Special Report

Best Barbecue Joint in Every State

Courtesy of Eli's BBQ via Facebook

Pit-smoked meats have deep cultural roots in many American locales, from North Carolina to Kansas City to central Texas. Across the United States, the term “barbecue” can conjure drastically different images, from the cut of meat and the type of sauce, down to the variety of wood used for flavor. From food trucks to whiskey lounges, the best barbecue spots all have one thing in common, however – they serve up mouthwatering smoked meats. 

To assemble a list of the top barbecue spots in in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed and extrapolated from listings, rankings, and reviews on websites including First We Feast, Eat This Not That, Thrillist, Insider, LoveFood, Lonely Planet, Gayot, Eater, Food & Wine, and Southern Living, as well as numerous state-specific sites. 

Many of these establishments have a cult following, and their customers are willing to wait in line for hours to get their share. Some are only open during a brief window on select days before they sell out. Many are family-owned establishments that have been passed down for generations, while others are new smokehouses headed by enthusiastic young pitmasters.  (Backyard barbecue is a whole different thing – basically grilling. That’s the kind that features in these tips for the perfect barbecue from the experts.)

The best barbecue spots in every state represent a rich and diverse culinary heritage. Central Texas-style barbecue – which has become popular across the U.S. – is characterized by a salt and pepper dry rub and is heavy on the beef, with sausages, turkey, and pork sometimes added to the menu. Beef brisket is traditionally cooked slowly at low temperatures over indirect heat, often with oak or pecan wood; and while sauce may be offered on the side, it’s generally frowned upon.

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. Nearby St. Louis is famous for sweet, saucy ribs smoked over fruitwoods like apple and cherry. 

East Carolina barbecue focuses on pulled pork (from a whole smoked hog) with a vinegar-based sauce, while Memphis-style features pork shoulder and ribs, and can come dry-rubbed or brushed with sauce – in either case often using hickory wood for its intense smoky flavor. (Local specialties aren’t limited to barbecue. Here is the most iconic dish from every state.)

Southern states (including Texas) tend to have the best barbecue spots in the country, but this kind of food has become so popular that there are now first-rate practitioners of the pitmaster’s art from Maine to California, Washington to Florida.

Click here to see the best barbecue spots in every state

Alabama: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que
> Location: Decatur

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.

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Alaska: Big Daddy’s
> Location: Fairbanks

Big Daddy’s BBQ and Banquet Hall serves heaping portions of all the classic barbecue favorites and sides, as well as bar appetizers, burgers, and fried seafood platters. The casual vibe, huge bar, and jukebox music make for a raucous good time, and the popular Pig Out Platter feeds a small crowd.

Arizona: Little Miss BBQ
> Location: Phoenix

This retro-themed eatery, with two Phoenix locations, serves Central Texas-style barbecue as well as burritos and decadent smoked pecan pies. By the pound or on a sandwich, the brisket and pastrami are tender and flaky. The ribs fall off the bone, and the jalapeño cheddar grits are a crowd pleaser.

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

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.

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California: Everett & Jones Barbecue
> Location: Oakland

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.

Colorado: Wayne’s Smoke Shack
> Location: Superior

Serving Central Texas-style barbecue, Wayne’s Smoke Shack offers mouthwatering smoked meats and sides, an array of sauces, and fresh house-made rolls. In addition to the classics like brisket and pork shoulder, the menu also features wagyu BBQ beef sausage, candied pork belly, smoked catfish and salmon, and one mean peach cobbler.

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Connecticut: Pig Rig BBQ
> Location: Wallingford

This casual outpost serves a diverse array of hickory-smoked pork, brisket, and chicken, dressed up any way you like it. Choose between dry-rubbed, Carolina-style, Jamaican jerk, and more, or try some smoked meat on a bed of mac and cheese. The cowboy beans are one of a kind, and the sweet potato bread is a novel substitute for corn bread.

