The South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints 2019
After a long summer spent driving down lonely country roads, sampling prodigious quantities of smoked meats and delicious sides, and repeatedly stain-treating shirts, it’s time to release Southern Living’s 2019 list of the Top 50 Barbecue Joints in the South. Last year we took the risky step of listing our picks in ranked order, and we’re doing it again in 2019.
There has been quite a bit of movement within the rankings this year. To the dismay of Carolinians, three slots opened up when a trio of beloved restaurants closed their doors: Cannon's BBQ & More in Little Mountain and Jackie Hite's in Leesville, South Carolina, and Allen & Son’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which previously held the #5 slot.
In a pleasant twist, one of those open slots has been filled by a South Carolina joint that had previously fallen off the Top 50 list, since McCabe’s Bar-B-Que in Manning reopened after being closed for a few years due to family illness. A number of new players debuted on the Top 50 list this year, too. (“New”, of course, is a relative term in the Southern barbecue world, where being open a mere half century is nothing to write home about.)
Quite a few of the restaurants on last year’s list have moved up or down in the rankings as we went back and revisited previous years’ picks and compared them with other contenders. The theme noted in 2018’s list continues this year: the barbecue scene in the South just keeps getting better, and restaurants need to stay on top of their game to compete.
The rankings may have changed this year, but the criteria remain the same. The overall dining experience is important: the physical setting, the aroma from the pits, the sauces and dishes served alongside. Whether it’s a bare-bones take-out stand or a full-service restaurant with a wine list and clean restrooms, each place needs a spirit and flair that’s all its own. We try to cast as wide a net as possible, too, seeking out the restaurants that best embody the particular barbecue style of their region.
In the end, though, it all comes down to the quality of the ‘cue. Be it slow-smoked brisket or charcoal-grilled ribs or even house-cured pastrami, nothing else matters if the barbecue isn’t delicious. Those restaurants that moved up in the rankings did so primarily because of flavor—that little extra juiciness or kiss of smoke that makes you say, “wow,” and sends you diving back to the plate for more.
Fortunately for Southern barbecue fans, there are plenty of great “wow” moments out there. Here are our Top 50.
Note: This list should not be confused with Southern Living’s Best in the South, which was released back in April. That selection is voted on by our readers—some 65,000 of them. You can think of that list as the “readers’ choice” and this one as the “editor’s picks.” There is plenty of overlap between the two rankings, though, for as much as Southerners love to argue about barbecue, the cream tends to rise to the top.
These Joints Took the Top Spots
50. Old Brick Pit Barbeque
4805 Peachtree Rd., oldbrickpitbbq.com
You can find a lot of good barbecue in Atlanta these days, but most of it follows styles imported from somewhere else. That’s not the case at Old Brick Pit, which hews closely to traditional Georgia conventions. Chopped pork, ribs, and chicken are cooked in a hickory-fired brick pit and dressed with a peppery tomato-and-vinegar sauce. Try a combo plate with creamy white coleslaw and plain white bread wrapped in waxed paper and be sure to order some Brunswick stew. Thick, rich, and dotted with kernels of shoepeg corn, it’s a standout version of Georgia’s classic barbecue side.
49. Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q
Vestavia Hills, AL
3278 Cahaba Heights Rd., missmyras.com
A big brick pit extends along the entire left wall of Miss Myra’s, filling the dining room with the tempting aroma of hickory smoke. In classic Alabama style, there’s a broad range of meats—pork, beef, ribs, sausage—but the real star of the show is the pit-cooked chicken. Enrobed in a mahogany jacket of smoke-bathed skin, the dark meat underneath is tender and juicy, and it’s complemented perfectly by a generous drizzle of thin, tangy white sauce. The ribs are no slouch, either, and Miss Myra’s sweet, gooey banana pudding is deservedly famous.
48. Two Bros. BBQ Market
San Antonio, TX
12656 West Ave., twobrosbbqmarket.com
As Texas barbecue joints go, Two Bros. is but a toddler, having opened its doors just a decade ago. But the setting is great: a homey yellow building with a spacious side yard filled with picnic tables and a playground for the kids. You can smell the smoke from two old-school brick and mortar pits inside the screened-in smokehouse and four more offset smokers under an adjoining shed. Those pits are overseen by Laura Loomis, one of Texas’s few female pitmasters, and they put out some impressive barbecue. The standout items include succulent brisket with a generous fat cap and firm, juicy sausage with a delightfully smoky bite.
