BARBEQUES, BARBECUES, BAR-B-Qs.
We’re unsure of the correct way to spell it, but one thing remains without a doubt: Ocalans absolutely love their BBQ. Sumptuous ribs brushed with sweet sauce over a hot pit; it’s the quintessential smell and taste of a summer we’ve all been waiting for.
Although we can agree that just about everyone loves a good BBQ, recommending a place to get your smoky ribs, pulled pork or chicken wings is a whole different story. The BBQ eatery could be a mom and pop. It could be a chain restaurant where people flock out of convenience or just because the food is so darn good. Whether mobile or dine-in, everyone has a BBQ joint they’re partial to, a neighborhood treasure they’d like to keep secret.
But secrets can’t be kept for long.
From popular chains to meals on wheels, we asked and you answered. We scoured Ocala and other distant-but-not-too-far-off cities. Finally, we came up with a list that will have you smacking your lips as you bite into a baby rib, licking sauce off your fingers with glee.
Readers be warned: Your favorite barbecue restaurant just got a little more crowded.
On the Homefront
Our local radar detected these fine establishments, and OK, so did a few little birds who just couldn’t keep silent about their favorite BBQ. Here are four places Ocalans can’t get enough of.
Southern Fast Food Royalty
Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q
4102 E Silver Springs Blvd. / Ocala236-1012
1845 SW College Rd. / Ocala629-2663
5239 SE Abshier Blvd. / Belleview347-5400
1128 Canal St. / The Villages430-1461
1794 SW CR 484 / Ocala245-5595
We couldn’t leave out Sonny’s. The franchise can’t be beat as the go-to, chain restaurant, as proven by dozens of readers who declared they were hooked on the place when we asked them where they go to get their BBQ.
Located only in southern states, northerners may intone “Just who is this Sonny?” when southerners lament about missing the smokin’ chicken wings, pulled beef brisket and garlic bread that comes with every meal—perfect to dip into the last traces of sizzlin’ sweet bar-B-Q sauce. And their Dixon burger! Their chargrilled chicken! You know the rest, so we’ll stop while we’re warm.
But here’s a little trivia for you: Did you know the favorite chain was founded by Floridian Floyd “Sonny” Tillman in Gainesville in 1968? For Ocala and surrounding cities, Sonny’s is truly a part of Central Florida heritage.
The Neighborhood Champ
Champion Bar-B-Q Services
3960 W Silver Springs Blvd. / Ocala427-1543
When we asked our readers about their favorite BBQ joint, Sonny’s (see above) was the reigning victor. But the non-franchise, neighborhood eatery that came in as a close second has a name that proves its special status in Ocalans’ hearts. Champion, a commercial kitchen on wheels, got its start in 2008. Pit Master Chris Crandon opened Champion after retiring from 27 years in law enforcement with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
“I recognized a need in Marion County for good quality food available to working men and women at an affordable price,” says Chris. Given the lunchtime constraints placed on the average working person, he also saw the need for food to be made available in a timely fashion.
Customers can’t get enough of Champion’s slow-smoked beef brisket, which you can get as a sandwich combo with a drink and a delectable side. You can’t go wrong with the collard greens and coleslaw, but we have our heart set on the homemade casserole with pecan topping when it’s time to order.
Big Dad and His Secret Sauce
Shane’s Rib Shack
2601 SW 19th Ave. Rd., #105 / Ocala304-5255
This fast-growing and popular BBQ chain got its start in McDonough, Georgia, in 2002. The restaurant prides itself on consistency and has won many guests over with their savory meat glazed with their top-secret sauce. With local franchise owner Kristen Keene at the helm in Ocala’s location, diners are sure to be pleased.
“When Shane’s father came up with this delicious sauce for the restaurant, it just blew the doors off!” says Director of Operations Nick Brannigan.
Big Dad’s Secret Sauce is heavenly on a rack of ribs; the meat so tender it falls right off the bone. Although pork and chicken nachos are one of the top orders, customers also love the traditional Southern sides of mac’n’cheese and fried okra, which Nick says are as popular as french fries.
The Brunswick stew is a meal to consider even on the hottest days if you want your BBQ pork in a hearty bowl. Another Southern tradition that has customers misty eyed is the mention of Shane’s cobbler, a plate of warm peaches in a sweet crisp that your spoon—and mouth—will love.
“What I like about Ocala is that they’re hearty eaters,” says Nick, who has been in the restaurant business for 30 years and worked in BBQ for 10. “Our menu is small, but it’s simplicity at its finest.”
