Indy’s Best BBQ

Barbecue is our favorite summer food group, and these masters of pulled pork, smoked brisket, half slabs, full slabs, turkey tips, and burnt ends pile on the goodness. May your paper plate runneth over.

Bold Briskets:

Brisket Sandwich
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Big Hoffa’s


pirate theme greets customers as they sail through the doors of this sprawling smokehouse covered in murals. The place is a work of art, and owner Adam Hoffman gets wildly creative with this hybrid barbecue experience that uses slow-cooked meat as an artistic medium. Piles of protein are sold by the pound, but most people pull up to Big Hoffa’s to order one of the elaborate mashups. A fan favorite is the Hoffanator, which consists of a bed of crispy seasoned fries piled with creamy macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and pulled pork, all drizzled with both barbecue sauce and ranch dressing. Similarly far-fetched, the Amendment starts with a base layer of jasmine rice that gets lost under beef brisket, teriyaki glaze, homemade giardiniera, cilantro, onions, and spicy mayo. Beer is available, but purists know to wash down all of that saucy savoriness with an icy glass of sweet tea (also available in gallon jugs). 800 E. Main St., Westfield, 317-867-0077

The Smoke Hutt


his pitmaster chops with input from his dad and uncle, Brendon Hutton took over Jibs BBQ and Catering in Franklin from his parents earlier this year, preserving family recipes and traditions, but breathing new life into the operation based on his own uniquely southern-style barbecue sensibilities. The oak wood that powers the gigantic commercial-grade smoker outside (christened “Gunner” in honor of Hutton’s late dog) comes all the way from Texas to perfume ribs, pork butts, and turkey sourced from John’s Poultry here in Indy. The pulled pork nachos have earned a serious fan following, but Hutton claims the signature brisket as his true masterpiece, trimmed and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, then cooked for 12 hours over indirect heat to develop deep flavor and its characteristic bark. Secret-recipe regular and hot sauces are the icing on the cake, so to speak. We won’t judge if you squirt some on the mac and cheese or tender green beans as well as the meat. 38 S. Crowell St., Franklin; 317-760-7111

Hank’s Smoked Briskets


the mesquite wood a mile away from this landmark on the edge of Crown Hill Cemetery. Known by some as the BBQ Mecca of the Midwest, Hank’s has been serving up barbecue for nearly 20 years. At this mostly carryout spot, newbies are welcomed with a taste test—a slice of brisket or nub of sausage handed over the counter with a smile. The try-before-you-buy approach is effective bait—it hooked us! Owner Hank Fields sells ribs, sausages, corned beef, various sandwiches, and scratch-made desserts, but his claim to fame is obviously the brisket, tender, juicy, and rubbed exactly right. You can get it chopped, sliced, even served atop a giant, piping hot baked potato. Grab a bottle of the tangy sauce for off-site embellishing. 3736 Martin Luther King Jr. St., 317-925-1689

5 Thumbs BBQ


and Max Freije learned how to cook over fire from their dad when they were just young boys. It was only natural that they name their barbecue business (which began as a food truck) after they guy who was known for his mastery of the grill and his big, meaty hands. Earlier this year, 5 Thumbs BBQ opened in the location that used to house another longtime barbecue stronghold, Grilliant Foods, whose owner recently retired. “It’s a hard job,” Joe says. He’s not kidding. He and his brother begin their day between 3 and 4 a.m., prepping the meats and flames so that their fall-apart Texas-style ribs, smoked chickens, pepper-based briskets, and crispy brisket burnt ends made sweet and gooey with butter and brown sugar can achieve the perfect tender pull before the lunchtime rush. 4320 W. 96th St., 463-276-8447



