Bring out the bibs
There's nothing elegant about barbecued ribs. This is casual, sticky, eat-with-your-hands food that gets all over your face and Ñ if you're not careful Ñ your clothes, too.
Most culinary barbarians feel that the risk of soiling a shirt is well worth the rewards when gnawing on a well-sauced rib. Thankfully, there are great places in town to get your carnivore freak on.
Tucked into the back of this cozy remodeled house on Southeast Powell Boulevard is a massive indoor barbecue, and that's where the Campbell's folks make their magic. The no-frills menu offers you a choice of pork, beef or turkey Ñ which is smoked whole, and then carved for your enjoyment.
But while all of Campbell's offerings are delightful, it's the ribs that really shine. Bite through the crunchy, crusty outside, and your teeth sink into succulent, savory perfection. The sauce is ladled on right before serving, so the ribs are never lost in a pool of goo.
The meat's definitely the star here. And if you choose the Two-Meat Platter, you can get both pork and beef ribs, enough to feed two people É or enough to satisfy one really ravenous meat-eater. Generous side dishes help fill you up further.
So which sauce should you try? The faint of heart definitely will want to stick with the mild or the tomato-y sweet brown-sugar versions. Medium offers a solid amount of heat without sacrificing flavor, and Campbell's hottest sauce is so incendiary that it should only be attempted by professionals.
8701 S.E. Powell Blvd., 503-777-9795
Clay's Smokehouse Grill
This vaguely Southwestern restaurant is casual but cool, with your more upscale diners chowing down on salmon Caesar salad while the hard-core barbecue junkies get their fix the next table over.
And, oh, what a fix it is. The BBQ Sparerib Platter provides enough ribs to satisfy even the most voracious appetite, with leftovers for the next day. Smoky but not charred, the ribs are tender and incredibly flavorful. Bringing another note of smokiness to the party is the sauce, which is sweet and not overly hot. It tends to be slathered on with a heavy hand, so if you like a lot of sauce, these are the ribs for you.
The platter is rounded out with crisp, vinegary coleslaw, garlic toast and a huge portion of Clay's home fries drizzled with creamy garlic sauce.
2932 S.E. Division St., 503-235-4755
Cannon's Rib Express
Sometimes you don't care about the sides or the desserts. You just want to jump straight into the main event.
Cannon's Rib Express offers a bucket of pork rib tips for $16, and it's a decadent feast for two, three or even four people. The 3-inch rib sections are deeply smoky, a little chewy and delectably juicy. Who needs coleslaw, anyway?
Cannon's medium-hot sauce is everything a good barbecue sauce should be, not overly sweet and with a slow burn that builds on your lips and tongue as you go along. Cannon's also offers exemplary chopped barbecue sandwiches, chicken and hot links Ñ but true carnivores will relish driving home with that big, greasy, heaven-scented bucket o' tips on the seat beside them.
5410 N.E. 33rd Ave., 503-288-3836