Mark Smith and Gary Clark wouldn’t be where they are today without a 50-year-old barbecue recipe. When the two childhood friends started a catering service in college to cover their living expenses, they soon became renowned for their barbecue, made with a Tennessee-style recipe passed down through several generations. Bolstered by demand, they bought a truck and a portable barbecue pit—but soon traded these for a brick-and-mortar location, a rustic storefront on East Van Buren Street. More than 25 years later, the pair are still serving smoked meats at Honey Bear’s BBQ, boosting their output with a second location on North Central Avenue and a separate catering center.
Their recipe has only improved with age, earning them accolades such as the Phoenix’s Best BBQ Sauce 2010 Award from the Phoenix New Times. Inside the Honey Bear BBQ kitchens, chefs brush this signature Tennessee sauce onto pulled pork, shredded chicken, and beef brisket, which they serve by the pound, pile onto sandwiches, or stuff into face-level catapults. They complement the mesquite flavors with traditional Southern sides such as potato salad, cowbro beans, collard greens, and tater tots. For faraway fans, they also bottle and ship their signature sauce around the country.
With shingled awnings along the walls, faux windows, and clay wall art, the dining room at La Casa Grill re-creates the look of an outdoor Mexican plaza. To complement the authentic vibe, the kitchen turns out traditional Mexican fare, such as marinated carne asada steak ($10.99), alongside Latin-inspired barbecue, such as green chile pork burgers ($10.99) and slow-cooked spare ribs ($18.99 for a full rack).
With more than 6,000 square feet of grilling goodness, BBQ Island is a 'cuers paradise stocked with award-winning rubs and savory spices. Lovers of slow-cooked treats can spend a meaty summer debating the merits of Kansas City versus East Texas after packing their pantries with regional blends from across the nation. Many of BBQ Island's specialty seasonings can't be found at local grocery stores, giving browsers an opportunity to stock up on premium flavor-boosters such as Bad Byron's Butt Rub ($14.99, 24 oz.) and John Henry's Texas Brisket Rub ($9.99). BBQ Island also carries an ample supply of MSG-free, gluten-free blends for the health-conscious seasoner, including the award-winning Dizzy Pig's Dizzy Dust ($9.95), as well as offerings from locally owned Fast Eddie’s ($7.99) and Anthony's Spices.
Rustler’s Rooste has come a long way since its original location posed as a hideout for cattle ranchers in the 1970’s. Today, the family-owned restaurant resides in a two-story, 1,500-seat building nestled amid the Arizona Grand Resort. Here, diners can admire the distant city lights as they chow down on dinner meals of Western steakhouse fare that includes rattlesnake appetizers, family-style barbeque chicken, top sirloin steaks, and homemade bread pudding. Though dinner starts at 5 p.m., guests can head to the second floor lounge for happy hour cocktails and unobstructed views of the live music bands, such as The Peso Dollar Band, playing nightly on the main-level dance floor. And for those looking to make a quick escape to the dance floor, a built-in slide quickly sends riders zooming from the lounge to the dining room.
Rustler’s rustic décor, which also includes wagon wheel chandeliers and an outdoor patio with fire pit, gives the restaurant a true Western feel, which is why many choose to use its extensive space for weddings, banquets, and reunions for the guild of television cowboy actors.
Great barbecue isn't something that can be rushed. The chefs at Can't Stop Smokin' BBQ take this to heart, practicing a low-and-slow cooking method that seals in juices and smoky flavors over the course of 3–13 hours. What results is seasoned, savory, tender brisket, pork ribs, and poultry that sing with flavor and need only a few brushes of tangy sauce to keep from feeling naked. From this bounty, guests pile pulled pork onto whole-wheat buns or chow down on smoked turkey drumsticks, garnishing their plates with classic sides such as German-mustard potato salad, jalapeno cornbread, homemade peach cobbler, and sweet baked beans.
Although Can't Stop Smokin' BBQ started in a simple New Mexico smokehouse, it has quickly followed the gentle flow of the barbecue-sauce rivers across the Southwest. Yet even as it treats dinner guests and catered banquets across the country to feasts, Can't Stop Smokin' turns an eye to local communities by helping with Monday night Fundraiser nights for groups dining of 10 or more.
If the Aue family didn’t put Texas on the map, they at least made it tastier. Max Aue founded the town of Leon Springs, Texas in the 1800s. Years later, his son Rudolph founded Rudy’s, a country store and barbecue joint that eventually spawned more than 30 outposts throughout Texas and the American Southwest. Each one of them possesses a 100% oak-fired BBQ pit that slow cooks tender slabs of meat, adding a smoky flavor and tender texture to every bite. St. Louis pork ribs, lean and moist brisket, and jalapeño sausages are a few examples of the succulent morsels that emerge from the wood-fired pits straight to the plate. Classic sides such as potato salad and corn on the cop prove delicious accomplices, while banana pudding and peach cobbler grant every meal with a sweet and satisfying coda.