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  1. Best Restaurants

Best barbecue in Tampa Bay

Brisket, pork butt, pastrami - look for it all at these local 'cue spots.

Dr. BBQ

Sliced pastrami, house cured and smoked, served at Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

This is where I’m starting: “Mac-A-Phoni” is hominy with sumptuous tequila habanero aged cheddar queso under a capper of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Dr. BBQ, the huge, multifangled collaboration between Suzanne and Roger Perry (Datz, Roux, etc.) and competition barbecue superstar Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe doesn’t take itself too seriously. But in other ways it’s as serious as a heart attack. Purists will say that barbecue needs to be in a particular paradigm, representing a distinct geographic or cultural position. To them I say, lighten up. Florida does not have a codified barbecue style, so Dr. BBQ is freestyling, doing a bit of everything. But he’s doing it with Texas pitmaster Lee Jasper at his side and all the resources and smarts the Perrys have amassed in their restaurant years. In an upscale space, they are serving laudable sliced brisket, house-cured and house-smoked pastrami, burnt ends, smoked turkey with a little Korean accent, Asian sticky ribs and St. Louis-style ribs.

A variety of dishes served at Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

Now add to this 20-something vegan items, a full bar with funny-kooky but tasty cocktails (imagine Maker’s Mark paired with Yoo-hoo, go on) and big, crowd-pleasing desserts like a doorstop of peanut butter pie. It’s no wonder Dr. BBQ has been one of the most mobbed restaurants of the year. Service still seems a little wobbly but will likely right itself with time. drbbqs.com

Address: 1101 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 443-7227

Price: $$

Deviled Pig

Brisket sandwich and a deviled pig pictured at the Deviled Pig in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

It was a strong year for new barbecue in the area, and this one has the added accolade of being the work of two women, something rare in the ‘cue world. Award-winning pitmaster Lee Ann Whippen (you may have seen her on BBQ Pitmasters and Throwdown With Bobby Flay) has partnered with Jennifer Daskevich, the 2013-2014 World Sandwich Champion who has won more than $100,000 in competitive cooking prizes, to open this casual South Tampa order-at-the-counter spot with picnic tables and appealing front-porch seating. With the tagline “meat with attitude,” the most interesting thing they are doing is the restaurant’s namesake dish, a riff on the classic Tampa deviled crab, only this one stuffs the nubby brown breaded football about the size of a baked potato with smoked pulled pork. They also do a “‘Queban,” a Cuban jazzed up with smoked brisket, pulled pork, smokehouse bologna and all the traditional accessories on La Segunda bread. It’s metal trays with paper liners and plastic foam ramekins for sides, nothing fancy, but the range and quality of house-made sauces (one mustardy, one sweet and tomatoey, one noticeably spicy and another one lush and white) will make you giddy. deviledpig.com

Address: 3307 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

Phone: (813) 766-1188

Price: $-$$

Iron Oak New American BBQ

Iron Oak New American BBQ's appetizer nachos. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

Another newcomer, this one opened Memorial Day 2018 at the site of the short-lived Catcher and the Rye. It’s another collaboration of seasoned pros, this time Christina and Zachary Feinstein (Black Pearl and the Living Room, both in Dunedin) and Christopher Artrip (chef at Black Pearl), its biggest draw a wide covered patio with misters and the goods that come out of the restaurant’s high-tech-meets-low-tech Oyler barbecue pit. (They say it’s one of only four pits in the state.) The meats they smoke are naturally raised (no hormones, steroids or GMO feed), a laudable commitment, but you’re here to indulge your caveman side a bit. Maybe start with the amberjack fish spread or burnt ends queso with tortilla chips. The smoked wings are good, too, but then you’re going to want to opt for “The Cycle” as your entree, a sampler of sausage, brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis-style ribs and a couple of those wings, so maybe that’s excessive. Speaking of excessive, the ham bone collards are seriously hammy and there’s a seasonal boozy slushie that is worth exploring. ironoakbbq.com

Address: 917 11th St., Palm Harbor

Phone: (727) 754-7337

Price: $$

Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que

Plenty of barbecue devotees say there are four basic schools of barbecue: Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas, with splinter groups, regional anomalies and isolated barbecue malcontents gumming up the works. I would suggest that soul food barbecue - soul food being an outmoded term that verges on either quaintness or political incorrectness - is its own category, with its own identifiers whether you’re eating it in Oakland, Calif., or Camden, Ala. There is a ladle of soupy (sometimes incendiary) sauce, there is white bread for mopping, there is often banana pudding at the end. Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que started as a barbecue stand in 2003 and moved into a brick-and-mortar house in Ybor City in 2009. They describe it as Tennessee style: dry rub on the meats’ ribs then smoked for two hours (chicken is smoked for two-and-a-half, pork butts for six to eight, beef for four), followed by tomato-based sauce at the end. The single best item is the spicy collards, but I’m a fan of the ribs - and if you go on a Thursday, look for the turkey legs. alsybor.com

Address: 1609 Angel Oliva Senior St., Tampa

Phone: (813) 956-0675

Price: $-$$

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