Johnny Boy’s Ribs

The barbecue at this dilapidated shack is the real deal.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

The first law of barbecue is that your chances of finding memorable barbecue increase the farther you get from the city–and not just because good 'cue is all about open space and billowing smoke. In this area, it's because most jurisdictions either prohibit open-pit cooking or closely regulate it. Charles County is an exception, and cooking over an open pit is what separates the meat at this legendary place from so many urban pretenders.

Johnny Boy's isn't pretty–it's a shack with peeling paint–and there's no indoor seating. The second law of barbecue might well be "The more dilapidated the place, the better." Those gusts of hickory and oak smoke spiraling up and over the little white shack are beauty enough.

Walk up to the window and place your order. Inside, there's a grill over an open fire and a team of workers hacking away with cleavers, dividing rib racks, shredding slabs of pork shoulder, reducing beef briskets into a manageable mince. Then take a seat at one of the 16 picnic tables.

The ribs are thick, the meat faintly pink along the edges–a sign that smoke has permeated the meat–and there's a pronounced taste of celery salt in the crusty exterior. Mama Sophie's red sauce–equal parts tang, sweetness, and spice–makes ideal match. See if you can resist dragging some of the beautifully crisped fries through it.

The pulled pork hardly needs Mama Sophie's help, but meat and sauce make a terrific match, especially on a bun with cool, creamy coleslaw. The threads of pork look almost spun. Bits of char find their way into the tangle, and the whole thing is suffused with smoke and salt.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.