Chasing the Smoke in Tampa-Top 3 Popular Barbeque Eateries

Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers

I chase the smoke coming from barbeque places. Yes, I am a pit aficionado. I love barbeque; I can not lie. Growing up in Tampa meant more than Friday night fish fries. It also meant Saturday barbeques with smoked hogs and brisket, grilled sausage, charred raccoon, and any other wildlife my father could catch. Grilling is my blood. Barbeque is the boss.

Today many community environments are not conducive to grilling. Fire regulations and strict Home Owners Associations make it challenging. I am a licensed property manager, and folks in this industry do not see kindly upon grills and smokers in the front yard. My stomach and nose don't like the deed restrictions on this topic, but my integrity requires me to follow and enforce the rules, so off for a weekend of sniffing out the famous smokehouses in the Tampa area.

Sweet. Hot. Burnt ends. Smoky. Juicy. Words that all together mean only one thing: barbeque. Are you a pit enthusiast like me? Wherever I go, I am always looking for a shortlist of the best places to visit for the most tender, flavorful smoked and grilled meats around. Tampa is no slouch in the BBQ department, with smokey goodness found all around town.

So if you are chasing the smokestacks around town like me to locate some of the most delicious barbeques in Tampa, I'll give you a heads up. I have compiled a list of my three favorite BBQ joints to help you get your fix for this celebrated, down-home meal.

Al’s Finger-Licking Good Bar-B-Que

This Tennessee-style barbeque joint started as a concession stand in 2003 and has been smoking meat in its original location in Tampa since 2009. Namesake Al and his wife Jackie consistently churn out some of the city’s best-pulled pork and turkey legs out of a charming bungalow, adding to the feel of downhome cooking and grilling at this restaurant.

"My wife, daughter, and staff work together to give the customers the best food and service. We are one big family." -Al Reynolds-

Stop! I've hit my first barbeque smoke scent of the day. Walking up, the first thing you will notice is the wall of pecan smoke that hits you when you arrive. Smelling that nutty goodness is a good indication of how smokey the roasted meat will taste.

Today I selected Aunt Beulah's special pork dish. This entree consists of tender pork sauteed with onions and green peppers. It was jaw-dropping melt in your mouth delicious. Or, to add a bit of Southern colloquialism like my grandmother would say, "That possum's on the stump," in other words, it is as good as it gets.

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Al, the owner getting ready to season some barbeque/Photo Compliments of Al's Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que

One look at the wall menu lets you know that Al’s is serious about its barbeque; you can even order a bulk meat plate without one of their delicious sides if you want to load up on protein later. In addition, many menu items are named after family members like Aunt Beulah or friends, adding a personal history to this famous spot. Ribs, turkey legs, and pulled pork are the don’t miss items at Al’s, and if there is any room left for dessert, you can grab a slice of Aunt Ruza’s pies for a sweet ending or cool off from the spicy hot barbeque sauce I selected. Mild sauce is also an option.

I'm going to talk to Al, the owner, and see if he can create a specialty dish named after me. You know something like Gayle's Grilled Gizzards. Are you up for it?

Locations

  • 1609 Angel Olivia Sr Street (in the Ybor City Historic District)
  • 2302 E. 7th Avenue (in East Ybor)

Mission BBQ

A barbeque joint that serves up great smoked meat and a mission to honor those served in the Military or as First Responders. You will see their salute to the Stars and Stripes as Mission lives out its goal every day. However, suppose you are lucky enough to be at Mission BBQ at precisely noon. In that case, you will get a magnificent meal and a special patriotic acknowledgment as you are encouraged to join the staff and stand if you choose as they take a moment to honor the USA with a salute and the singing of our National Anthem.

"We do what we do for the love of our soldiers, firefighters, police officers, first responders—all our loved ones in service. " - Bill and Newt, Owners

The calling to honor the community and give back to those serving the country pairs perfectly with the fantastic barbeque in summarizing the mission statement of the owners and staff. Mission BBQ will have you coming back for the moist, tender Texas-inspired brisket, St. Louis style spareribs, pulled pork and even smoked salmon. All meats come with cornbread.

The brisket won me over right away. It had all the attributes of Texas-style smoking. Tender, slow-cooked with a perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavor.

