The South's Most Legendary Barbecue Joints 2021
Sometimes it seems like the same famous barbecue restaurants always get all the attention. In most cases, they’ve earned that fame through hard work and top-notch food. But in a region with as much talent and diversity as the South has, there are plenty of other spots that fly a little under the radar.
Many can be found in small towns far from any interstate and others in city neighborhoods that aren’t well-known to tourists. One thing these joints have in common is that they serve delicious slow-cooked barbecue, and each is worth a stop on your next road trip.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Northport is a small white building with an enormous soot-stained brick chimney attached to the front. That’s the home of Archibald’s BBQ, an Alabama legend that serves sliced pork and hickory-cooked ribs atop slices of white bread, which soak up the peppery orange-hued sauce. Meaty and smoky with the perfect slightly firm bite, those ribs are as good as any you can find in the whole country.
archibaldbbq.com, 205-345-6861, 1211 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Northport, AL 35476
Backyard BBQ Pit
Durham, North Carolina
In a state that’s world-famous for slow-cooked pork, Backyard BBQ Pit remains an unheralded gem. Chicken, turkey, ribs, and brisket are all cooked over oak and hickory in big brick pits, but the real star of the show is the chopped pork shoulder. Generously dressed in a red pepper-laced vinegar sauce, it’s a tender, juicy Carolina treat.
sweetribs.com, 919-544-9911, 5122 NC-55, Durham, NC 27713
Big John’s Alabama BBQ
The Reverend “Big John” Stephens moved from Eufaula, Alabama, to Tampa in 1958 and opened Big John’s Alabama BBQ a decade later. His family carries on the legacy in East Tampa today, cooking incredible chicken, sausage, and ribs over a hickory fire in a big open brick pit.
bigjohnsalabamabbq.com, 813-623-3600, 5707 N 40th St, Tampa, FL 33610
The South's Most Legendary BBQ Joints
Gary Lee’s Market
Gary Lee’s Market is about 2 miles off I-95 in Brunswick, making it a great pit stop for Florida-bound snowbirds. Their big ribs have a punch of smoky flavor, and the pork sandwich—with meat chopped thick and dressed in a tangy red sauce—is a textbook example of the Georgia style.
912-265-1925, 3636 US-82, Brunswick, GA 31523
King’s Famous Barbecue
Established in 1946 and now operated by the third generation of the King family, this Petersburg fixture offers a splendid version of Virginia’s old Southside style of barbecue. Enjoy chopped pork or tender folds of slow-smoked beef tucked inside a griddled bun with plenty of tangy orange sauce for a superb sandwich.
kingsfamousbarbecue.com, 804-732-0975, 2910 S Crater Rd, Petersburg, VA 23805
Kream Kastle was launched as a tiny hot dog stand in 1952. A few years later, Steven Johns (the son of first-generation Lebanese and Syrian immigrants) turned it into a full-service drive-in with barbecue in the form of the “pig sandwich.” They’re still making those white paper-wrapped specialties today, with pork cooked on a charcoal pit and topped with slaw and a spicy vinegar-pepper sauce.
870-762-2366, 112 N Division St, Blytheville, AR 72315
Manning, South Carolina
South Carolina is home to the all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, and the selection at McCabe’s is as good as any in the state. The wood-cooked whole hog is chopped into long strands and dressed in a spicy vinegar-pepper sauce. It’s accompanied by golden brown fried chicken, tangy collards, and a superlative red-tinged version of hash and rice, South Carolina’s signature barbecue stew.
803-435-2833, 480 N Brooks St, Manning, SC 29102
Almost everything about Starnes Bar-B-Q is small, except for the flavor. It’s housed in a tiny turquoise diner-style building, and the slim menu includes ham, beef, and turkey on a sandwich or by the pound, with just potato salad and slaw on the side. For a true Paducah treat, order one pork and one smoked bologna sandwich. Served between two slices of toasted white bread, those thin, crisp packages deliver bursts of wood-smoked flavor.
270-444-9555, 1008 Joe Clifton Dr, Paducah, KY 42001
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue
This place has gotten a lot of notice in recent years, so technically it may no longer fly under the radar, but it’s still worth the 30-mile drive from Houston out to Tomball to pay them a visit. Ribs, brisket, and smoked pork belly anchor the lineup at this combination chocolate shop and Texas-style barbecue joint. Don’t skip the rotating slate of house-made sausages in flavors like chili relleno and barbacoa boudin—they’re amazing.
tejaschocolate.com, 832-761-0670, 200 N Elm St, Tomball, TX 77375