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New England/Upstate NY BBQ Reviews

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OK, so I know that New England and barbecue don't necessarily go together. But my fiancé, A., and I have this dream of serving delicious smoked barbecue at our wedding next summer, so we've been combining our wedding venue search through NY's Hudson Valley and New England with a bbq-joint scouting trip. We're not experts by any means, but we tried to be serious in our evaluations of each meal, so I thought I'd share our "tasting notes" from the four places we hit this past weekend.

(BTW, we had originally talked to Dinosaur BBQ—our favorite place in NYC—about sending out their rig from Syracuse, but now it looks like we're probably going to hold the wedding in VT or NH, which is too far for them to travel, sadly.)

1) Hickory BBQ in Kingston, NY - Probably the worst bbq we've ever tasted. A.'s brisket was bland; my spareribs were pretty much inedible. I thought they were tough, fatty, and flavorless; A. said they tasted like formaldehyde. They were also the most expensive of any place we went this weekend. As for sides, the baked beans, mash, and collards were mediocre; the only thing in the whole meal that I thought was decent was the mac and cheese, which wasn't too gloopy and had a nice crust from having been run under the broiler. We got cornbread and biscuits at the beginning of the meal; both were cold and dry. I gave them a 2 out of 10, mostly on the strength of the mac and cheese; A. gave them a 1.5.

2) Top of the Hill Grill in Brattleboro, VT – The day after the Hickory fiasco, we were so thrilled to get some food that was actually edible that we wolfed our entire combo plate down happily, even though none of it was stellar. The ribs, brisket, and chicken had nice tenderness, just not much flavor. They came presauced. The baked beans tasted canned, the cole slaw was OK. We took a peek in the kitchen and they did have several industrial-sized smokers. It was nice to sit out in the sun at their outdoorsy location; they certainly seemed popular, and half the inns in the area recommended their catering when we asked for bbq suggestions, but overall we thought they weren't anything to write home about. I gave them a 5 and A. gave them a 4.5.

3) KC's Rib Shack in Manchester, NH - By far the best of the bunch. All of the meat was moist and tender and had flavor. The spareribs had a nice pink smoke ring, good bark, and didn't need any sauce, though their four sauces were also the best of all the places we tried. The pulled pork was tasty; the chicken was really the standout, incredibly moist all the way through. The baked beans (strong maple flavor) and cornbread (cakey) were just OK, though the "grubby rice" was very good. We cleaned our combo plate. They don't do brisket, unfortunately. A. gave them a 6 out of 10 and I gave them a 7. I also just reread pigtrip.net's review (http://www.pigtrip.net/review-KCRS.htm) and I think it is dead on, right down the slightly odd "apple slatha" sauce, which A. liked more than I did.

4) Goody Cole's in Brentwood, NH - Given their good reviews on pigtrip.net and on chowhound, we were pretty disappointed here. Overall, the meat was dry. The brisket had a flavorful crust, but the inside meat was dry and tasteless. Same for the chicken. The ribs, which we think were baby backs (they were small), weren't awful, but we thought that whatever seasoning they're using in their dry rub must be a little strange because we kept saying how "different" these ribs tasted, and not in a great way. They also weren't as tender as the ribs at KC's or Top of the Hill. The collards were disgusting, tasted like they'd been boiled in brine; the baked beans and cornbread were decent. I think I gave them a 4.5 and A. a 4, and we sadly agreed that we'd probably rather eat at Top of the Hill Grill than there.

We've also recently tried Big W's in Wingdale, NY—best chicken we've ever had, decent ribs and sides, great prices, though I'm not sure he does catering or how far he would travel. We're also talking to some places in Boston (Redbones, Blue Ribbon) about catering, and I'm intrigued by the local/organic spin of Holy Smokes catering in West Hatfield, MA, which I'd like to try. We've heard mixed-to-bad about Curtis BBQ in Vermont, so we didn't try them on this trip.