Delaware: Limestone BBQ and Bourbon
> Location: Wilmington

With a collection of fine bourbons, a cavernous timber framed dining room, and live music every Saturday, Limestone is a popular destination for food and merriment. The full menu includes nearly every kind of smoked meat, shareable appetizers including brisket nachos, soups, salads, and a variety of sauces to suit any taste.

Florida: Jenkins Quality Barbecue
> Location: Jacksonville

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.

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Georgia: Fresh Air Barbecue
> Location: Jackson and Macon

Pit-smoking pork since 1929, Fresh Air Barbecue now has multiple locations, including the original restaurant in Jackson, serving 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.

Hawaii: Sunset Smokehouse
> Location: Wahiawa (Oahu)

A counter-service joint specializing in Texas-style barbecue, Sunset Smokehouse is known for its tender brisket and ribs and snappy smoked sausages. Customers love the creamed corn and the pinto beans with spicy brisket ends. In true Texas smokehouse style, long lines can form before the doors open – the hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – with many items selling out early.

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Idaho: Rib Shack Barbecue
> Location: Eagle

This Kansas City-style restaurant serves large portions of smoked pork, brisket, turkey, and chicken, and even offers a free pork rib while you wait for your food. Menu highlights include beef tri tip and pork belly, and customers rave about the burnt ends, smashed potatoes, and baked beans.

Illinois: Smoked to the Bone
> Location: Iuka

This Southern Illinois small-town eatery has bountiful barbecue options, affordable and generous portions, outstanding pie, and a salad bar. It’s open Thursday through Sunday with daily specials including all-you-can-eat fish on Fridays and fried chicken on Sundays.

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

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.

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Iowa: Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack
> Location: Iowa City

Known for their brisket sandwiches – which customers have the option of ordering lean or fatty – Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack also offers smoked half chickens and wings, pulled pork, ribs, and even smoked portobello mushrooms. A range of sauces and solid side dishes will please any customer; and the honey cornbread is exceptional.

Kansas: Joe’s Kansas City BBQ
> Location: Kansas City (KS), Olathe, and Leawood

What began as a small gas station eatery has become a local chain with three restaurant locations and an event venue. Joe’s offers a full range of classic meats and sides as well as some New Orleans-style dishes like red beans and rice and po’boys, but the specialty sandwiches are the real stars. Try the Rocket Pig, which comes with pulled pork glazed in sweet-hot BBQ sauce, bacon, pepper jack, and BBQ mayo, topped with fried jalapeños.

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Kentucky: Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn
> Location: Owensboro

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.

Louisiana: Grayson’s Barbecue
> Location: Clarence

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.

Maine: Salvage BBQ
> Location: Portland

Besides barbecue, this counter service bar and lounge offers beer and cocktails plus occasional live music, bingo, and a trivia night. Try the meat coma tray, which comes with a 1/3 rack of St. Louis style ribs, 1/3 pound of brisket and chopped pork, a cup of chili, and two sides, including the best hushpuppies in Maine.

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Maryland: Blue Pit BBQ
> Location: Baltimore

A casual, dog-friendly restaurant and bar with an extensive whiskey selection, Blue Pit BBQ offers tender smoked meats and sandwiches, including jackfruit barbecue for vegetarian customers. Diners love the four-cheese mac and pickleback slaw, and whiskey lovers rave about the house Old Fashioned.

Massachusetts: B.T.’s Smokehouse
> Location: Sturbridge

One of the premier barbecue spots in New England, B.T.’s Smokehouse is known for its overloaded brisket reuben sandwich and its andouille corn dog bites. Expect heaping portions of smoked meats and Southern-style sides, bring your own beer, and expect a bit of a wait.

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Michigan: Vicki’s Bar-B-Q
> Location: Detroit

This old fashioned carry-out establishment specializes in fried shrimp, charcoal-smoked ribs, and tangy smoked chicken with a vinegar and tomato glaze. The limited menu offers affordable dinners with a few choices of sides, and the thick cut steak fries are perfectly cooked.

