The South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints 2018
These are our Barbecue Editor's Top 10 Barbecue Joints of 2018
50. Old Brick Pit Barbeque
4805 Peachtree Rd., (770) 986-7727
Atlanta is awash in imported barbecue styles, but you can still find traditional Georgia fare inside the I-285 Perimeter at Old Brick Pit Barbeque. Since 1976, they’ve been cooking hams, ribs, and chicken in the hickory-fired pit that gives this restaurant its name. The juicy chopped pork is dressed with a peppery tomato-and-vinegar sauce, and the tangy, smoky ribs have a spot-on tender but chewy texture. Try a combo plate with creamy white coleslaw and plain white bread wrapped in waxed paper, and be sure to sample the Brunswick stew. Thick, rich, and dotted with kernels of shoepeg corn, it’s a standout version of a Georgia classic.
49. Couch Barbecue
8307 Old Lee Highway, (423) 238-4801
Couch’s flies way under everyone’s radar when it comes to the national scene, but it makes this Top 50 list because of two items unique to its region, which they’ve been serving since 1946. The first is its distinctive barbecue sandwich, with pork sliced so thin that it’s almost shaved then piled on a flat toasted hamburger bun with sweet brown sauce. The second is the bright yellow “hot slaw,” a spicy, delicious concoction found only in a handful of places in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama. Couch’s recipe is such a closely guarded secret that only the two people who know the formula are allowed in the building when it’s being made. Put that hot slaw on a barbecue sandwich and you’ll have a rare Tennessee treat.
48. Bar-B-Q Shop Restaurant
1782 Madison Avenue, thebar-b-qshop.com
From its stylish neon sign over the door to the punched tin ceiling and well-worn floors inside, the Bar-B-Q Shop is classic Memphis. The city’s barbecue aficionados debate whether ribs should be served “wet” or “dry,” but at the Bar-B-Q Shop you don’t have to decide. Just order a slab of half-n-half: one end is slathered with tangy, orangish brown sauce while the other has just a thick coating of spice. The Bar-B-Q Shop is also the best place to sample barbecue spaghetti, Memphis eccentric but classic side dish. It’s a plate of thick noodles tossed with a tangy, reddish-brown sauce and brimming with pork. Though you can now find it all over the city, the Bar-B-Q Shop’s version is perhaps the closest to the original, for owners Frank and Hazel Vernon learned the secret recipe directly from its inventor, Brady Vincent, when they purchased his restaurant in 1980.
47. Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Kansas City, KS
3002 West 47th Avenue, joeskc.com
This Kansas City favorite was launched under the name Oklahoma Joe’s in the back corner of a Shamrock gas station. Along the way, it switched to a locally-rooted name and opened two outposts in more traditional restaurant settings, but the original gas station spot is the still the big draw. These days it’s more accurate to call Joe’s a barbecue joint with gas pumps out front, for the people waiting in the long line snaking out the front door are about to fuel themselves with hickory-smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and turkey. The tangy and sweet sauce-glazed ribs and thin-sliced brisket are the go-to order, and be sure to get a cup of BBQ beans on the side. Studded with shreds of meat in a savory brown sauce, they’re absolutely delicious.
46. Big T Bar-B-Q
2520 Congaree Road, bigtbbq.com
The 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. They make their 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, and a slate of delicious sides, too.
45. Peg Leg Porker
903 Gleaves St., peglegporker.com
In 2013 Carey Bringle opened Peg Leg Porker in The Gulch in Nashville, and the establishment has grown along with the neighborhood into a flourishing barbecue destination. Though raised in Nashville, Bringle fell in love with Memphis-style barbecue, and he honed his skills on the competitive circuit before doubling down and opening the kind of restaurant that he would want to patronize himself. Dry rubbed ribs and pulled pork are the specialties of the house, but the Yardbird—tender, juicy smoked chicken rubbed with the same secret blend as the ribs—is well 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. Recent renovations added a second floor with event space and a roof-top bar stocked with the restaurant’s own private-labeled Peg Leg Porker bourbon.
44. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
2830 West Parrish Ave., moonlite.com
Barbecued mutton is a delicacy found in only a few counties in northwest Kentucky, and no one serves more of it than Moonlite Inn in Owensboro. It's a big-time operation, cooking that famous mutton (for the record, that’s sheep at least one year old) along with beef, pork, and chicken on custom-designed metal smokers, which are in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sprawling dinings rooms seat some 350 hungry Kentuckians at a time, and that signature smoked mutton, which is pulled into long, tender strands with a subtle but delicious savory bite, is served from two long buffets brimming with mac n’ cheese, stewed apples, sweet corn muffins, and plenty more. Be sure to order a bowl of peppery burgoo. Tangy 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, (423) 538-7543
In the mountains eastern Tennessee, where good barbecue joints are few and far between, the Ridgewood maintains a style all its own. Founded in the 1940s as a steak and beer joint, the Proffitt family converted to barbecue after the county went dry in the 1950s. Ever since, they’ve been serving sweet, smoky beans in tiny brown pots and bowls of tangy blue cheese dip with saltines on the side. The main attraction is a platter of thin-sliced pork mounded high with thick, delicious hand-cut fries. That pork is from hams, not shoulders, and it’s cooked over all hickory wood in two smoke-blackened sheds next to the main building, which is nestled along the side of a narrow mountain highway just south of Bluff City, Tennessee.
42. Gates Bar-B-Q
Kansas City, MO
3205 Main St., gatesbbq.com
George and Arzelia Gates opened their first restaurant in 1946, and their son Ollie grew Gates Bar-B-Q into a local barbecue empire, with a half dozen locations now dotting the city. At any of the six, you’ll be greeted by the cashiers’ insistent refrain of “Hi, may I help you?,” which means it’s time to shout out your order. Get a mixed plate of ribs, beef, and ham slathered in the city’s signature tangy brown sauce. (That’s right, ham. In Kansas City, they’ll put just about anything on a barbecue pit). Washed down by cold draft beer from a pitcher, it’s an iconic example of Kansas City’s signature barbecue style.
41. Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q
Vestavia Hills, AL
3278 Cahaba Heights Rd., missmyras.com
Miss Myra’s is an Alabama gem, featuring an array of meats—pork, beef, ribs—slow-cooked on custom-built pits with tall brick chimneys that rise above the small restaurant. At most barbecue joints, chicken is a bit player, but at Miss Myra’s it’s the star of the show. 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 sides—slow simmered greens, mac and cheese, potato salad, deviled eggs—are all delicious, and the sweet, gooey banana pudding is the perfect capper for a classic Alabama barbecue meal.
40. 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 big 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.
39. Jackie Hite's
460 East Railroad Ave., (803) 532-3354
Jackie Hite, one of the legends of South Carolina barbecue, passed away in 2016, but his family has kept his restaurant right on going. The all-you-can eat buffet features whole-hog barbecue cooked over hickory coals on old-fashioned cinder block pits. The meat is hand-pulled into long strands and served with a tangy version of the Midlands’s unique yellow mustard sauce. Equally impressive is the family’s version of hash and rice, the region’s traditional barbecue side. It’s made the old school way, with cuts of pork stewed for hours in a giant iron pot, pulled by hand into long strands, then simmered with plenty of mustard until it dissolves into a succulent, gravy-like concoction.
38. City Market
633 East Davis Street, (830) 875-9019
At City Market in Luling, when you pass through the swinging wooden door into the dark, smoke-blackened pit room, you’re taking a step back into barbecue’s past. Inside, the countermen slice smoky brisket, juicy hot sausage rings, and pork ribs to order, wrapping them in brown butcher paper the same way they have since the place opened in 1958. The brisket is moist but still has a bit of chew to it, and the hot ring sausage has a perfectly taut bite to the casing and is juicy and flavorful inside. Served with with sliced onions and a half of sleeve of saltine crackers on the side, it’s an iconic example of the central Texas meat market style.
37. Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
1238 DeKalb Avenue Northeast, foxbrosbbq.com
For more than a decade, Fox Brothers has been Atlanta’s barbecue hot spot. Juicy brisket and meaty ribs are the foundation of the menu, reflecting the Texas roots of owners Jonathan and Justin Fox, 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” are loaded up with chopped brisket, the chicken-fried ribs are served with Alabama white sauce, and the Tomminator is a platter of tater tots smothered with a layer of Brunswick stew and a blanket of melted cheese. No one leaves Fox Bros. hungry.
36. Home Team BBQ
126 Williman St, hometeambbq.com
In 2006, Aaron Siegel traded a career as a classically-trained chef for the smoke of the barbecue pit, and he has since built Home Team into an nascent barbecue empire, with three locations in the Charleston area and one way out in Aspen, Colorado. These days, lots of ambitious “nouveau ‘cue” joints blend traditional barbecue techniques with fine dining flourishes, but Home Team pulls it off better than most. They cook on Lang and Oyler pits fired with red oak, taking stylistic cues from all over the South—tender pulled pork with red Georgia-style sauce, a Texas-style salt-and-pepper brisket, smoky chicken wings with Alabama white sauce. From pit-cooked prime rib to ramen with smoked shrimp, Executive Chef Taylor Garrigan turns out a steady stream of inventive specials, too. Located in the heart of the Charleston peninsula with a large dining room and lots of outdoor tables, the Williman Street location is the ideal place to sample Home Team’s modern barbecue style.