47. Bar-B-Q Shop Restaurant
1782 Madison Ave., thebar-b-qshop.com
The Bar-B-Q Shop is the home of barbecue spaghetti, Memphis’s eccentric but delicious contribution to Southern barbecue sides. The Vernon family uses the original (and highly-secret) recipe created by Brady Vincent, the restaurant’s original owner. Thick, soft noodles and shreds of pork are tossed with a blend of tomato and barbecue sauce that’s been slow-simmered for hours in the pit. It’s the perfect accompaniment for a platter of half-and-half ribs, dry rubbed on one end and mopped with sauce on the other, a delicious compromise uniting the city’s competing wet and dry styles. From the stylish neon outside to the punched tin ceiling over the dining room, the Bar-B-Q Shop has classic style.
46. Swig & Swine
1217 Savannah Hwy., swigandswinebbq.com
The first Swig & Swine opened in 2014, and in just five short years the restaurant has expanded to four locations in the greater Charleston area. Along the way, it’s helped lead the city’s rapid rise as a Southern barbecue destination. Owner/pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo, a former Navy submarine cook, is serious about all-wood barbecue, and his broad menu ranges from pulled pork and ribs to turkey and chicken wings. The thick-sliced brisket is always a solid choice, but the under-the-radar winners are the silky, smoke-tinged pork belly and DiBernardo’s tangy take on South Carolina’s signature side dish, hash and rice—especially if you stir in a few squirts of yellow mustard sauce.
45. Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
1238 DeKalb Avenue Northeast, foxbrosbbq.com
No one leaves Fox Bros. hungry. Brisket and ribs are the foundation of the menu, reflecting owners Jonathan and Justin Fox’s Texas roots, but there are plenty of other tempting options. The hickory-smoked chicken wings shouldn’t be missed, and you can get foxy with creative combinations that span the South’s regional barbecue styles—“Texas fries” loaded up with chopped brisket, chicken-fried ribs with Alabama white sauce, tater tots smothered with a layer of Brunswick stew. If that’s not enough, there are always daily specials like house-made bologna and Montreal smoked meat on rye. Did I mention that no one leaves Fox Bros. hungry?
44. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
2830 West Parrish Ave., moonlite.com
Moonlite Inn is famous for barbecued mutton, a Kentucky specialty found only in a few counties in the northwest part of the state. Since 1963 the Bosley family has been cooking it along with beef, pork, and chicken on custom-designed metal smokers. Those smokers are fired up and cooking around the clock, seven days a week, for Moonlite is a big-time operation. Spacious dining rooms seat 350 guests at a time, and you can serve yourself from two long buffets brimming with mac n’ cheese, stewed apples, sweet corn muffins, and more. The restaurant’s signature mutton is pulled into long, tender strands with a subtle but delicious savory bite. Be sure to order a bowl of tangy burgoo to go alongside. Warm and filling with a rich mutton bite and peppery finish, it’s a star shining amid the moonlight.
43. The Ridgewood Barbecue
Bluff City, TN
900 Elizabethton Hwy., ridgewoodbbq.com
Barbecue joints are rare in the mountains of east Tennessee, but the Ridgewood is a classic destination with its own unique style. The long, narrow yellow building is nestled along the side of a narrow mountain highway just south of Bluff City. Start things off with tangy blue cheese dip, served in a little white bowl encircled by saltine crackers, then move on to the main attraction: a platter of thin-sliced pork dressed in a sweet brown sauce and beside a mound of thick, delicious hand-cut fries. That pork is from hams, not shoulders, and it’s cooked over hickory wood in two smoke-blackened sheds next to the main building. Be sure to add a side order of Mrs. Profitt’s sweet, smoky barbecue beans. Served in tiny brown ceramic pots, they’re an essential part of the Ridgewood experience.
42. Gates Bar-B-Q
Kansas City, MO
3205 Main St., gatesbbq.com
Gates Bar-B-Q traces its lineage back to pioneer pitmaster Henry Perry, and it’s a stalwart example of Kansas City’s unique barbecue style. At any of the half-dozen locations scattered around the city, sweet, savory smoke hangs thick in the air from the black metal doored pits behind the counter, and you’ll be greeted by the cashiers’ insistent refrain of “Hi, may I help you?” That means it’s time to shout out your order. Ask for a mixed plate of ribs, beef, and ham (That’s right, ham. In Kansas City, they’ll put just about anything on a barbecue pit.) The tender folds of meat are slathered in the city’s distinctive orangish-brown sauce, which is sweet but spicy, and finished with a big handful of french fries piled on top.
41. Jenkins Quality Barbecue
830 N Pearl St., jenkinsqualitybarbecue.com
Melton and Willie Mae Jenkins open their first barbecue restaurant in 1957, and their unique mustard-based sauce has been keeping Jacksonville’s tongues tingling ever since. There are now three outposts of this small family-run chain, and at all three they cook half-chickens and slabs of ribs on oak-fired open brick pits. The finished meat is served over slices of white bread and smothered in that bright yellow mustard sauce. If you’re feeling brave, opt for the hot version of the sauce: it’ll put sweat on your brown and tears in your eyes, but, man, is it delicious.
40. Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
52 S 2nd St., hogsfly.com
It’s worth visiting Rendezvous just for the experience of entering the restaurant. You walk under a stylish red and green awning, down a steep flight of stairs, and into a basement dining room with red-checked tablecloths and photograph-lined walls. It gets even better once you order a basket of ribs. Back in the 1940s, Charlie Vergos took a few racks, rubbed them down with a spice blend borrowed from his father’s Greek chili recipe, and cooked them hot and fast over charcoal in a pit fashioned from an old coal chute. The Rendezvous has been the home of Memphis-style dry rubbed ribs ever since. Throw in a starter platter of ham, cheese, and salami and a pitcher of cold draft and you’ll have a barbecue experience found only in Memphis.
39. Micklethwait Craft Meats
1309 Rosewood Ave., craftmeatsaustin.com
Micklethwait Craft Meats is a splendid distillation of the vibrant, bohemian vibe that drives Austin’s barbecue scene. It’s a sort of semi-permanent encampment just east of downtown Austin, where pitmaster Tom Micklethwait’s big offset smokers occupy an improvised pit room atop an old flatbed trailer. Parked alongside is a tan camper that’s been converted into a take-out barbecue stand, and you eat at long wooden picnic tables under a white canopy tent. The offering blends tradition and novelty, with Texas mainstays like brisket, sausage, and ribs joined by pulled lamb and goat barbacoa. The side dishes—chili-studded jalapeno cheese grits, smoky campfire chili beans—are superb, too.
38. Big T Bar-B-Q
2520 Congaree Road, bigtbbq.com
There are two satellite Big T locations in the suburbs of Columbia, but it's worth a trip out to Gadsden to check out "the mothership." That’s where Larry “Big T” Brown cooks the barbecue and hash for all three restaurants. This is old school South Carolina-style barbecue, with logs reduced to coals in a warped metal burn box and carried by shovel into the pit room, where they are scattered beneath the pork shoulders cooking on open metal pits. Brown makes his hash the old school way, too, with liver adding wonderful dark, earthy notes to the thick, savory stew. In addition to the splendid mustard-based barbecue, there's a full slate of soul food options like fried pork chops and fried whiting with plenty of delicious sides.
37. Cozy Corner
726 North Parkway, cozycornerbbq.com
After being forced to move to temporary digs after a fire, this Memphis legend is back in business in its old North Parkway location. The ribs burst with intense wood-smoke flavor beneath a sweet, tangy glaze of sauce, and the meat is pleasantly firm and chewy. The brown sauce comes in mild, medium, or hot, but beware: even the medium will leave your lips tingling. In an unusual twist, the sandwiches tuck thin-sliced pork or beef inside long sesame-topped sub rolls with plenty of bright yellow slaw.
36. Peg Leg Porker
903 Gleaves St., peglegporker.com
Six years after its founding, Peg Leg Porker remains a top Nashville dining destination, and each year brings new innovations. First it was the restaurant’s private-labeled Peg Leg Porker bourbon, then a second-floor addition with an event space and a roof-top bar. Now owner/pitmaster Carey Bringle has added a South Side Chicago-style aquarium pit out on the patio, complete with clear glass sides and a wood-burning firebox. Dry rubbed ribs and pulled pork are still the specialties of the house, but the Yardbird—tender, juicy smoked chicken rubbed with the same secret blend as the ribs—is worth notice, too. The side dishes—shells and cheese enrobed in a creamy sauce, smoked green beans studded with onion and pork—are all top notch.
35. Home Team BBQ
126 Williman St., hometeambbq.com
Home Team is a rising South Carolina barbecue empire, with three restaurants in Charleston, one up the road in Columbia, and one way out in Aspen, Colorado. Smack dab in the heart of the Charleston peninsula, the Williman Street location, with its large dining room and big outdoor patio, it’s the ideal place to sample Home Team’s inventive blend of old and new. Founder Aaron Siegel and executive chef Taylor Garrigan came to barbecue from fine dining kitchens, and they apply classical culinary technique to traditional wood-cooked barbecue. That means pork, beef, chicken, and more cooked on Lang and Oyler pits fired with red oak. Those smoked meats are sliced and served on traditional platters with housemade pickles but are also incorporated into more modern creations, like pit-cooked pastrami sandwiches and ramen with smoked shrimp. Home Team’s smoked chicken wings, topped with a tangy Alabama-style white sauce, are some of the best anywhere.
