Florida gets a bad rap when it comes to being authentically “Southern.” Slander, I say. Sure, there may be a lot of transplants from Long Island and other distant regions concentrated in certain parts, but for proof of the state’s essential Southerness we need look no further than Florida’s long, proud barbecue tradition.
Pit-cooked meat was a big deal in the Sunshine State as early in 1834, when the citizens of Leon County gathered at Calhoun Springs to celebrate the Fourth of July. In 1893, over five thousand people turned out in Tallahassee to commemorate the inauguration of Governor Henry L. Mitchell with plates full of hot ‘cue.
Barbecue restaurants flourished in Florida in the 1920s and ’30s, when the rise of automobiles and the influx of tourists they brought to the state gave birth to the roadside barbecue stand. The British travel writer Cecil Roberts, touring Florida in the 1930s, reported, “Everywhere one sees ‘Joe’s Barbecue’ or ‘Tom’s Barbecue.’ It might be an elaborate pseudo-Spanish bar, with gay awnings and aluminum stools, a soda fountain, or a mere wooden shanty on the roadside.”
A few relics of that golden age of Florida barbecue still remain. If you take a detour off I-95 or Alligator Alley, you can try the Sunshine State’s best ‘cue for yourself. The iced tea might come with a slice of lime, but you can bet it’s still going to be sweet.
Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q
Several locations near Jacksonville
Lou Bono began selling barbecue from a seven-stool stand in 1943. Six years later, he opened a permanent restaurant on Jacksonville’s Beach Boulevard. That location now anchors a growing chain with some twenty locations in Florida and even more outside of the state. But even though the restaurant has gone national, pitmasters at Bono’s still smoke a cornucopia of meats the same way that Lou Bono did a half-century ago: low and slow, over wood.
The Pit Bar-B-Q
16400 S.W. 8th Street, Miami
Part tiki bar, part carnival, and part barbecue joint, this roadside spot is strategically positioned on the side of the old Tamiami Trail on the western outskirts of Miami. Since 1965, its customers have enjoyed ribs, chicken, and beef smoked over blackjack oak. New owners have constructed thatched canopies for outdoor dining and added both Latin touches like fried plantains and novelties like gator ribs and frog legs to the menu.
9200 S. Dixie Highway, Miami
E. L. “Shorty” Allen opened his barbecue joint in 1951. Today, diners still line up to sit side-by-side with strangers at long communal picnic tables and dig into heavy plates of brisket and chicken, cold pitchers of beer, and rolls of necessary paper towels.
28001 S. Dixie Highway, Homestead
If you’re heading south from Miami to the Keys, save time for a pit stop at Shiver’s. When this joint opened in the 1950s, it drew tourists with western décor—a covered wagon out front, split rail fences around the parking lot, red wagon wheels leaning by the front door. Nowadays, just a couple of old wheels speak to the joint’s roadside past. And the chicken, ribs, beef, and pork speak for themselves.