7 American BBQ Joints Turning Up the Heat in Shanghai

By Sophie Steiner, May 18, 2024

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The first Texas-style BBQ joint in all of China, Bubba’s Food Co., opened back in 2006 all the way out in Hongqiao.

READ MORE: BBQ King Ken Walker On Hanging Up His Spurs After 2 Decades

Since then, BBQ has caught on like wild fire as the city gets heated up over all things smoked, seared and grilled, whether it’s on charcoal, wood, gas or electric.

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So it's no surprise that, lately, we've been eating a lot of meat.

All the meat.

Meat for days.

#Meatporn.

From dry-rubbed and tomato-lacquered Kansas City meats, to smoked-imbued behemoth racks of Texas treats, to spice- and vinegar-mopped North Carolina heats... we're here for all the grease-dripping, heart-clogging, finger-lickin’ good fixings that are best enjoyed in Daisy Duke cutoff overalls, shotgun in hand.

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Without further ado, here are our top seven pure fire American-style 'low and slow' BBQ joints bringing the heat to Shanghai.


Cages

Every Saturday, Cages Jing'an roll out their award-winning Southern style BBQ from noon until sold out, so don't miss out... especially on their beefzilla sandwich!

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The most artery-clogging, carnivore’s dilemma of a sando, the Beefzilla (RMB328) sees a bone-in, brined, pepper-rubbed and smoked short rib stacked on top of 150 grams of 18-hour smoked beef brisket, two smash burger patties griddle-fried with a gooey American cheese cap and thick shmear of tangy Russian dressing, all nestled between three plush pillows of butter-soaked milk toast.

Glorious and gluttonous, this sandwich is a grotesque absurdity in and of itself – testosterone incarnate, it receives both the Godzilla and Frankenstein stamp of approval for being simultaneously monstrous and moreish.

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An arguably even more heart-stopping combination of meats, the Pit Master Platter (RMB588) (over)feeds four to six people with unctuous beef brisket, crackly BBQ brisket burnt ends, a ½ rack of pork ribs (with glossy pleats that slink away effortlessly from the bone), shredded pulled pork shoulder, snappy smoked cheese-stuffed sausages, and juicy chicken quarters – a barnyard’s worth of animal protein.

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If that wasn’t enough, the platter also comes with all the sides, and we literally mean the entire menu of sides – burnt ends-coated BBQ baked beans, creamy mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, stodgy Southern style potato salad, buttery jalapeño cornbread, and a kale mango salad (a touch of freshness between all that meat).

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If your crew is too hungover to go the whole hog, don’t fret – all of the meats and sides can also be ordered a la carte in 150-gram, 300-gram, and 500-gram increments. 

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While this ‘cue only sees the light of day on Saturday, every fatty morsel is worth reworking weekend plans for.

READ MORE: 3 Meaty New Menus: Cages, 18 Hours BBQ & Alimentari

Cages Jing'an, 3/F, Jing'an Sports Center, 428 Jiangning Lu, by Wuding Lu 江宁路428号静安体育中心3楼, 近武定路


Garlic Barbecue

Since opening close to five years ago, Garlic Barbecue has remained a foolproof option for bringing on the meat sweats, any hour of the day, any day of the week.

Located in outdoor mall Zhonghai Huanyuhui, this meat-centric venue is the original 'cue work of the same 18 Hours Texas Barbecue folks from... Turkey (surprise!) – including the owners of Garlic.

Most recently Garlic Barbecue has also expanded to EKA Tianwu with an even bigger space, doling out some of the city's most authentic BBQ.

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The signature item since opening – and the hero of all Texas BBQ meats – the Beef Brisket (RMB52/100 grams) is carved to order, glistening with schmaltz dripping down from that requisite pink smoke ring perimeter. 

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Seasoned with just salt and pepper, in true Texas style, the beef is smoked over lychee wood, and sprayed with apple cider vinegar every few hours for 18 hours to create that initial bark – the charred crust that forms on the outside of the meat from the caramelized sugar, rendered fat and smoke  that cooks on the surface.

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The resulting meat’s texture ranges from succulent to juicy, from crunchy to melting.

