Barbecuing is universal. Across the globe, the grilling of meat has the magnificent ability to bring people together and inspire a profound sense of well-being and unity. Central to ‘cue of all kind — the backbone even — is one that spans the continent and culture — ribs. While preparation and presentation may vary, it is generally agreed that the grilling of ribs is an undertaking done with great pride and deep personal commitment. Lifetimes are invested in concocting and tweaking the perfect sauce — well-stained aprons are time-honored reflections of the devotion. This is serious business, to say the least. Below is an international survey of ribs, both long and short — all unified by their extraordinary quality and unceasing originality.
When: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Where: 4361 Lowell Blvd., Denver.
The Lowdown: Each day, the proprietors of Ragin’ Hog arrive at 4 a.m. to start the seven-hour smoking process that makes their ribs what they are. Dry rubbed and hit with just a touch of sweet sauce right at that magic moment, these bad boys arrest, inspire and downright move you. A half rack combo ($16) includes two sides, a drink and a dessert. Everything on the menu of this southern-style BBQ is unusually excellent — the rather audacious claim of “best BBQ in Denver” that tops the website does not seem like an overstep. A variety of regionally-inspired sauces can be applied liberally, but these ribs can truly be enjoyed in their entirety unadorned without a second thought.
When: Tuesday – Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: 709 W. 8th Ave., Denver.
The Lowdown: Much of the best food in Denver comes from under-the-radar locales like 8th Avenue’s very own Jamaican Grill. Serving a variety of Jamaican classics — including jerk meats of all kinds, patties, vegetarian platters and a variety of fish dishes — the hard-to-find spot is worth seeking out. The jerk ribs ($11.99) are thoroughly spiced, disarmingly tender pork ribs served with rice, beans and your choice of side — the plantains being a crowd favorite. Well-curated reggae plays throughout the day, making the Grill an oasis for great food and cheerful vibrations.
When: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Where: 250 3rd Ave., Longmont
The Lowdown: It may not be in Denver, but this list would be incomplete without the inclusion of this Longmont barbecue shack turned full-fledged bar and ‘cue emporium — Georgia Boys. Born out of a true southern-style BBQ shack, the current incarnation opened its doors last month. The newly renovated location boasts a massive dining room and full bar, a massive patio and the same great wares that made it a local legend in the first place. The half slab rib plate ($17) is St. Louis-style pork spare ribs served with two sides and Texas toast. Expertly cooked, the ribs are fine on their own, but the six house-made sauces truly push them to the sublime. Original, sweet heat, Black Jack (a collaboration with Left Hand Brewery), Carolina mustard, hot ghost and the vinegar and pepper heavy mop sauce are the arsenal — meat selection beware. The spot may be out of the way, but for true barbecue aficionados, the trek is well worth it.
When: Monday – Thursday, 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday, 4 p.m. – 1 a.m., Saturday, 12 p.m. – 1 a.m. and Sunday, 1 – 11 p.m.
Where: 1560 Boulder St., Denver.
The Lowdown: LoHi’s delightful izakaya specializing in grilled meats — and boasting one of the city’s most impressive sake collections — serves up this list’s most ceremoniously prepared and thoughtfully presented version of the dish. The beef short rib ($18) is both on-bone and sliced meat, served on a hot skillet with king trumpet and shiitake mushrooms, green onion, fresno pepper, bok choy and cherry tomato. The real joy of the dish is the veggies continue to caramelize throughout the meal — the heat of the pan being the only thing dissuading the desire to lick the plate clean.
Yazoo BBQ Company
Where: 2150 Broadway, Denver.
The Lowdown: Located at the odd triangular intersection of Broadway, Champa and 22nd Street Yazoo BBQ company serves up the kind of ‘cue that will make southern transplants rejoice. Everything is a la carte, a half rack ($12) is great on its own, but becomes truly magnificent with the addition of a side of its now notorious hash-brown casserole ($1.25). Come in for a quick and convenient bite or make yourself comfortable on the lovely rooftop patio-bar.
Where: 1401 S. Federal Blvd., Denver.
The Lowdown: While Pho 95 certainly serves up some of the best pho on all of Federal, you would be doing yourself a great disservice not to occasionally venture away from the soup into the wide selection of rice plates and noodles both crispy and soft. Of these, the true unsung gem is the barbecue short rib rice plate ($14.95). A mound of steamed rice is joined by a generous stack of succulent short ribs, sauced to perfection, perfectly blackened and served to devour however ceremoniously as you can manage. While good manners are encouraged, the quality of the ribs — buried in green onions and crispy sauteed garlic cloves — make anything less than gorging difficult. The sweet sauce has obvious hints of lemongrass, but the exact recipe remains a close-kept secret. Try this dish soon if possible, as the restaurant becomes an absolute madhouse when the weather starts to cool.
When: Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday 12 – 8 p.m.
Where: 3536 W. 44th Ave., Denver
The Lowdown: The bison ribs ($12.85) are colossal. Served over flatbread — akin to a savory sopapilla — with a rotating berry BBQ sauce the massive, somewhat gamey ribs are a sure departure from their southern counterpart. Tocabe — the largest Native American restaurant chain in the nation — serves up delicious, highly accessible cuisine at an easy to navigate counter a la Chipotle. The whole menu is worth investigating, but if you are feeling particularly burly this dish is the move.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter and Colin Wrenn.