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5 Best Bets for BBQ Ribs

The barbecue landscape remains pretty dismal in NYC. Yes, there are more choices than there were a decade ago, but anyone who says that New Yorkers can be proud of the food being served by the current purveyors is sorely deluded.

Here are my top 5 choices from this sorry lot. The focus in this list is on how good the food tastes, plain and simple. Not on how conveniently located the restaurant is, or how attractive the waitstaff are, or the quality of the winelist or the sides, or how brief the wait to be seated (or for a delivery to arrive). Higher points given for stronger smoke flavor, more tender meat, better tasting seasonings and sauce. Points off for excessively-fatty cuts, burnt meat, or signs that the meat has been sitting around too long (eg, dried, congealed sauce).

And as the title of the post says, this rating is based solely on barbecued ribs (meaning traditional American-style BBQ ribs). Not brisket, pulled pork, chicken wings, or anything else. Just ribs.
By way of disclosure, my general preference is for smoky Kansas city-style ribs with a sweet, rather than sour/heavily-vinegared, sauce. The ribs served at Lem's in Chicago would be a point of reference, for example.

Best Bets for BBQ Ribs
1. Daisy May's (on one of their good days, as they can be quite inconsistent)
2. The Smoke Joint
3. Dinosaur
4. Smokin' Q
5. Virgil's*

This particular order is not absolute among the top 4, as I have had better ribs from Smokin' Q than Dinosaur, for instance, on occasion.
(*It offends my sensibilities to have to include Virgil's on this list, but that is how sad the current state of affairs remains. Note that I usually don't get ribs at Virgil's; I order their lamb instead. But Virgil's inclusion on the list is based on their ribs.)

BBQ Ribs Abominations
(starting from the worst)
1. Blue Smoke
2. Wildwood
3. RUB
4. Rack & Soul
5. Bone Lick Park
6. Hill Country (even allowing for the fact that they serve a different style of BBQ)
7. Acme Bar & Grill

The various Dallas BBQ chains around the city are fine if all you are looking for is a lot of food on a budget; steer clear if the actual taste of the BBQ is important to you.

The other chain, Brother Jimmy's, has much better ribs, but for a considerably higher price (I am most familiar with the branch on 92nd & 3rd); however, they're not good enough to make it into the top 5.

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  1. As much as I love Blue Smoke (I've probably eaten there a dozen times), I have to agree with you that their ribs are just no good. I never order them.

    My #1 for good ribs has always been Dinosaur.

    1. I had a mediocre, to be kind, food at Daisy May. It was amazingly commercial. Not sure they deserve another try. It would have to be 4x better to be worth it and , as you said, the bbq is not so great in this town.
      RUB was decent when it opened, it is amazing anyone eats there now but that can be said for most places.
      Just tried Dinosaur, very tasty, but like the vast majority of bbq I am served in this town, dry. I don't know how they seem to overcook everything. Slow and low, it ain't that hard.
      Well, don't care to get into the rest but good post.

      http://foodonlymatters.wordpress.com

      2 Replies
      1. re: foodonlygood

        I'm still a regular at RUB. I think their ribs are the best in town. Go figure.

        1. re: rootytootyfreshnfrooty

          RUB is all about one thing- the "Burnst Ends". If you are able to get there when they open for lunch, and get the Burnt Ends when they are nice and hot and fresh, you will NOT be disappointed.

          http://www.flickr.com/photos/fudee

      2. I had the ribs at RUB about two weeks ago and they were suprisingly better than I remembered. However, hands down the best ribs I've had in a while are from Mo Gridder in the Bronx.

        1. im partial to Dinosaur since its a Syracuse original...the one time I tried to go here though the wait was 3 hours. Ill wait until Im upstate again to go! Not sure if they take reservations... ?

          1 Reply
          1. re: lemonyc

            They take reservations. Check their site but I believe it just links to opentable.com to make them.
            3 hour wait? That is a beyond a joke. Is it even possible.
            It ain't that good. Just get it to go.

            http://foodonlymatters.wordpress.com/

          2. really great post, racer x. you covered all bases here and gave everyone a basis for your ratings. i completely agree with your daisy may rating and, up until just recently, will also have to concur on the inconsistency comment. dino is up there as well for me but i've only been twice; the last time being > 6 months ago. looks like i will have to try smoke joint (never even heard of it) and smokin' Q (been meaning to try that since it opened). i thought virgil's was a horror but i didn't try ribs there.

            i haven't tried wildwood nor hill country yet, but rub, blue smoke, and rack and soul would definitely make my worst list, and it's a toss off on which of those is worst.

            thanks for a great post.

            1 Reply
            1. re: nativeNYer

              Nice post. I recently had the dis-pleasure of eating at Wildwood. Completely disappointed with all dishes especially the ribs. You did not specify pork vs beef so I would have to say the beef ribs at Hill Country are the best in the city hands down. I do like the pork ribs at Dinao the best. I would not eat at Blue Smoke if someone else was paying.