Special Report

The Best Barbecue Joints in America

Courtesy of Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous via Facebook

The craft of cooking meat over a wood fire has ancient roots around the globe, and there are about as many techniques for doing it as there are cultures in the world. In various regions of the United States alone, the term “barbecue” can conjure drastically different images, from the cut of meat down to the ingredients in the sauce (or lack thereof). The best barbecue spots all have one thing in common, however – they serve up mouthwatering smoked meats. (Backyard barbecue is a whole different thing – basically grilling. That’s the kind features in these tips for the perfect barbecue from the experts.)

To assemble a list of the top barbecue spots in America, 24/7 Tempo reviewed and extrapolated from listings, rankings, and reviews on numerous websites, including Thrillist, Insider, Lonely Planet, Gayot, Eater, Food & Wine, The Culture Trip, and Mashed, as well as Southern Living, Texas Monthly, and other regionally focused sites.  

Many of the barbecue spots on our list have a cult following, and their customers are willing to wait in line for hours to get their share. Numerous Texas pit houses are only open during a brief window on select days before they sell out. Some are family-owned establishments that have been passed down for generations, while others are new establishments headed by enthusiastic young pitmasters.

Click here to see the best barbecue spots in America

From Texas to Kansas City to the Lowlands of South Carolina, the best barbecue spots in America represent a rich and diverse culinary heritage. Central Texas-style barbecue tends to focus on beef – especially brisket and ribs – and is characterized by a salt and pepper dry rub. The briskets are generally cooked slowly at low temperatures over indirect heat, often with oak or pecan wood. Sauce is sometimes served on the side, but not always.

Kansas City-style barbecue, on the other hand, is characterized by a sweet, tomato-based sauce slathered on various cuts of meat including turkey, pork shoulder, beef, pork ribs, and chicken. East Carolina barbecue is usually pulled pork made from a whole smoked hog, with a vinegar-based sauce, while Memphis-style focuses on the pork shoulder and ribs, and can come dry-rubbed or brushed with sauce. (The South – which is home to most of the best barbecue spots – is an area rich in other culinary traditions as well. Here are 20 iconic Southern foods every American should try.

Source: Courtesy of Wendy P. via Yelp

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que
> Location: Decatur, AL

What started as a smoke pit in Bob Gibson’s backyard in 1925 is now a Decatur institution with two locations that serve slow-smoked chicken, brisket, pork and ribs. Take home some of Big Bob’s original tangy white barbecue sauce or Championship red sauce, and don’t miss out on the homemade cream pies.


Archibald’s Bar-B-Q
> Location: Northport, AL

This iconic BBQ shack has two locations in Tuscaloosa; one with outdoor picnic table seating and an enormous chimney where hickory logs are loaded into the fire. Tender ribs, fried catfish, and saucy smoked chicken wings are popular menu items. Archibald’s sauce is considered legendary and the banana pudding is a must.

McClard’s Bar-B-Q
> Location: Hot Springs, AR

A family-owned joint since 1928, McClard’s retains the feeling of an old-fashioned diner with a retro vibe and friendly staff. The ribs, chopped pork, and loaded fries are popular choices but many repeat customers come for the smothered tamales, topped with corn chips, beans, chopped beef, onions, and cheese.

Source: Courtesy of nakkal o. via Yelp

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
> Location: Marianna, AR

An unassuming lunch spot on the lower level of the owners’ home, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, honored as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2012, is believed to be the oldest continuously operated Black-owned restaurant in the nation. Although a fire nearly destroyed the business last year, it has reopened and is serving its famous oak- and hickory-smoked pork shoulder, which sells out every day – often by 10 a.m. The brief menu offers only pulled pork sandwiches, smoked pork by the pound, and slaw.


> Location: Los Angeles, CA

This Texas-style BBQ by celebrity chef Kevin Bludso got its start in Compton and now has multiple Los Angeles outposts, including a sit-down location in Hollywood. Order any of a plethora of smoked meats by the pound or splurge on a family-style tray, loaded with tender brisket, sausages, ribs, and chicken with classic sides, corn bread, and pickles.

