Honey Bear’s Barbecue – Phoenix, Arizona

Honey Bear's Barbecue in Phoenix
Honey Bear’s Barbecue in Phoenix

Depending on the type of egg, the minimum temperature for frying an egg is said to be 144-158F and on scorching summer days in Phoenix, television news shows perennially traumatize visitors and tourists by frying an egg on the city’s sidewalks.

If blistering heat is the reason the Phoenix area has so many outstanding barbecue restaurants, I’m all for Albuquerque’s temperature climbing a few degrees in the summer.

The venerable Honey Bear’s Barbecue is easily equal to, make that superior to Hap’s Pit Barbecue which I had thought to offer the best barbecue in the greater Phoenix area.

Honey Bear’s has been serving Memphis-style barbecue since 1986 when the proprietors launched the first of three Phoenix area restaurants.  In close proximity to the airport, it’s a popular destination for people flying in and out of Phoenix–and one of the few reasons I enjoy business trips to the Land of the Sun.

Two slogans define the secrets to the restaurant’s success: “You don’t need no teeth to eat our meat” and “Put a little south in your mouth.”

Hot links sandwich
Hot links sandwich

One word of caution about all the sandwiches at Honey Bear’s–the bread just isn’t resilient enough to hold all that flavor (and sauce).  Expect for that bread to crumble and for sauce and meats to tumble onto your plate.  That’s the reason the barbecue gods invented forks.

Among the standout sides are the “Cowbro” beans.  Not your typical plain-Jane molasses based baked beans, they are emboldened with generous amounts of hot links, brisket and hot peppers and reside in a thin tomato sauce.

The lively potato salad would be a standout anywhere else, but it’s those Cowbro beans that steal the show.

Dessert options include traditional Southern favorites: peach cobbler and sweet potato pie.  In all honesty, I’ve never had room for them, but based on the quality of main entrees, imagine they’re probably outstanding.

Honey Bear’s receives criticism in that the meat is sometimes laden with “imperfections” and while I disdain sinew, a little bit of fat here and there sometimes enhances the flavor of barbecue.  That’s the case at Honey Bear’s.

Sandwiches are overstuffed with moist meats slathered with a vinegar based sauce with plenty of zip and zest.  It’s not piquant in the style of New Mexico chile, but will tease and tantalize your taste buds.

The hot links sandwich is practically bursting at the seams with sliced links.  If you’re used to hot links being desiccated and leathery, you’ll be happy to bite into moist and tender links replete with spiciness.  Marry those links with the tangy sauce and you may just have the very best hot links sandwich you’ve ever tasted.

The beef on the barbecue beef sandwich extends beyond the edges of the six-inch buns on which it is piled.  Similar to other sandwiches at Honey Bear’s, you’ll pick off almost as much meat with your fork as you’ll consume as a sandwich.

The mesquite grilled meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and served with a thin, slightly sweet, smoke blessed and just noticeably spicy sauce that did remind me of our Memphis barbecue indulgences.  The daily menu features pork ribs, chicken or a combination of the two.  You can also have pork, beef, chicken or hot links sandwiches.

Daily specials include other entrees such as fried catfish and baby back ribs.  If you’re fortunate enough to visit on Fridays, the day’s special is burnt ends, the Kansas City barbecue style delicacy.  Burnt ends are among the most flavorable pieces of meat on a brisket.

My introduction to Honey Bear’s came in the form of a large barbecue pork sandwich which was easily among the best I’ve had outside the Deep South.  The pork impressed itself upon my olfactory memories and educes a Pavlovian effect every time I think about it.  It’s the type of pork for which you want to save the napkins you used to wipe your mouth.

Some barbecue restaurants (Super Smokers in Missouri comes to mind), meats are like Ivory Snow soap–99 and 44/100% pure.  You won’t find any fatty or sinewy pieces anywhere on their meats.

Pulled pork sandwich
Pulled pork sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries

Honey Bear’s receives criticism in that the meat is sometimes laden with “imperfections” and while I disdain sinew, a little bit of fat here and there sometimes enhances the flavor of barbecue.  That’s the case at Honey Bear’s.

Sandwiches are overstuffed with moist meats slathered with a vinegar based sauce with plenty of zip and zest.  It’s not piquant in the style of New Mexico chile, but will tease and tantalize your taste buds.

The hot links sandwich is practically bursting at the seams with sliced links.  If you’re used to hot links being desiccated and leathery, you’ll be happy to bite into moist and tender links replete with spiciness.  Marry those links with the tangy sauce and you may just have the very best hot links sandwich you’ve ever tasted.

The beef on the barbecue beef sandwich extends beyond the edges of the six-inch buns on which it is piled.  Similar to other sandwiches at Honey Bear’s, you’ll pick off almost as much meat with your fork as you’ll consume as a sandwich.

Barbecue beef sandwich
Barbecue beef sandwich

The little bit of “ambience” the restaurant has is in the form of framed photographs of local sports icons.  The “front” room includes a counter where you place your order and a soft drink dispenser.  The dining room includes a few tables and mostly bare brick walls.

If you want ambience, go elsewhere.  If you want wonderful barbecue, go to Honey Bear’s which has been voted “Best of Phoenix” by New Times magazine practically since the restaurant’s inception.  It’s a haven for sports fans who appreciate outstanding Southern style barbecue.

Honey Bear’s Barbecue
2824 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ
602-279-7911

LATEST VISIT: 11 October 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Pork Sandwich; Barbecue Beef Sandwich; Cowbro Beans; Potato Salad

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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