34. Bar-B-Q Center
900 N Main St., (336) 248-4633
The town of Lexington is the birthplace of the Piedmont North Carolina style, and it’s so barbecue-dense that you can eat at one Top 50 joint and drive just five minutes and eat at another. Among the town’s many contenders, Bar-B-Q Center stands out near the head of the pack. Their pit-cooked pork shoulder comes chopped, coarse chopped, or sliced, and you can order it on a sandwich, in a cardboard tray with red slaw and hushpuppies or rolls, or on a plate with french fries. The restaurant offers an outstanding example the region’s signature “red slaw” (a.k.a. “barbecue slaw”)—finely chopped cabbage dressed with the same combination of vinegar and tomato that defines the barbecue sauce. Save a little room for the famous banana split, a towering concoction big enough for an entire family. It’s a nod to the restaurant’s roots, since it opened in 1955 as the Dairy Center before hickory-cooked pork stole the show.
33. LC’s Bar-B-Que
Kansas City, MO
5800 Blue Parkway, lcsbarbq.com
Burnt ends—the crisp, smoky bits trimmed off the end of briskets—are one of Kansas City’s signature dishes, and the best version in the city are found at LC’s. They’re drenched in sauce and are deliciously chewy, with a delightful salty, smoky bark on the outside. Follow them up with a combo sandwich: tender beef and slightly salty ham piled between two slices of white bread. With each bite, the soft bread, smoky meat, and tangy sauce meld together into a delightful whole. LC’s is a small place with just a handful of tables crammed into the small dining area, but the big warming pit behind the counter, with tall metal doors blackened from years of smoke and grease, holds plenty of barbecue treasures.
32. Corkscrew BBQ
26608 Keith St, corkscrewbbq.com
There is no shortage of Texas joints where you can line up to order fresh-sliced barbecue by the pound, but Corkscrew stands out from most because of the quality of its meats as well as its comfortable setting. Just north of Houston in Spring, you can enjoy a big platter of brisket and ribs at a picnic table out in the big grassy yard while freight trains rumble slowly past across the street. The brisket is prime grade, and it’s slow-smoked over red oak, as are the pork, turkey, sausage and ribs. The barbecue needs no further accompaniment than the complimentary tray of sliced onions, pickles, and jalapenos, but it wouldn’t hurt to sample some creamy mac-and-cheese and smoky BBQ beans while you’re at it.
31. B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
12409 White Bluff Rd, bscracklinbbq.com
The short history of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque can only be described as a roller coaster ride. Back in March, owner/pitmaster Bryan Furman was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast Award. A week later his Atlanta restaurant burned to the ground. It’s not the first time he and his wife Nikki have had to rebuild, for their original Savannah restaurant was destroyed by fire in 2015, less than a year after it opened. The Furmans have been keeping things going in Atlanta with a series of pop-ups at local breweries, and they are currently working to secure a new permanent location on the West Side. In the meantime, the rebuilt Savannah restaurant is still going strong, serving wood-cooked barbecue with few distinctive twists. B’s heritage-breed whole hog is served, in a nod to Bryan’s South Carolina roots, with a tangy mustard-based sauce laced with peaches. The thick-sliced brisket has an impressive bark and a firm but juicy texture, but the real standouts are the ribs, which have a splendidly rich, smoky flavor that lingers after each bite.
30. Old Hickory Barbecue
338 Washington Ave., oldhickorybar-b-q.com
Barbecued mutton and burgoo are two delicacies unique to Kentucky, and Old Hickory has the best in the state. Starting in 1918, six generations of the Foreman family have perfected the art, slow-cooking mutton (and pork, chicken, beef, and turkey, too) over hickory coals on big cinderblock pits with sliding metal doors. The burgoo—a slow simmered stew made from mutton, pork, chicken, and vegetables—is tangy and satisfying, while the long, tender strands of smoked mutton, after good soaking in thin Worcestershire-laced “dip” (that is, sauce) is chewy, smoky, and sublimely delicious.
29. Kreuz Market
619 North Colorado St., kreuzmarket.com
There’s nothing quite like ordering barbecue in the cavernous pit room at Kreuz Market. Amid a hanging cloud of fragrant smoke, the countermen pull giant hunks of brisket and shoulder clod from the old brick pits and slice them on a round wooden carving table right in front of you. No sauce or forks are needed. That rich, smoky beef and juicy hot link sausages have more than enough flavor on their own, and it’s just proper etiquette in Texas to eat barbecue with your fingers. (Two years ago, the restaurant caved to the demands of out-of-towners and put plastic forks and squeeze bottles of thick brown sauce in the dining room, but no one has to use them). Amid all this beef, the surprise sleeper is Kreuz’s pork chop. Carved to order from a whole bone-in loin, it’s tender, smoky, and delicious—a Central Texas masterpiece.
28. Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog Barbecue
1011 King St., rodneyscottsbbq.com
Rodney Scott spent two decades cooking whole hogs at his family’s famed barbecue restaurant in Hemingway, South Carolina, before moving down to Charleston to open a place of his own. Since our last Top 50 list was published, he’s opened a second location in Birmingham, bringing South Carolina-style burn barrel barbecue to Alabama. Though he had to make a few adjustments within his new urban settings, like using metal pits instead of cinderblock ones, the fundamentals remain the same: burn oak down to coals, fire the pits, and cook whole hogs for 12 hours before finishing them with a fiery vinegar-pepper mop. Scott added a few options for his city customers, too, like craft beer on tap, tasty fried catfish, and a truly remarkable ribeye sandwich. It’s made from marinated steak slow-smoked on the pit then sliced thin and piled high on a soft roll—a sloppy, smoky, and utterly delicious creation that by itself is reason enough to pay Rodney Scott’s a visit.
27. Hite’s Bar-B-Que
West Columbia, SC
240 Dreher Rd., hitesbbq.com
Since 1957, Hite’s Bar-B-Que has been supplying the Midlands of South Carolina with exceptional mustard-based barbecue. More meat market than restaurant, it’s a take-out operation with limited hours—just Fridays and Saturdays—and they don’t cut any corners. In the screened-in room out back, David Hite and crew cook whole hogs, ribs, and chickens on open pits, using cords of oak and hickory wood in the process. You can taste that wood in every smoky bite. Load up on the bright yellow mustard sauce and grab a bag of skins if they have any left (they go fast). These aren’t deep fried pork rinds but something even more delicious: the skin from the slow-smoked whole hog that’s been crisped up on the pit and chopped into addictive little smoky squares.
26. Big Bob Gibson
1715 6th Ave. SE (US Highway 31), bigbobgibson.com
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is the home of Alabama’s distinctive white mayo-based barbecue sauce, which was invented by Big Bob himself after he started cooking pork shoulders and chicken in his backyard in 1925. Pitmaster Chris Lilly, who married Big Bob’s great-granddaughter, carries on the family tradition today. The barbecue is cooked on long brick pits in the back room of the restaurant, with a blaze of hickory logs on one end and a tall chimney on the other so the heat and smoke are drawn across the meat as it cooks. Everything that comes off those old-school pits is delicious—pork shoulder, St. Louis-cut ribs, beef brisket, turkey—but the signature item is the tender barbecued chicken with its smoky, black pepper-studded skin—a splendid stage on which Big Bob Gibson’s legendary white sauce can shine. Finish things off with a slice of meringue-topped coconut cream pie—one of the best barbecue desserts in all of the South.
25. Buxton Hall Barbecue
32 Banks Ave., buxtonhall.com
Buxton Hall occupies a remarkable 1930s-era building that once housed a roller-skating club, and the dining room still has the original maple floorboards from the rink. Co-owner/pitmaster Elliott Moss brings a fine dining sensibility to traditional barbecue methods, and his big metal-lidded pits are on full display right behind the counter in the open kitchen. A blazing fire constantly renders oak down to coals, which Moss and team shovel under whole hogs as they cook. The “chef-driven, grandma-inspired” sides are excellent, especially the tangy green beans cooked “below the pig” on sheet pans so they catch the drippings from the hogs. Equally impressive is the fried catfish, which is salt- and sugar-cured, lightly smoked, then battered and fried golden brown. Finish things off with a slice of pastry chef Ashley Capps’ banana pudding pie, which has a crust of homemade vanilla wafers and toasted meringue on top—a splendidly creative twist on an old barbecue classic.
24. Sam Jones Barbecue
715 W Fire Tower Rd., samjonesbbq.com
Sam Jones, whose grandfather founded the world-famous Skylight Inn, now splits his time between his family’s restaurant in Ayden and his own place a few miles up the road in Winterville. It’s much larger, with a high-vaulted ceiling and plenty of booths and long tables, and Jones has embraced new-fangled innovations like selling draft beer and accepting credit cards. But there are no compromises when it comes to the pit house, though. The whole hog barbecue is a dead ringer for Skylight’s—cooked on open wood-fired pits, chopped to fine bits on a giant wooden block, and dressed with vinegar and Texas Pete, bits of crisp skin chopped right in for added crunch. The slaw and square-cut cornbread adhere to the family's original recipes, but Jones offers much more at his upscale incarnation, including fried catfish, ribs, and smoked chicken wings.
23. Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
200 E. Dixon Blvd., bridgesbbq.com
The big brick and metal sign outside reads Bridges Barbecue Lodge in looping white script, and that retro style carries through to the dining room inside, which has inlaid wood ceilings and turquoise-backed booths. It’s a classic destination for Piedmont North Carolina-style barbecue, which means sliced pork trays with red slaw and hushpuppies or chopped pork sandwiches with plenty of “outside brown” (the smoky, outer bits of the shoulder). The meat is cooked all night over hickory coals, and when tucked into a bun and toasted in a sandwich press it’s one of the best pork sandwiches anywhere—and a steal at only $4. That should leave you with enough change to try one of Mama B’s pimento cheese sandwiches. The ruby-studded cheese is slathered between two slices of white bread and toasted until the inside are melted and creamy—a delicious addition to any barbecue meal.
22. McCabe's Bar-B-Q
480 North Brooks Street, (803) 435-2833
After closing for a couple of years due to family illness, McCabe's Bar-B-Q is back and going strong, and South Carolinians couldn’t be luckier. Plenty of all-you-can-eat barbecue buffets can be found the state’s Midlands and Pee Dee regions, but none matches the consistent high quality of McCabe’s. Everything on the small steam table is top-notch: fried chicken, collards, stewed cabbage, hushpuppies, coleslaw. The real stars, though, are the wood-cooked pork, which is pulled into long strands and dressed with a peppery vinegar sauce, and the rich, savory hash and rice, South Carolina’s iconic barbecue side.
21. Southern Soul Barbeque
Saint Simons Island, GA
2020 Demere Road, southernsoulbbq.com
For three years running, Southern Living’s readers have named Southern Soul the South’s Best Barbecue Joint in our annual reader’s poll. Take a drive down to St. Simons Island and you will quickly understand why. Just a mile off the beach, Harrison Sapp and Griffin Buffkin have transformed an old gas station into a laid-back barbecue oasis, where locals and tourists share long picnic tables under a tall metal awning and tuck into big platters of brisket, chicken, and sweet honey-basted ribs. The barbecue is cooked over oak on Oyler and Lang pits, and it combines traditional Georgia staples like tender pulled pork and tangy Brunswick stew with a few imports like brisket and house-cured salami. Just to keep things interesting, daily specials offer a rotating array of country cooking—fried pork chops, succotash, stewed okra and tomatoes—along with Caribbean-inspired fusions like jerked chicken thighs and Bahamian-style mac n cheese.
20. Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Rd., martinsbbqjoint.com
Pat Martin is slowly but surely building a Southern whole hog empire. Starting in 2006 with a single restaurant just east of Nashville, he now operates ten locations—six in Tennessee, two in Louisville plus newly-opened outposts in Birmingham and Charleston. All ten feature traditional whole hog barbecue cooked on open brick pits. Pulled into long, tender strands, that pork is piled onto coleslaw-topped sandwiches and mounded onto big barbecue trays. You can also get it layered with slaw and tangy sauce atop cornmeal hoecakes in what Martin has dubbed the “redneck taco” —a modern homage to the old West Tennessee style. The brisket is downright tasty, too.
19. Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ
11500 Manchaca Road, valentinastexmexbbq.com
Valentina’s started out as a roving barbecue trailer, but for the past few years it has occupied a semi-permanent spot south of Austin. Guests still line up and order at the window of the small black trailer, but they take their plastic baskets brimming with tacos and smoked meats and tuck into them at a wooden picnic table under a high open-air shed. The menu blends the vibrant flavors of Tex-Mex cooking with the smoke of the barbecue pit. Carnitas tacos wrap long, tender strands of pork in warm, puffy flour tortillas. The fajitas deliver strips of smoky cerveza-marinated beef with great crisp edges, topped with creamy guacamole and sweet sautéed peppers. Each bite sparkles with the bright flavors of cilantro, tomatillo, and lime. The Vidal family—husband Miguel, wife Modesty, and Miguel’s brother Elias—have a full brick-and-mortar location in the works, and that foretells a tasty future for their innovative mode of Texas barbecue.
18. Scott's-Parker Barbeque
10880 Highway 412 West, (731) 968-0420
You can be forgiven if you aren’t quite sure what to call this outstanding whole hog joint in Lexington, Tennessee. The tall sign out front says “B.E. Scott Barbeque,” but the sauce bottles are labeled “Scott’s-Parker Bar B Q.” The names reflect the restaurant’s lineage, for back in the 1960s Early Scott traded two school buses for a barbecue shack. His protege Ricky Parker took over the business in 1989, and Ricky’s son Zach carries on the tradition today. It’s one of the few restaurants left in Tennessee that still cook whole hog, and it’s a plain, straightforward operation. You order at a small counter, choosing from slaw-topped sandwiches or barbecue by the pound, plus chips and canned sodas. The finely-chopped pork is superbly juicy with a rich dose of wood smoke flavor, and the thin, bright orange sauce that awaits in squeeze bottles in the dining room is laced through with red pepper. It’s a simple but delicious combination.
