The Most Iconic Barbecue Dishes in Every Southern State 2021
In recent years, barbecue menus in the South have become increasingly standardized. Slow-smoked beef brisket—the icon of Central Texas meat markets—was once virtually unknown on the East Coast, but now you can find it throughout the Carolinas and Georgia. It joins pulled pork, ribs, and smoked chicken as the top hits on the Southern barbecue charts.
But that doesn’t mean that regional novelties have disappeared altogether. Amid the chorus of brisket and pulled pork, each state in the South offers a distinctive note or two that differentiate its barbecue menus. In some places, it’s a unique side dish, in others a meat rarely found on barbecue pits anywhere else.
Here are our picks for the essential barbecue dishes of the South, those signature menu items that you owe it to yourself to try when sampling barbecue in each state.
Alabama: Chicken with White Sauce
Yes, you can find hickory-smoked chicken just about anywhere, but in Alabama they serve it with the state’s signature white mayonnaise barbecue sauce. There’s no better place to try it than at Big Bob Gibson, for that’s where it was invented almost a century ago by Big Bob himself.
Where to stop: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
bigbobgibson.com, 256-350-6969, 1715 6th Ave SE, Decatur, AL 35601
Arkansas: Chopped Pork Sandwich on White Bread
Sometimes it pays to keep things simple, like an Arkansas barbecue sandwich: chopped or sliced pork and crisp coleslaw layered inside a toasted bun or between two slices of ordinary white bread. At Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, the foil-wrapped sandwiches are as simple as they come—and as delicious, too.
Where to stop: Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
Find them on Facebook, 870-295-3807, 219 W Louisiana St, Marianna, AR 72360
Florida: Smoked Mullet
In many parts of the South mullet is more often used for bait than for eating, but Floridians know that a good dose of red oak smoke will transform the small silver fish into a delicacy. Butterflied down the back and folded open, they emerge from the smoker as rich mahogany slabs that need nothing more than a squirt of lemon juice as sauce. A lot of the barbecue stands that dot Florida’s highways throw a few mullets on their smokers, and Ted Peters Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg is the motherlode for this rare Florida treasure.
Where to stop: Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
tedpetersfish.com, 727-381-7931, 1350 Pasadena Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33707
Georgia: Pork Sandwich with Brunswick Stew
A sandwich and stew is the classic Georgia combo. That’s a pork sandwich, of course, with the meat chopped and piled inside a bun and served wrapped in waxed paper. “Stew” means Brunswick stew, a succulent blend of beef, pork, and sometimes chicken slow simmered with tomatoes, corn, onion, potatoes, and more. Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson has been turning out superlative versions of both since 1929.
Where to stop: Fresh Air Bar-B-Que
freshairbarbecue.com, 770-775-3182, 1164 Highway 42 S, Jackson, GA 30233
Kentucky: Sliced Mutton with Burgoo
A century ago, mutton was a barbecue staple throughout the South, but these days it’s found almost exclusively in a few counties in western Kentucky, cooked over hickory coals and served with a tangy orangish-brown sauce or a jet-black Worcestershire-based “dip.” At Old Hickory Bar-B-Que in Owensboro, the Foreman family has been smoking mutton for over a century, and it goes perfectly with a hearty cup of burgoo, Kentucky’s famous slow-simmered barbecue stew.
Where to stop: Old Hickory Bar-B-Que
oldhickorybar-b-q.com, 270-926-9000, 338 Washington Ave, Owensboro, KY 42301
Louisiana: Barbecue and Boudin
Once found primarily in gas stations and groceries in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, boudin—a pork and rice sausage seasoned with onions, peppers, and spices—has started to sneak its way into barbecue joints, too. When the “hot boudin to-day” sign is out at Johnson’s Boucaniere in Lafayette, you can top off a sliced brisket or pulled pork plate with a boudin link made from a recipe dating back to the 1940s.
Where to stop: Johnson’s Boucaniere
johnsonsboucaniere.com, 337-269-8878, 1111 St John St, Lafayette, LA 70501
Maryland: Pit Beef
There’s nothing low and slow about Maryland’s pit beef. Hefty round roasts are grilled over a charcoal fire, the cook turning each hunk till it’s charred on the outside but still rosy rare in the middle. The smoke-kissed beef is shaved paper-thin and piled on a Kaiser roll with raw onions and “tiger sauce,” a mixture of horseradish and mayo. Fans argue over whether pit beef is actually barbecue, and they argue over which stand serves the best, too. Pioneer Pit Beef in Catonsville ranks high on everyone’s list.
Where to stop: Pioneer Pit Beef
443-882-1005, 1600 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21244
The Most Iconic Barbecue Dishes in Every Southern State
Mississippi: Delta-Style Tamales
For more than a century, groceries and specialty vendors in Mississippi have been selling Delta-style tamales, rolling cornmeal and seasoned beef, pork or turkey inside corn shucks and simmering them till tender. You can find tamales in a few Mississippi barbecue joints, too, like Abe’s in Clarksdale, where they’re served with vinegary slaw and crackers on the side.
