Summer is upon us, and that means one thing: ’tis the season of smoked and grilled meats. And while most of us can cook up a hot dog or hamburger on the grill, not all of us have hours to dedicate to slow-smoking a brisket. Luckily, there are plenty of Portlanders dedicated to the craft—remember when Texas Monthly said we had the finest Texas-style barbecue outside of the Lone Star State back in 2019?—and we set out to find the best of them.
A look at our methodology: we love ribs and brisket, so we ordered one or both at every place we visited, plus mac and cheese whenever available. We tried the meat both without sauce and with sauce. Our most important criteria is that the meat be juicy—no tough brisket or leathery ribs allowed—and that ruled out a lot of spots in town, where we found unacceptably dry meat. Beyond that, we looked for tangible smoky flavor; well-seasoned meat that’s neither under nor oversalted, and caution on those heavy black pepper crusts; well-crafted sauces, whether traditional or inventive, that are balanced and not overly sweet or harsh; and sides that show effort and attention to detail (no overcooked or floury mac ’n’ cheese, please). Did we miss your favorite place? Let us know.
Owner Michael Keskin, a Podnah’s Pit alum, utilizes a giant smoker right behind the cart, where Oregon oak imparts its flavor to fall-off-the-bone ribs, brisket, turkey, and Texas hot links. Bark City’s style is a fusion of Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas City, reflected in the cart’s selection of six different sauces, from white Alabama sauce to Carolina vinegar to signature Bark barbecue. The expertly seasoned ribs get rubbed in a flavorful blend of butter, cider, and pickle juice. Our only gripe: though they’re tender, the meat could be a little juicier. Same goes for the brisket. But the house-made hot links are a standout, boasting plentiful chile, the perfect amount of juicy fat, and delicate smoky flavor. The moist turkey drizzled with creamy Alabama white sauce is unexpectedly delightful, full of peppery flavor. The pulled pork melts in your mouth, encouraging bite after bite. Get the Pitmaster Nap and add on brisket to try all five meats, plus your choice of two sides—may we suggest the jalapeño mac ’n’ cheese topped with crispy potato chips and the odd yet craveable pickled avocado? We haven’t managed to save room for the banana pudding milkshake yet, but according to former PoMo food editor Benjamin Tepler, it merits a visit on its own. 3582 SE Powell Blvd
This former cart moved into the old Pok Pok Wing space in late 2020. Though the fatty brisket here melts in your mouth unlike any other on this list, there’s still room for improvement—the meat can be a bit dry around the edges. And despite its generously peppered crust, we felt the brisket could use a touch of salt. The ribs also fall short of perfection, well-seasoned but slightly dry. Luckily, Botto’s impresses with its range of three creative sauces: sweet-sour tamarind barbecue, the savory and chunky Texas style reminiscent of a spicy gazpacho, and the tangy spicy white sauce, complete with recs on which sauces to use with which types of meat. The gooey mac ’n’ cheese has a nice kick thanks to chunks of green chile, though the pasta is a bit overcooked, and while the collard greens have a nice crunch to them, they’re a tad oily. What unexpectedly elevates this barbecue is the house pickles: sliced zucchini, juicy onion, and jalapeño, which add tangy punctuation between bites of meat. Next on our list to try is their selection of sausages, including buffalo chicken, kielbasa, hot links, and franks. 3120 SE Milwaukie Ave
Once the greatest barbecue spot in Portland, Holy Trinity’s cart was unfortunately short-lived, opening in 2019 and abruptly closing in October 2021 after a couple of weeks of slow sales tanked the business, in an industry with notoriously low profit margins. Thankfully, you can still snag a taste of this top-tier ’cue at pop-ups around the city. Past events have included a collaboration at Italian restaurant Renata, holiday preorders from Christmas to the Super Bowl, a pop-up at Portland company Findlay Hats. Another pop-up, this time at Culmination Brewing, takes place May 20 and 21 at noon; get there early to avoid the disappointment of them selling out, which will almost certainly occur. What to order: the holy trinity of meats that includes smoky Czech-style sausages, juicy ribs, and fat-layered brisket, plus an obligatory side of cheesy grits. Pop-up menus change depending on the event; at the May 21 event, find brisket chopped cheese and a smoked brisket burger.
Matt’s BBQ has been the city’s mainstay for Texas-style barbecue ever since Matt Vicedomini opened the cart in 2015. Since then, it’s expanded its reach all over the city, from its cart at Prost to its appearance in Eem’s famous white brisket curry and brisket fried rice to its new cart in Beaverton. On our last visit, we found the meat slightly on the dry side, with the exception of the delightful jalapeño cheddar sausage, whose exterior snaps and interior oozes with melted cheese. We loved the cart’s inventive sauces, particularly the peach mustard and cherry chipotle. But we’re even bigger fans of the Tex-Mex take at Matt’s BBQ Tacos—the smoked meats meld so well with the cart’s house-made, chewy, flavorful flour tortillas, and who can say no to smoked pork belly with pickled onions and guacamole, or all-day chopped brisket breakfast tacos with cheesy eggs and potatoes? 4233 N Mississippi Ave & 2216 SE 50th Ave
For Further Investigation: Grasslands Barbecue
Among our trusted food friends whom we polled for their favorite barbecue spots, this one came up on the list every time. “I don’t cry often, but when I do, it is from their food,” said one source. The menu spans brisket, pulled pork, pork belly burnt ends, black pepper chicken thighs, and various sausages. We haven’t made the trip out to Hood River when they're open to try their barbecue yet, but will update as soon as we do. 403 Portway Ave, Hood River