17. Arthur Bryant's Barbeque
Kansas City, MO
1727 Brooklyn Avenue, arthurbryantsbbq.com
Arthur Bryant’s remains a Kansas City institution, and not much has changed since Mr. Bryant himself was running the show. (He passed away in 1982.) The counter men carve tender folds of smoked beef on stainless steel slicers, and they pile it on brown butcher paper and slather it with sauce before slapping three or four slices of white bread down on top and wrapping it all into a big, delicious parcel. The hand-cut french fries are splendid, and Bryant’s original sauce is unique among Kansas City joints, more orange than brown, mildly hot with a bit of a gritty texture from the spices. It gives the perfect boost to a giant open-faced beef sandwich and is one of the many reasons that Arthur Bryant’s remains the premier practitioner of the Kansas City style.
16. Lexington Barbecue
100 Smokehouse Lane, lexbbq.com
Lexington, North Carolina, is world famous for barbecue, and Lexington Barbecue is an iconic practitioner of the town’s signature style. Founder Wayne Monk opened the restaurant in 1962 and it’s been added on to over the years, but little has changed on the barbecue front. Pork shoulders are cooked for 10 hours over oak and hickory coals on closed brick pits. The finished barbecue is served chopped, sliced, or “coarse chopped” (that is, cut into chunks) and dressed with what the locals call “dip”—the region’s signature sauce. Vinegar-based and tinged red with ketchup, that sauce adds the perfect accent to a tray of chopped pork with slaw and hushpuppies on the side.
15. Helen's Bar BQ
1016 N Washington Ave., (731) 779-3255
Helen Turner runs the show at this no-frills West Tennessee joint, which lies off the beaten path an hour east of Memphis. She shovels coals in the screened-in pitroom out back, mixes coleslaw in the small kitchen, and chats up customers at the order window. The barbecue sandwich is splendid—pork shoulder pulled fresh from the warming pit, chopped to order, and piled high on a bun with a generous dose a fiery red sauce. The thick, smoke-kissed ribs are even better. If you have room, try a barbecued bologna sandwich for a sloppy but delicious Tennessee treat.
2206 West Gate City Blvd, stameys.com
Warner Stamey was the Johnny Appleseed of North Carolina barbecue. He learned to cook from two legendary Lexington pitmasters, Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver, then opened a series of restaurants around the Piedmont, teaching the Lexington style to dozens of cooks who went on to open their own restaurants. Stamey’s travels ended in Greensboro in 1953, when he opened Stamey’s on what is now called Gate City Boulevard. His grandson, Chip Stamey, carries on the tradition today, and that means cooking pork shoulders on closed brick pits fired by all-hickory coals. Those coals are scattered with a shovel under the cooking meat, and this direct heat method imbues the pork with the deliciously juicy and subtle smoky flavor that is the hallmark of the Piedmont style. Top off your meal with Stamey’s famous peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
13. Grady's Barbecue
3096 Arrington Bridge Rd., (919) 735-7243
Grady’s is one of the last of the old-time barbecue joints that once dotted rural North Carolina. It’s housed in a modest white-painted building in the narrow fork where two country roads meet, and diners line up around the small brown-paneled dining room to order at the kitchen window. Out back, a huge pile of split oak and hickory logs waits under a tin-roofed shed behind the pit room, where Stephen Grady—now well into his 80s—cooks whole hogs overnight on open brick pits. His wife, Geri, still makes all the sides from scratch, too, including steamed cabbage, collards, and black-eyed peas. A tender, smoky chopped pork sandwich with coleslaw is a perfect Eastern North Carolina lunch, and don’t skip out on the old-school fried chicken.
12. Dreamland Bar-B-Que
5535 15th Avenue East, dreamlandbbq.com
There are now ten Dreamland Bar-B-Ques in three states, but the original location in Tuscaloosa is in a league of its own. The menu is slim—just ribs and smoked sausage with a couple of sides—but with ribs like these you don’t need anything more. Cooked hot and fast over hickory coals, they’re long, thin, and delicious, with a wonderful chewy texture and crisp bits of char around the edges. They’re served with a generous dose of dark yellow sauce that’s sharp with mustard but still slightly sweet, with enough peppery heat to leaves your lips tingling. It’s a true rib-lover’s dream.
