Podnah’s Pit Barbecue
1625 NE Killingsworth Portland Oregon 97211
Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
If you ask anyone in Portland the best place to dig into a plate of smoked meat, they will almost certainly direct you to Podnah’s Pit Barbecue on the Northeast side of town. Rodney Muirhead has been slinging central Texas style barbecue out of Podnah’s since 2006, smoking all their meats low & slow with oak hardwood. Naturally, I had to make Podnah’s part of the Portland BBQ Tour.
As usual, check out the “Quick & Dirty” section for a quick summary of my visit. Otherwise, see the “Long & Winded” section for a full account of my visit.
The Quick & Dirty
If you haven’t been to Podnah’s, you owe it to yourself to drop in and chow down. The spare ribs at Podnah’s are a work of art — thick smoky bark, tender, and perfectly cooked. The Carolina-style pulled pork is a life-changing experience and the brisket will make you come back for more. Podnah’s sides are on point too. The coleslaw is a crunchy wonderland of flavor, the smoky BBQ beans hide a delicious poblano pepper surprise, and the potato salad is a little scoop of heaven.
It’s not all roses though. I’d stay away from the dry chicken and so-so sausage, but everything else is incredible. Drop on by, order up some grub, and don’t skip the dessert. The banana pudding will send you home with a smile on your face.
The Long & Winded
Podnah’s is nestled in one of Portlands many “hipster” neighborhoods at the end of a block of retail shops. I’ve dragged the wife along with me to this stop on the tour. Well, I didn’t really need to drag her along, she loves barbecue almost as much as I do, but I think she might be getting tired of eating it every weekend. It is a typical Portland November evening, which is to say that it’s drenching us with rain as we scurry towards the door.
I open the door and catch a whiff of oak smoke in the air. My mouth is already watering. We shuffle in and are greeted by the sight of hot coals glowing away in the open smoker door behind the bar. We are standing in the smaller bar area with hardwood floors and a few tables. It’s warm, cozy, and inviting.
Unfortunately, the dining area is somewhat less inviting, with its cold concrete floors and chilly bright lighting. If it weren’t for the tables laden with barbecue, I might have thought I was in someones garage. Despite the prickly lighting, we gladly sit down in anticipation of some really good barbecue, as we have heard good things about Podnah’s.
When the waitress arrives, I order a beer and start checking out the menu. I always like to try as many things as I can on these tour visits, so we order the “Pitboss” to share. The Pitboss consists of a 1/4 lb of brisket, a 1/4 lb of pulled pork, 2 St. Louis style ribs, a sausage link, 2 sides (we choose beans and coleslaw), and cornbread. I also throw in a 1/4 chicken, potato salad, and an extra cornbread for good measure. The wife loves cornbread.
While we wait for the goods to show up, I check out the sauces on the table. There are three options: a classic barbecue sauce, a North Carolina vinegar sauce, and a mustard sauce. Sadly, I don’ t have a spoon, so I resort to putting drops of sauce on the end of my butter knife to get a taste. I figure this is slightly more acceptable than squirting sauce directly into my mouth. The classic sauce is smoky, sweet, and a gives a little spicy kick at the end. If you are inclined to sauce your meat, the classic is a good choice. Next up, the vinegar sauce and, let me tell you, it is amazing. It has that vinegar pucker with that familiar red pepper flake kick layered with a little sweetness. This would be delicious on some pulled pork. I briefly consider drinking it straight from the bottle. Finally, I try the mustard sauce. The sauce reminds me of your standard yellow mustard with a few spices thrown in. It’s not bad, but I don’t love it. Ah, here comes the food! That pile of meat looks delectable.
For whatever reason, I typically start with the sides so I pick up the cornbread. Sliced like a pie, the cornbread is thick with a beautiful golden brown top. I take a bite. Wow, it’s salty, almost too much so, but it does have that moist cakey texture I like. Fortunately, Podnah’s puts some honey on the table, which helps tame the sea of salt they must have baked into this thing. I gulp some of my beer to wash it down and take a gander at the potato salad.
