Smoke on the Water: A taste of barbecue around the Tahoe Basin

There are few types of cuisine that epitomize the summer season like barbecue. That undeniable smell and taste of smoke-kissed meats dripping with tangy sauce is a language everyone speaks. But, unless you’re a grill master you may not have perfected this feat at home. That’s where we come in. 

These restaurants around the Tahoe Basin all give their own unique spin on the classic technique. From ribs to wings and everything in between, they offer something for everyone.  

Fox & Hound (Stateline)

With one of the best views for barbecue, the smoker sits out front so you know exactly what you’re getting into right when you walk in. Fox and Hound boasts a diverse menu and is one of the few that highlights their meats for breakfast dishes as well as their pizzas.  

Fox & Hound Ribs
Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Using cherry wood as their wood of choice, each item gets its own rub before going into the smoke. Tri tip and chicken cook for about four hours, while their pulled pork is anywhere from nine to 12 hours after getting an initial injection of seasoning. There’s not much saucing going on during the cooking process, although their chicken gets a glaze of honey raspberry sauce with orange about mid-way through to help give it a nice citrusy punch. 

But, if your barbecue go-to dish is ribs, then this might be your place. Having won several awards they place them on the smoker for over five hours. They are also a little bigger than most, weighing in at two and a half pounds. Top them with their award-winning mild barbecue sauce and sure to become an instant favorite. 

For sides, it’s all about the Tahoe baked beans, which incorporates a little bit of everything, including bacon. Also, don’t sleep on their classic potato salad or some of their other stand out items, such as their smoked elk jalapeno sausage. They’ve also been known to throw out special offerings during the year (like their smoked prime rib), so keep them on your radar regularly.  

Learn more:

Smokey’s Kitchen (Truckee)

Taking a Memphis-style approach to their barbecue, Smokey’s Kitchen features scratch-made dry rubs for their meats that are applied and left overnight before getting smoked the following day. Some meats, like in the case of their pork butt and brisket (their best-selling item), actually get smoked overnight from 12 to 14 hours so it’s ready to fall apart and onto your plate the following morning. 

Speaking of morning, breakfast is a big part of the Smokey’s experience. Many of their meats make their way onto the breakfast menu, such as the BBQ and eggs combo, or their spicy wings and eggs where the smoked wings are doused in a house-made buffalo and habanero sauce. 

Smokey’s Platter
Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

All of the sauces at the restaurant are available for purchase. The two that stand out the most are their spicy habanero and their sweet Memphis-style. There is also a Jack Daniels that is mainly used to bump up the flavor of their burgers. 

For sides, you can’t go wrong with their mac and cheese, but for something a little different, try their cowboy beans or brisket chili. Or, their take on coleslaw (which includes cilantro and maple syrup) is a perfect compliment to any of the smoked meats. 

The atmosphere is textbook for a barbecue place, including greetings of patrons by their name as they walk in. Many times in the summer the line at Smokey’s will be out the door. But, if you’re able to weather the storm of the line, you’ll be happy you waited – as evidenced by the four to five thousand pounds of ribs and brisket they go through in a summer month. 

Learn more:

Chicken in a Barrel (South Lake Tahoe)

Probably the most unique cooking method (hook ’em and hang ’em) out of all the restaurants, it’s also the most straightforward of the names, because that’s exactly what you’re getting: chicken in a barrel. 

Chicken in a Barrel Platter
Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

But, they’re not just doing chicken. Their pulled pork and pulled beef get smoked over a mixture of charcoal and mesquite for about three hours before going into a slow cooker overnight for about 12 hours. Their extra large-sized ribs are a little heavier cut, which helps them hold up to the hanging process. 

However, with a name like that, it has to be all about the chicken – and it certainly is. They are hung in half portions (about three pounds each) and the key is how well the chicken is able to absorb the mesquite flavor while staying extremely juicy throughout, but also giving you crispy skin. 

All of their meats get house made rubs before going into the smoker and their sauces are available to amp up any of the dishes when served – they’re also available for purchase. 