Minnesota: Ted Cook’s 19th Hole Barbecue
> Location: Minneapolis

This landmark carry out counter has been serving pit smoked barbecue since 1968. The addictive chicken, baby back ribs, beef ribs, and pork are smoked daily over cherry and hickory wood. Try the hot links and don’t forget the peach cobbler.

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

This tackle shop-turned-barbecue joint became an overnight sensation when it was featured in Forbes and Food & 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.

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Missouri: Gates Bar-B-Q
> Location: Kansas City

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

Montana: The Notorious P.I.G.
> Location: Missoula

With two Missoula locations, this counter service smokehouse serves St. Louis-style ribs, pulled pork, brisket, turkey, and tri-tip with an array of sauces and sides to suit any preference. Smoking fresh meats daily starting at 4 a.m., the Notorious P.I.G. often sells out of brisket and burnt ends, so show up early for lunch if you want a taste.

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Nebraska: Smokin’ Barrel BBQ
> Location: Omaha

This no-frills counter service joint sells perfectly smoked meats by the half pound, in addition to sandwiches and a few select sides. Customers love the spicy and smoked bourbon barbecue sauces. The brisket chili and smoked meatloaf specials sell out fast, so come early.

Nevada: Jessie Rae’s BBQ
> Location: Las Vegas

Amidst a land of flashing lights, this small, unassuming cinderblock building houses the most flavor-packed barbecue in Vegas, complete with an excellent range of house-made sauces. Ribs, pork, brisket, and hot links come on platters with sides, on sandwiches, or loaded up on top of waffle fries, mac and cheese, tater tots, or barbecue mashed potatoes.

New Hampshire: Goody Cole’s Smokehouse
> Location: Brentwood

This rustic, old school smokehouse serves all manner of smoked meats (including kielbasa) with classic Southern sides and a few house specialties like smokehouse jambalaya, smoked sweet potatoes, and cucumber salad. Customers return over and over for the brisket, turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, and cornbread.

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New Jersey: Henri’s “Hotts” Barbecue
> Location: Folsom

Open Friday through Sunday, this no-frills eatery offers the best fried chicken around and a full menu of homestyle cooking and burgers. But most customers come for the all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, featuring meatloaf, pulled pork, ribs, beans, corn pudding, and much more.

New Mexico: Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue
> Location: Cloudcraft

Offering authentic Texas-style barbecue in a quaint mountain village, Mad Jack’s is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until they sell out of meat. While they’re famous for their brisket and cobbler, customers also love the sour cream potato salad, beef dino ribs, and jalapeño cheddar sausage.

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New York: Hometown Bar-B-Que
> Location: Brooklyn

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.

North Carolina: Skylight Inn
> Location: Ayden

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.

North Dakota: NoBull Smokehouse
> Location: Fargo

A smokehouse and bar serving sandwiches and family style platters, NoBull is known for its friendly service and fun atmosphere, not to mention its barbecue and poutine. Try a brisket and fried chicken finger combo with a side of waffles or sweet corn casserole, and save room for a jar of cheesecake or key lime pie.

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Ohio: Eli’s BBQ
> Location: Cincinnati (two locations)

Eli’s BBQ, which began as a street vendor in Fountain Square, has grown through word of mouth and a cult following to two brick and mortar restaurants in Cincinnati. They still serve the perfect pulled pork sandwich, with coleslaw and housemade sauce, along with ribs, smoked turkey, beef franks, and smoked wings.

Oklahoma: Danny’s BBQ Head Quarters
> Location: Ponca City

Since 1987, this award-winning family-owned restaurant has been serving pecan wood-smoked meats and handcrafted sides. With sauces and dry rubs available for purchase, smoked ham available by the pound, and of course ribs, brisket, and pork, Danny’s BBQ Head Quarters is a local institution.