Where to stop: Abe’s Bar-B-Q
abesbbq.com, 662-624-9947, 616 North State Street, Clarksdale, Mississippi 38614
Missouri: Burnt Ends
Burnt ends were originally a freebie, the crisp edges trimmed off briskets and slipped across the counter for customers to munch on while their order was sliced. Now you’ll pay ten bucks or more for them in joints around Kansas City, but at LC’s those chewy morsels—drenched in tangy sauce with a delightful salty, smoky bark—are worth every penny.
Where to stop: LC’s Bar-B-Q
lcsbarbq.com, 816-923-4484, 5800 Blue Pkwy, Kansas City, MO 64129
North Carolina: Barbecue Tray
In the Piedmont of North Carolina, a barbecue tray is something very specific. A model of balanced moderation, it pairs vinegar-and-ketchup-dressed barbecue (pork shoulder, of course) with an equal-sized scoop of the region’s signature red slaw and serves them side by side in a small cardboard tray. A basket of golden-brown hushpuppies always comes alongside. The trays at Lexington Barbecue in Lexington and Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby are iconic examples.
Where to stop: Lexington Barbecue or Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
lexbbq.com, 336-249-9814, 100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, NC 27295
bridgesbbq.com, 704-482-8567, 2000 East Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28152
Oklahoma: Smoked Bologna and Hot Links
Slices of pit-smoked bologna and pepper-laced hot link sausages are two staples of Oklahoma’s barbecue joints. Can’t decide between them? You don’t have to. At Elmer’s in Tulsa, you can get them both—along with pork ribs and chopped beef—piled on a bun in a concoction dubbed the Badwich.
Where to stop: Elmer’s BBQ
Find them on Facebook, 918-742-6702, 4130 S Peoria Ave, Tulsa, OK 74105
South Carolina: Hash and Rice
Technically, it’s not illegal to eat barbecue in South Caroline without getting hash and rice on the side, but it should be. A cross between a thick gravy and a stew, hash is usually pork (though sometimes beef) slow-simmered with onions and spices till everything merges together into a rich, savory whole. At Hite’s in West Columbia, they make it the old-fashioned way in an iron pot over a wood fire. It’s the essential companion to smoky strands of whole hog barbecue dressed with the state’s bright yellow mustard-based sauce.
Where to stop: Hite’s Bar-B-Que
hitesbbq.com, 803-794-4120, 240 Dreher Rd, West Columbia, SC 29169
Tennessee: Ribs with a Side of Barbecue Spaghetti
You could easily make a meal out of a large plate of barbecue spaghetti, but it’s really a side dish. No, they don’t put the noodles on the pit, but they do toss them with smoked pork and brown barbecue sauce. A small cup of those tangy strands is the ideal accompaniment for a platter of ribs at Memphis legend Cozy Corner, and at the Bar-B-Q Shop they cook the base for their splendidly smoky sauce inside the barbecue pit.
Where to stop: Cozy Corner BBQ or The Bar-B-Q Shop
cozycornerbbq.com, 901-527-9158, 735 N Parkway, Memphis, TN 38105
thebar-b-qshop.com, 901-272-1277, 1782 Madison Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104
Texas: Beef Ribs
Yes, Texas is famous for slow-smoked brisket, but the state’s pitmasters have upped their games in recent years with prime-grade beef ribs. Beneath a smoky, peppery crust, each massive slab is meltingly tender and delivers a rich punch of beefy flavor. The ones at Louie Mueller in Taylor are perhaps the best in the state.
Where to stop: Louie Mueller Barbecue
louiemuellerbarbecue.com, 512-352-6206, 206 W Second Street, Taylor, TX 76574
Virginia: Shenandoah Valley-Style Chicken
The chicken barbecue is a summertime fixture in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where church groups and civic organizations regularly stage Saturday fundraisers featuring a distinctive style of chicken. Split in half lengthwise and cooked on long charcoal-fired pits, the birds are turned and basted with a tangy oil-and-vinegar sauce till the skin is seared brown and crisp. If you don’t happen across a Ruritan club or volunteer fire department event, you can always head to the Barbeque Exchange in Gordonsville, where a grilled half-chicken plate is a menu regular.
Where to stop: BBQ Exchange
bbqex.com, 540-832-0227, 102 Martinsburg Ave, Gordonsville, VA 22942
Washington, D.C.: Half-Smoke
No one knows for sure where the “half” part of the half-smoke come from. Perhaps it’s because the smoked sausages are half beef and half pork, though some claim it’s because the links are often split down the middle before cooking. At Ben’s Chili Bowl, which made them famous, they grill them whole, and the city’s barbecue joints, like DCity Smokehouse, have started adding half-smokes alongside their fully-smoked meats, too.
Where to stop: Ben’s Chili Bowl or DCity Smokehouse
benschilibowl.com, 202-667-0909, 1213 U St NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
dcitysmokehouse.com, 202-733-1919, 203 Florida Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20001