Rated PG for Positively Glorious
PeGee’s Homestyle Cooking & Barbeque
1680 NW 77th St. / Ocala861-7343
Just who is PeGee? Chef and Owner Cheryl Peterson-Gaines says their eatery’s name is a combination of her maiden name and her husband’s nickname, GQ. Some new diners may think PeGee is pronounced “Peggy” instead of “P-G,” but call it what they will, nothing will change their mind about how much they adore PeGee’s cooking.
After working for 29 years in the prison system for the state of Florida, Cheryl went into catering and opened PeGee’s in 2010. People love the signature ribs and pulled pork and fry basket for a meal.
The food, which is homemade, has earned PeGee’s legions of fans. People love the eatery so much, Cheryl says, that she’s been trying to figure out how to deliver her cooking to a deprived customer in the Dominican Republic using dry ice.
“I have customers who travel from Jacksonville and Tampa just to get my barbeque,” says Cheryl.
Foodies try to figure out how she makes the unique flavors in her green beans, baked beans and potato salad, all of which are quick to go by the day’s end. Get a slice of the lemon pound cake and sweet potato pie—they’re the first to sell out.
Cheryl hopes to transform the mobile eatery into a dine-in restaurant in the near future.
There are several other options in Ocala you may want to give a try. Readers couldn’t help but spill on these favorite BBQ establishments.
Stine’s Bar-B-Q Pit
9433 SE Maricamp Rd., Ocala (352) 680-9755
This eight-year-old BBQ eatery is open until they sellout, which happens quite early so make it snappy! Owner Stine Fulton is a semi-retired UPS worker who decided to open Stine’s to “keep me busy in my backyard.” The food is homemade from family recipes and is smokin’ good. Customers love the southern-style potato, baked beans and mac’n’cheese sides. But banana pudding and lemon pie are usually the first menu items to disappear. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” says Fulton.
Boat’s Deli Que
4111 NW 100 St., Ocala
Corner of CR200A & 326, Ocala
Pits in Other Cities
Our local BBQs will always have a place in our hearts, but there are a couple other smokehouses out there you should venture out to visit. For our neighboring cities, we have a few recommendations if your belly feels like a pit when you’re out of town. Trust us, these BBQs will fix you right up!
“We’re just good local folks”
OakWood Smokehouse & Grill
860 US 441 / Lady Lake751-5640
Established in 1998, this smokehouse has a quaint country charm with all types of restaurant fare that everyone can enjoy. Indulge in corn fritters, wedge-cut sweet potato fries with cinnamon butter or fried mac’n’cheese bites.
Co-founders Will Henderson and Bailey Cardwell wanted to open a restaurant of their own before finally opening C and H Smokehouse, which they ran for five years. They eventually branched out as OakWood and now have restaurants in four locations. Chef Sammy has cooked with OakWood since the beginning, and many of the elder guests have watched Will’s children grow up. His oldest patron is the ripe age of 104.
“We’re not a chain,” says Will. “We’re just good local folks. People like the culture of our restaurant.”
OakWood’s tasty baby back ribs have been credited for their sensational taste. The ribs have been awarded “Best Entrée” at the Taste of Tavares competition for three consecutive years. Get the baby backs with a “sidewinder” Sam’s slaw, lima beans or roasted corn salad.
Into the Woods
888 CR 310, Interlachen / (386) 684-4795
Take a ride through the Ocala National Forest and you’ll drive up to a little cabin that serves a bounty of barbecued delights. The smokehouse offers daily specials, such as free banana pudding with your meal on Wednesdays and all-you-can-eat ribs, chicken and pork on Thursdays. All meat is cut fresh and slow-smoked with blackjack oak.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all this meat, add some greenery to your plate with a gigantic salad. Also available are Backwoods’ “famous Brunswick stew,” which has its own palatable charm alongside Shane’s Rib Shack’s version of the southern dish, and Caribbean jerk chicken soup. Is your inner carnivore still hungry for more? You may find your match with “The Porker,” a triple layer pork sandwich.
Adam’s Rib Co.
2111 NW 13th St., Gainesville / (352) 373-8882
You’re in good company at Adam’s Rib Co. The gator on the logo is a nod to the Florida Gators, who dominated football the year the restaurant opened in 2005.
Adam’s serves three meals a day, with breakfast served until 10:45am weekdays and 11:45am weekends. Pancakes, French toast, omelets and biscuits are all for the picking, but lunch and dinner are where it’s at!