Everett & Jones Barbecue
> Location: Oakland, CA

With four Bay Area locations including one in Oakland’s Jack London Square, Everett & Jones is known for its generous portions of smoked meats and soul food sides, as well as its exceedingly friendly service. Choose between brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and beef sausage links, and enjoy the live music on Fridays and Saturdays.


Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

Jenkins Quality Barbecue
> Location: Jacksonville, FL

A family-owned business with three locations, Jenkins Quality Barbecue serves smoked beef, pork, and chicken sandwiches as well as pork ribs with standard sides, french fries, and corn nuggets. Their popular mustard sauce is available by the bottle, and the sweet tea is extra sweet.

Source: Courtesy of Ben H. via Yelp

Old Brick Pit Barbecue
> Location: Atlanta, GA

Utilizing family recipes and a traditional brick pit smoker, this Atlanta stand-by has been serving hickory-smoked barbecue with vinegar sauce for over 40 years. The ribs fall off the bone, the pulled pork is tender and juicy, and the Brunswick stew is a hit.

Fresh Air Barbecue
> Location: Jackson and Macon, GA

Pit-smoking pork since 1929, Fresh Air Barbecue now has multiple locations, including the original restaurant in Jackson, that serve a small menu of sandwiches and platters. The sauce is tangy with vinegar and tomato – no sweet options here – and the sandwiches and Brunswick stew are affordable and loaded with pork.


Source: Courtesy of Bill & Dave's Smokin' Pit via Facebook

Bill & Dave’s Smokin’ Pit
> Location: Tell City, IN

This no-frills, family-friendly restaurant offers a buffet of smoked meats and homemade sauces as well as sandwiches, fried chicken, shrimp, and burgers. Customers love the ribs, the fried okra, and the desserts – especially the banana pudding.

Source: Courtesy of Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn via Facebook

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
> Location: Owensboro, KY

This down-home restaurant has a barbecue buffet and a separate dinner menu including shrimp and catfish specials. A local favorite, Moonlite is known for its tender meats, and people drive from far and wide for the smoked mutton. Customers also love the burgoo, broccoli casserole, and pecan pie.


Source: Courtesy of Susan W. via Yelp

Grayson’s Barbeque
> Location: Clarence, LA

Open since 1959, this brick pit barbecue establishment serves a pared-down menu of smoked ribs, beef, pork, and ham with vinegar sauce and sides of baked beans, potato salad, and slaw. Choose a sandwich with a homemade bun or meat by the pound, and grab a ginger cookie for dessert.

Source: Courtesy of The Joint via Facebook

The Joint
> Location: New Orleans, LA

This Bywater hotspot is famous for its burnt ends, which sell out quickly, as well as its pastrami sandwiches and key lime and peanut butter pies. The ribs and brisket are consistently moist with a vinegar sauce -and the cocktails are popular too.

Abe’s Bar-B-Q
> Location: Clarksdale, MS

Located at the fabled Crossroads in Clarksdale, Abe’s Bar-B-Q is a popular lunch spot for sandwiches and tamales. The barbecued beef and pork (no chicken) come with a tangy vinegar sauce, and the slaw is vinegar-based as well. Customers love the potato salad and the friendly staff.


Source: Courtesy of Clay's House of Pig via Facebook

Clay’s House of Pig (C.H.O.P.)
> Location: Tupelo, MS

This tackle-shop-turned-barbecue-joint became an overnight sensation when it was featured in Forbes and Food and Wine magazines. Along with smoked pork shoulder, chicken, brisket, and ribs by the pound, C.H.O.P. serves sandwiches, tacos, and barbecue-smothered taters, nachos, and fries.

