Like any national treasure, where to find the best barbecue generates debate and rivalry, as regional and culinary variations compete for dominance. In D.C., however, Rocklands reigns supreme.
Tucked into a one-story space on busy Wisconsin Avenue, Rocklands incorporates as much of the feel of an old-school Southern barbecue as possible. But, your folksy Midwestern heart will feel right at home, too. Bowls of shelled peanuts line long communal tables in the center of the restaurant, and there are paper towel rolls close at hand for sauce-covered fingers and faces. It’s a warm and inviting space, with large windows and skylights overhead.
John Snedden, the founder of the restaurant – which also has locations in Alexandria, Va., Arlington, Va. and Rockville, Md. – has been cooking out for most of his life, and has tried to maintain time-honored practices wherever possible.
“Using traditional methods typically puts out a better product, and when it’s on, it’s just really hard to beat,” Snedden said.
The Three Meats Platter, economically priced with two sides at about $12, offers a nice sampler of some of the restaurant’s meat offerings. The pulled chicken and chopped pork are alluringly smoky, though a little dry, but come alive with some of Snedden’s famous made-in-house barbecue sauce. The real standout is the beef brisket. It’s perfectly tender, and it walks the fine line between fat and lean, making it the best of both worlds.
The sandwiches, which range from about $6 to $9, are also worth trying. They’re unadorned, with your choice of meat piled onto a soft potato bun: pulled pork, brisket or ribs.
The sides offered are about what you would expect – but more delicious. The coleslaw is tangy and oily, rather than milky, and the macaroni and cheese is richly cheesy. The sweet baked beans are superb, too, served in a thick sauce that isn’t soupy.
If your family is from anywhere that cherishes its barbecue, this is your destination for D.C.’s take on the nation’s favorite.