For a unique twist, try their smoked meats in their “Mexi-que” dishes like their taco and burrito plate. Or, during the summer months, bring in your Tahoe-caught fish for a hanging smoke bath that features their dry rub with lime juice and butter. 

Originating out of Hawaii, your order wouldn’t be complete without including a side of Hawaiian coleslaw, which is made with a base of Vidalia onions, pineapple and coconut flake. 

With nothing ever frozen or prepackaged, barbecue is what they wake up for. 

Learn more:

The 1882 tri-tip sandwich, located in Truckee, Calif.
Robert Galloway/Tahoe Daily Tribune

1882 Bar & Grill (Truckee)

With one of the most gorgeous settings overlooking the Truckee River, the patio in the summer at 1882 is one of the best ways to experience barbecue locally. It’s attached to the River Street Inn, which was built in (you guessed it) 1882, so it’s also carrying its fair share of history. 

The restaurant prides itself on taking great meat and focusing on preparing it right. The meat gets a 24-hour brine with brown sugar and salt before getting prepped for the smoker. The ribs get a wet rub before their five-hour smoke and come out practically falling off the bone. 

Half chickens are dry rubbed and smoked three to four hours, while their pulled pork and brisket get special treatments of going both uncovered and covered during the smoking process which includes punches of flavor from garlic and molasses (brisket only). This process yields a signature brisket item that you could probably cut with your finger – it’s that tender. 

Their sauces are always fresh and made in house. If you go with the spicier option that features fresh cut jalapenos, just make note that you’re at the mercy of the pepper. However hot, you still can’t go wrong. 

You also can’t go wrong with their most popular side dish of mac and cheese, which highlights sharp cheddar and heavy cream. For a lighter option, try their grilled veggie kebab. 

Learn more:

Sonney’s BBQ Shack Bar & Grill (South Lake Tahoe)

This dog-friendly restaurant not only invokes all the feels of barbecue, it also makes you feel like you’re in Tahoe with its cedar log decor. The outside beer garden gives you a great option to further enjoy their barbecue offerings. 

Using red oak for their smoker, dry rubs are the method of choice and typically go on the meat anywhere from 24 to 36 hours prior to going into the smoker. While most rib offerings at barbecue restaurants are done with pork ribs, Sonney’s is one of the few that feature a beef rib. Those, along with the pork butts go into the smoker at 9 p.m. and smoke 12 to 14 hours. Their baby back and St. Louis cuts typically smoke around three hours and their half chickens about two. 

While their signature item might be their brisket (either sliced on the plate or placed on a sandwich), one of the most requested items is their pig wings. This shank cut gets a slathering of a Cajun-infused sauce (made just for this dish) and then placed over a bed of coleslaw. If you’ve eaten them before, then you’re sure to order again on your next trip. 

Each of their sauces (original, sweet and smoky, burn your butt, and Carolina mustard) is available for purchase and are equally good with the meat options – or even alongside some of their appetizers such as the deep fried mac and cheese ball or naked jalapeno poppers.  

Learn more:

Moe’s Original Bar B Que (Tahoe City)

A staple on the north shore of Lake Tahoe with great views of the lake, Moe’s features “Bama-style” barbecue while highlighting smoked options for pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, chicken, and turkey.  

Their signature Alabama white sauce goes with just about everything on the menu – and is served with nearly every dish alongside their other signature red sauce. Moe’s is also one of the only barbecue restaurants to feature smoked turkey, which puts the traditional Thanksgiving offering to shame. It’s packed full of flavor and stays super moist throughout the smoking process. 

For sides and appetizers, you cannot go wrong with their famous cornbread, but if you’re there, you have to dive into their Boudin Balls which sees their smoked pork and Cajun seasoning get deep fried to deliciousness. Pro tip: order the large quantity – you’ll be happy you did. 

In addition to their smoked meat offerings, Moe’s gives you southern options for fish (fried catfish and blackened mahi-mahi) as well as vegetarian items. 

Smoking all of their fresh meats daily means that once they’re gone, they’re gone so it’s first come first serve. If you are one of the first, then you’re sure to leave with a full belly and a smile. 

Learn more:

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.