Source: Courtesy of Anthony C. via Yelp

Gates Bar-B-Q
> Location: Kansas City, MO

A family-owned local chain in Kansas City, Gates Bar-B-Q has been serving quality smoked meats since 1946. Barbecue is available by the pound, in a sandwich, or on a platter with home-style sides and fries. The burnt ends are a crowd pleaser and the sweet smoky sauce has a spicy bite.


Source: Courtesy of Janet H. via Yelp

Hometown Bar-B-Que
> Location: Brooklyn, NY

This popular but out of the way counter-service joint has locations in Red Hook and Industry City. Intensely peppered smoked meats and classic sides and cornbread are served on a butcher-paper-lined tray alongside Asian- and Mexican-influenced specials like char siu ribs, Oaxacan chicken, brisket tacos, and Thai chili hot wings.

Source: Courtesy of Buxton Hall Barbecue via Facebook

Buxton Hall Barbecue
> Location: Asheville, NC

Specializing in whole-hog barbecue made from locally pastured pigs, Buxton Hall offers traditional East Carolina pulled pork in lively, industrial digs with cocktails on tap. A recent menu update added smoked brisket, ribs, chicken, and sausages to the mix. Customers love the hushpuppies and the hash and rice.

Skylight Inn
> Location: Ayden, NC

Smoking whole hogs since 1947, this cash-only establishment, serving East Carolina barbecue with a vinegar and pepper sauce, has been listed among the best barbecue restaurants in the country numerous times. The abbreviated menu features pork sandwiches with slaw, pork and chicken by the pound, a few staple sides in generous portions, and of course sweet tea and banana pudding.


Source: Courtesy of the Town of Beulaville (townofbeulaville.com)

Sid’s Catering
> Location: Beulaville, NC

Having perfected the art of barbecued chicken and pork, Sid’s catering is a popular drive-through that many devout customers say is the best barbecue they’ve ever had. It’s only open on Saturdays until they sell out, but people come from far and wide for the tender meat, crispy hush puppies, and friendly service.

Grady’s BBQ
> Location: Dudley, NC

A family-owned business since 1986, Grady’s BBQ serves classic East Carolina pulled pork sandwiches (with coleslaw on the roll) as well as fried chicken, smoked turkey on Saturdays, and an array of soul food sides including black eyed peas, butter beans, cabbage, collards, and rice with gravy. They’re also known for their sweet potato pie.


Bar-B-Q Center
> Location: Lexington, NC

Although they specialize in pit cooked barbecue, this casual roadside stand also serves soups, salads (topped with barbecued chicken, turkey, or ham), burgers and dogs, and huge ice cream sundaes. Customers rave about the chicken, hush puppies, and house red slaw – coleslaw made with a tomato base rather than mayonnaise.

Source: Courtesy of Henry's Smokehouse via Facebook

Henry’s Smokehouse
> Location: Greenville, SC

With two locations and a mobile catering truck, Henry’s Smokehouse brings hickory-smoked, hand-pulled lean pork shoulder and classic ribs to the Greenville area. Customers come back for the spicy mustard sauce, the sweet potato casserole, and the barbecue hash – a South Carolina specialty containing blended pork (and sometimes organ meats) and potatoes in a brothy sauce.

Source: Courtesy of Hudson's Smokehouse via Facebook

Hudson’s Smokehouse
> Location: Lexington, SC

This family-friendly restaurant has lunch and dinner buffets as well as a full menu of Southern comfort foods including smoked meats (brisket, ribs, chicken, and pork), barbecue sandwiches, appetizers, fried fish and chicken, and all of the classic sides. Guests love the fried livers, catfish nuggets, chopped brisket, and cornbread.


Source: Courtesy of Tori H. via Yelp

Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ
> Location: Charleston, SC

Rodney Scott learned whole-hog smoking in his parents’ barbecue restaurant, and now has four restaurants of his own, with more on the way. His pit-cooked pork, turkey, brisket, and chicken are celebrated throughout the Lowcountry. The portions are generous, the service is superb, and the sides nearly steal the show.