If anyone has opinions on these options or any other suggestions for great bbq in New England, I'd love to hear it.

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  1. big w's does cater, according to their website (bigwsbbq.com). i like big w's as well.

    also, perhaps, all smoked up which sets up a roadside stand on route 55 in beekman a few days a week. their website is allsmokedup.com .

    i can NOT speak to how the ribs are, but i've had some of their other food (mac / cheese, steak, chicken wings, turkey wings) and like them all.

    1. I know Central Texas Q, at least. Uncle Willie's BBQ,1101 Huntingdon Ave., Waterbury, CT (just off State Highway 8) is supposed to be very good. I've eaten at the sister place in New Haven and it was pretty good.
      The best I can remember was here, in New Milford: http://www.thecookhouse.com/. 7/202 is a beautiful, scenic drive, too.
      Little Mark's Big Barbeque is supposed to be pretty good, "Southern-style" Q, but I can't vouch for it. It's on my must try list! Easy-off and on from I-84: 226 Talcottville Rd., Vernon Rockville, CT.06066, (860) 872-1410
      Best of luck! Please tell us how it went!!

      1. What part of Vermont are you considering ? If it is near Burlington, I can give you a couple options. I agree that Dinosaur is a great place.

        3 Replies
        1. re: TonyO

          TonyO,

          The two main venues we're considering are in Chester, VT, and Walpole, NH...so, pretty much opposite end of the state from Burlington, but if your places might travel to cater, I'm all ears!

          Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions so far.

          1. re: weetara

            Sorry. I guess I didn't understand your post. You are only looking for a BBQ place to cater your wedding, near those two places in VT or NH? I thought you were taking a trip and wanting to sample places along the way, anywhere in NE.
            Perhaps someone does BBQ bear or deer up there.

            1. re: Scargod

              Ah, I see how that could be a little murky. Well, we're happy to hear about tasty 'cue anywhere, but yes, we are seeking a wedding caterer. So if anyone has a suggestion that's within a couple of hours of the Bellows Falls, VT area and they cater, even better.

        2. I find many of the popular rib and bbq places in the north, serve precooked (read steamed or braise/boiled) ribs, that get a heavy saucing, then grilled for a few minutes before serving. To me, bbq is about slow smoked meat, without the need for sauce.

          Cook House in East Hartford, CT...I believe they have other locations in CT, but I've only been to EH. Real bbq, real smoked meats, served dry or wet, sauces of increasing heat. Sides are above average, my favorite being a spicy rice they call Hoppin John. I've had ribs, shoulder, and sausages here, all excellent. Try the corn pops too! http://www.thecookhouse.com/menu.htm

          Also a favorite is Memphis Road House in S. Attleboro MA, about 15 minutes outside of Providence. Same as Cook House, real smoked meats, no saucey messy cover ups
          http://memphisroadhouse.com/

          7 Replies
          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            I was scrounging for reviews on Memphis Roadhouse and it didn't look all that good. Very mixed, with quite a few poor reviews. "Pig Trip" gave it a good review, but that was two years ago.
            When was the last time you were there?

            1. re: Scargod

              I was last at Memphis Roadhouse about a year ago, for lunch on a weekday...You've got me curious now why the mixed reviews. Food related? Service? I'm gonna go check

              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                As I recall, mostly food related issues. However, any place can have a bad day, which usually means their Q is too dry. Also, Q is so subjective. I think one or two (really) just didn't like the style.
                I'm in the camp that real Q does not fall off the bone. If ribs, you can easily tear them apart, but you should have to use your teeth to pull the meat off. Otherwise, they may go to the other extreme of being a mushy pile, only fit for a taco. You shouldn't eat ribs with a fork.

              2. re: Scargod

                I ate there last night...based on the board mention as we were in the area...absolutely terrible. Had pulled pork and brisket platter. The meat was mush. Terrible, salty oily aftertaste. The mac & cheese side was dry. The coleslaw was okay. I would not recommend this to ANY 'hounds and it confirmed my suspicions (already discussed elsewhere on this board) re the utter uselessness of Phantom Gourmet "ratings."

