It’s time to get back to basics. Ain’t nothing better than half a cooked chook, some apple slaw and a side of gourmet mac 'n cheese, and the only way you’re going to enjoy that combo (other than sitting amongst four UberEATS bags on your lounge room floor) is by booking a table at one of Melbourne’s top shelf American BBQ joints. Fortunately for you, we’ve searched the city high and low for the best pulled pork, pickles, and roasted carrots in the whole goddamn place.
Here are Melbourne’s best BBQ joints.
The Gem Bar & Dining
It’s time to get low and slow at Collingwood’s resident smokehouse, The Gem Bar & Dining. These guys boast a straightforward menu loaded with absolute classics. Choose from snacks like pork scratchings, southern fried eggplant and chicken waffles, or small dishes like Carolina slaw, potato gems and mac ‘n cheese. Then get stuck into BBQ beasts like black beer beef cheek, Berkshire pork belly, Texas chook and Angus beef brisket. There’s also a bucket of veggies, buns and sangas, or alternatively, you can grab the Pit Master’s Plate for $45 and dig into four different meats and three sides.
Big Boy BBQ
CBD & Caulfield South
Big Boy BBQ have been kicking smokehouse goals in the CBD since opening in 2011 and boast being the OG meat-eating experience in Melbourne. You can pick up killer meat sandwiches such as The Carolina packed with a pulled pork scotch fillet, coleslaw and BBQ sauce or The Dorothy with Kansas City style saucy beef brisket, pickles, and slaw. You can also feast on a range of ribs, including rubbed pork, saucy glazed pork and saucy glazed lamb, plus they have incredible chicken wings on hand as well. For the big eaters among us, there are Smoked BBQ Meat Platters that feed up to six big humans, as well as a truck load of sides. An Added bonus is the fact that their food is handmade and sans any added chemicals.
When a venue is the brainchild of BBQ legend Kevin Bludso of Los Angeles institution Bludso's BBQ, you know you're in for a real smokey, meaty, BBQ treat. San Antone is dishing up the usual fare you can expect from an American BBQ joint, low and slow cooked meats are core to the menu, but when you branch off into mac & cheese loaded fries, rib tips, pork ribs, nachos, and all-you-can-eat chicken wings on a Monday you're going to be well and truly spoilt for choice.
Starting life as a humble pop-up, Fancy Hank’s has quickly established itself as a BBQ smokehouse institution on the Melbourne food scene. Their American-style, slow cooked BBQ goodies use the finest quality free range meats, smoked with native timbers (~fancy~) in their custom-built, 2 tonne smokers (~heavy~). Using traditional southern cooking styles and bloody fresh local produce, they offer up mouth-watering dishes such as beef brisket, pulled pork shoulder, sausage links and whole racks of pork ribs. There’s also a bundle of delicious sides like Kentucky-style coleslaw, potato salad, Boston-style baked beans and baked mac ’n cheese with black olives. Make sure you leave room for Cafe du Monde with doughnuts and coffee pudding!
Tucked away in Fitzroy North is top shelf BBQ smokehouse, Bluebonnet Barbecue. Not only do they have a smoky, meaty menu loaded with classics, but they also have the best spread of ‘for the big eaters’ menu options on this side of the equator. Try ‘The Feast’ to be treated to a 300g selection of meat and small plates, PER PERSON. There’s also the ‘You Bloody Ripper’ with baby pork ribs and lamb ribs (that’s 200g EACH), plus the chef’s selection of two sides. Then there’s the ‘Pitmaster’s Pick’ with the chef’s selection of two 100g meats and a side. There’s no going hungry at Bluebonnet BBQ.
Over in Richmond is the mother of all smokehouses, Meatmother aka. Richmond’s home of BBQ since 2013. Strip back to your casual roots with their delicious lineup of saucy buns, fried chicken, smoked meats, classy cocktails and craft beer. Menu highlights include Jalapeno butter popcorn, stubby onion rings, pulled pork, lime mayo and pineapple salsa buns, 12-house smoked BBQ brisket, pulled pork, smoked lamb shoulder and the peanut butter, and of course the hot fudge sundae. And none of this lands on your buds quite as well without a pint of local pale ale.
Third Wave Cafe
We don’t get out to Port Melbourne much, but when we do it’s always for the Mac Bomb Burger. Think 200g patty filled with oozing mac and cheese, wrapped in streaky bacon, then smoked, grilled, layered with fresh tomato, aged Jack Cheese Cheddar, pickles, spicy house-made BBQ sauce, plus MORE CHEESE & BACON. Anyway, back to Third Wave Cafe’s BBQ menu… Dig yourself into a food coma with their ribs, roast chicken, salmon, lamb shoulder, beef brisket and pork riblettes. There’s also smoked mac ’n cheese, spicy chicken wings, and BACON CANDY. You literally can’t lose [weight] here.
Le Bon Ton
Boasting a Southern American flavour-inspired menu, Le Bon Ton is the ideal balance of fresh, tender seafood and glistening pit-smoked meat. Think freshly shucked oysters, Bershire Pork Belly with a creole honey mustard and I-will-fight-you-for-them Baja fish tacos with smoked corn salsa, spicy avocado, radish and roasted poblano crema. Generous share-menus and a delightful range of tangy cocktails, beers and local and international wines go down like glaze on the brisket.
Meatworks Co is a relatively new meat smoker on the block, having only opened in 2015, but that doesn't mean they don’t know their way around a Weber and a pair of tongs. This South Melbourne restaurant has nailed the American BBQ style and offers all of its BBQ dishes as part of a platter (YASS). You can choose from the Meatworksco Meat Platter, Mix Platter, and Seafood Platter, plus a host of other carefully curated meals. There’s also a fire pit’s worth of sides and a dessert menu that’s certainly not ‘modest’ (think sticky date pudding and creme brulee).
Last on our list, but certainly not least, is the unmarried smokehouse of all BBQ venues— Meatmaiden. Not only do they have ‘meat’ in their name, but the header on their website is literally a photo of hanging meat cuts - these guys have it going on. This CDB basement restaurant has a menu packed with meaty choices, but like all diehard foodies, you gotta go for the jam-packed set menus. Try their ‘Classic Mood’ selection, which comes at $55 per person and is served with 2 snacks and appetisers, 3 larger dishes and 2 sides, or the ‘Signature Mood’ at $75 per person, which comes with 3 snacks and appetisers, 3 larger dishes and 3 sides. Phwoarr.
Image credit: The Gem Bar & Dining | Griffin Simm