There’s no other way to put it – this is damn good brisket. 

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No Texas ‘cue menu is complete without collagen-packed short ribs, and Garlic Barbecue has not one, but two options, the latter of which is only available on weekends.

Coming in at 250+ grams, the Beef Short Ribs (RMB228) are encased in a peppery crust – one that, in our humble opinion, is powerful enough to warrant our 'no-sauce-necessary' blessing. 

If you happen to swing through on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, there’s no other option besides the Fred Flintstone-worthy, 12-hour smoked Beef Dinosaur Ribs (RMB388), a 500+ gram behemoth served straight up on a platter, borderline still moo-ing.

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There's also Iberian Pork Ribs (RMB52/100 grams), that embark on a six-hour smoking journey before arriving tableside, shamelessly falling off the bone.

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Not only does Garlic have the kit to make other pitmasters red with envy – two 100 kilos custom-built smokers – but they’ve also got daily crowds of famished fans lining up at all hours to warrant that much of a production. 

In fact, they only keep their doors open until the food runs out, which can happen as early as midday. 

While that might deter many would-be diners, show up as early as possible on a weekday and you should be fine.

(Weekends are insane; you have been warned.)

Garlic Barbecue, L107-108, 1/F, 285 Jianguo Dong Lu, by Madang Lu 建国东路285号中海环宇荟1楼L107-108, 近马当路


Parlay 

After taking over the old Bubba’s haunt round the back in Shankang LiMatty Waters (of Smoke KCQ, and menu design for The HaiThe Smokehouse x The Camel) soft opened Parlay at the end of last month with an entirely revamped look, concept, and menu.

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The space boasts an elevated sports bar vibe – think pool tables, darts boards, wraparound high top seating, and a flashy new repurposed bar – with premium pub grub to match, not to mention the freshest daily BBQ in town (hosted via outdoor smokers as the weather warms).

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It is basically bringing together the best aspects of the old Camel (RIP) and Bubba’s into one meat-centric mecca for all things BBQ, sports and ‘Murica. 

Following the Bubba’s legacy, the menu still focuses on BBQ – but a stronger emphasis on freshly done daily Kansas City-style BBQ – plus a Combi oven, a new cold room for salads, and a broader spread of starters, sandwiches, burgers, and entrées for a balanced bar and grill menu. 

Onto the main event, the reason we are all here – the apple wood-smoked meats scorched by fire and heat in a custom-built smoker. 

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The menu is divided into à la carte meats and sides, BBQ plates, sharing platters, and – Matty’s pièce de résistance – the Parlay Double Wager Pork Belly Rib Combo… but we'll get back to that later.

All of the meats are first dry-rubbed with a recipe created and only known by Matty himself, then swaddled in an equally secret complimentary BBQ sauce, for the ideal balance of sweet and heat. 

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Like your standard American South BBQ joint, individual meat orders come in 100-gram portions – with 6+ hour-smoked USDA Beef Brisket (RMB48), USDA Pork Spare Ribs (RMB48), Char Siu Smoked Pork Belly (RMB38), and homemade Pork Sausage (RMB38/120 grams).

Or, you can upgrade to larger portions as the BBQ platters, that come with your choice of two sides, and span USDA Beef Brisket (RMB128/250 grams)USDA Pork Spare Ribs (RMB148/3 pieces, RMB288/6 pieces), or Half Spring Chicken (RMB98).

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Sourced from just an hour away from Matty’s hometown of Kansas City, the USDA pork spare ribs are KC cut (from the ends of the rack) rather than the commonplace St. Louis cut (from the middle of the rack) that you’ll find around town.

These beastly bones house meat that slides right off it in one fell swoop, yet is still meat, not mush. 

The ribs are painted with apple cider vinegar-forward BBQ sauce, before being charred again on the grill to intensify the flavor and crisp up the outer flesh.

A touch of heat from chili and cayenne catches in the back of your throat in a satisfyingly spicy way. 

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A lot of grub chocking up a lot of value, the Sharing Platter (RMB488) sports 250 grams of beef brisket, three pork ribs, pork sausage, and half a spring chicken, plus three sides and toast – a meaty marriage of protein and fat. 

