“Barbecue” is a tricky word. It can describe a backyard cooking appliance – a Weber grill, a Big Green Egg, a hibachi. It also means an event at which grilled foods are served, as in “Come on over to our place for a barbecue on Saturday.” It has even become the term for a particular flavor, as in BBQ potato chips.
For many food lovers, however, “barbecue” – often rendered as BBQ or bar-b-q – isn’t about any of these things. It describes a method of preparing meats and sometimes other foods through long, slow, wood-smoke-infused cooking over indirect heat – and is also the word for the results of that process.
There are similar examples in many parts of the world, but in America, the idea of hours-long food preparation over a wood fire was born in indigenous communities, primarily in the Caribbean, and evolved into the barbecue we know today with influences from African American culture, Mexican outdoor cooking, and later – specifically in the Texas Hill Country, one of the nation’s great barbecue meccas – the cured meat and sausage-making traditions of German and Czech immigrants. It is truly a melting-pot cuisine. (It is certainly one of the iconic dishes America has gifted the world.)
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 Lonely Planet, Gayot, Eater, and Food & Wine, 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.
The vast majority of the places on our list are from the South (including Texas, of course). The exceptions are two from California, one from Indiana (but run by a Texan who even brings his own mesquite wood north for authenticity), and a small regional chain in Missouri and Kansas. (There’s ‘cue all over the place, of course, even in unlikely corners of the U.S. Here’s a list of the best barbecue joint in every state.)
Every region has its own style of seasoning, from simple salt and pepper in Texas and vinegary sauce in North Carolina to a mustard glaze in South Carolina and a sweet tomato-based coating in Kansas City. In general, too, Texas prefers beef while the Southeastern states are pork-centric. Chicken is common around the country, and mutton and other meats are sometimes seen. Of course there is endless crossover and there are many variations – but whatever the particulars, barbecue is one of the great American foods, and these are the best places to find it.
> Location: Northport & Tuscaloosa, Alabama
AL.com calls Archibald’s “the hallowed ground of holy smoke…[a] modest, soot-scorched, cinder block shrine that should be a must on any barbecue lover’s bucket list.” This iconic BBQ shack has two locations – the original in Northport and a second one across the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa. Ribs are a specialty, but there are also hot wings and both fried catfish and fried whiting in various forms – and the banana pudding is a must.
> Location: Hot Springs, Arkansas
A family-owned joint since 1928, where the original specialty was barbecued goat (now long gone, alas), McClard’s retains the feeling of an old-fashioned diner with a retro vibe and friendly staff. The ribs (by themselves, with slaw and beans, or covered with fries) and chopped or sliced pork are popular choices, but regulars also devour the smothered Delta-style tamales, topped with Fritos, beans, chopped beef, onions, and cheese.
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
> Location: Marianna, Arkasas
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is possibly the oldest continuously operated Black-owned restaurant in the nation, dating its origins back to around 1910, when it was opened by the current owner’s granduncle – though it moved to its present location and took its current name only in 1964. Honored as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2012, it’s a much-loved part of the community – so much so that when a fire destroyed the pit house two years ago, locals rallied to crowd-fund a new one. The oak- and hickory-smoked pork shoulder is famous, and typically sells out every day – often by 10 a.m. – and there’s nothing else on the menu but pulled pork sandwiches and slaw.
> Location: Los Angeles, California
Expect to join a line stretching down the sidewalk at mealtimes at this mostly take-out neighborhood favorite (there is limited outdoor seating off the parking lot). Rib tips are a specialty, on a plate or in a sandwich, and an unusual offering of chicken links (sausage) has a lot of fans. If you’re feeding a crowd, both small and large trays – either mixed meats or just beef (three variations) and chicken (links and whole) – are a comparative bargain.
Everett & Jones Barbecue
> Location: Oakland, California
With three Bay Area locations – two in Oakland and one about 30 miles to the northeast in Antioch – Everett & Jones has long been known for its generous portions of smoked meats and soul food sides, as well as its exceedingly friendly service. Choose between brisket, pork ribs (voted the best in the region by Oakland Tribune readers), chicken, and beef links. Caramel cake is a popular dessert.
