Good barbecue is all about the journey

October 20, 2023

A few months ago on this page, I compared the cocktail creativity of our Cape Region eateries with the high-energy bar culture of Charleston, S.C., where I hang out from time to time. I learned two things from the (rather unexpected) semi-avalanche of responses I received: First, I never know what’s going to hit a nerve after I click send to deliver my column to the Cape Gazette, even after 13 years. Second, I was surprised to find out how many of our Delaware locals make yearly (or more) treks to the Carolina Lowcountry, specifically Charleston. In fact, many of our friends and neighbors have vacation homes there. I’ve learned more about Charleston restaurants and bars from our Delaware beach locals than I’ve learned by actually being there.

Our popular eating haven to the south is known for a lot of things, and high on the list are bars and barbecue. Our local purveyors of smoked beef, pork and chicken do an amazing job, and I know for a fact that several of our local BBQ spots were specifically modeled after particular restaurants in the Carolinas (nothing wrong with that). There are roughly 53 places to enjoy smoked meats just in the immediate Charleston area. Here in our much smaller region, we boast around seven or so, from Ocean City to Dover and west to Georgetown. So our local restaurateurs have a lot of styles, sauces, rubs and sides from which to choose.

Food TV has raised our eating consciousness, and people are becoming aware of the variations that are a big part of the BBQ culture. Is it Memphis style with the tomato-based sauces? Carolina style (eastern or western) with mixtures of vinegar, pepper and perhaps mustard? How about Pee Dee style, whole-hog cooking from the upper northeast quarter of South Carolina? Or Texas style where it’s all about beef brisket dry-rubbed to a spicy, bark-like crust? Midlands style where pork shoulders and hams are chopped into chunks or pulled into long shreds to be slathered with bright-yellow, mustard-based sauces? Kansas City style with everything – whole chickens, pork ribs, beef brisket and even fish. Oh, and by the way, we can thank Kansas City BBQ enthusiasts for the crispy charred edges of slow-smoked beef brisket that are affectionately known as burnt ends. When all is sauced, said and done, is the meat delivered to the table pulled? Shredded? Sliced? Let’s face it: So much pork, beef and chicken – but so little time!

Without smoke, a brisket is just a roast, a pork shoulder is just a ham and a chicken is ... well, just a chicken. But add smoke, some patience and a few hush-hush techniques, and all of a sudden you have BBQ. Some of the best in lower Delaware can be found in Lewes and Bethany at Bethany Blues; in Dover at Mission BBQ; at Annabelle’s in Ocean City, in Ocean View at Charlie K’s little stand, and in Georgetown at Fat Daddy’s. Feeling al fresco? Look for the blue tent on the Forgotten Mile to check out “Big Mike” D’Antoni’s Ballin’ on a Budget pop-up. Just look for the smoke. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Greenwood Chicken BBQ, open Saturdays and Sundays at the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company.

I still remember a conversation with Bethany Blues co-owner Kevin Roberts shortly after they began construction of the first Bethany Blues. He packed up his kitchen bosses and embarked on a fact-finding mission through the southeastern part of the country to see what was out there. They even ventured northward to check out one of my longtime favorites, Fette Sau – in Brooklyn, N.Y., yet – known for sublime dry-rub BBQ, perfectly charred ribs, beer and bourbon. If you aren’t sure if a place has good BBQ, simply drive around back. If you see a stack of hardwood like hickory or oak, chances are good that you’re in for a treat.

Those of you who trek to The Holy City from our Cape Region can rely on a fine BBQ scene. El Paso, Texas native John Lewis brought his sweet and savory talents to Charleston in 2015, and true to his roots, Lewis’ brisket is considered among the best. Also in town is Home Team BBQ. In 2006, former fine-dining chef Aaron Siegel converted a local gas station into a bustling neighborhood barbecue joint that became the first Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ. There are now seven, directed by a tightly knit management team.

Other shining stars include Swig & Swine BBQ. At the tender age of 14, founder Anthony DiBernardo became a banquet cook in Mantua, N.J. A stint in the Navy brought him to the Lowcountry, where he cheffed on the USS Batfish submarine. After honing his skills at some of the Carolinas’ best eateries, Anthony became sole proprietor of Swig & Swine in 2019. There are now three, and they’re packed all the time.

By no means is good BBQ limited to these three spots – remember, there are at least 53 places in and around the city that dish up any number of regional styles of smoked meats and delicious sides. If you make that trip between Delaware’s Cape Region and the Carolina Lowcountry, make plans to eat at them all! (Or at least try ...)

Backyard grilling over flaming coals is OK, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about smoke and sauce. Low temperatures, lots of time (and an ample supply of ice-cold beer) can add up to savory bliss for carnivorous foodies and those who love them.


  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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