why they don't seem to get any mention. But then, I live fairly close by, and even I forget they are there!

                                2. I can't imagine better ribs than Houston's ribs.

                                  1. dorf,

                                    You need to check out Urban BBQ in rockville. They are the best around (Wash. Post 2 Stars!) They do the wet style, but will give them to ya dry if you really want. My wife likes them dry and they were great she said. They also have great pork and brisket.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: DC TOOL

                                      Agree--love Urban's ribs. The sauces could use some work, though.

                                    2. Corner Stable: The ribs are one of the best I have ever had. The meat fell right off the bone as I tried to pick them up to eat. The sauce was sweet with a bit of tang.

                                      1. The best I have had so far are at Buzz and Ned's in Richmond virginia.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: MetroHound

                                          Genuinely interesting thread. Warthog and Bonz your posts are the most interesting. I'm credited in Roadfood with introducing Jane and Michael to both Dreamland and Archibald's. Unfortunately in the ten + years since this appeared Dreamland went regional and the various outposts have nothing in common with the Tuscaloosa low slung bunker original. The posts on the various Charles county rib places are really interesting since several friends of mine and I a few years back tried to tour all of them in one day. We finished the day convinced that at least two if not more of them were better than anything in the D. C. area. Fifteen years ago Penny's in Waldorf was the best but this closed soon after we visited. Then, it was La Plata and Johnny Boy's (the orignal was on Southern Avenue on the D. C. line but nobody talks about that) which you could smell two hundred yards away. I've been to the Corner Stable and, well, it's ok. Somehow for me baby back ribs aren't real bbq. There used to be a ramshackle bunker of a place near BWI twenty years ago that was incredible. At some point it moved to Ft. Meade and Baltimore magazine (and myself) never raved about it again. That was when The Corner Stable was elevated to exalted status. About the same time (early to mid '80's) O'Brien's on Gude Drive in Rockville ruled D. C. with Sonny Bryan's ribs from Dallas. Then there was a shooting and it was, well, never more. There was a great place near 16th and Irving a block west that didn't last. But overall nothing approached Dreamland or even Hot Spring's McClard's or Chicago's Lem's. Still, it sounds like someone needs to organized a trip and explore all of them again...simlar to the kind of excursion that several on the Chicago board are now famous for.

                                          1. re: Joe H

                                            All I can say, Joe, is let's go! November's cool weather makes it a great time to chow down at some rib shacks. . . .

                                            1. re: Bonz

                                              Bonz, your past recommendations for Maryland seafood restaurants have been outstanding! I know that you know Solomons particularly well-have you been to the Dry Dock? Carol and I went there in late August, sat outside at sunset, and fell in love with the place. Particularly loved a shrimp appetizer made with butter, amarone and heavy cream that was more than worth the cholesterol!

                                              1. re: Joe H

                                                Yes, the Dry Dock has that special atmosphere. The food can be quite good. On the opposit4e end of the atmosphere scale is Courtney's in St. Mary's county. All the atmosphere of a trailer park -- in which it seems to be located -- but the husband catches the fish in the morning and the wife cooks it up that night. Stunningly fresh. Same with the oysters, which come from his dock out back.

                                                1. re: Bonz

                                                  Courtney's!!! Bonz, it might be a month or even, two, but we will go. Thanks for the trusted recommendation. Much appreciated.

                                            2. re: Joe H

                                              Hey Joe, thanks for replying. Your abosultely right, the regional dreamlands are not the same. There is only one Dreamland and it is in Tuscaloosa. Archibalds is definitely my favorite and still the first place I stop everytime I go home.

                                              Johnny Boy's on Southern Avenue is still open. I've been there a few times and enjoy it. Recently I tried Dixiebones and was very disapointed. I actually retired the pork ribs at Rocklands (much better than their Baby Back) and think these are you best options in the D.C. area. Andy Gibsons in Baltimore still rules supreme in the region. I'm going to try Urband BBQ and Willards next.

                                              1. re: dorf

                                                I haven't been to Andy Gibson's (Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, though!) but it's just a matter of time. Thanks, much appreciate the tip.

                                          2. I am curious if anyone has tried "The Charred Rib" in Lutherville/Timonium.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: smt

                                              When my ex lived in Lutherville, she and I tried a bunch of places looking for overlooked gems. This was one of them.

                                              Sadly, it was pretty bad. I can't remember a whole lot about it -- it wasn't joke-about-it-for-years bad (like Michael's), just not worth the trouble.

                                            2. Do I understand you correctly that Smokey Hollow has closed? If true, it's a sad day for BBQ in Maryland. Say it ain't so.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Lettuce Eat

                                                It is so. I had hoped to make it back for one last meal, but no such luck.

                                              2. I recently had outstanding ribs at Artie's in Fairfax. Part of the GAR chain I know, but I was impressed. Perfectly cooked and not to saucy, yet not dry rub. It was a great happy medium. The sauce had a bit of tang and not too much sweet.

                                                1. I tried Andy Nelsons recently & I don't get it. The dry rub ribs were so tough & didn't come anywhere near close to falling off a bone, we had to pull it off so tough. Tender is the farthest description from what we had. Anyone been lately?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: pamd

                                                    Must have had a rare, but bad cut there. Been there a couple times the past month or so and both the ribs and pulled port where still the best i've had in the region here.