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Available only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Parlay’s answer to all the dinosaur-size beef short ribs around town is the aforementioned Parlay Double Wager Pork Belly Rib Combo (RMB218)

A massive 1+-kilo portion of a two-bone pork rib with the belly still attached is dry-rubbed and smoked five hours until fall-apart tender, then sliced to order.

Pleated with melting fat and surrounded by a smoky, charred bark, it truly is the best of all BBQ worlds. 

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Sides range from coleslaw to potato salad, mac’n’cheese to baked beans.

Every college boy’s man cave dream come to life, Parlay also plays host to live music on the weekends, sports event screenings, and a sprawling terrace for summer barbecues – the ultimate American-style backyard BBQ environment with service to match.

READ MORE: Parlay: Elevated Sports Bar Meets Kansas City BBQ

Parlay, Shankang Li, 808 Shaanxi Bei Lu, Bld 18, #103 陕西北路808号陕康里18幢103室


Preferred Beef Cut

If you’ve been to any food or beer festival in Shanghai in the last year, you’ve probably heard of Preferred Beef Cut, a modest BBQ vendor churning out some righteous smoked brisket, burnt ends, pastrami, pulled pork shoulder, house-made sausages, pork riblets, burgers, hot dogs, and more, out of Minhang. 

(But don't worry downtowners, the delivery radius is to your benefit.)

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Fire.

Passion.

Patience.

Authentic BBQ.

These are the Preferred Beef Cut values, owned and operated by pit masters that are passionate about all things BBQ.

Founder Cloud Liu is a trail blazer and innovator of Texas BBQ in Shanghai, a self-taught BBQ master that prides himself on sharing the science and reasoning behind good BBQ. 

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And good BBQ is exactly what you will find in the Preferred Beef Cut menu lineup, beginning with their star: the USA Tyson's IBP, USDA Choice and grain-fed Brisket, rubbed in salt and pepper and smoked for 12-14 hours.

The brisket can be enjoyed as a Brisket Sandwich (RMB68) on a brioche bun with coleslaw, as the Brisket Rice (RMB68), heaped over the Brisket Hot Dog (RMB48), wrapped up as the Brisket Burrito (RMB48), scooped over mayo-slathered corn as the Brisket Elote (RMB48), or as a part of the most ordered menu item...

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... the Ranch Platter (RMB298). This family-sized sharing platter includes 250 grams of smoked brisket, 200 grams of pulled pork, six smoked pork riblets, a 100-gram smoked house-made sausage, chili, baked beans, green beans, pickles, dinner rolls, and BBQ sauce – the optimal delivery order. 

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The menu extends further with Brazilian pork shoulder smoked 8-10 hours over lychee wood, US sugared and smoked pork ribs, a seriously stacked Double Cheese Burger (RMB68)...

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... a Chili Hot Dog (RMB68) absolutely smothered in a craft beer beef chili simmered with cayenne, paprika, and cumin, all nestled inside a plush brioche bun...

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... and numerous sandwiches, like the Fat Mike Sandwich (RMB68) with pastrami, pork and slaw; the Pulled Pork Sandwich (RMB68); and the Pastrami Sandwich (RMB68)

And this is all just the beginning. Preferred Beef Cut is now working with a food factory dedicated entirely to smoking, packaging and freezing, so they can distribute their moreish meats across the region to other restaurants.

This means you can expect to see the Preferred Beef Cut label (and melt-in-your-mouth meats) a lot more often. 

Preferred Beef Cut, Room 161, No. 6, Lane 569, Yunle Lu, Minhang District 闵行区运乐路569弄6号161室


Smokey Project 

An ode to the American backyard BBQ – but with Chinese nuances – Smokey Project opened in the old Fan Tang food court space on Yanping Lu last summer, serving up a roster of slow-roasted brisket, ribs, BBQ sides, and the like.

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A firepower Alto-Shaam Combi oven combines convection and steam cooking through charcoal and electric means to produce the highest quality meat, monitored to the exact temperature to control consistently melt-in-your-mouth beef, regardless of Shanghai’s widely varying weather conditions. 

