Thursday, April 4, 2013

Eli's BBQ

"If God had meant for Cincinnati to have barbecue, He'd a give it to us a long time ago."
- Reverend Deuteronomy Skaggs (Cincinnati Radio Preacher & Gary Burbank Character)

In my younger and more formative years, I was never a tremendous fan of barbecue. This was possibly because most of the barbecue I had tried was the rushed and low-quality variety that one often sees in Cincinnati (not pointing any fingers, but you know who I'm talking about). Historically great barbecue has only be available in some places: Texas, much of the South, Missouri, Illinois, and Hawaii. My eyes have fortunately been opened in recent years and I have gained a new appreciation for quality barbecue. My awakening was partially due to trying some great BBQ places in Chicago, but also partially came from reading Tyler Cowen's An Economist Gets Lunch (Yes, I'm a bookish foodie). Barbecue is perhaps the only American food that largely avoided becoming chain fast food and was resistant to the trends that made American food crappy after World War I (mass production, government interventions, adding to much salt/sugar to appeal to kids, etc). More recently, barbecue has also largely resisted the trend toward pseudo-fancy dining and snobbery.

Excellent slow cooked barbecue takes a long time to master. Great barbecue does not rely on ten different sauces to cover up the taste of the meat. Producing great ribs, pulled pork and brisket is a craft, but also a down-to-Earth one (Cooking great barbecue is more difficult that cooking a great steak). Thus, it is the perfect food for thoughtful down-to-Earth foodies. This is all a round-about way to say, you can get supremely tasty food at Eli's BBQ for a reasonable price.

Eli's is built into a old house on Riverside Drive. There is no name on the sign, only a silhouette of a pig - bold like this barbecue. On this day, the interior was decorated with various Cincinnati Reds pictures, which were also for sale. Tunes were provided by a record player, which was situated across from a box of old vinyl albums. There's only about ten tables inside, but there are more tables outside.

Eli's started out a vendor of pulled pork at Findlay Market. The new sit down location is also a purveyor of dry-rub ribs. There were four (mechanical) smokers located out back for the cooking. We were told the ribs at Eli's are smoked for 6 hours, whereas the pork-shoulder cooks overnight. We went the traditional route with ribs and rib tips.

The consensus was that the ribs were excellent. Some were fattier than others. There was only one barbecue sauce, which was sweet, mild, and delicious. But honestly, the dry-rub ribs and rib tips were great by themselves. If you're looking for a nice summer spot, you can bring a blanket and a cooler and sit outside for a nice picnic.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Mac & Cheese: cheesier than Velveeta and Don Rickles COMBINED. For an extra bonus, ask for a sprinkle of pork cracklings. It's a crowd pleaser.

Here's our final verdict: We wanted to return the next day. The pork ribs, rib tips, and pulled pork were all excellent. Also, we're not overly anxious to order Nathan's Hot Dogs at a barbecue joint, but Eli's version did look rather good. Perhaps on a future trip. We recommend you visit Eli's early, often, and with cash/check only. You needn't only rely on our word: Cincinnati Magazine listed Eli's among it's top 10 Cincinnati Restaurants for 2013. We applaud this inclusion.

Eli's BBQ on Urbanspoon
Eli's Pulled Pork Sandwiches on Urbanspoon


  1. You need to get the hot dog - once you do - you won't have anything else.

  2. We'll have to try it. We plan to vist several times this summer & sit outside.


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