has a background in steakhouses, having served as executive chef at Fleming’s and sous chef at The Capital Grille. But his affinity for meat goes back further than that. “My grandfather was a butcher for 50 years, and I grew up at his hip in the grocery store and on the grill,” Klein says. “It’s kind of in my blood.” At this outsized, open-concept restaurant that he owns with his wife, Whitney, Klein gives his smokehouse plates, sandwiches, and combos the respect they deserve. Order the Willie sandwich, and the slab of brisket (which supports a layer of slaw and cheese on a butter-toasted brioche bun) will give you mouthfuls of both tender beef and hits of flavorful fat. Dig into the pulled pork mounded on top of liquid cheese–doused nachos and you will find both delicate whisps and entire intact hunks of juicy other-white-meat, a la a really good pig roast. That’s not on accident. “You don’t want every bite to be the same,” says Klein, who adds that simplicity is key. He starts with top-quality cuts of meat, applies a simple rub, and leaves it up to the customer to choose from one of the house-made sauces. If they’re ambitious enough, they might get their Polaroid on Trax’s Wall of Fame for completing the belt-loosening Half Sheet Challenge (36 ounces of smoked meats, 32 ounces of sides, 4 ounces of pickles, and two slices of Texas Toast in 60 minutes or less) but hopefully not the Wall of Shame, which is reserved for those who tried and failed—and, to be honest, has a lot more photos on it. 7724 Depot St., McCordsville, 317-335-7675


Rockin Ribs:


Ribs, Beans, and Mac and Cheese.
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

King Ribs Bar-B-Q


stoic among us can resist rolling down the car windows and breathing in the smoky breeze wafting off the barbecue pits as this no-nonsense eatery comes into view on Keystone Avenue just south of Fall Creek Parkway or along 16th Street heading toward the Speedway. When David Williams and his wife, Sherry, took over the pair of rib joints his Tennessee native father-in-law launched in 1990, they saw no reason to rock the boat. Theopolis Clardy Sr.’s beloved family recipes proved so popular, they’re still the gold standard several decades later. Pioneering the drive-thru barbecue concept in Indy, the Keystone location posits a delicious contradiction—slow food served fast-food style. (If you want a sit-down meal, head over to the Speedway location instead.) Interestingly, the pitmasters here don’t stoke any wood, relying solely on charcoal and constant basting to produce toothsome ribs by the slab, whole chickens, pork shoulder, and pig’s feet begging for a splash of the house hot or mild sauce. Craving the signature barbecue tips? Stop by for the Tuesday dinner special with two sides. Greens and cornbread are served on weekends only, and don’t even think about skipping homemade sweet potato pie for dessert. 4130 N. Keystone Ave., 317-543-0841; 3145 W. 16th St., 317-488-0223

Barbecue and Bourbon


haven’t visited in a while, downtown Speedway has experienced a renaissance. Modern mixed-use buildings line Main Street, but Barbecue and Bourbon is one of the old-timers that stuck around to give this little town some patina and cred. The place is cramped, but in a good way, with barstools that fill up in the evening and fans of both of the business’s namesakes packing the house. Sure, you can walk in and order meat by the pound to go, but you might miss something fun. 1414 Main St., Speedway, 317-241-6940

Chicken, Ribs, Baked Beans, and more!
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Gip Got Tips


as a backyard barbecue hustle. When cars started lining up around pitmaster Dwayne “Gip” Gibson’s location, he and his wife, Stephanie, decided it was time to open a carryout establishment on the east side. This is the kind of slow-smoked barbecue you’ll be telling your out-of-town friends they must try. Instead of attempting to do it all, Gibson focuses only on what he can knock out of the ballpark: legit rib tips and smoked wings, mixed sheet pans of chicken and pork, plus a little-known delicacy: chicken tips. These smoky, juicy breast morsels are hand-sliced to order. Get the sauce on the side and use it for dipping. Patrons in the know order them online in advance—before they fly out the door. 2073 N. Emerson Ave., 317-258-1447

Pull Up Grill


specialties, often hard to find in these parts, are given lots of love at this compact spot with its corresponding food truck parked out front. In addition to ordering excellent pulled pork, brisket, and ribs with sides scooped from the hot-line trays next to the cash register, customers stop by for a taste of Texas Red Hot sausage, like a hot dog on fire. Equally elusive and delicious are Pull Up Grill’s smoked turkey ribs, which don’t look like much but are actually surprisingly succulent and dense with flavor. They come two to an order, but that is not to say you will want to share them. 2412 E. Raymond St., 317-419-3515