35. Micklethwait Craft Meats
1309 Rosewood Ave., craftmeatsaustin.com
In a shady, semi-permanent encampment just east of downtown Austin, pitmaster Tom Micklethwait’s big offset smokers occupy an improvised pit room built atop an old flatbed trailer. Parked alongside is an tan camper that’s been converted into a take-out barbecue stand. This is Micklethwait Craft Meats, a splendid distillation of the vibrant, bohemian vibe that drives Austin’s barbecue scene.The menu blends tradition with novelty, and Texas mainstays like brisket, sausage, and ribs appear alongside like pulled lamb and strip loin of beef. It’s all accompanied by a delightful sides like jalapeno cheese grits and campfire chili beans with slices of fresh-baked homemade bread on the side.
34. Big Bob Gibson
1715 6th Ave SE (US Highway 31), bigbobgibson.com
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is the home of one of Alabama’s lasting contributions to the South’s rich barbecue heritage: white mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce. It was invented by Big Bob himself, who started cooking pork shoulders and chicken in his backyard in 1925. Over the years the operation grew through a succession of ever-larger restaurants. Almost a century later, pitmaster Chris Lilly, who married Big Bob’s great-granddaughter, carries on the family tradition, cooking pulled pork, St. Louis-cut ribs, beef brisket, and turkey on long brick pits fired with hickory coals. On the side, Lilly has published two books of recipes and won a parade of championship trophies on the competition circuit. The biggest winner, though, is that smooth, smoky barbecued chicken, a splendid stage on which Big Bob Gibson’s legendary white sauce can shine.
33. Bar-B-Q Center
900 N Main St., bbqcenter.net
Lexington, the epicenter of the Piedmont North Carolina style, is 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 near the top 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.
32. LC’s Bar-B-Que
Kansas City, MO
5800 Blue Parkway, lcsbarbq.com
If you find yourself anywhere near Kansas City, Missouri, you owe it to yourself to stop off at LC’s for an order of burnt ends. Drenched in sauce and with chewy with a delightful salty, smoky bark on the outside, they’re hands down the best in town. Follow those 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.
31. Cannon's Barbecue
Little Mountain, SC
1903 Nursery Rd., (803) 945-1080
Cannon’s is pretty far off the beaten path in a little white building outside Little Mountain, South Carolina, about 30 miles west of Columbia, but it serves some of the best Midlands-style barbecue in the state. Open just three days a week (Thursday through Saturday,) they cook pork shoulders and hams, chickens, and ribs over hickory and oak coals on a big metal pit out behind the restaurant. The finely-chopped pork is pre-sauced with a golden yellow version region’s signature mustard-based sauce, and it’s tender and rich with a subtle touch of hickory smoke. Cannon’s hash is worthy of attention, too. It’s cooked the old-fashioned way in an iron pot over a wood fire right next to the barbecue pit, then finished with a generous dose of Cannon’s mustard sauce. The result is a thick yellow gravy flecked through with a generous dose of black pepper. Light and sweet but still quite filling, its savory juices merge perfectly with the plain white rice over which it’s served—a superior version of South Carolina’s distinctive barbecue side dish.
30. Corkscrew BBQ
26608 Keith St, corkscrewbbq.com
There is no shortage of places in Texas 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 the creamy mac-and-cheese and smoky BBQ beans while you’re at it.
29. B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Savannah and Atlanta, GA
12409 White Bluff Rd and 2061 Main St NW, bscracklinbbq.com
Ribs, the brisket, and cracklin’ cornbread are the stars at what may well be a fledgling Georgia barbecue empire. Bryan and Nikki Furman got off to a roller coaster start in 2014, earning early raves for their restaurant in Savannah only to see it destroyed by fire less than a year after opening. But they bounced back, moving into new digs on White Bluff Road and then launching a second outpost in Atlanta in 2016. Both locations serve traditional wood-cooked barbecue with few distinctive twists. Brian Furman cooks his heritage-breed hogs on metal offset pits, and—in a nod to his South Carolina roots—serves the meat with a tangy mustard-based sauce laced with peaches. The thick-sliced brisket has an impressive bark and a firm but juicy texture, while the standout ribs have a splendidly rich, smoky flavor that lingers after each bite. No visit would be complete without some crackling cornbread, which is cooked pancake-style on a griddle so that it’s crisp and golden brown on the outside with fresh corn flavor and chewy bits of pork skin inside.