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Oregon: Matt’s BBQ
> Location: Portland and Beaverton

A popular barbecue truck with multiple Oregon locations, Matt’s BBQ serves an array of Texas-style ribs and brisket, North Carolina-style pulled pork, pork belly burnt ends, turkey, and sausages, with numerous sauces and pickled onions. On a platter, a sandwich, or in a taco, the hearty meats have drawn quite a fan base.

Pennsylvania: Harvey’s Bar-B-Q
> Location: Mount Joy

Harvey’s Bar-B-Q began as a roadside stand that sold smoked half chickens and has graduated to a beloved Main Street restaurant with numerous competition awards. Owner Harvey Shademan’s signature barbecue sauce features a vinegar and butter base, blended with a little sweet tomato and mustard flavor. The brisket, mac and cheese, and baked beans are all top notch.

Rhode Island: Becky’s BBQ
> Location: Middletown

This cozy, homestyle eatery serves hickory-smoked pork, chicken, ribs, and beef with classic sides like baked beans and cornbread. Choose between a Kansas City sweet sauce and a North Carolina vinegar and pepper sauce. The lunch plates are very affordable and diners love the garlic smashed potatoes.

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South Carolina: Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ
> Location: Charleston

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.

South Dakota: JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ Pit
> Location: Summerset

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

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Tennessee: Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
> Location: Memphis

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.

Texas: Snow’s BBQ
> Location: Lexington

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.

Utah: Bam Bams BBQ
> Location: Orem

Sandwich combos, picnic table seating, and an ultra casual vibe make this relaxed eatery a popular lunch spot for Texas-style barbecue. The small meat-centric menu features platters, sandwiches, and barbecue nachos. Whether you choose brisket, turkey, pork, or ribs, consider adding a jalapeño sausage link to your order.

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Vermont: Bluebird Barbecue
> Location: Burlington

With a full bar, house cocktails, plenty of outdoor seating, and legendary smoked wings, double-smoked burnt ends, and 15-hour brisket, this casual restaurant is great for a date or group gathering. Local touches like Vermont maple baked beans and Cabot cheddar mac and cheese make the sides extra special, and the ramen, salads, and vegetarian options like smoked mushrooms and seitan balance out the menu.

Virginia: Monk’s BBQ
> Location: Purcellville

This popular barbecue mecca near the West Virginia border does a good job with all the usual wood-smoked meats, but what sets it apart is the barbecue pastrami, a preparation hardly common in such establishments. Other unusual items include poodle chicken smoked over hickory and cherry wood, house-cured and smoked pork belly bacon on a stick, and custard-filled cornbread.

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Washington: Briley’s BBQ & Grill
> Location: Lake Forest Park

Cherry wood-smoked meats and draft beers make up the menu at this casual hangout with quaint water views and sports games on rotation. The brioche bun sandwiches are loaded with meat, the sides are flavorful and include a few noteworthy items like sweet potato fries and brisket chili, and their house special spicy pit beef has many devout fans.

West Virginia: Hickory House
> Location: Jane Lew

This friendly down-home smokehouse, decked out in license plates and memorabilia, specializes in hickory-smoked baby back ribs and homemade pickles. Also on the menu are an array of sandwiches and jalapeño melts, brisket and pulled pork platters, fried chicken and fish filets, and three kinds of fries.

Wisconsin: Speed Queen BBQ
> Location: Milwaukee

A fast food takeout joint with a drive-through window, this cash-only place has been serving barbecue slathered in a family-recipe secret sauce since 1956. The menu features family platters of smoked meats, fried chicken and fish, and affordable sandwiches with a large array of sides. Customers love the “outside” pork shoulder and the red beans and rice.

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Wyoming: HQ BBQ
> Location: Evansville

This bustling Southern style barbecue restaurant has a full menu of salads, appetizers, platters, sandwiches, and burgers, complete with daily specials including the customer-favorite smoked prime rib nights. Try the Memphis-style dry rub ribs, the bourbon habanero sauce, and the legendary mac and cheese.

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