Old Brick Pit Barbecue
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Using 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 & Macon, Georgia
Pit-smoking pork since 1929, Fresh Air Barbecue – both at the original location in Jackson and at a Macon offshoot – serves pork-only sandwiches and plates (served with bread and crackers), plus Brunswick stew. The sauce is tangy with vinegar and tomato – no sweet options here – and the sandwiches and Brunswick stew are affordable and loaded with meat.
Hank’s Smoked Briskets
> Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Texas-born Hank Fields opened his restaurant in 2004, promising “Texas BBQ done right, by a Native Texan.” He even buys mesquite wood directly from his native state. Not surprisingly, the brisket is the thing here, but there are plenty of other choices on the menu, including ribs, chicken, smoked sausage, even corned beef, plus “potatoes dinners” featuring chopped brisket or sausage or a combination of meats on top of a baked potato. The apple cobbler is the way to finish here.
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
> Location: Owensboro, Kentucky
This down-home restaurant – once dubbed “Kentucky’s best barbecue” by Kentucky Monthly – has a barbecue buffet and a separate dinner menu including shrimp and catfish specials. A local favorite, Moonlite is known for its chopped or sliced pork, and people drive from far and wide for the smoked mutton. There are also a few Kentucky craft beers on offer.
> Location: Clarence, Louisiana
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.
> Location: Clarksdale, Mississippi
Located since 1924 at the fabled crossroads of highways 61 and 49, where blues legend
Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in return for supernatural musical skill, Abe’s Bar-B-Q is a popular lunch spot for sandwiches, barbecue pork, beef, and ribs, and Mississippi tamales. Customers love the potato salad and the friendly staff.
Clay’s House of Pig (C.H.O.P.)
> Location: Tupelo, Mississippi
Clay Coleman’s tackle-shop-turned-barbecue-joint became an overnight sensation when it was featured by Forbes and Food & Wine. 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.
> Location: Kansas City (3 locations) & Independence, Missouri; Leawood, Kansas
A family-owned mini-chain based 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. Four cuts of ribs are available, the burnt ends are a crowd pleaser, and the sweet smoky sauce has a spicy bite – and the yammer (sweet potato) pie has plenty of fans.
> Location: Ayden, North Carolina
Ayden styles itself “the barbecue capital of the world” – a claim plenty of people elsewhere around the South (and certainly in Texas) might dispute. However, there’s no disputing the exalted position of this 76-year-old establishment (formerly cash-only but now credit-card-friendly, despite the warning on their website) in servings of several sizes plus a few standard sides, generously served.
> Location: Dudley, North Carolina
A family-owned business since 1986, Grady’s BBQ serves classic East Carolina pulled pork sandwiches (with coleslaw on the roll) as well as both bbq and fried chicken, smoked turkey on Saturdays, and an array of soul food sides made from scratch, including black eyed peas, butter beans, cabbage, collards, and rice with gravy. Save room for the sweet potato pie.
> Location: Lexington, North Carolina
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.
> Location: Greenville & Simpsonville, South Carolina
With two locations and a mobile catering truck, dubbed “the Hog Hauler,” 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.
> Location: Lexington, South Carolina
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 especially love the catfish bites, chopped brisket, and cornbread.
Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ
> Location: Charleston, South Carolina; Atlanta; Birmingham, Homewood, & Trussville, Alabama
Rodney Scott learned whole-hog smoking in his parents’ barbecue restaurant, and now has five restaurants of his own in three states, with more on the way. His pit-cooked pork – especially his whole hot pork sandwich or plate – and his turkey, brisket, and chicken are celebrated throughout the Lowcountry. The portions are generous, the service is superb, and the classic sides nearly steal the show.
Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
> Location: Memphis, Tennessee
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.
> Location: Austin, Texas
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 p.m. 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.
> Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. or until the ‘cue is all gone, Goldee’s has been named the No. 1 barbecue spot in the state by Texas Monthly in 2021. 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 the banana pudding (or bread pudding on Sundays).
> Location: Lexington, Texas
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.
> Location: Lockhart, Texas
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, ham, 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, Texas
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).
Sponsored: Want to Retire Early? Here’s a Great First Step
Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?
Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.
Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Tempo Editorial team.