Flavor: The smell of hickory wood hits your olfactory senses before you even make it in the door. Once inside you’ll find all the necessities of a good neighborhood BBQ joint. The ribs are good, and the beef brisket wins praise as the “best outside of Texas.” Go for a side of mac and cheese — it’s better than Mom used to make.
Flair: BBQ should never be served on anything other than paper plates and eaten with plastic forks. Take your cafeteria-style tray to one of the banquet tables in the dining rooms and dig in, and don’t hesitate to BYOB, since there’s no liquor license.
4725 Madison Road, Madisonville, 513-871-3500. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $3-$17.
Flavor: The Texas Tenderloin sandwich is as large as a dinner plate — thin, crisp, and tasty. Handmade pizza and “The Trough” are crowd pleasers, big enough to share.
Flair: No-frills Southern pit barbecue says they are Ross Township’s best kept secret. Get there before the word gets out!
3754 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton, 513-738-3111. Open 7 days. $5-$23.
Flavor: This regional chain puts out some dang tasty BBQ, including mouth-watering beef brisket and a good and sloppy North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich. The meaty rack of ribs is pink not because it’s underdone but because they’re slow smoked for intense, traditional flavor. And don’t neglect your sides: The vinegary greens and crusty hush puppies are stellar.
Flair: It’s OK to play with your food! City Barbecue offers three sauces to mix and match — an original tomato-based sauce, a vinegar- and onion-based North Carolina sauce and a South Carolina mustard sauce.
3804 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-8890; 7706 Voice of America Centre, West Chester, 513-755-0518; and 878 Eastgate North Drive, Eastgate, 513-201-3030. Open 7 days. $6-$19.
Flavor: Mr. Goodie sure knows his pork butt — pork pit-smoked slowly ’til the fat has completely dissolved and a crunchy, caramelized crust has formed on the outside, resulting in a deep but delicate smoked flavor. Lip-smackin’ chicken quarters and Buffalo wings are complemented by standard Southern sides of collard greens, red beans and rice or mac and cheese. For those not tempted by the sauce, there are more standard items like the fish sandwich or fried okra. Peach cobbler and pies of both the sweet potato or chess pie variety are available.
Flair: Complete with neon signs, this down-home restaurant screams good eatin’ at reasonable prices. The waitstaff is always friendly, making each trip here feel like eating at home.
5841 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, 513-542-4663. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$20.
Jim Dandy’s Family BBQ
Flavor: Ohio is not synonymous with barbeque, but Jim Dandy’s gives the barbeque states a run for their money, and they have the awards to prove it. Their practice and motto, “Spiced and Smoked, NOT Boiled and Soaked,” sums up the taste. Sink your chops into chicken, brisket, ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and homemade smoked Kielbasa. You won’t stop eating the mac and cheese and collard greens.
Flair: An independently owned restaurant, Jim Dandy’s keeps it real and the crowds reflect it. On Saturdays, have some BBQ and Blues. Music, of course — how can you be sad with a smoked meaty treat?
2343 E. Sharon Road, Sharonville, 513-771-4888. Open 7 days. $5-$20.
Ms. Helen’s Grill
Flavor: It’s worth the wait for some of Ms. Helen’s charcoal-grilled, slow-smoked barbecue slathered in her secret-recipe sauce, but you’ll even find the soul food side dishes addictive — especially the crowd-pleasing mac and cheese and cornbread.
Flair: Drag a couple of small tables together and park yourself in the middle of the Findlay Market action for a ringside seat at Ms. Helen’s, right next to Luken’s Poultry and Seafood Market.
126 Market House, Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-5678. Open Wednesday-Sunday. $3-$10.
Flavor: World famous for its ribs, Montgomery Inn has been a staple in Cincinnati for 60 years. Don’t sell their barbecue sauce short; try it on the Saratoga chips or a quarter chicken. This is the perfect place for comfort food in the form of hearty portions of meat and filling sides.
Flair: Plenty of local sports memorabilia line the walls. For a romantic night out, head to the boathouse located on the Ohio River. Don’t worry about making a mess of your new little black dress — plenty of bibs to go around! Winner of “Best Overall Restaurant” and “Best Barbecue.”
9440 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-791-3482 and other locations. Open 7 days. $17-$30.
Pit to Plate
Flavor: The Plate’s mouth-watering pork and brisket are hickory smoked for eight hours and the ribs for four to eight hours. Sides might not be the main focus here, but you can’t go wrong with the mac and cheese, the vinegary hot slaw topped with bacon, jalapeno-spiked cornbread and garlic butter potatoes. Check them out when you plan a pig roast or Thanksgiving — they make a mean smoked turkey breast.
Flair: The new digs, just around the corner from the old Compton location, still feature retro Western kitsch décor.
8021 Hamilton Ave., Mount Healthy, 513-931-9100. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$18.
Flavor: This place is meat-tastic, boasting a menu dominated by ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket all smoked and slow-cooked on site. But you should save room for some sweet potato casserole, topped with pecans and brown sugar; it’s a favorite.
Flair: The all-you-can-eat ribs deal on Tuesdays is worth the fight to secure a seat, which now is much easier given Walt’s new larger space.
6040 Colerain Ave., White Oak, 513-923-9800. Open 7 days. $10-$19.
Walt’s Hitching Post
Flavor: Walt’s offers a full menu that includes steak, chops and its signature fried chicken, but it’s best known for the barbeque. The pork is hardwood smoked for five hours. Don’t forget the tomato garlic salad dressing — it’s a must try.
Flair: Unlike the usual BBQ joint, Walt’s ambiance includes linens and real silverware. The wood paneling and gun décor create a hunting lodge feel or what was once described as “a holiday dinner at your better-off uncle’s house.”
3300 Madison Pike, Covington, 859-331-0494. Open 7 days. $10-$30.