                I know what great, good, or even passable barbecue should taste like...this isn't it. Avoid.

                1. re: Scargod

                  I'm the author of the www.pigtrip.net site and I've noticed a gradual downhill slide at Memphis Roadhouse over the last two years. My visits since the review were disappointing. I'll update the review after my next visit.

                  A general comment: BBQ is the most fickle of foods, since the pitmasters prepare it hours and sometimes days ahead in anticipation of future business. How good the barbecue is depends not just on how well they cooked it, but how close they guessed the actual business volume, how well they hold it and sometimes how well they reheat it. That's why you'll see wide variations in quality at the same place even during the same week. This isn't an excuse, just the sad reality. If two people disagree on a BBQ joint, they can both be right if they went on different days.

                  A perfect example is Goody Cole's, which I like a lot but the original poster found disappointing. Check the photos at http://www.pigtrip.net/review-GCSH.htm and you'll see very different looking ribs from different visits. I'm hoping my next batch of ribs there looks like the ones from visit #2.

                  1. re: GaryLovesFood

                    Right, but since we ordered a variety of different meats, shouldn't something have been at least passable?

                    Unfortunately, what we experienced seemed indicative of a much more serious issue than a bad day or two at the pit. (And, less relevant to CH, but the restaurant environment/employees themselves seemed in disarray.) I have a good deal of respect for what it takes to run a restaurant -- I really don't enjoy trashing a place, and always try to find something positive (hence the coleslaw), but our meal was spectacularly bad, no way around it.

                2. re: BiscuitBoy

                  "To me, bbq is about slow smoked meat, without the need for sauce."

                  We agree, BiscuitBoy. =)

                  Two raves here for The Cookhouse--great, we will check them out.

                3. You might want to check on the results from local and state BBQ contests. Personally, I haven't been able to find any good q outside of KC. The idea of finding someone who does a circuit and has a portable pitt isn't outside the realm of reality.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: CindysFarmStand

                    CFS (not Chicken Fried Steak): I am surprised you are so hard to please. Honestly, I do not know KC Q. Gotta love them acronyms! All I surmise is that the sauce is sweet (like that good stuff in the store). I have found passable Q at the Cookhouse, as I mentioned. I can't really remember the sauce. I AM going to come visit for some aged beef...
                    OP: I like CFS's suggestion that you can find someone with a portable rig. May depend on your budget. I know some people in Texas......
                    Seriously, the contestants of Q contests may be right under our noses who would do catering or know someone that does. Mine must be stopped up; usually I can smell the wood and meat smoke from miles away.. Let the Googling begin!

                    1. re: Scargod

                      Scar, look forward to seeing you!
                      KC (in this regard) stands for Kansas City, home of the finest BBQ (imo) around. I haven't found anything remotely close to the BBQ out there around these parts (except in my own backyard!).
                      One of my favorite places in the city area is LC's BBQ.
                      http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Overv...

                  2. Texas Barbeque Company of Richmond, Maine specifically offers catering (no restaurant). I am not sure how far they will travel but might be worth checking.

                    Mark Bell is formerly from El Paso, TX and recreates the "real thing".

                    www.texasbarbequeco.com

                    1. If it's not too far, go for Blue Ribbon BBQ http://www.blueribbonbbq.com/ in West Newton or Arlington, MA. I've been to all the places you mentioned, most of the places mentioned in the thread so far, and nearly anywhere claiming to have authentic barbecue in CT, MA, NH, VT, western NY, and southern Maine, and nowhere else I've been in the northeast comes close to Blue Ribbon. I've yet to go to Texas, but am very familiar with Memphis, Carolina, and Kansas City. Most places in New England seem to get Memphis and Carolina completely wrong, but Blue Ribbon has that authentic taste. More importantly, it's delicious. As a bonus, they have very good, if not especially authentic, jerk chicken, and most of the sides are great (the mashed potatoes, beans, cole slaw, black eyed corn, cheese grits, and, of course, corn bread are my favorites).

