Winthrop’s Blackstrap may be off the beaten path, but its slow-cooked flavor still draws crowds of locals and visitors alike. In February, The Town star Blake Lively and friends chowed down on smoked chicken, corn fritters, and collards (the actress, who has Southern roots, said the cooks “nailed it”). Opened in 2010 by a pair of alums from Cambridge’s East Coast Grill, the kitschy joint was named for a molasses that’s included in many specialties, like burnt ends in homemade sauce.
> 47A Woodside Avenue, Winthrop, 617-207-1783, blackstrapbbq.com
BLUE RIBBON BARBECUE
For sheer variety, you can’t beat Blue Ribbon, with locations in West Newton and Arlington, plus a seasonal trailer in Needham. In addition to staples like pulled pork and brisket (smoked overnight at the Newton commissary), there are funky chalkboard specials that highlight international flavors: buffalo chicken burritos, green bean posole, curry roasted potatoes. Co-owner Geoff Janowski takes pride in a sauce bar that nods to various US regions, from mustardy Carolina-style gold to fiery Kansas City red.
> 1375 Washington Street, West Newton, 617-332-2583; 908 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 781-648-7427; 262 2nd Avenue, Needham (seasonal trailer); blueribbonbbq.com
EAST COAST GRILL
While barbecue master (and James Beard Award winner) Chris Schlesinger sold his Inman Square landmark to trusted staffers in 2012, his trademark bold surf ‘n’ turf remains, spurred on by chef Jason Heard. You’ll find plenty of island and Far East influences on the menu, but easygoing East Coast makes this list for its Texas brisket, North Carolina pulled pork, and Kansas City ribs.
> 1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-491-6568, eastcoastgrill.net
FIREFLY’S BODACIOUS BAR-B-QUE & BEYOND
Don’t let the suburban Marlborough digs — or the over-the-top commercials on a certain restaurant TV show — scare you off. After closing locations in Framingham and Quincy, award-winning barbecue maven Steve Uliss refocused and is now slinging a fresher, higher grade of ’cue that includes three varieties of ribs, two kinds of wings, candied bacon, burnt ends, and all the other usual suspects. A big back room features pool tables and live entertainment on weekends.
> 350 East Main Street, Marlborough, 508-357-8883, fireflysbbq.com
LESTER’S ROADSIDE BBQ
This converted McDonald’s in Burlington has over-the-counter ordering and a behind-the-counter smoker by the legendary J&R Manufacturing, plus trays of North Carolina-style barbecue that are brought to your table with a livelier step after a 2013 ownership change. Brisket and other pit-smoked meats get sliced before your eyes at a carving station farther down the counter. The gas station vibe gets a boost each Friday with a vintage car show that not only adds a visual flair but also turns the food over faster. Wednesday and Sunday all-you-can-eat rib and wing deals include a full roster of homemade sides, including excellent mac and cheese and collards.
> 376A Cambridge Street, Burlington, 781-221-7427, lestersbbq.com
Maurice and Marion Hill launched M&M Ribs 32 years ago, immediately drawing ’cue aficionados from across the city to a trailer they had in Uphams Corner. These days, the family recipes have a bigger audience, thanks to a food truck parked at several locations around town by their grandson, Geovanni Lambert (he plans to open a Dorchester restaurant this fall featuring his family’s original recipes). Fans love Lambert’s tomato-and-vinegar “sweet heat” barbecue sauce, perfect with his grandparents’ original beef brisket or pork ribs. Homemade coleslaw and mac and cheese are Lambert’s favorite sides.
PIT STOP BARBEQUE
Purists pack this roadside shanty in Morton Village for exceptionally tangy Carolina-style pork ribs. The secret’s in the seasoning: Co-owner Darrell Debnam, whose family bought the long-running business in 2007, uses Cajun spices for extra kick. He recommends pairing the ribs (get a 12-bone, full slab) with collard greens and macaroni and cheese. “Everybody leaves licking their fingers,” he says, noting that many recipes come from his Southern grandmother, Mamie Debnam. Plan for takeout; there’s only seating for four. And they’re only open Thursdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to midnight.
> 888A Morton Street, Mattapan, 617-436-0485, thepitbbq.net
This Davis Square spot is a barbecue institution, where many locals got their first tastes of smoked brisket and St. Louis-style ribs, hush puppies, and fried catfish. Redbones is raucous, relaxed, and friendly; expect no frills and a long wait at peak times. It’s a particular draw for beer lovers, with more than two dozen offerings on tap. If you can’t decide, spin the beer wheel and let the fates choose for you.
> 55 Chester Street, Somerville, 617-628-2200, redbones.com
Owner Wyeth Lynch decided against a finance career to combine his two passions — soul music and backyard barbecue — into a full-time vocation at sister restaurants in Allston and Mission Hill. Spare ribs, baby backs, brisket, chicken, and pulled pork all emerge unsauced, letting you add your choice of warm homemade barbecue sauces. Regulars swear by the mammoth ribs, but it’s their brined-battered fried chicken that may be Boston’s best kept secret.
> 182 Harvard Avenue, Allston, 617-787-3003; 737 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-232-8000; soulfirebbq.com
SWEET CHEEKS Q
Tiffani Faison of Top Chef fame serves her take on barbecue to Sox fans, students, hipsters, business people, bros, and couples young and old. They all come for smoky lacquered ribs, lip-smackingly good pulled pork, juicy smoked chicken with crackling skin, and more. (It’s the rare barbecue place that’s also good for vegetarians, with fluffy biscuits, perfectly fried okra and green tomatoes, and creative salads.) The music is loud, the drinks come in Mason jars, and communal tables are made from bowling alley lanes. The name says it all: This place is both sassy and sweet.
> 1381 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com