Begin your meal with spicy-hot jalapeno cheddar poppers or breaded pickle chips dipped in ranch dressing. It’s no mistake Adam’s calls their appetizers “gator bait.” If you want it all when it comes to dinner, order Adam’s Delight: a half slab of juicy ribs, two sides—we recommend the BBQ baked beans or french fries—garlic toast and banana pudding.
If you feel like staying in or are inspired after an outstanding meal, you can make your own southern BBQ-inspired grub by following these bloggers’ recipes.
Marvelous Meat and Macaroni
Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese
The slogan on the blog Girl Carnivore reads, “Because boys aren’t the only ones who like to play with their meat.” Kita Roberts has a passion for cooking over dancing flames with wood smoker in hand and seasonings and rubs at the ready. But this carnivore is also head over heels in love with melted cheese. Here, Kita combines BBQ favorites into a sublime dish that makes meat and macaroni a match made in heaven.
¼pounds bacon, cut into ¼-inch cubes
2tablespoons butter, melted
1⁄₃cup blackening seasoning
1pound chicken, sliced thin and trimmed
½cup heavy cream
8ounces sharp cheddar
½cup frozen peas
Scallions, sliced thin
Cook bacon in skillet until crispy. Drain on paper towel. Heat griddle or skillet over high heat until smoking. (Flat cast iron griddle and outdoor grill recommended as cooking will get smoky!) Coat chicken in melted butter; then cover with seasoning. When griddle surface is smoking, turn on fan with ventilation and add chicken. Cook 5-7 minutes, turning chicken as needed until all sides are blackened and chicken is cooked through. Remove from griddle, and cover. In a large pot, cook pasta according to instructions. Drain, and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and whisk in flour. Cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in cream and milk. Add cheese, and stir until melted through. Toss cheese sauce over pasta. Add peas and bacon. Place heaping portions of mac’n’cheese on plate. Top with chicken and scallions.
For more recipes by Kita, visit girlcarnivore.com.
Something to Stew About
Smoked chicken and its other grilled counterparts may get all the attention, but a steamy bowl of Brunswick stew is also a BBQ staple and is a great option for leftovers. Here’s a recipe from The Nifty Cupcake’s Annie Patz, a gal in Jacksonville who puts her culinary school skills to work blogging about sweet treats and savory dishes.
1tablespoon olive oil
8ounces sausage links, cut into ½-inch pieces
1yellow onion, finely chopped
1large white potato, diced
2garlic cloves, minced
1½teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3½cups vegetable stock OR water
15ounces fresh diced tomatoes
1cup lima beans, fresh, canned or frozen
1cup corn, fresh, canned or frozen
2tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2teaspoons prepared mustard
2teaspoon light brown sugar
½teaspoon ground allspice
½teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
12ounces frozen vegetarian veggie crumbles OR textured vegetable protein
½teaspoon liquid smoke
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add “sausage” links, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove sausage from pot, and set aside. Reheat oil in saucepan; add onion, celery, potato, garlic and ginger. Add 1/4 cup of stock or water, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid, add remaining stock or water and stir in tomatoes, corn, lima beans, Worcestershire sauce or tamari, mustard, sugar, allspice, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, about 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. During last 10 minutes of cooking time, add reserved “sausage,” vegetarian burger crumbles and liquid smoke.
See more by Annie at the-nifty-cupcake.blogspot.com.
“It’s Ridiculously Easy”
Easy Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Pork
Jen Nikolaus’s boys—meaning her husband and four sons!—approved of this pulled pork recipe. “My boys were in heaven!” writes Jen on her blog Yummy Healthy Easy. Served on a soft bun, this BBQ pulled pork is simply satisfying and mouthwatering good!
Serves 4 to 6
1onion, thinly sliced
1(3 to 4-lb) boneless pork loin
Seasoned salt (Jen uses Lawdry’s)
1can (12 ounces) diet soda OR regular
½bottle (1 cup) barbecue sauce (Jen loves Sweet Baby Ray’s)
Spray slow cooker lightly with cooking spray. Put sliced onions on bottom. Rinse pork loin, and pat lightly with paper towels. Coat with a layer of salt and some pepper. Place on top of onions. In a medium-sized bowl, mix barbecue sauce and soda. Pour the fizzy concoction on top of seasoned pork loin in crock pot. Cover crock pot, and cook on low for 7-8 hours. When meat is tender enough, carefully take pork out of slow cooker and place on plate. Shred meat up using two forks. Place meat back inside crock pot; stir to combine. Let cook for 30 minutes. Serve on buns.
For more easy—and yummy—ideas visit yummyhealthyeasy.com.