2206 W. Gate City Blvd, stameys.com
Legendary barbecue mentor Warner Stamey taught the Lexington style to countless Piedmont cooks, and that means cooking pork shoulders on closed brick pits fired by all-hickory coals. His grandson Chip Stamey carries on the family tradition at this Greensboro institution, where they cook it slow but chop and serve it lightning fast thanks to a streamlined menu and a well-oiled operation. There’s no find ribs, chicken, or Brunswick stew here, just pork served chopped or sliced on plates and sandwiches with fries and baked beans for sides. But you can—and should—top off your meal with Stamey’s famous peach cobbler.
27. Hite’s Bar-B-Que
West Columbia, SC
240 Dreher Rd., hitesbbq.com
More meat market than restaurant, Hite’s in West Columbia is a take-out operation that’s open only on Fridays and Saturdays. Jerry Hite and his son, David, burn two cords of oak and hickory wood in the pit room behind the main building, and you can taste that wood in every smoky bite of chopped pork and ribs. Load up on the mustard sauce and grab a bag of skins if they have any left (they go fast). They’re crisp and intensely smoky from hours on the pit.
26. A&R Bar-B-Que
1802 Elvis Presley Blvd., aandrbbq.com
A&R Barbecue serves the best barbecue sandwich in Memphis. It’s starts with chopped pork shoulder cooked on a pit fired with hickory briquettes. That juicy, smoke-tinged meat is piled on a toasted bun along with creamy coleslaw and a sweet, tangy sauce prickling with spice— a superlative example of the city’s signature barbecue style. Founders Andrew and Rose Pollard and their family have since added two more Memphis locations, but the low brick building on Elvis Presley Boulevard is the original. Try the rib tips, too, and—if you have room—one of A&R’s famous fried peach, apple, or sweet potato pies. They’re made by hand and cooked fresh each day.
25. Old Hickory Barbecue
338 Washington Ave., (270) 926-9000
Mutton is one of those things that you either have a taste for or you don’t. And if you do—or, at least, if you suspect you might—make your way straight to Old Hickory in downtown Owensboro. They serve the best barbecued mutton in all of Kentucky and therefore in all of the world. It’s a large family-style restaurant with two spacious dining rooms, and the Foreman family has been slow-cooking Owensboro’s signature style of mutton barbecue (along with pork, chicken, beef and turkey) since 1918. Start off with a bowl of bright, tangy burgoo—Kentucky’s signature barbecue stew—then tuck into a combination platter of pork and mutton. The thick-sliced pork has a splendid smoky bark around the edges, while the long, tender strands of smoked mutton, after good soaking in the thin Worcestershire-laced “dip”—is chewy, smoky, and sublimely delicious.
24. Buxton Hall Barbecue
32 Banks Ave, buxtonhall.com
Buxton Hall embodies the recent trend fine dining chefs turning to the barbecue pit, embracing and celebrating the old traditions of their regions but not feeling bound by them. Housed in a 1930s-era building that was once a roller skating club, the dining room still has the original maple floorboards from the rink. Most all-wood joints keep their fires in a pit house out back, but Elliott Moss, Buxton Hall’s co-owner and pitmaster, put his metal-lidded pits 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. Moss’s “chef-driven, grandma-inspired” sides include 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, a decadently sweet creation with a crust of homemade vanilla wafers and toasted meringue on top.
23. Sam Jones Barbecue
715 W Fire Tower Rd, samjonesbbq.com
In late 2015, Sam Jones, whose grandfather founded Ayden’s world-famous Skylight Inn, headed six miles up the road and opened his own restaurant in Winterville. The wood-cooked whole hog barbecue is a dead ringer for Skylight’s—chopped to fine bits on a huge wooden cutting board, dressed with vinegar and Texas Peter, 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, smoked chicken wings, and craft beer on tap. It’s all served in a large-format, family-style restaurant with a high-vaulted ceiling and plenty of booths and long tables. They even take credit cards.
22. Southern Soul Barbeque
Saint Simons Island, GA
2020 Demere Road, southernsoulbbq.com
Harrison Sapp and Griffin Buffkin have transformed an old gas station on St. Simons Island into a beloved barbecue destination—so beloved, in fact, that Southern Living’s readers have named it Best of the South for two years running. Just a mile off the beach, it has a laid-back coastal vibe, with long picnic tables outside under a tall metal awning, and some seriously good barbecue. It’s cooked oak on big Oyler and Lang pits, and the offering blends traditional Georgia barbecue staples—tender pulled pork, superlative smoky ribs, and a bright, tangy Brunswick stew—with a few imports like brisket and burnt ends. The slow-smoked meat finds its way into an impressive slate of inventive fusion sandwiches, too, like a “Philly Soul” cheesesteak stuffed with sliced brisket. And if that’s not enough, daily specials highlight local seafood—smoked sea trout, fish stew, blue crab gumbo—along with Caribbean-inspired fusions like jerked baby back ribs.