I was so intrigued with the flavor that I had to get a to-go order for the next day. I suggest you try a two or three meat sampler if you have never been to Mission before so that you can try their different styles of smoked and grilled meats. Served cafeteria-style, the rich BBQ smell is abundant as you contemplate your order, eyeing all of the fantastic meats and sides to choose from as you orchestrate your ideal meal.

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Mission Barbeque /Photo Source M9339ZFdavidh

The food here is moderately priced, which is a bonus, considering Mission serves up multiple styles of barbeque flavors and sauces all in one spot. There are six types of spices and barbeque gravy right at the table for you to sample in addition to the others served up with your meal. This authentic joint has signature BBQ flavors, including Alabama white sauce, St Louis red, Tupelo honey heat, Texas Twang, and the famous Smokey Mountain sauce.

The creamy mac and cheese is a favorite, but the classic green beans and fresh-cut French fries are also popular. Seasonal desserts like blueberry cobbler and caramel bread pudding are perfect choices to end your flavorful meal with a sweet treat. My stomach was full, but I managed to enjoy a tad of the caramel bread pudding. It was spectacular. Even though Mission BBQs are growing across the US, it is an authentic, reliable BBQ option to try in Tampa. My respect for first responders, love of country, and good barbeque will have me returning soon and often. Are you hungry yet?

Locations

  • 13612 Bruce B Downs Blvd (Temple Terrace/ Tampa)
  • 5602 W Waters Avenue (Town & Country/Tampa)

4 Rivers Smokehouse

The decor is slightly less than splendor but clean and appropriate for a good old fashion barbeque. A slab of beef is what I came here for, not fine china and chandeliers.

I ordered what 4 Rivers Smokehouse calls the Happy Herd. It included sliced beef, pulled pork, chicken, and smoked turkey. Oh yes, I was happy. My tray was stacked high, and my stomach was eager to receive. The portions were large, and each option was tasty. I added a banana pudding to my order because it looked simply irresistible, and it was.

I do declare. I left 4 Rivers Smokehouse happy as a dead pig in the sunshine. But, of course, Floridians have sayings for everything. Suffice it to say, I left with a full belly and a smile on my face, and my wallet was happy as well.

A classic BBQ spot with a few surprising twists, 4 Rivers Smokehouse does not disappoint in delivering rich, smoky flavor and tender, juicy meat every time. Burnt ends are a specialty here, and even vegans can enjoy this BBQ-flavored treat with a 100% plant-based alternative marinated in the vegan sauce.

Not many restaurants known for their smoked meats also serve up delectable non-meat entrees. Order at the counter after checking out the gorgeous, sweet endings on display from the on-site Sweet Shop. Community-style seating at high tables pairs well with the food served on cafeteria trays topped with butcher paper.

You won’t miss out on any fancy feel at 4 Rivers, though; once you bite into their signature, Angus brisket smoked for 18 hours after a 30 wet rub treatment, you will not care about the simple decor. Instead, the Happy Herd order fills your belly with four of their protein options, including pulled pork and chicken, St. Louis style ribs, as well as smoked chicken and turkey. You get to pick any favorite four.

Also excellent is the BBQ quesadilla, which I came back for on my second visit. If you like your barbeque piled high on a bun, the burnt ends sandwich is another popular choice. They even offer sliders for smaller appetites, and you can combine any three types of meat.

Of course, don’t forget to leave room for dessert here since the Sweet Shop serves up the classic BBQ restaurant dessert, banana pudding, but also has the Bayou Bar, a pecan shortbread with a cream cheese filling that you don’t want to pass up. I would tell you to save some room, but you will not be able to. The food is too good. You have to bite the bullet and indulge. I know it's an arduous task, but someone has to do it. My mother always told me never to waste food. I heard her loud and clear. I think that is her calling out right now from heaven, "waste not , want not." Yes ma'am.

Location

  • 14330 N. Dale Mabry Hwy (Carrollwood)

I'm grinning like a possum eating a sweet tater. I hope you enjoy your barbeque later.

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I am a Licensed Community Association Manager for the State of Florida and a published author. My top articles are about Florida RE, property management, and the many beautiful venues and activities available in the Sunshine State. Thank you for reading my work and joining me on the journey.

Kissimmee, FL
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