                      1. CFS and Scargod: Good call on the competition team thing, we were planning to look into that but haven't made any overtures yet. One place we found online is http://www.wmhogheavenbbq.com

                        DJD: Thanks for sharing what sounds like very wide-ranging experience with New England bbq! I left a message with Blue Ribbon catering earlier today, and I'm looking forward to finding out if they'd be a possibility. (It seems that Redbones will come up from Boston with their rig, but I'm waiting to get the details about how much the extra travel would cost.)

                        1. for suggestions, check www.pigtrip.net. guy goes all around the northeast US reviewing Q places... and his reviews are pretty straight-forward and speak to my inner appetite monster :-)

                          1. I agree that the Cookhouse in East Hartford is good. For catering, you might consider Danny's Little Taste of Texas in South Windsor, CT. Their food is good, and they have a catering menu that offers everything from burgers and dogs (for those who don't appreciate real smoked stuff) to a whole pig roast. Depending on your needs, they'll even bring their chuck wagon to your event. Check them out here: http://www.dannyslittletasteoftexas.com/

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: moskey

                              Holy Smokes (former Hatfield MA restaurant that sadly burned down) does catering, now, too. I don't know anyone who has used them, but I saw their shiny new rig on the road a few days ago -- pretty sweet. We miss their restaurant -- hope the new gig works out for them.

                            2. Check out Southernque in Meriden CT - get off at the East Main exit, take a right onto Pomeroy. The address is 70 Pomeroy Avenue, Meriden, CT. It comes up on your left. They do catering and are quite affable. Its open Thurs - Sat typically

                              1. I believe you should add "The Back Behind" restaurant in Killington, VT to your list. We had the best pulled pork sandwich of our lives there last week-end!
                                Also, have you heard about the BBQ competition in Windsor on July 26th? 40 teams... should be fun... something to talk about in my blog for sure!
                                Christine

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Vermont gourmet

                                  I realize this is an old thread, but just in case someone does a search:

                                  The Back Behind is now awful. It used to be an OK place, away from the hustle and bustle of Killington Road. Now, to call it a shadow of its former self would be a compliment. It is just plain bad now. Very sad.

                                2. As a Texas girl living in Connecticut who very much misses good brisket, I totally appreciate your search for good BBQ in New England. I've found The Cookhouse (we go to one in East Hartford) to be good (not great), but inconsistent. It really has been hit or miss.

                                  I'm not sure if they'll have local restaurants or just traveling teams, but you may want to check out Harpoon Brewery's BBQ competition in July (http://www.harpoonbrewery.com/index.c...) in Windsor, VT. Maybe there will be a caterer there or someone will have a lead for you. If nothing else, perhaps you can get some great BBQ. I haven't been before, but we're hoping to get there next month.

                                  Best wishes on your upcoming marriage!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: dmctexas

                                    try Uncle Willie's, I think they are better than the cookhouse.
                                    http://unclewilliesbbq.net/

                                    1. re: dmctexas

                                      Yes, I was just going to recommend the Harpoon BBQ event as well. We went last year and it was SO good.

                                    2. Just an update--we are going to the Harpoon bbq competition in Windsor that a few people have mentioned this July. Will report!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: weetara

                                        While you're there you really should check out Curtis BBQ in Chester - it's not far from Windsor. Very moist meat and excellent flavor.

