Explore Arizona

If you need an excuse for a summer road trip, let me offer one of the most delicious: a search for great barbecue. Scattered around Arizona are outposts of the most American of culinary traditions. You just need an appetite and plenty of napkins.

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions. Barbecue is not a religion. It only seems that way because there are so many sects and cults. Second, there’s no such thing as barbecue made quickly. What you’re thinking of is called a sloppy joe. Barbecue is a languid and laborious process. It requires dedication.

Here’s my theory. If you arrive in a town and know nothing about the local restaurants, eat at a barbecue place. You’ll almost never go wrong. People don’t open a barbecue joint as part of some well-researched business plan. They do it because they’ve been barbecuing all their life. They have a passion for cooking meat “low and slow,” the mantra of good ‘cue.

Here are 10 of my favorite barbecue spots around Arizona.

Puny John’s, Tombstone

The Town Too Tough to Die now has an eatery serving Meat Too Tender to Believe. Opened in October, Puny John’s has made quite a splash. They slow-cook meats over a mix of mesquite and apple wood. St. Louis-style ribs are treated with a special rub that features a nice bite of pepper. Five sauces are made in-house and include sweet and smoky, prickly pear and hot habanero. Local beers from Tombstone Brewing Co. are on tap.

Details: 11 S. Fourth St. 520-457-2396, www.punyjohnsbbq.com.

Bigfoot BBQ, Flagstaff

When it comes to quirky locations, Flagstaff’s oldest barbecue joint — located in a former women’s clothing store — takes the brisket. Yet it maintains a distinctive charm. The place looks like a big comfortable screened porch. Ribs are a St. Louis cut, rubbed and smoked over hickory. Pork shoulders are cooked for 10-12 hours, making for a tender pulled-pork sandwich served with a sweetly tangy sauce. Look for Bigfoot’s in the basement of the Old Town Shops.

Details: 120 N. Leroux St. 928-226-1677, www.bigfootbbq.com.

Satchmo’s, Flagstaff

Barbecue and Cajun food seem like such a natural fit that it’s a wonder there isn’t a Satchmo’s in every town. Owner Jamie Thousand combined his two culinary loves to create a happy bustling eatery in East Flag. Grab a menu when you walk in and order at the counter before taking a seat. It’s no surprise that house specialties include a bold jambalaya and slow-smoked pork ribs. The seasoned tater tots and smoked beans are not to be missed.

Details: 2320 N. Fourth St. 928-774-7292, www.satchmosaz.com.

Hog Wild, Cottonwood

Hog Wild has been serving the best barbecue in the Verde Valley since 2006. Velvety soft baby back ribs are smoked over local pecan wood and could be the inspiration for the term “fall off the bone.” Wednesdays are Rib Night and a full rack comes at a reduced price. They also offer Windy City favorites like Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and Italian sausage. The no-frills joint has a shaded, dog-friendly patio.

Details: 705 N. Main St. 928-639-3232, www.azhogwild.com.

Susie’s Q Barbecue, Payson

Don’t dawdle if you’re in the mood for tasty ‘cue in Payson. At Susie’s Q, they smoke only enough meat for the day and when it’s gone, they close up. Owner Susie Whitman started out with a mobile smoker before opening this quaint little joint. She makes two types of sauces, sweet and bold. If you’re looking for a special taste treat, try Susie’s Sundae — pork or beef atop a bed of potato chips, piled with beans and coleslaw and drizzled with sauce.

Details: 1103 S. State Route 87. 928-951-3775, www.susiesq.com.

Bobby D’s BBQ, Jerome

This place proves hard to resist when the aroma of tender meats being smoked over pecan wood wafts down the street. Along with baby back ribs, pulled pork and brisket, there's a spicy dark-meat chicken entrée. Thick, beer-battered onion rings make a nice addition to any meal. Sit indoors in the historic English Kitchen building or outside on the spacious deck so passersby can envy your heaping plate.

Details: 119 Jerome Ave. 928-634-6235, www.bobbydsbbqjerome.com.

Avery’s, Springerville

Avery’s is enough of a hole in the wall that you know you’re in for a genuine barbecue experience. Plastic tablecloths, chalkboard menu and soft drinks chilling in a tub of ice are nice touches. All meat is slow-smoked out back over oak and is available by the pound. Avery’s sells St. Louis-style ribs. Or try the Crazy Carolina sandwich, pulled pork with a lively vinegar- and pepper-based sauce topped with coleslaw and cradled on a toasted potato bun, which holds the juicy concoction together surprisingly well.

Details: 262 W. Main St. 928-333-1111, www.averysaz.com.

Floyd & Co. Real Pit BBQ, Kingman

Appropriately enough for someone dishing up Memphis-style barbecue, this joint is an anchor of Beale Street. Bubba and Tammy Floyd opened the restaurant in 2009, serving scratch-made food using old family recipes. In recent years, their kids are continuing that tradition. All meats are cooked over hickory wood. Look for daily specials like homemade meatloaf on Friday. It's slathered in sweet barbecue sauce and served with a cheesy potato casserole. Save room for the delicious lemon pie.

Details: 420 E. Beale St. 928-757-8227, www.floydandcompany.com.

Lulu Belle’s BBQ, Ash Fork

Tiny Ash Fork may not be on many culinary maps but Lulu Belle’s could change that. This is one of those great road-trip finds, a friendly place on Historic Route 66 that cares about food and service. The Brisket Royal sandwich features sliced brisket topped with Swiss cheese, onion rings and honey Dijon mustard on a pretzel bun. They also do burgers, steaks and salads.

Details: 33 Lewis Ave. 928-637-9818, www.lulubellesbbq.com.

Grumpy Jake’s BBQ, Pinetop-Lakeside

You’ll find down-home cooking in the White Mountains at Grumpy Jake’s, where nobody seems grumpy at all. Their expanded menu offers options for patrons who might not want a rack of ribs, but barbecue is the mainstay. The BBQ Sampler offers an array of their meats, including chopped chicken, pulled pork and sliced brisket. There are all-you-can-eat fish specials on Fridays and Saturdays. Wait … who doesn’t want a rack of ribs?

Details: 3973 White Mountain Blvd. 928-368-4227, www.facebook.com/GrumpyJakes.

Find the reporter at www.rogernaylor.com. Or follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RogerNaylorinAZ or Twitter @AZRogerNaylor.

Roger Naylor’s Arizona

Every month, Roger Naylor shares his favorite finds from traipsing around the state.

This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.