Ribs and all the fixins.
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Smokin’ Barrel BBQ


optional at this family-run standout with a casual Thursday–Saturday setup on the east side. Customers pull up to the drive-thru to retrieve their dry-rubbed meats cooked low and slow, packed into compartmented to-go boxes with homestyle sides. While the $24 family packs (a pound of meat with two sides) are the most affordable option, be sure to sample all of the goods, from the rib tips that manage to pack so much flavor into such a small bite to the juicy sliced brisket to the occasional novelty—brisket tacos, perhaps? 2316 S. German Church Rd., 317-340-4502

Rackz BBQ


Indianapolis barbecue source G.T. South’s Rib House (which operated for more than 25 years on the northeast side) can get a taste of the glory days at this spiffy counter-service spot tucked into a Carmel strip mall. Owner Ryan Gregg is a G.T. South’s veteran, brought onboard at the age of 19 to make the sides. Five years ago, he opened his own place, zeroing in on sweet, tomato-based sauces and hickory wood. His baby back ribs have a loyal following, but a surprising breakout hit is the Brunswick stew that Gregg brought with him from G.T. South’s, “with our own spin and a few things added,” he says. 5790 E. Main St., Carmel, 317-688-7290

Saucey ribs, Baked Beans, and Potato Salad.
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Bar-B-Q Heaven


is a long time to hold up the barbecue mantle, but Ronald Jones of Bar-B-Q Heaven has done just that, by way of dedication, perseverance, and remembering where he came from. Jones grew up eating this Indianapolis staple. His grandmother’s recipes laid the groundwork for the hickory-, apple-, and cherry-smoked pork ribs, beef bologna, and turkey ribs he serves seven days a week. There is sauce, but the meat can stand alone. Marinated and dry-rubbed, the chicken is tender, and the ribs hold up well, especially when accompanied by sides of baked beans and greens. 877 30th St., 317-283-0035; 2515 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., 317-926-1667

Half Liter


grew up in the restaurant business and early on adopted the mission statement that drove his father (restaurateur Ed Sahm): feed the community. But he added a coda: make sure people have some fun while they’re being fed. Part of the family of restaurants that includes Big Lug Canteen, Hoss Bar & Grill, The Roost, and Sahm’s Place, this kid-friendly beer hall that backs up to the Monon Trail stands out as the most fun. As his customers kick back, Sahm’s team is busy making salted-and- peppered brisket, ribs, pulled chicken, brats, and plenty of it. The condiments have been pared down to the three barbecue mother sauces: Texas-style mop sauce with hits of cayenne and paprika; Kansas City sweet cola sauce that uses Pepsi as its base; and vinegary Carolina mustard sauce. (An Alabama white sauce is in the works.) Take a seat, and you will have your food in no time. “People are always shocked at how fast stuff comes out of our restaurant,” Sahm says. “Well, that’s because we’re ready for you.” 5301 Winthrop Ave., 463-212-8180

Mouthwatering Slab of Ribs.
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Ben’s BBQ Shack


Ben’s BBQ Shack, a not-so-hidden gem that stands gleaming white along a busy stretch of State Road 32 in Westfield. Only open Friday through Sunday—and sometimes not even that—the 300-square-foot space with parking-lot picnic tables providing the only seating is a meat-eater’s oasis. Owner Ben Hoffman runs the show, hyping the early-bird customers already lined up at his service window when he hauls out the “open” sign and stands it next to the road. “Are you ready for some barbecue?” he hollers. Yes, we are. We walk away with Styrofoam clamshells of tidy ribs, precision cut and coated in a peppery rub; luscious pulled pork; and generous slices of brisket marbled with fat and edged with a crispy sizzle. The $58 bundle that includes a pound of brisket, pound of pulled pork, pound of ribs, single servings of baked beans and coleslaw, and a miniature bourbon buttermilk pie is a heck of a deal, and a preorder ensures that you will get yours before Hoffman replaces the “open” sign with a “sold out” one. 124 E. Main St., Westfield, 937-823-0747


Perfect Pork and Crispy Chicken:

