A guide to the barbecue restaurants setting the UAE’s smokehouse scene alight

Fresh-off-the-grill meats are on top of many a foodie's dining-out list

Venues offering freshly grilled burgers, brisket and baby-back ribs are finding favour with meat lovers in the UAE. Photo: rnb Grillhouse
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Even as restaurants spanning multiple cuisines continue to launch apace, smoked and flame-grilled dishes are heating up the UAE’s foodscape. The rise in popularity of barbecue food has turned backyard cooking into a cultural movement, as meat lovers line up – sometimes literally – at the grill houses popping up all over the Emirates.

These range from upscale smokehouses to family-run restaurants and even warehouses-turned-eateries, all looking to serve the best barbecue in town. Here are some places – and dishes – to sample.

Slow-cooked brisket at Holy Smokd

Hidden away behind large metal gates in Al Quoz industrial estate lies a hangout for Dubai’s meat lovers. From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking Holy Smokd is perpetually closed, as the quiet street conceals the hustle and bustle lurking behind the restaurant’s doors.

Open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the venue often has crowds of diners queuing up to try its melt-in-the-mouth meat. The National spends a fair few minutes in the waiting area downstairs before being beckoned up the metal staircase.

A happy vibe greets customers, punctuated by the buzz of conversation and a constant flow of diners making their way in and out. This has clearly become a social haunt.

The queue snakes from the cashier to the stairs, where waiting visitors eye up smoked dishes printed out on a huge wall-hung menu. In the nearby kitchen, pitmasters are busy preparing orders, with flames visible each time a patty is placed on the grill.

On the nearside, and in full view of customers, one of the chefs carves pieces of slow-cooked brisket that, at Dh24, has become the main attraction for many of Holy Smokd’s guests. The National pairs the 100g brisket with sides of gravy-soaked mashed potato and creamy coleslaw, all served in an industrial-chic steel tray. It’s finger-licking stuff.

On every table sit bottles of thick barbecue and tangy sriracha sauce along with napkins and gloves to help you get properly stuck into the meat.

The double-patty burgers, dripping with juices, are another delectable option at this barbecue-only joint that lives to up to its hype. Just be prepared to queue up for several minutes only for the food to be gone in seconds.

Meat platter at Chef’s Smokehouse

Another venue taking full advantage of the UAE’s barbecue craze is Chef’s Smokehouse – already a staple of the scene in Saudi Arabia. The doors to its flagship Dubai venue, just off Sheikh Zayed Road in Satwa, are now open.

The “smokehouse you can call home” serves smoked brisket, cooked for at least 12 hours, as well as juicy burgers and barbecue ribs.

A large brick smoker sits in the middle of the open kitchen, lined with barbecue ribs, while burgers sizzle on the flat iron grill. The unmistakable hissing sound of fresh meat touching the heat temporarily drowns out Adele’s vocals belting out through the speakers.

As diners wait for their order, the pitmaster reveals the tender, tinfoil-wrapped brisket, which he slowly carves and weighs.

Platters arrive at the table packed with protein – a double Wagyu beef burger, plus barbecue brisket with a side of fries smothered in cheese sauce, four dips and slaw. Each mouthful reveals meat so tender, it falls apart before you’ve had a chance to chew. Heavenly.

At Dh250 – and worth every fil of it – this is a meal made for sharing (the portion of fries itself is enough to feed a small family).

Chooza chicken at Hashmi Barbeque

Speaking of families, the Hashmis are well aware of the UAE’s on-trend fascination with barbecue culture and are revelling in the moment.

Originating in Kenya in 1978, Hashmi Barbeque has been serving African dishes with an Indian flavour in Dubai for four years. Though, the Al Barsha venue is enjoying a surge in popularity this year.

The family-run joint serves halal meat, all cooked on an open flame grill, except for the restaurant’s most popular dish, chooza chicken. This is prepared differently, with whole chickens skewered and lowered into a roaring charcoal clay oven where they remain submerged for 20 minutes. The sharing-style dish is served with Hashmi’s signature chooza sauce, and is worth its Dh85 price tag.

Open from lunchtime, the place is always packed with hungry diners (famous guests include Manchester City star Erling Haaland and ex-boxer Amir Khan). Most choose to sit near the kitchen, where busy chefs prepare dishes before handing them to family members who double as servers.

Baby-back ribs at rnb Grillhouse

Since last month, Abu Dhabi residents have been able to satiate their barbecue fix at rnb Grillhouse, which serves high-quality meat with an Arabian twist. The signature baby back ribs, cooked low and slow for eight hours before being flamed-grilled, are served with home-made basting for a unique taste. Before cooking, the meat is marinated with local spices.

The sharing-style ribs are available in beef or veal, either with the spicy basting or a charcoal herb crust, served with a side of fries and costing Dh250. Ribs aside, the gourmet burgers are well worth sampling, with the patties locally sourced and hormone-free.

An open kitchen lights up the otherwise dimly lit decor, and grill masters can be seen and heard throughout the restaurant. The stone floor is enlivened by beige and terracotta walls lined with cushioned benches, all adding to the homely feel. Located in Al Bateen, rnb Grillhouse also offers a mouth-watering menu of other meaty goodness, from flame-grilled chicken wings to a Wagyu cheese and caramelised onion burger served with truffle cream sauce, plus tender Wagyu rib-eye, Angus rib-eye and Wagyu rump.

“It’s important to mention that we are Grill Masters and our brigade of chefs,” says Rob de Villiers, regional managing director of Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group. “We have a passionate commitment to the art of grilling and, in addition to using premium ingredients, what differentiates us from other smokehouses in the UAE is the technique and the process we adopt which allows us to produce and serve quality meat meals with a perfect texture finish,” he tells The National.

“We have created a menu that seamlessly blends local ingredients with global flavours and modern influences,” says de Villiers. “A homestyle environment and warm hospitality – both of which are the essence of Arabian culture – are also on the menu.”

This is true of most of the smokehouses that have mushroomed in the UAE. Each is more than just about food and brings with it a sense of communal joy, catering to those who still prefer to eat in. There are noticeably more diners than delivery drivers here. In today’s world of takeaway and convenience, the UAE’s barbecue joints are doing their bit to bring people back together.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 8:38 AM