By day, Natick native Gary Goldblatt is a technical writer and illustrator. By night — and most weekends — he’s this region’s most tireless and insatiable barbecue aficionado. Since 2006, he’s published 315 joint reviews on his site PigTrip.net (as well as 60 of burgers, a secondary passion). We asked him to describe a feast of this area’s greatest barbecue and sides.
1| COLLARD GREENS — Lester’s Roadside BBQ Although you can certainly taste the on-the-brink-of-drooping vegetable, this rendition hits home thanks to a one-two punch of meat: a cooked-down fierceness in the sweet, salty, vinegary broth, with scraps of smoky pork interspersed among the leaves and stems.
> 376A Cambridge Street, Burlington, 781-221-7427, lestersbbq.com
2| COLESLAW — The American BBQ Another balancing act: Whether you seek sweet, savory, tart, or creamy, this crunchy cabbage packs a little of everything. It’s a refreshingly cold respite from all the smoky fare.
> 950 Cummings Center, Suite 96x, Beverly, 978-921-1212; 5 Railroad Avenue, Rowley, 978-948-2626; tabbq.com
3| BRISKET — B.T.’s Smokehouse No other brisket in New England can claim such consistently robust bark, wilting interiors, explosive beef juices, and invigorating salt, all in one intensely smoky bite. Chef-owner Brian Treitman uses local woods (cherry, hickory, and apple), beef from Massachusetts farms whenever possible, and Facebook to alert fans when fresh product is about to be pulled from the smoker.
> 392 Main Street, Sturbridge, 508-347-3188, btsmokehouse.com
4| MAC AND CHEESE — SlowBones Modern BBQ Say what you will about the barbecue at this national-chain-in-the-making from the cofounder of Boston Market, but its mac and cheese trumps any in the area. Thick spirals of cavatappi are blanketed by a luscious, sharp four-cheese blend and topped by crunchy panko.
> 80 Mall Road, Burlington, 781-365-1998, slowbonesbbq.com
5| CORN BREAD — Blue Ribbon Barbecue You can’t go wrong with any of the sides at Blue Ribbon, but the one that comes automatically is the one that exemplifies what corn bread should be: coarse, dense, crumbly, crusty on top, moist — more so after an inadvertent dunk in the pork juice — and walking that tightrope between sweet and savory.
> 1375 Washington Street, West Newton, 617-332-2583; 908 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 781-648-7427; 262 2nd Avenue, Needham (seasonal trailer); blueribbonbbq.com
6| PORK RIBS — SoulFire Glorious mahogany color, a sturdy crust, guaranteed juiciness, and unparalleled length are the hallmarks of these full-cut pork spare ribs that bear a light, sweet hickory smoke. Owner Wyeth Lynch and pitmaster Jason Tremblay let the pork do the talking with a rub that includes kosher salt, brown sugar, and chili powder.
> 182 Harvard Avenue, Allston, 617-787-3003; 737 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-232-8000; soulfirebbq.com
7| PULLED PORK — Sweet Cheeks Q Lesser pulled porks rely on heavy sauces or coleslaw for camouflage, but Tiffani Faison’s stands tall all on its own. The contrast of crisp bark and soft, bouncy interior will grab you first, but it’s the rich porkiness elevated by oak smoke that will keep you coming back for more. Credit the impeccable sourcing — it’s always hormone-free and often Berkshire.
> 1381 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com
8| BAKED BEANS — Sweet Cheeks Q Large, firm beans stand up beautifully to a balanced mix of subtly sweet and tingly heat from jalapeno and other dried spices. A generous inclusion of brisket gives it a heartiness that makes it a meal within the meal. You can call it beans if you want; I call it chili, and I call for it often.