Hutton Platter
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Rusted Silo Southern BBQ


designer needed to build the classic roadside barbecue shack, this Lizton outlier sheathed in corrugated metal that literally sits beside the railroad tracks and has an ice machine out front could offer some authentic inspiration. Pitmaster and chef Robert Ecker runs the show, in his red baseball cap that demands “Make BBQ Great Again.” Customers who appreciate the sentiment crowd into Rusted Silo’s roadhouse dining room, digging into beef brisket, baby back ribs, pork butt, sausage samplers, and spareribs heaped onto paper-lined metal trays. The meats are heavily smoked, especially the whole chickens that take a ride on the massive merry-go-round smoker that slowly spins behind the counter. The sauce caddy offers an arsenal of squirt bottles containing Carolina Mustard, Kentucky Bourbon, and other forms of liquid tang. One wall is just glass refrigerator doors displaying a well-curated selection of craft beers—cracking one open while you wait is as essential to the Rusted Silo dining experience as taking home a scoop of peach cobbler or some of Mama June’s Nanner Puddin for later. 411 N. State St., Lizton, 317-994-6145

317 BBQ


floors, black-washed cinderblock walls, and roll-up garage doors give this casual Broad Ripple spot an “industrial shack” aesthetic. It’s a prime spot for evening people-watching, especially if you take your dinner and drink outside to the alley-side patio, where you can dig into your smoked half-chicken with the lovely burnished skin, thick-cut brisket, and pork belly burnt ends slicked with peach bourbon glaze. This is solid, rib-sticking food that will get you through the night. 6320 Guilford Ave., 317-744-0025


Squealers Barbeque Grill


its origins back to the competitive barbecue circuit in 1999 when its crew hauled a tricked-out “smokin’ wagon” around to events in two dozen different cities, earning a slew of awards and recognition along the way. Although the team still travels to compete, it’s also comfortably settled into brick-and-mortar locations in Mooresville and on Indy’s northwest side, both of which stake their reputations on cherry- wood-fired Southern Pride smokers the owners like to call the “Money Makers.” Second-generation pitmaster Evan Buck mans the fire, putting 2.5 tons of meat through a 14-hour smoking process every week. Products sourced from Indiana pork farmers and suppliers like Indiana Kitchen, Indiana Packers, and John’s Poultry eventually make their way to the plate in the form of hearty dinners, pit sandwiches, and smoked street tacos. The barbecue lineup covers all the usual brisket, ribs, chicken, and sausage bases, but the pulled pork is the real standout—moist and flavorful, but still thirsty enough for a squeeze of any one of four sauces made in house. 5515 W. 86th St., 317-871-7427; 390 E. High St., Mooresville, 317- 834-8888

Brisket Pho
Photo by Andrew Doench; Food styled by Katy Doench

Gomez BBQ


joint with Venezuelan influences, this pint-sized restaurant serves a unique mix of classic American fare and a rotating menu of dishes with playful ingredients, such as a deep bowl of barbecue-style beef pho, a smoked chicken quesadilla with chipotle aioli, and potpies oozing with pulled pork and macaroni and cheese. A neighborhood draw for eastside foodies, this modest location with a handful of tables inside and a small patio out back is a bit of a second chapter for owner Michael Gomez, who introduced the brand in 2014 by way of a (now shuttered) City Market corner stall. Here, the pared-down menu showcases Gomez’s passion for the low and slow style of cooking. 2827 E. 10th St., 317- 935-9838


Johnson’s BBQ Shack


the railroad tracks in the quaintest corner of downtown Bargersville, Johnson’s pulls its meats from an onsite smoker while customers have a seat—at one of the picnic tables on the deck if they are lucky enough the snag one. Sandwiches are the way to go here, whether you choose brisket, boneless pork chop, or the knife-and-fork Pit Master Special crammed with pulled pork and slaw. It’s the kind of place where nobody will bat an eye if you decide to get a little crazy with the barbecue sauce. Just roll up your sleeves and tear off a couple more paper towels from the roll. 82 S. Baldwin St., Bargersville, 317-458-4660