Denver is lucky to have its very own soul food scholar, Adrian Miller. And when he’s not crisscrossing the country researching the history of Black food and culture, there’s a good chance you’ll find him tucking into a plate of barbecue.
Miller, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, historian, and attorney, was born and raised in Denver, so he’s eaten his fair share of barbecue at restaurants across Colorado. His latest book is all about the long-standing cooking method, too. This spring, he published Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, which tells the story of our nation’s Black pit masters and restaurateurs.
In honor of National Barbecue Month this May, we asked Miller to share his favorite Centennial State barbecue spots—but before we get to the list, there are a few things you should know about his taste-testing credentials and approach to evaluating new-to-him restaurants.
Miller has been eating barbecue since he was a kid. Growing up, his family cooked pork spareribs, chicken, and hotlink sausages on holidays and weekends throughout the summer. His very first job was at an Aurora barbecue joint that later burned down (a fate, he noted, that’s all too common for restaurants that deal primarily with smoke and fire); he’s also a certified barbecue judge.
These days, whenever Miller visits a barbecue restaurant for the first time, he almost always orders the pork spareribs first, if they’re on the menu. Then, he typically tries the pulled pork and maybe some brisket. Miller often builds his own sampler platters at restaurants that sell their smoked meats by the pound “I’m a spareribs guy, so that’s my touchstone,” he says. “I look at how they’re made, how they taste. To me, that’s always a sign of good things to come.”
He’s a fan of Kansas City-style and North Carolina-style sauces, but he really tries to follow the respective cook’s lead when it comes to sauce. “I just think of sauce like a chef pairing, they’re saying, ‘This is what goes with this,’ and I try to enjoy the whole seamless experience instead of having them separated,” he says.
Miller, who typically eats barbecue roughly once a week—twice a week during the pandemic, to help support small businesses—is a fan of potato salad and coleslaw for sides, but notes that he doesn’t like coleslaw with raisins in it. “To me, the sides are secondary—they’re certainly complementary, but I’m more focused on the meat and the sauce,” he says.
One dish he hasn’t yet found in Colorado? Good smoked chicken. “I’m still in search of a good smoked chicken,” he says. “I just can’t think of one that’s immediately memorable. I haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
And now, without further ado, here are Miller’s favorite places to eat barbecue around the state—and what he likes to order at each one.
Locations in Westminster, Lone Tree, and at Mile High Stadium
What Miller orders: “I just love their smoked wings and their ribs are really good,” he says.
5410 E. Colfax Ave.
What Miller orders: Hotlink sausages and Frito pie. “You can add brisket to [the Frito pie],” he says.
2826 Larimer St.
What Miller orders: Brisket and pulled pork. “The interesting thing about their pulled pork is its North Carolina style, which is unusual. I didn’t expect that,” he says. “I also love their burgers. They do burger nights periodically and they’re really good.”
2387 S. Downing St.; 17121 S. Golden Rd. C100, Golden
What Miller orders: Bison ribs and pulled lamb. “Bison ribs are lean and have a slightly gamey taste, but they’re more reminiscent of beef than pork,” he says. “On the weekends, they have barbecue ‘sammies’ and they’re pretty tasty, too.”
315 South 31st St., Colorado Springs
What Miller orders: Prime rib and pork spareribs.
4000 Tennyson St.
What Miller orders: Pork spareribs and pork belly. “Man, they have so much good stuff there,” he says.
Locations in Durango, Loveland, Fort Collins
What Miller orders: Brisket and Elgin Texas sausage, plus a sampling of their seasonal sauces. “It’s a really special sausage that’s particular to central Texas,” he says. “In central Texas, it’s often called ‘hot guts.’ Imagine a sausage that’s coarsely ground but it almost feels like it’s loose.”
3330 Brighton Blvd. (inside the Source Market Hall & Hotel); new locations coming to Denver and Fort Collins soon
What Miller orders: “I like their burnt ends and their smoked jalapeño-cheddar sausage,” he says. “And whenever they do their fish special, that’s really good.”
406 Center Dr., Superior
What Miller orders: Brisket and smoked catfish.