Source: Courtesy of Swig & Swine via Facebook

Swig & Swine
> Location: Charleston, SC

A hip roadside eatery with craft brews and a happy hour, Swig and Swine has three South Carolina locations that serve trays of slow-cooked barbecue with not-so-standard sides including baked potato salad, corn pudding, and mixed pickled vegetables. The brisket and burnt ends are crowd favorites, as are the pork rinds and pimento cheese appetizers.


Source: Courtesy of JR's Rhodehouse BBQ Pit via Facebook

JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ Pit
> Location: Summerset, SD

A Texas-style outpost outside of Rapid City, JR’s Rhodehouse has consistent five star reviews for its mouth watering brisket, ribs, sausages, turkey, and pulled pork. Meats are sold by the pound, in sandwiches with pickled onions and jalapeños, or on platters with sides including smokehouse beans and green chili jack mac and cheese.

The Ridgewood Barbecue
> Location: Bluff City, TN

Serving large portions of Southern comfort food since 1948, this family-owned restaurant offers award-winning smoked beef and locally raised hams along with burgers, fried shrimp, and chicken. Crackers and hand-cut fries come with a bowl of house blue cheese dressing for dipping, and the barbecue beans are famous in the area.

Source: Courtesy of Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous via Facebook

Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
> Location: Memphis, TN

Since 1948, this funky subterranean establishment with brick walls and vintage decor has been serving their famous dry-rubbed smoked ribs. Barbecue sauce is optional, as the spice-coated ribs, brisket, and chicken can stand alone. Enjoy the red beans and rice and smoked sausages, too, but be ready to wait for a table.


Franklin Barbecue
> Location: Austin, TX

This legendary lunch spot by James Beard award-winning pitmaster Aaron Franklin is open from 11 a.m. until they sell out, usually by 2 or 3. Despite the limited hours and long lines, the wait is absolutely worth it for the tender brisket, pulled pork, turkey, ribs, and sausages. The smokey flavor and peppery crust are always on point, and the sides and pies are fantastic as well.

Source: Courtesy of Goldee's Barbecue via Facebook

Goldee’s Barbecue
> Location: Fort Worth, TX

Open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until the ‘cue is all gone, Goldee’s has been named the No. 1 barbecue spot in the state by Texas Monthly. With a perfect char and tender interior, the brisket melts in your mouth, and the ribs, sausages, and turkey are all outstanding. Try the jalapeño cheese grits and save room for dessert.


Source: Courtesy of Robert M. via Yelp

Truth Barbecue
> Location: Houston, TX

With locations in Houston and Brenham, this destination lunch spot pumps out perfect briskets and ribs and also offers barbecue classes to aspiring pitmasters. The line forms early and they sell out quickly, so get there before 11 to ensure your fair share of smoked meats so flavorful you won’t need any sauce.

Snow’s BBQ
> Location: Lexington, TX

This local hotspot is only open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, but people line up as early as 4 a.m. with lawn chairs and thermoses of coffee, just to get a taste of the expertly smoked pork, chicken, sausages, ribs, and brisket from legendary pitmasters Kerry Bexley and Tootsie Tomanetz. The pork shoulder steak is a customer favorite and the ribs never disappoint.

Kreuz Market
> Location: Lockhart, TX

This sprawling mess hall started as a meat market in 1875 and is now a landmark institution for Texas barbecue. No sauce and no utensils are the norm as customers dig into piles of smoked sausages, ribs, and sliced brisket adorned with sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables. Sides include mac and cheese, hot potato casserole, and poblano cream corn.


Louie Mueller Barbecue
> Location: Taylor, TX

Smoking since 1949, Louie Mueller Barbecue has been handed down from father to son for three generations and has a James Beard American Classics award under its belt. The brisket and burnt ends are exquisite but what this place is known for are the enormous smoked beef ribs (with the ribeye still attached).

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