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Ribs from Fini’s Landing.

I’ve been seeing people line up for slabs of ribs recently at local places that are neither dedicated barbecue joints nor western steakhouses. It struck me as peculiar, with so many smoke houses across town, so I decided to conduct some research to learn what’s behind the popularity of these racks that are stacking up in the unlikeliest of places.

With its tropical cocktails and coastal cuisine, Fini’s Landing has been Tucson’s dock of the bay since dropping anchor in the Foothills in 2012. It’s all about the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida Keys lifestyle there, with a “Hakuna Matata” sort of spirit shared by its staff and flip-flop-donning patrons alike.

I honesly don’t think ribs when I’m wasting away in Margaritaville, and when I heard about their new Sunday rib special, it nearly gave me whiplash as I was ordering my second plate of Guaymas fish tacos. But a quick explanation by Chef Ryan Jones made it all fall into place.

“I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and ribs are a Sunday football tradition at most of the local bars and restaurants back home,” said Jones, executive chef at Fini’s Landing, 5689 N. Swan Road. “This is all about my bringing that authentic Midwest tailgate experience to our NFL Sunday game days in Tucson.”

Jones immerses his raw racks of baby backs in Dr. Pepper for 24 hours. He then coats them with a dry rub, smokes them for four hours in a mesquite and hickory wood blend, lathers them with Fini’s signature Chubasco barbecue sauce, and finishes them on the grill to render a nice char.

His rib pairing recommendation? Jameson Irish Whiskey.

He performs this rib ritual on the patio in front of a live audience of football fans every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. In addition to the ribs, he serves up a rotating selection of sides and other proteins, which have included half chickens, wings and of course, bratwursts grilled by a native Sheboyganite. Lucky you. 

A few miles east of Fini’s Landing is what’s been called Tucson’s oasis in the desert, Three Canyon Beer and Wine Garden. While it boasts a thoughtfully appointed taproom with a regular rotation of beers and wines on draft and in bottles, the space’s epicenter is its outdoor garden, with covered patios, cushioned sofas and chairs and manicured landscaping.

Food trucks have been the sole source of grub at Three Canyon since the otherwise kitchen-less spot opened in 2017, but after some recent architectural modifications, you can now see smoke rise where it’s never risen before.

“Our outdoor concept brings the big backyard barbecue feel to many of our neighborhood customers who live in condos and don’t have the luxury to host one at home,” said Jason Garcia, executive chef at Three Canyon, 4999 N. Sabino Canyon Road. “It’s like going to your buddy’s house, having some ribs, drinking some beer, and playing cornhole.”

He starts by smoking his seasoned spares for four hours with a blend of apple and mesquite wood. He then slowly roasts them in the oven for two more hours and serves them with coleslaw and house-made spicy and sweet barbecue sauces on the side for dipping.

His rib pairing suggestion? A Naughty Naranja Gose from Tucson’s 1912 Brewing Co.

Tucson certainly has no shortage of highly decorated pit masters. But now you have some options if you’re looking for a rack that’s a bit off the beaten barbecue path. 

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.