8 Restaurants That Prove Arkansas Barbecue Is Here To Stay

Wright’s Barbecue

 Jenn Terrell

With Memphis to the east and Texas to the west, Arkansas often gets skipped in discussions of Southern barbecue—and unfairly so, for the state has plenty of smoky treasures to share.

Stylistically, the Arkansas version has much in common with its neighbors across the Mississippi River. Ribs and rib tips are finished with a thick, sweet brown sauce (like the ones you’ll find in many Memphis joints), and beans and slaw are the requisite sides. As in Mississippi, Delta-style tamales pop up in classic Arkansas spots like McClard’s Bar-B-Q in Hot Springs and Dixie Pig in Blytheville.

Walt Todd and Kelly Lovell of Count Porkula
Count Porkula, founded by Walt Todd, left, and Kelly Lovell, right, started out as a mobile eatery.

 Jenn Terrell

But the state also shares a border with Texas, and Arkansans tend to be as amenable to beef as they are to pork. Chopped or sliced beef sandwiches are standard menu options, as are smoked sausages in a range of styles, from mild kielbasa to spicy hot links.

Despite its many influences, Arkansas has unique features, such as adding the region’s signature slaw to sandwiches. In much of the state, the tradition is as minimalist as you can get— sliced raw cabbage with just a hint of vinegar, sometimes with no vinegar at all.

Some of the area’s best-known joints were founded well before World War II, and as you zip down two-lane highways through the flat rice and soybean fields of the Delta, it can seem like the barbecue culture here is practically preserved in amber. But in Little Rock and the northwest part of the state, new players are bringing contemporary craft styles to the scene.

Phillip McClard, owner of McClard's Bar-B-Q stands in between large ovens
Phillip McClard is the third-generation owner of McClard's Bar-B-Q.

Robbie Caponetto

McClard’s Bar-B-Q

Hot Springs

In 1928, Alice and Alex McClard converted their small tourist court on Albert Pike into a barbecue restaurant. Their original specialty—smoked goat—is long gone, but flavorful ribs with a tangy, sweet glaze and sliced or chopped beef and pork remain favorites to this day. Whether you sit on a red leather stool at the low counter or in a booth in the white-walled dining room, no meal is complete without at least one handmade tamale. Soft cylinders of cornmeal infused with chili and spice are the best accompaniment for a platter of slow-smoked meats. 

Dixie Pig


This local institution has been around for about 100 years, and its Pig Sandwich is an Arkansas legend. Tucked inside a warm, toasted bun, the chopped pork has a subtle smoky bite, and it gets a little crunch from simple slaw—just long shreds of cabbage with a slight tang. Shake on some of the salty, spice laden vinegar sauce from the bottle on the table, and you’ve got a pork sandwich as good as any west of the Mississippi—or east of it, for that matter.

Craig’s Bar-B-Q

De Valls Bluf

There’s nothing fancy about Craig’s in De Valls Bluff. Inside a low-slung white building, the small dining room has faded wallpaper with outdoor scenes. A menu board offers ribs, chicken, and sausage dinners alongside burgers and barbecue sandwiches. The latter options are the way to go. Whether you choose beef or pork, the soft bun will be filled with chopped meat, creamy white slaw, and plenty of brown sauce, creating an utterly delicious, albeit sloppy, lunch. A slice of coconut pie for dessert is also an absolute must.

Count Porkula's Sausage & Cheese Tray
Count Porkula's sausage & cheese tray.

Courtesy Count Porkula

Count Porkula

Little Rock

Walt Todd and Kelly Lovell grew their backyard hobby into a roving food truck. In 2018, they opened their first brick-and-mortar spot. Now, five years later, they have two full-service locations in the Little Rock area. Named after their original vintage smoker (which they lovingly restored), Count Porkula covers all the bases with prime brisket, baby back ribs, sausage links, and chicken. These options are joined by tempting twists like the Almost Famous Nachos (topped with pulled pork or chicken) and the Smoked Wings (enrobed in your choice of sauce) for a fine fusion of old and new. 

McClard's Smoked Meats
McClard's is known for smoked meats and for tamales covered with corn chips, beans, beef, and cheese.

Robbie Caponetto

Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner


Two years ago, a fire destroyed the pit house at Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner, and loyal fans rallied to crowdfund a replacement. Today, a gleaming new structure with red metal walls wraps the old brick chimney at the rear of the restaurant, but the rest of the white cinder block building remains unaltered. You place your order at the same window, and the menu still offers just chopped pork barbecue by the pound and sandwiches that are paragons of simplicity. Each foil-wrapped treasure holds tender strands of vinegar-laced pork and barely dressed slaw between two slices of spongy white bread. Who could need anything more?

Kibb’s Bar-B-Que


Walter Kibble founded the first Kibb’s Bar-B-Que in Stuttgart four decades ago. Today, he continues to helm the flagship location while his relatives operate outposts in Pine Bluff and North Little Rock. They’re true hidden gems. You order at a small window and then return to your car while your meal is prepared. The splendid beef and pork sandwiches are well worth every minute of the wait. Inside a toasted bun is superbly smoky meat that’s sliced thin then chopped and generously dressed in your choice of mild, medium, or hot sauce. But be warned: Even the medium version will set your tongue tingling; the smoke and spice will linger pleasantly long after you polish off your last bite. 

Sims Bar-B-Que 

Little Rock

Opened by Amelia and Allen Sims in 1937, Little Rock’s oldest operating barbecue restaurant features beef, pork, ribs, and sausage cooked each day in a cinder block pit house that adjoins the restaurant. Finely chopped beef swims in brown sauce, and it’s excellent when folded into a piece of white bread. Add a few slices of sausage and potato salad plus subtly sweet barbecue beans and you have a classic Arkansas-style plate.

Pitmaster Jordan Wright
Pitmaster Jordan Wright specializes in Texas-style barbecue.

Robbie Caponetto

Wright’s Barbecue


With two locations and another on the way, Jordan Wright is steadily building a craft-barbecue empire in Northwest Arkansas. He’s doing it Texas style too. That means paper-lined platters of thick-sliced brisket, hearty ribs, and superlative turkey and sausage. Don’t skip the bacon burnt ends. Those tender chunks of pork belly with their sweet, peppery glaze are a new-school treat that’s worth bucking tradition for. Memorable sides like gooey macaroni and cheese and meat-studded collards round out the meal. 

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