May 28, 2020

Beaches, Boats & BBQ

If you inhale only one plate of barbecue this summer …
By Danielle Horvath | July 6, 2019

You might find yourself in northern Michigan for a hot minute this July. That’s plenty long enough to satiate your taste buds with one of summer’s sweetest (or spiciest, or most tangy) accompaniments: a big ol’ plate of barbecue. Up here, we aren’t hemmed in by rules of our region (lookin’ at you, Texas and South Carolina brawlers), we just go for what’s meaty, messy, and just dang good. Here, our list of the try-before-you-die dishes from some of the best barbecue joints across the North.
Ray’s BBQ Brews & Blues 
On the banks of the Au Sable river, Ray’s offers full riverside dining in the summer. Their house specialty: the black Angus Beef Brisket, slow roasted over cherry wood for nearly 13 hours. The hand-sliced 12-ounce portion is served with corn bread and honey butter, plus two sides. (We heartily recommend the popular roasted-garlic smashed potatoes and/or their almost famous fries — hand-punched and twice fried.) All served, with blues playing in the background and occasional live bands, for $19, available for lunch or dinner. Open 11am–10pm Monday–Saturday; 11am–9pm Sundays. 204 Ingham St. (989) 348-1515
Primos BBQ
Offering authentic Texas BBQ cooked low and slow with just salt and pepper, Primos is a family owned restaurant that offers both dine in and carry out.  Piled on a 4 ½” Brioche bun, their certified Angus beef brisket sandwich combo is flavorful and juicy and goes great with their smoked mac and cheese, which is itself homemade and put it in the smoker with bits of brisket! Perfect when paired with a Barq’s root beer, the combo is $14.50. Open 11am– 6pm daily. 2420 Sunnyside Dr. (231) 779-1575
Up in Smoke BBQ & Catering
Specializing in St. Louis style ribs, cut close to the belly, making them juicier and meatier than typical baby back ribs, they pride themselves on everything homemade, from the hand-cut fries and cole slaw dressing to the special sweet BBQ sauce. Their most popular dish is the Poutine – a recipe originally from Canada – that includes a pile of fries, slathered in gravy, with slices of BBQ pork, topped with crunchy cheese curds for $10.95. With a full bar that features 10 craft beers, any would pair well with lunch or dinner. Open 11am–10pm, Monday through Thursday; 11am–11pm Friday and Saturday; closed Sundays. 1208 N. US 31. (231) 622-8318
Blue Tractor
Traverse City
Blue Tractor sits in a legendary space — it occupies the former site of Dill’s Olde Time Saloon, established 1939, and before that, Novotny’s Saloon, established in the late 1880s. But its “legendary” status is something it’s earning all on its own, thanks to its unflagging dedication to slow-smoking multiple meats out back every single day, then slathering with their own house rub and serving it with its homemade sweet sauce, which comes with just the right amount of kick. Best of all, you can indulge in every option available with their hefty four-meat platter of pork, beef brisket, chicken, and ribs. Feeling dainty today? You can choose a two- or three-meat platter two; all come with fries and coleslaw pair exceptionally well with a Diabolical IPA from local brewery (and partner brewery/restaurant) North Peak Brewing Company. Available for dinner, $19–$25. Open 11am–10 pm, Monday through Thursday; 11am–11pm Friday and Saturday; noon–10pm Sundays. 423 S. Union St. (231) 922-9515
Sparks BBQ
Traverse City
Powered by 100% wood smokers and proudly cooked to Kansas City BBQ Society competition standards, Sparks has been setting the bar for authentic KC BBQ since 2013. Always served dry rub, with homemade sauce on the side, Sparks’ baby back rib plates are customer favorites — so much so that they often sell out before close. Served with two sides, the half rack runs $21, a full rack is $32. For those who want just a taste, you can get it by the bone for $3. With a full bar and eight taps devoted to Michigan craft beers, this BBQ — located inside a century-old former bank — doesn’t offer the expected ambience but does deliver and outstanding experience. Open 11:30am–9pm (or sellout)
daily. 201 E. Front St. (231) 633-7800
Jim’s Joint BBQ & Catering (pictured)
One of Benzie County’s best kept secrets, Jim’s Joint opened three years ago in a sliver of a shop in the wee village of Honor. All the Joint’s meat is smoked on-site daily and slathered with a homemade sweet/tangy sauce that is truly the best of two worlds. The pulled pork sandwich — piled high, topped with coleslaw, and from kitchen to counter lightning fast — is popular with locals and visitors for dine in and carryout alike. It runs $6.49, and sides like corn cakes, baked beans, and mac-n-cheese are available ala carte. Catering services are a bonus option too. Open 11am–8pm Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays. 10914 US-31. (231) 227-1227
Pig Eatin’ Ribs Catering & Food Trucks
Whether dining in, driving through, or finding one of their food trucks, Pig Eatin’ Ribs is worth seeking out. The quickly growing porcine empire makes everything in-house, smoking their barbecue low and slow with 100 percent fruit wood daily. The house favorite chopped brisket sandwich comes on a fresh toasted Brioche bun, with 8 ounces of smoked beef, caramelized onions, smoked gouda cheese, and house-made mustard-BBQ sauce, served with their own chips — barbecue flavor, naturally — plus real homemade pickles for $10. Open 11am–8pm Sunday through Thursday; 11am–9pm Friday and Saturday. 1418 Bridge St. (231) 330-4160


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