                                                  2. I live in woodbridge and I go to Dixie Bones a lot. Pork ribs are great. Beef ribs are good here, but I am not a good judge because I just don't like beef ribs. They have three sauce dispensers on the table with a card describing each -- red top, yellow top, and black top. So you do not have to ask for sauce on the side; just ask them to not put sauce on in the kitchen.

                                                    If you walk around to the right outside of the restaraunt you will see the smokers and the supply of Hickory logs. You'll smell them from anywhere. This is the real stuff.

                                                    update: I just read through the rest of this thread. I went to the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa back when it was the only Dreamland. Dixie Bones compares favorably. the only thing they don't have is the large stack of whitebread and the wax paper-covered paper plates. They also do not have an armed officer on a stool at the door!

                                                    They do not have ribs on the Sunday Buffet but the regular menu is available even during the buffet if you want. I know you said you are not that interested in the sides, but I suggest you order the "Muddy Spuds" available on the menu and the buffet.

                                                    1. urban bbq rockville
                                                      corner stable york road in timmonium

                                                      1. Hello all,

                                                        This is my first post :)

                                                        I happen to try http://www.kbqrealbarbecue.com/ this past weekend and I must say that I was impressed with the quality of the food they served. Staff was very friendly and when I told them I was a first time customer and ask for a discount, they gave me $1.00 off my meal. I briefly talked with the owner afterwards who was very nice welcoming. Overall I was very satisfied with the food and I recommend for you to try if your near the Bowie area.

                                                        1. I have also tried http://bigbadwolfbarbeque.com/apageth... with positive results also. Make sure you try their "bourbon cherry bbq sauce"

                                                          For a chain http://famousdaves.com/ is not to bad also

                                                          Don't waist your time with Dotsons in Glen Burnie. Very poor quality, not consistent. They cant even compete with the others.

                                                          Andy Nelsons http://www.andynelsonsbbq.com/ in my opinion is excellent also.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: stangman327

                                                            I'm glad you mentioned Famous Daves, I like their ribs, the one in Columbia not Laurel. I tried Johnny Boy's in La Plata this summer...didn't like the sauce and they were salty...all hype, but the stand looks nice.

                                                            1. re: stangman327

                                                              Yup. I just moved from Lauraville where I was in walking distance of their carry-out. They do kansas City style BBQ. Over the last year, I've sampled most of what they have to offer....It was tasty...but larger portion for the price I paid would have been appreciated. The place doesn't have a whole lot of character either (ie: Andy Nelsons).

                                                              For my money...in Baltimore, Rub (Federal Hill) has great Ribs and is a nice dining experience.

                                                            2. I had an opportunity to try "Rub" in Baltimore this week and I must be honest and say that I was not impressed at all. If you like traditional BBQ this is not the place for you. Don't get me wrong it's not bad but it's just not what I'm use too.

                                                              1. We like Ribster's in Annandale.

                                                                1. The Corner Stable in Cockeysville has great ribs. It used to be THEE place to go in Baltimore and there was always a line to get in. Now with all the competition, it's not as popular as it once was, but I recently went there, and it has been nicely renovated and the ribs were as good as they were 20 years ago.

                                                                  1. I live in Arlington, and I still make a pilgrimage to Johnny Boys every 5 or 6 months for a half slab. Just delicious, lightly crisp meat on the ribs with a tangy sweet sauce, plus the picnic tables are just right most days. I like it so much I took a photo, linked below, that gives a bit of a feel for the place. It is nice to see this link come up again! There are some serious BBQ lovers posting here!

                                                                    Side note, I have had very good ribs at Randy's, but not in the last 2 years. It used to be my favorite but the ribs have been way undercooked in late 2006 and the last time I went there, last spring, the sauce just wasn't doing anything for me and the ribs were merely ok. It might be better now, but I won't be going back until I hear that they are back on their game.

                                                                    1. Don't bother with the ribs at Willard's. Their pulled pork is very very good. Their side dishes are also very good, but the ribs have been dry and have a funny after taste for me. I have been to willard's dozens of times, and the company I work for would cater their food in 3-4 times a year. In every single case when I tried the ribs they were a total let down.

                                                                      Favorite Side Dishes: Dirty Rice, Spicy Green Beans, Mac and Cheese, Cole Slaw

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: woot4fun

                                                                        BBQ lovers, I hate to say I wouldn't take a long drive to get some great ribs, but if I wanted to stay close to home (DC), where is my best bet? Anything decent in town, or immediate burbs?

                                                                      2. I miss the Mountaindale Convenience Store. He had great bbq everything. Best in the area, by far, especially the brisket. Fantastic stuff. Anyone that was there knows. But he got tired of Maryland and moved back to Texas about a year ago. Now the place isn't the same. Just average. Try Blues BBQ though. Exceptional. He has a blue step van on Grove Rd. near 355. He's only really open for lunch though. The guy (Patrick) just openned a place in Roanoke too, but I can't admit to being there. Famous Daves? Average. Not that that is a terrible thing. But Chubby's in Emmitsburg is just as good or better, with better sides. There is another place in Frederick that just openned. It's called the Black Hog. I haven't been yet so I can't vouch for it personally, but it's getting good reviews from the locals. Run by a local doctor, Taurasso. Sounds like he's using an electric smoker though. You just can't control the temp as well that way. Best potatoes around? That's an easy one. Aka Frisco's "exploded potatoes." I've never had better potatoes. There are none. But how did that come up on a bbq post?