High elevation BBQ: Discover the best smoked meats Tahoe has to offer

Though your own Traeger may be packed away for the winter months, you’ll still find dedicated pitmasters tending their meat amid piles of snow in the Tahoe Basin.

From top-secret sauces to all-day smoked brisket, enjoy a stick-to-you-ribs meal after you’ve crushed it on the mountain at one of Tahoe’s best BBQ joints around the lake. 

Sonney’s BBQ Shack Bar and Grill / South Lake Tahoe 

For nearly 30 years, Sonney Bruning has been making his own BBQ sauce. It all started with a sauce contest against his brother on their houseboats on Lake Oroville. Though the jury’s still out on who won the contest, Bruning fine tuned his recipe, and in 2014, moved to South Lake Tahoe and opened Sonney’s BBQ Shack. Even in the heart of winter, brisket and pork butts are cooked slow and low for 12-14 hours over oak, apple and other hardwoods, a flavor that has earned Sonney’s the best BBQ in South Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Daily Tribune seven years in a row. Combined with decadent sides like cheesy spicy grits and jalapeño cornbread — plus a hearty dousing of Sonney’s four signature sauces, which can be purchased all over town — it’s no wonder it’s a locals’ favorite.  

Moe’s Original BBQ / Tahoe City 

Enjoy a taste of Alabama at Moe’s Original BBQ in Tahoe City. As is traditional in Alabama-style BBQ, Moe’s focuses mainly on pork butt and ribs, smoked low and slow, and smothered with a vinegar-tomato sauce. Smoked turkey and chicken are served with the Heart of Dixie’s signature mayo-based white sauce. Pair with a side of boudin balls (deep fried smoked pork and rice with cajun seasoning), fried green tomatoes, or house pimento cheese dip for the full Southern experience. 

Chicken in a Barrel / South Lake Tahoe 

Chicken in a Barrel was started on the island of Kauai, and today boasts five locations in Hawaii and now one in South Lake Tahoe. Whole chickens, baby back ribs, beef and pork butts are seasoned with the restaurant’s signature dry rub and smoked in a 55-gallon barrel drum with charcoal and mesquite wood. Local franchise owner Rebekah Havard credits the recycling of the juices from the meat in the barrel with the depth of flavor and tenderness. Enjoy with a side of brown rice, Hawaiian-style coleslaw or macaroni salad, or opt to roll the smoked meat into a hearty burrito or two tacos. 

Sandy’s Pub / Olympic Valley 

Located inside the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, Sandy’s Pub serves up a mix of BBQ styles, from cherry wood-smoked chicken with an Alabama-inspired white sauce to black pepper-rubbed St. Louis ribs smoked in almond wood and finished with a sweet, tangy sauce. From just down the hill in Reno, the pub grills The Butcher Boy’s small-batch sausages, available in flavors like jalapeño-cheddar and garlic-artichoke. Sandy’s also offers a robust beer-pairing guide to help you decide which of 10 local beers will go best with your smoked meat. Make sure to save room for Sandy’s over-the-top desserts, including a banana cream pie in a jar, a pecan bar with maple mousse and white chocolate, and the oreo mud pie with a brownie crust, chocolate ganache and ice cream. 

Gus’ Open Pit BBQ / Incline Village 

Gus’ Open Pit BBQ in Incline Village is known for their Santa Maria-style method of grilling, which cooks meat over red oak wood, native to the central coast of California, on a large iron grate that can be lowered or lifted with a hand crank to adjust the heat. Pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, chicken and hot links all get the smokey oak treatment. The juicy tri-tip is a popular menu item and can be enjoyed pure with a side of shoestring fries or BBQ beans, wedged between garlic bread with pico de gallo, or on sourdough slathered in horseradish and swiss cheese with au jus for dipping.

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