Monterrey, Mexico, Has Some of the Best Barbecue in North America

Our barbecue editor was impressed not only with the quality of the city’s Texas-style ’cue but with the overall love and respect for the cuisine.
I momentarily forgot where I was while standing at a urinal in the bathroom of Old Jimmy’s BBQ in Monterrey, Mexico. Taped to the wall in front of me was a printout of Texas Monthly’s list of top fifty barbecue joints from 2017. A QR code to download the Texas Monthly BBQ Finder app was displayed next to it, along with a note written in Sharpie that read, “Traveling to Texas?” It was the first acknowledgment I’d seen since walking through the doors of Old Jimmy’s that we weren’t already there.
Texas and American flags waved above a “Welcome to Texas” sign and a Dr Pepper advertisement. The restaurant’s social media is in English, a language its customer-facing staff all speak. The handwritten menu on butcher paper lists meat quantities in pounds rather than grams (but the prices are in pesos). “Don’t mess with Texas” is painted on drum trash cans and on the back wall of a courtyard filled with picnic tables. Off to one side, a stack of split oak rests next to a couple of thousand-gallon offset smokers made from old propane tanks. I was bracing myself for the illusion to all come crashing down when the platter of barbecue arrived, but its beauty only reinforced the immersive experience. These people really love Texas, and they love Texas barbecue even more.
I traveled to Monterrey to attend a barbecue festival at the invitation of Luis Rivas. He’s a veteran of barbecue competitions and has a joint of his own, RIVS Smoke & Grill, which I have yet to visit, an hour and a half southeast in Linares. He dreamed up the Monterrey BBQ Festival, which debuted October 1, and brought together over thirty barbecue joints. Half of them came from the U.S. (mostly Texas) and the other half were Texas-style joints from as far way in Mexico as Guadalajara and Mexico City. Running concurrently with the festival was a Kansas City Barbecue Societ–sanctioned barbecue competition, whose winner would automatically get a highly coveted slot at next year’s Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. The previous day, Rivas and Abe Delgado (of I Crush BBQ Show, out of California) led me on a barbecue tour of Monterrey.
For those unfamiliar with Monterrey, it’s the capital of Nuevo Léon, a state in northern Mexico. The metro area’s population is the second highest in the nation, after Mexico City. Monterrey natives are known as regios, so chains like Pollo Regio and other Texas restaurants using the term are advertising their connection to Monterrey. Chances are, they’ll feature an image of El Cerro de la Silla, or Saddle Hill, an iconic mountain in Monterrey whose peak looks like it was taken off with an ice cream scoop. Monterrey is also the home of another mountain, Cerro del Topo Chico, where mineral water is sourced to fill those bottles of Topo Chico we love so much in Texas. Rivas told me there’s a spigot by the factory where Topo Chico flows freely, but with all the barbecue on the agenda we didn’t have time for a visit.
We began at the Tampiquito neighborhood location of Old Jimmy’s BBQ, in San Pedro, the wealthiest city in the Monterrey area. That’s where owners Fernando Vela and Eugenío Martinez moved in 2019 from their original location. Technically, the original location was Vela’s driveway, in 2015. “After a year of smoking at my house once a month,” Vela said, “my wife and neighbors decided we should move the operation to another location.” When they started in a leased space in 2016, barbecue meant something other than smoked meats in Monterrey. “Barbecue was the name of any dish with barbecue sauce on it,” Vela said. Chili’s was the destination for ribs. It took some time to find a customer base that understood what they were serving, but they were able to open a second location thirty minutes south in La Estanzuela, in 2018, the same year they quit their day jobs.