Dusted with paprika and speckled with celery, the potato salad looks gorgeous. Let’s give it a whirl. Mmm, this potato salad is legit. The potatoes are perfectly cooked and the celery brings in a nice textural contrast. This little scoop of heaven is creamy, flavorful, and downright tasty. No complaints here. I relinquish the potato salad to the wife and snatch the BBQ beans.
At first glance, I am not too sure about these BBQ beans because they appear on the watery side, but they are delicious. With a subtle sweetness, they are a nice break from the cloying, sticky beans I typically encounter. The shreds of smoked brisket lend a smoky richness and the beans finish with a mild heat. I’m delighted to find there are some poblano peppers in here, which are bringing an earthy undertone to the beans. I resist the urge to eat them all and give the coleslaw a try.
This is a vinegar based coleslaw, so you won’t find any mayo or sour cream here. It’s not much to look at, but is balanced, with a sweetness to temper the vinegar. I love that they put poblanos in here as well. The poblanos make this slaw a standout among the what is usually a pedestrian mix of cabbage and carrot. Even better, the slaw is crunchy, a perfect complement that tender BBQ. Speaking of BBQ, it’s time to dig into some meat.
I can tell just by looking at the pulled pork, it will probably be delicious. It’s moist, looks tender, and has plenty of the bark mixed in. I give it go and, oh yeah, this is what I have been waiting for! It’s so good. We have a Carolina style pulled pork here. I can tell it has been tossed in that spicy vinegar sauce. It’s spicy and flavorful, with the vinegar sauce cutting through the rich meat. This is definitely the best pulled pork I have had in Portland. I begrudgingly give half of it up to my wife and commandeer a rib.
The bark on these pork ribs is a thing of beauty. It almost seems a crime to eat something so gorgeous, but I can’t resist. There is flavor all over the place and they have a nice peppery punch that keeps me coming back for more. The ribs are perfectly cooked, tender, but not falling completely off the bone. I notice the kitchen left a third bonus rib on the plate for us. However, it’s a dried out end piece and essentially inedible. It was free though, so I let it slide. All in all, these ribs are going to be contenders for the best on the tour. Giddy with excitement, or perhaps just euphoric from the ribs, I make room on my plate for some brisket.
Each brisket slice sports a beautiful thick bark. I’m disappointed to see that the slices are clearly from the leaner flat end of the brisket, even though I asked for slices from the fattier (and more delicious!) point end of the brisket. I think about flagging down the waitress, but decide I’ll just go with what has been put on the plate. The brisket is extremely tender, but these slices from the flat are a bit on the dry side. I’m hit with that familiar salt and pepper flavor. However, there is almost too much salt. I say almost, because it is still delicious and I keep coming back for more, but it does take a little away from the experience. This brisket is good, but not exceptional. Only slightly disappointed, I move on to the sausage.
The sausage looks incredible, but ends up flat on the palate. It’s smoky though and certainly not terrible, but mostly forgettable. It is also on the greasy side and while it has some nice spicy undertones coming through, it didn’t deliver a ton of flavor. Next up is the dreaded smoked chicken, as I have yet to find a deliciously juicy bite of smoked bird in Portland.
I might have just eaten a towel…I can’t be sure, but I do know that I am now gulping water to keep from choking. The chicken is so dry, it soaked up all the moisture in my mouth. I get it, it’s hard to do a good chicken under the best of conditions, but if you can’t make it juicy, then it’s probably best left off the menu. I would have been sorely disappointed if I had ordered this as my main dish. I am beginning to wonder if it is possible to find a good smoked chicken. With a sigh, I put the chicken back on the plate and let the waitress “coax” us into looking at the dessert options. The banana pudding sounds interesting so we give that a whirl.
All I can say is, get this creamy deliciousness. Thin slices of bananas are layered with vanilla wafers in a sweet creamy pudding. We are both thoroughly impressed with this refreshing finish to a good barbecue dinner. Gladly ending on a high note, we head back home to nurse our BBQ hangovers.