BBQ Bonanza!

BBQ In Hampton Roads

In the South, there are three kinds of religions: the church kind, the football kind and the barbecue kind.

Barbecue is one of the eight Culinary Calling Cards of Hampton Roads, foods we tend to favor here. In our neck of the woods, the word “barbecue” and the word “grilling” is not synonymous. Also understand that, here at least, barbecue means pork, not chicken or beef. Barbecue is a combination of pork, heat and smoke that makes for a tender, rich, succulent meat that is pulled off the whole pig and usually paired with a thin spice-infused vinegar sauce, which sometimes has a tinge of tomato in it. A good description of barbecue in Virginia can be found in the book North Carolina Barbecue by John Shelton Reed, posted on The Southern BBQ Trail website:

“When George Washington ‘went to a Barbecue and stayed all Night’ as he wrote in his diary for May 27, 1769, he won eight shillings playing cards and probably ate meat from a whole hog, cooked for hours over hardwood coals, then chopped or ‘pulled.’ By the early nineteenth century at the latest, a sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper (originally West Indian) was being sprinkled on the finished product. This barbecue can be found to this day in eastern North Carolina and the adjoining regions of South Carolina and Virginia, virtually unchanged...”

Debates could rage about barbecue until our brains are as fried as a pork rind, but we’ve listed some of our favorites here. Of course, this isn’t nearly all of our favorites, nor is it a compendium of all the barbecue places in our region, but rather the places that get our attention and eateries we like to visit. Some have been long-time favorites; others are new favorites that you (and approximately 1,500 others) told us about in an informal Facebook survey posted earlier in the year and that we went and checked out.


County Grill is a smoky nirvana for the quintessential barbecue sandwich experience: tender ribbons of pulled pork accented with spice and smoke piled high on a soft roll with slaw on the side for adding atop.

County Grill & Smokehouse
1215-A George
Washington Hwy., Yorktown
(Also a location in Hampton)


Virginia Beach BarbequeBEEF BRISKET

While we often turn to pork for our barbecue fix, a good beef brisket is hard to beat. We found two we love, with wonderfully tender cuts sliced thin and smoked deliciously.

The Beach Bully BBQ Restaurant
601 19th St., Virginia Beach

Whitner’s Barbecue
869 Lynnhaven Pkwy., Virginia Beach

The Smokehouse & Cooler In Virginia BeachWET RIBS

A generous serving of tender, juicy ribs slathered in a thick tomato-based sauce with a delicious balance of heat and sweet is afforded at The Smokehouse & Cooler.

The Smokehouse & Cooler
2957 Shore Dr., Virginia Beach



Getting Saucy
Piquant, vinegar-based, with lots of spices and seasonings and a splash of tomato make Malbon Bros. BBQ’s Tilli’s Carolina Style BBQ Sauce one we reach for not just for barbecue but for many dishes as well, including as an additive in Bloody Marys and tomato soup. The sauce is sold bottled.

Malbon Bros. Corner Mart
1896 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach
(Also a location in Virginia Beach’s Hilltop)

The proprietary Soo-ey Sweet is our pick for a Western Carolinastyle sauce. This offering is smoky and sweet and marries beautifully with pork that shares the same elements.

Belmont House of Smoke
2117 Colonial Ave., Norfolk

Malbon Bros of Virginia Beach BarbequePULLED PORK PLATTER

When going whole hog, a pulled pork platter is the way to go. Ample portions of sweet, smoky pulled pork sit alongside an array of side dishes which complement the ‘q perfectly, along with bread for sopping up sauce or the potlikker from greens. We love the offerings from two places: County Grill and Malbon Bros. Both have great barbecue, excellent sides and are priced right.

County Grill & Smokehouse
(For information, see previous listing.)

Malbon Bros. Corner Mart



Belmont House Of Smoke RestaurantDRY RIBS

A delicious offering of ribs that are rubbed with a dry mix of spices and seasonings, smoked and finished on the grill can be found at Belmont House of Smoke. The succulent meat mixes with the rub to create a tasty, pasty experience.

Belmont House of Smoke




Sinful Sides

The finely chopped cabbage is bound with just enough mayonnaise to hold together but not be wet or dripping; a splash of vinegar adds zest, and a touch of sugar makes it ever-so-sweet. Cool and crisp, this is the epitome of the Southern classic.

County Grill & Smokehouse
(For information, see previous listing.)

There are many wonderful side dishes to accompany barbecue, from collard greens to macaroni and cheese; we consider cole slaw an essential and not an option. A time-honored complement are baked beans, firm, but yielding, bathed in a sweet-heat slathering of molasses and spices.

10900 Warwick Blvd., Newport News

Bread makes the barbecue, and we love the flavorful, moist, textured cornbread from Whitner’s. It’s great for mopping around the plate to get up the last bit of barbecue sauce and to eat between bites of barbecue.

Whitner’s Barbecue
(For information, see previous listing.)


Miscellaneous Munchies

We love our pork barbecue, and beef brisket isn’t far behind, but for a great barbecue taste with a different meat, we turn to the Texas Smoked Lamb Shank by Chef Rob Murphy; the hot spice rubbed lamb shank is slow smoked and served with a spicy maple barbecue sauce.

The Smokehouse & Cooler
(For information, see previous listing.)

Old school is the way to go sometimes, as is the case with the classic barbecue offerings from Doumar’s and Pierce’s. Traditional offerings, ample servings and value pricing make sandwiches fromboth of these places a winner.

Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue
1919 Monticello Ave., Norfolk
757-627-4163 •

Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que
447 East Rochambeau Dr., Williamsburg
757-565-2955 •

A bit of a side dish, a bit of a dessert, the Pineapple Hot Dish at Q Barbeque is a cupful of sweet flavor, reminiscent of an out-of-the-oven pineapple upside-down cake, a wonderful foil to the sweet/smoky flavor of barbecue.

Q Barbeque
4201 Kilgore Ave., Hampton
757-896-0220 •

How is this for combining all the basic barbecue food groups into one? The Bar-b-que Sundae at Wood Chicks BBQ layers baked beans with cole slaw and a choice of beef brisket or pulled pork and tops with sauce and garnishes with a dill pickle—all served in a cup.

Wood Chicks BBQ
1025 N. Battlefield Blvd., Chesapeake
757-549-9290 •

Bread is a must with barbecue, whether the barbecue is served directly on top of it or it is served alongside. Sometimes some slices of white bread are great, and we do love cornbread, too. But we also favor hushpuppies—golden, fried orbs of cornmeal that are often found with barbecue, thank goodness.

Smoked From Above BBQ & Ribs
3376 Princess Anne Rd., Virginia Beach
757-499-4959 •

A favorite springtime event is Vintage Tavern’s Pork ‘n Pinot Party (, which features plenty of pork, including a whole roasted pig and barbecue, along with other dishes, wine and beer.

Vintage Tavern
1900 Governor’s Pointe Dr., Suffolk
757-238-8808 •

A Piggy Primer

While we have a pretty good idea of how to define barbecue in these parts, the terminology can get a little crazy when associated with other locales, so here is my Piggy Primer 101, which outlines components of some of the country’s major barbecue players:

Meat: Primarily pulled pork from entire pig
Sauce: Thin sauce of vinegar and spices, especially crushed red pepper
Rub: Not a principal element; sometimes a rub is used before smoking.
Other: Sauce is sometimes mopped on pig while being cooked/smoked

A “light tomato sauce” is sometimes found, which is a thinner, vinegar sauce with some tomato added, giving a bit of sweetness and altering the color. Classic Southern-style cole slaw is generally added atop pulled pork barbecue sandwiches.

Meat: Primarily pulled pork, mostly from the pork shoulder
Sauce: Thick tomatobased sauce with sweet and heat elements
Rub: Not a principal element; sometimes a rub is used before smoking.
Other: Sauce is sometimes mopped on pig while it is being cooked/smoked.

As with the Eastern North Carolina style, a “light tomato sauce” is sometimes found.

Meat: Primarily pulled pork
Sauce: Mustardbased with vinegar, brown sugar and other spices, which makes a piquant and slightly sweet sauce, with some containing beer
Rub: Not a principal element; sometimes a rub is used before smoking
Other: Lineage of the sauce can be traced back to early German settlers as early as the 1730s. Sometimes the sauce is referred to as Carolina Gold.

Meat: Primarily pork ribs; pulled pork principally comes from the shoulder
Sauce: Thick tomato-based sauce with heat and sweet elements is used on “wet” ribs (which are brushed with the sauce both before and after cooking) as well as served with pulled pork.
Rub: A spicy dry rub is used to season ribs principally before cooking “dry” ribs. Sometimes the barbecue is served with the dry rub only applied and sans sauce.

Meat: Styles favor a number of meats, including pulled pork, pork or beef ribs, beef brisket and chicken.
Sauce: Thick tomato-based sauce, tangy and typically with a prevalent sweetness; sugar and/or molasses create caramelization and a darker sauce. Sauce is used on the table and primarily not used to mop the meat.
Rub: A rub is principally used before cooking/smoking.
Other: KC Masterpiece, which claims to be the number one bottled barbecue sauce sold in the United States, was developed in Kansas City, Mo. in 1977 by Rich Davis.

Meat: Either pork or beef
Sauce: Thick tomato-based sauce with heat and sweet elements; hot sauce is sometimes a component or used singularly
Rub: A rub is sometimes used before cooking/ smoking; hickory is the prevalent smoking aromatic.
Other: Barbecue is generally chopped and not sliced.

Meat: Largely beef, beef ribs and beef brisket; also pork ribs and sausage
Sauce: The emphasis of Central Texas barbecue is the preparation of the meat; tomato- based sauces are often plain and served as a dip.
Rub: A rub is principally used before cooking/smoking; oak or pecan is the prevalent smoking aromatic.
Other: Barbecue is generally sliced and not chopped; sandwiches are not prevalent, but rather meat is served with sliced bread.

This style of barbecue was heavily influenced by German and other European immigrants in the early 1800s.

Alabama: Generally pork or chicken with a mediumbodied, mayonnaise-based white sauce
Deep South: Generally pulled/chopped pork or sliced pork with a thicker, sweet, tomato-based sauce
Kentucky: Often mutton is used as the barbecue meat.
Lexington, N.C.: Generally pulled/chopped pork with medium-bodied tomato- and vinegar-based sauce; often served with a unique side known as “Red Slaw,” named for the hue associated with the binding ingredient, ketchup
Texas (Hill Country): Use of European-style sausages as the barbecue meat
Smoked Style: Often meats that are smoked only with no sauce or no sauce emphasized, are referred to as barbecue; the same with meats that have been grilled.


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