In short, get excited to sneak a peek at that meat. 

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For now, the mains are all US Choice Beef – ribs, brisket, and pulled beef – in multi-consumable forms: between two buns as a sandwich; topped on a burger; rolled into a taco; plated atop a veg salad or rice bowl; or – most traditionally – served straight up on a beef-laden platter. 

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Beginning with the signature dish, the Chef’s Special Smoked Brisket (RMB78/150 grams) is marinated for 24 hours in a typical American South BBQ blend, with a smattering of Asian spices thrown into the mix – star anise, clove, and Japanese sake, to name but a few – then slow-roasted in that Combi oven for 18 hours. 

The result?

A tender slab of beef with thick globules of buttery, rendered fat in dense pleats, reminiscent of hongshaorou in the meat-to-fat ratio.

For diehard BBQ enthusiasts, the marinade falls neither in the vinegar-forward North Carolina and Memphis category, nor in the beef-heavy later evolution that is Texas and Kansas City BBQ.

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It refuses to be pigeonholed, pulling elements from the entire region, plus local Chinese spices for a less smoky, lushui-esque (卤水) flavor profile that is distinctly – and pridefully – a representation of its own Shanghai identity. 

As to appeal more to local tastes – one that tends to be averse to overly smoky notes – the meat isn’t overpowered by the marinade or charcoal, leaving room for diners to choose amongst four homemade sauces – BBQ, cocktail, smoky hot mayo, and spicy – for amping up the flavor. 

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By weekend reservation only, the U.S. Choice Smoked Beef Ribs (RMB268/350 grams) is another straight out of Bedrock, Fred Flintstone-worthy dinosaur bone, scored for easier teeth-to-meat ripping.

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The menu also sees the likes of a sausages, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, and bowls, plus combination meat and side platters.

READ MORE: Confirm Your Carnivore Status at USA BBQ Joint Smokey Project

Smokey Project, 98A Yanping Lu, by Xinzha Lu 延平路98A号, 近新闸路


Smokin' Hog

Smokin' Hog opened this past spring after taking over Post No Bills' old digs on Wuding Lu.

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While the name Smokin' Hog may be familiar (they've made quite the showing on the popup market scene over the last three years), this is the team’s first brick-and-mortar store.

Backed by restaurateurs and married couple Nacho Virgen and Karina Sasmita, this ‘cue joint is merging American South classics with south-of-the-border Mexican flare. 

The menu’s meat and potatoes is – well – meat and potatoes (emphasis on the meat) with DIY style ordering; all eight meat options are sold in 100-gram increments with add-on sides for an additional RMB25 a pop. 

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Traversing a carnivore’s culinary expedition, the meat options start from 16-hour apple wood smoked USDA Prime Beef Brisket (RMB60) to sticky and slathered Butter Caramel Iberico Pork Ribs (RMB58), from Beef Barbacoa (RMB60) to 9-hour smoked and shredded Pulled Pork (RMB55) – the meat coming from the neck as it is leaner and better absorbs the Smokin’ Hog signature spice rub than its pork butt counterpart.

There’s artisanal Cheddar Pork Sausage (RMB40), Spicy Beef Sausage (RMB40), and for those who dine on swine, some fatty Maple Pork Belly (RMB48) – a creative addition to the standard BBQ lineup. Weekends also see Beef Short Ribs

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All meats are freshly smoked and served alongside white toast, pickled onions, jalapeños, and a duo of homemade secret recipe BBQ sauces – the former being a balance of tangy (from tomatoes) and creamy (from butter) with a mild spicy kick; the latter showing up as a more typical BBQ sauce augmented by coffee.

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If you’re not bulking or hulking, there are brioche bun Sandwiches (RMB85-105), hefty Smoked Beef Burgers (RMB70-75), Loaded Fries (RMB60), BBQ Nachos (RMB60), Mexico City-style street Tacos (RMB65-80), and Quesadillas (RMB60-140).