11. Cattleack Barbeque
13628 Gamma Rd., cattleackbbq.com
What started as a post-retirement hobby for Todd and Misty David has grown into an acclaimed barbecue destination. Located in a small storefront in north Dallas, Cattleack Barbecue is open on Thursdays and Fridays only (plus the first Saturday of each month), and hungry fans start lining up well before the doors open at 10:30. Cattleack’s brisket, with its tangy, peppery bark and superb texture, stands toe-to-toe with the best in Texas. It’s sliced to order along with beef and pork ribs, turkey, pulled pork, and sausage and piled onto paper-lined red trays. Once a month on Saturday, Todd David cooks a whole hog Carolina-style to add to the regular offering—a tempting East-meets-West combination.
10. A&R Bar-B-Que
1802 Elvis Presley Blvd., aandrbbq.com
A&R serves the best barbecue sandwiches in Memphis. The first bite of chopped pork explodes with flavor, the tender meat merging into the warm, soft bun with cool, crisp pops of yellow-tinged slaw. The rib sandwich is even better—a short, meaty slab wedged, bones and all, between two slices of plain white bread, with plenty of slaw and A&R’s signature sauce. The Pollard family still cooks their barbecue on old-school charcoal-fired pits, and their sauce is thick and only moderately sweet, the perfect partner for some of the best smoked pork in the South.
9. Archibald’s Bar-B-Q
1211 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., archibaldbbq.com
The Archibald family is famous for their hickory-cooked ribs, which they pile atop slices of white bread to soak up the spicy, orange-hued vinegar sauce. It’s a bare-bones operation, serving just ribs and sliced pork, but the grandchildren of George and Betty Archibald have expanded the offering a bit in recent years. For decades the only accompaniments were potato chips and sodas, but you can now order beans, slaw, and banana pudding. The meat is still cooked hot and fast over a hickory fire in the original brick-and-cinder block pit, but instead of ordering ribs to go you can now eat them at one of the long the picnic tables on the recently-added enclosed porch. Meaty, smoky, and with just the right slip-it-from-the-bone-with-your-teeth texture, they’re my pick for the best barbecued ribs in the entire country.
8. Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue
200 N. Elm St., tejaschocolate.com
A small bean-to-bar chocolate shop is an unlikely place to find world class barbecue, but that’s exactly what you get at Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue. When partners Scott Moore and Michelle Holland invited Scott’s brother Greg to cook a few briskets on the weekend, it was supposed to be a side project to bring in a little extra cash for the store. But the smoked meat quickly stole the show, and now Tejas Chocolate is a serious barbecue destination, with a gigantic custom smoker in a shed out back and hungry diners lining up five days a week on the small front porch. It’s easy to see why. The first bite of prime brisket explodes with flavor and gets even better from there, but the most irresistible treats are the rotating selection of sausages, like barbacoa boudin and a chili relleno link, which packs fire roasted poblanos and queso blanco inside a snappy beef link that’s crackling with flavor. There’s plenty of hand-made chocolates for dessert, too.
7. Franklin Barbecue
900 East 11th St., franklinbarbecue.com
Starting out in 2009 with a used smoker and a retrofitted Aristocrat Lo-Liner trailer, Aaron Franklin rocketed from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant to full-on barbecue celebrity. Along the way, he became the first pitmaster to a win a James Beard Award for Best Chef in his region, starred in a PBS television show, and wrote not one but two best-selling cookbooks. A decade later, hungry barbecue fans still line up and wait for hours to sample Franklin’s famous brisket, ribs, and sausage, and he remains among the very best practitioners of the modern Texas barbecue style. The prime grade brisket is consistently flawless, as are the smoky pork ribs and rich, meaty sausage, which have just the right snap to the casing. Be sure to arrive early, and bring a comfy folding chair and a thermos of coffee (or a cooler of beer, if you’re so inclined). It’s a long wait, but once you get inside you’ll understand what the fuss is all about.
6. Fresh Air Barbecue
1164 Highway 42 South, freshairbarbecue.com
The state of Georgia has a unique style of barbecue that dates back more than a century, and there’s no better place to sample it than at Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson. It was founded in 1929, and they don’t mess around with brisket or ribs or even chicken. Barbecue here means one thing and one thing only: chopped pork dressed in a thin, spicy red sauce. That pork is cooked right in the center of the restaurant in a big L-shaped brick pit, which fills the spartan dining room with the tempting aroma of oak and hickory smoke. You can get your barbecue on a sandwich or on a plate, which comes with Brunswick stew and saltines. I recommend opting for the plate, for Fresh Air’s Brunswick stew—fine shreds of beef and corn kernels enrobed in a thick tomato-laced broth—is as good a version of the classic Georgia barbecue side as I’ve had anywhere.