                                      2. Update: We went to The Harpoon Championship of New England Barbecue this past weekend, and I'm so glad we did, because in addition to having a lot of fun in general, I think we've found the right man to cater our wedding! Or perhaps I should say Mann--Ward Mann. (http://www.wmhogheavenbbq.com

                                        )

                                        His Vermont-based team, Hog Heaven, wasn't selling food, but we'd talked to him beforehand and he kindly saved us some of his competition food. All four meats we tried--baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and chicken--were excellent, by far the best we've had so far in our quest for great New England 'cue. We went around and sampled about six other places, but didn't find anyone else who compared. We weren't surprised at all when Hog Heaven placed high in the competition (second in brisket and third in ribs, I think).

                                        So we need to work out the details, but with a little luck he'll be smokin' some meat for our wedding in New Hampshire next June. Exciting! And thanks again to everyone who's offered tips on this thread--we hope to check out some more of these restaurants in the future.

                                        1. Just had barbeque from Uncle Willie's BBQ, 1302 Whalley Ave # 1,New Haven, CT 06515, (203) 389-2065.
                                          This is at least the third time I have had "Q" from this location. A friend picked up brisket, baby-back ribs and Saint Louis style ribs and brought them to the house for a feast.
                                          Uncle Willie's can do good Q. The brisket was moist and flavorful. The baby backs were tasty but the St. Lewis ribs were more flavorful. The sauce (that is coating the ribs while they cook), was a little burnt but it didn't warrant scraping it off. This style is a problem if you cook too hot and fast. The sauce coating, with sugar in it, burns easily. They were a little hot and fast with this batch.
                                          Uncle Willie's has a statement on their website: "More Meat That Falls Right Off the Bone."
                                          Don't misunderstand what I am about to say; meat should NOT fall off the bone and be mush! Meat on both ribs did not fall of the bone. Good so far... Yet, it was not quite cooked enough near the bone. It took a lot of gnawing to get the barely cooked pork off the bone. This means it was cooked too fast and too hot.
                                          Given this criticism, the brisket was very good, with a nice smoke ring and flavor. The ribs were better than most I have had in New England. I think the sides and their sauces are their weak spot. I tend to skip them. While the (hot), sauce has some heat, it is weak on flavor. Grab you some Stubb's on the way home...
                                          As a Texan, it is passable Q and I suggest you try it at one of their locations. I understand that the Waterbury location is superior.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Scargod

                                            I saw a sign in West Haven (across from American Steakhouse at exit 42) saying Uncle Willie's BBQ is coming soon.

                                          2. I figured that I should check back in and report that we're actually NOT going with Hog Heaven for our wedding after all. Their samples were great, but in the end we couldn't agree on a price and they were difficult to get ahold of by phone or e-mail.

                                            But I'm happy to report that another award-winning bbq team will be smokin' for us on our wedding day: I Smell Smoke!!! (http://www.ismellsmoke.com/) Turns out that they partner with a great not-for-profit catering school (http://www.1stcourse.org/) in Keene, NH, for catering gigs--they supply the meat, and First Course does the sides and service. We are really happy with the whole setup and can't wait for the wedding meal.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: weetara

                                              That is great . ISS is actually one of the top ranked BBQ teams in New England, winning the New England Championships a couple of times and placing well on the national circuit .

                                            2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Yankee Smokehouse in Ossipee, NH. We stop there every time when we drive from Brooklyn to the white mountains. It's basically a shack and not much to look at, but the ribs are delicious and succulent. Love it. Look forward to it every time...

                                              http://www.yankeesmokehouse.com/

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: malibu

                                                I am not sure if they cater....but it sounds like you have already picked out a caterer....Mainly Meats in Bar Harbor has some of the best Q I've tasted...ever.
                                                http://barharbor-mdi.blogspot.com/200...

                                              2. The best BBQ I have had in this part of the country is a place that just opened in Farmington CT called Flaggstead Smokehouse.
                                                I can finally rest in peace knowing that I can get good BBQ outside of Kansas City. Yes, it's that good.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: CindysFarmStand

                                                  I live in Farmington and concur. goooood stuff. The owner Rick Flagg is from Texas where he was in the restaurant biz with his father, and opened this place in CT after moving here.