What’s Smokin’ at Tallahassee’s Barbecue Joints

We love the deep, smoky taste of barbecue slathered with sauce, but we don’t always want the fuss of firing up the grill and messing up our pots.

On those days, we hunt for barbecue joints that offer us ribs with plenty of mouth-chew, pulled pork, shaved brisket, juicy chicken and of course, all the usual fixins’.

Some of the best ‘cue can be found in divey settings and streetside smokers, but true devotees know that what counts is the downhome goodness on your plate and the pork perfume in the air.

Here’s a variety of Tallahaassee’s barbecue restaurants. Follow your nose and dig in. 

Dreamland Bar-B-Que:  As the story goes, God came to John "Big Daddy" Bishop in a dream and told the Tuscaloosa brick mason to open a barbecue restaurant on the land next to his home. Bishop did just that, opening Dreamland in 1958, the same year that Paul “Bear” Bryant coached his first game at Alabama.  In May, Tallahassee became the first Florida location for the small chain, its ninth branch overall. Find Dreamland by the amphitheater in the Centre of Tallahassee (formerly the Tallahassee Mall), offering counter, eat-in and patio seats. The barbecue restaurant is known for its pork spare ribs cooked direcly over a pit of hickory wood. The ribs are slathered with a tangy, housemade sauce and served with white bread for dipping. The menu also offers pulled pork, chicken and sausage (no brisket), sandwiches or platters and traditional sides. 2415 N. Monroe St., Suite 508; 850-800-7427

4Rivers Smokehouse: Founder John Rivers, a Florida State University graduate, spent years developing his Texas-style brisket recipe but you’ll also find pulled pork and chicken, St. Louis and “Brontosaurus” beef ribs and even a quesadilla on the menu at this casual, counter-serve space. Instead of a folky atmosphere, it’s bright and modern, with long communal tables. Your food is served on a brown sheet of paper spread across your tray. The Florida-based chain, named for four members of the Rivers’ family,  originated in Winter Park in 2009. 1817 Thomasville Rd.; 844-474-8377

Hamaknockers:  Tallahassee fans make the roughly 30-mile drive to Crawfordville, or stop by while traveling U.S. Highway 98, to savor the downhome barbecue at this rustic outpost. The family-owned eatery is known for its Brunswick stew, ribs and Carolina wrap with pulled pork, along with traditional sides and 15 housemade sauces that include a mango habanero, jerk or Jesse James Gold. On Friday and Saturday nights, rib-eye steaks are the specialty. 2837 Coastal Hwy, Crawfordville; 850-926-4737 

Jim & Milt’s Bar-B-Q: You can start your day at dawn at this local barbecue house with a country breakfast of sausage biscuit, come back for a sparerib lunch and end your night slathering their sweet-kicky sauce on meats house-smoked over hickory.  The place opened in 1968, with owners Jim Burgess and Milt Johnson selling the place to Mike Flury, his wife Debbie and sons in 1979. The house specialty is their “Famous Hobo Plate” with beef, pork or Yankee (combo beef and pork) sandwich, fried or steamed corn on the cob and a bowl of Brunswick stew, aside from other traditional barbecue grub. 1923 W Pensacola St.; 850-576-3998

Korean BBQ & More: OK, it’s not your typical barbecue menu, but adventurous diners rave about the Korean-style barbecue beef and pork at this shoebox-size storefront. Cook-owner Seunghwan “Swan” Lee prepares a limited list of eight or so authentic dishes scrawled on a board by the counter, where you order. The star is marinated beef bulgolgi (“fire meat”); pork, slightly spicier, is another option. You can douse with Lee’s tangy sauce, served in a plastic squeeze bottle, but he advises you to try it first to be sure you like the heat. Instead of sweet potatoes, you’ll find silky sweet potato noodles with veggies (you can add meat). Dishes are served with sticky white rice in a plastic-foam container. Your meal includes all-you-can-eat kimchi, fermented bean sprouts and soups, plus beverages of refreshing barley tea and sweet rice milk. 2624 W. Tennessee St.; 850-574-4151

Mindify Smoke BBQ Joint:  Bob “Barbecue Bob” Ahern serves certified Angus beef brisket, smoked turkey legs, St. Louis-cut ribs with housemade sauces, sides and ‘nanner puddin’  at his self-descibed “tinyhouse cookshack barbeque joint,” elevated by the aromas of hickoy, pecan and cherry woods. Ahern, who won second place in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis in 1984, was a computer programmer then barbecue caterer before opening Mindify Smoke in May 2015. Ahern and his wife, also offer a vegetarian platter. Pay by cash or a check. It’s takeout, with a few outdoor picnic tables available. 3510 North Monroe St.; 850-646-3439

Mo Betta BBQ: Mo and Nicole Hollaway opened this unconventional barbecue destination more than seven years ago in a bold, red food trailer in the parking lot of the Shell Station at Apalachee Parkway and Capital Circle. Place your order at the window and you can eat at the handful of picnic tables or get takeout. Spare ribs, pulled pork (try the sandwich topped with cole slaw, Mo advises), beef brisket and chicken star, served with housemade sauce and sides, the meats slow-smoked over hickory. You’ll smell the heavenly aromas before you see the place and the sign that beckons “Break Yo Mouth. 3105 Apalachee Pkwy;  850-570-8800

Sonny’s Barbecue: The barbecue restaurant chain, founded by Floyd “Sonny” Tillman in Gainesville, Florida in 1968, has become a staple for traditional beef, pork, turkey and chicken slow-smoked over real oak. Sides, salads and desserts round out the menu. There are three Sonny locations but the one on 2707 Monroe St. is closed during remodeling. The other locations are at 1460 Timberlane Rd., 850-906-9996; 3101 Dick Wilson Blvd., 850-878-1185



Rochelle Koff


Rochelle Koff is a foodie and South Florida transplant who was a restaurant critic for The Miami Herald for 20 years. Now a freelance writer, reporter and editor, Rochelle was most recently a legislative reporter for The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times. Reach her at rkoffward@gmail.com

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