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And Nacho and Karina just launched a sister delivery brand called Smokin' Bowls that focuses on – you guessed it – complete meals in a bowl, showcasing their BBQ meats as the protein source. 

READ MORE: Smokin' Hog: Low-and-Slow Texas BBQ on Wuding Lu

Smokin' Hog, 970 Wuding Lu, by Jiaozhou Lu 武定路970号, 近胶州路


18 Hours Texas Barbecue

18 Hours Texas Barbecue opened last December with a slew of central Texas-style low-and-slow smoked meats, fired away in the smoker for – as the name above the door suggests – up to 18 hours.

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Backed by co-founder of Garlic BBQ and Garlic, Turkish restaurateur Emre Gurel, along with business partner and pit master Yigit Turkmen, the two have launched a meat-lover’s lineup of a menu, plus BBQ favorites sides, sliders, and sets. 

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Like a true Texas BBQ joint, meats can be ordered in 100-gram portions, so diners can mix and match to create their ideal tray – all to the backdrop of a stop sign red 500-kilo branded smoker, the venue’s focal point. 

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The menu spans 18-hour lychee wood smoked Beef Brisket (RMB52/100 grams), where diners can choose a cut from either the fattier side – the deckle – or the leaner other side – the cross-hatched flat; Homemade Cheese Sausage (RMB28) made from a blend of trimmings from the other meats (70% Australian Black Angus M5 brisket, 20% Spanish Iberian pork ribs and 10% fat) all encased with thick gobs of cheddar; Pulled Pork (RMB48/100 grams) – tangy, tender and textbook exceptional; and Iberian Pork Ribs (RMB52/100 grams) slick with onion- and tomato-based BBQ sauce.

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The menu also offers sets – an amalgamation of everything BBQ goodness in this world...

  • One Person Set (RMB148) – including a slice of brisket, a pork rib, sausage, a mini burger, and two sides

  • Two People Set (RMB288) – double the portions of the one person set, but with three sides

  • Four People Set (RMB498) – four brisket slices, four pork ribs, two sausages, three mini burgers, and four sides

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Sides include Creamy Potatoes, Broccoli Gratin, Roasted MushroomsBaked Corn, Kale and Mango Salad and Coleslaw, going for RMB18 each.

Wash it all down with a frothy mug of Wild West Draft Beer (RMB22).

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If that wasn’t enough, patrons have the option of Mini Burgers (RMB48/2 pieces), filled with 65 grams of beef brisket or pulled pork; or Sandwiches (RMB58), with 100-120 grams of diner’s choice of those same meats, even impressing the most casual ‘cue eater.

READ MORE: 3 Meaty New Menus: Cages, 18 Hours BBQ & Alimentari

18 Hours Texas Barbecue, 6 Wanhangdu Lu, by Yuyuan Lu 万航渡路6号, 近愚园路


Honorary Mention: Sober Company

One of the most anticipated (re-)openings of last year, Sober Company made a comeback, bigger, badder, and better than ever.

One of the four concepts housed under the same roof, Sober Izakaya is a sushi bar nod to one of owner's Shingo Gokan's Tokyo outposts, The Bellwood.

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With space for 15, it features a menu mainly of 'global' temaki – hand-rolls of Japanese red vinegar-marinated sushi rice, seafood and additional regional flavors hailing from each temaki’s namesake city.

We know what you're thinking what the hell is a sushi spot doing on an American BBQ roundup?!

Well, just hear us out. 

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One of the newest items on the izakaya roster is named the Texas (RMB75), and it lives up to its name by being the heftiest temaki on offer.

Brown sugar-brûléed bonito fish is torched to order, glazed in a sticky Carolina-style vinegar-forward BBQ sauce, and shmeared with ginger and green olive relish. 

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Crispy potato chips, pickled gherkins, and sliced green chilis lend both crunch and a lingering hit of that backyard BBQ heat, rounded by a final spritz of liquid smoke. 

So, while this Texas 'meat' may not be of the beef variety, that smoky finish warrants an honorary mention on this BBQ list.

Sober Company, F106, 109 Yandang Lu, by Nanchang Lu 雁荡路109号F101室, 近南昌路


[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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