Payne's BBQ | Sarah Rossi-Sélavie Photography/Thrillist
Food & Drink

The 33 Best BBQ Joints in America

Updated On 09/29/2017 at 05:42PM EST
Courtesy of 17th Street Barbecue

17th Street Barbecue

Murphysboro, Illinois

Few figures in barbecue are as revered as Mike Mills and as respected as his daughter Amy, the driving forces behind 17th Street BBQ. Since the early '90s, Mike's cherry and applewood-smoked, magic-dusted baby back ribs have been winning world championships accolades and breaking competition circuit records. People travel from across the country to the small town of Murphysboro to devour them, and budding pitmasters can leave with more than just leftovers thanks to a series of cooking workshops from Mike and business classes from his daughter, who also recently penned a tell-all book. And for those who can't make the journey, they even ship their meat overnight. -- Dan Gentile

B's Cracklin' BBQ

B's Cracklin' BBQ

Savannah, Georgia

Pitmaster Bryan Furman knows pork, and not just how to cook it. Raised in the Carolinas with a grandfather who bred hogs and butchered them on special occasions, Furman followed in his family footsteps by starting a heritage breed pig farm that now supplies his restaurants in Savannah and Georgia. Carolina-style chopped pork is the main course, with a buffet of sauces on the side that allow diners to dress their meat to regional tastes, but don’t miss the brisket -- it just might be the best in the state of Georgia. -- DG

Claus Peuckert

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que

Decatur, Alabama

On the one hand, the BBQ boom has fueled enough interest in regional variations that it's not remotely uncommon anymore to enter a recently opened BBQ establishment anywhere in the country and encounter the distinctive vinegary, mayo-based sauce that Bob Gibson first created generations ago. On the other hand, you haven't REALLY experienced it until you've made the pilgrimage to Decatur, eaten your weight in hickory-smoked chicken, and experienced that bright, peppery tang right there at the source. -- Matt Lynch

Flickr/Joshua Bousel

Black's Barbecue

Lockhart, Texas

Lockhart long claimed the title of barbecue capital of Texas, and although the rest of the state has caught up over the years, it’s still home to three of the most legendary restaurants in the state. A visit to the tiny town 45 minutes outside of Austin almost demands a bang bang, but for normal-sized stomachs, the best all-around meal comes from Black’s. Smell the history in the long skinny hallway leading up to the butcher, and don’t miss out on the beef rib -- they claim to be the ones who popularized it. -- DG

Shana Anderson/Thrillist

Cattleack BBQ

Dallas, Texas

There’s a certain charm to barbecue shacks located in the middle of nowhere, but Cattleack proves that operating out of a crumbling bungalow isn’t a requisite for great meat, any old strip mall will do for the right pitmaster. Skyrocketing to No. 3 on Texas Monthly’s always exhaustive power ranking, Cattleack is just one of several places raising Dallas’s barbecue profile to full on destination. And in addition to some of the best-tasting, fattiest brisket in the state, there’s few bites of meat in the barbecue world as indulgent as their intensely-marbled Akaushi beef ribs. -- DG

Central BBQ

Central BBQ

Memphis, Tennessee

There can be a tricky relationship between a BBQ outfit expanding to multiple locations and still retaining the fervent following that made said expansion possible in the first place, but Central and its three Memphis outposts still inspire just as much local love as they ever did. That probably has something to do with the fact that the 14-plus-hour smoked pork shoulders still yield some of the juiciest chopped pork sandwiches around. It also has something to do with ribs that continue to be mandatory in any discussion of Memphis' best. -- ML

Central City BBQ

Central City BBQ

New Orleans, Louisiana

There was much anticipation among NOLA smoked meat aficionados leading up to the late 2016 debut of Central City BBQ, a joint effort between chef Aaron Burgau of Patois and celebrated pitmaster Rob Bechtold of dearly departed NOLA Smokehouse. Although Bechtold left the operation several months in, it had already separated itself from the local barbecue pack, and it hasn't slowed down since. The delightfully salty, pepper-barked brisket and burnt ends would make any Texas smokehouse proud, while specialties like smoked boudin leave no doubt as to what city you're in. Oh, and don't miss a side of the sweet corn spoonbread. That would be a mistake. -- ML

Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue

Franklin Barbecue

Austin, Texas

Is the best brisket of your life worth a three-hour wait? What about five hours? They’re personal questions, and although the time it takes to move 100 meters to chopping block takes approximately the same amount of time it takes to fly to Austin from New York City, it’s still a journey many barbecue obsessives happily make. The reward for that patience is a sample bite at the front of the line, which after the long wait, is as close as it comes to barbecue nirvana, which is why, despite a devastating fire that put the restaurant out of commission, it has to be on the list, especially when Aaron Franklin is throwing pop-ups for Harvey relief even as he tried to get his own business re-opened, which is expected to happen soon. -- DG

Courtesy of Gatlin's BBQ

Gatlin's BBQ

Houston, Texas

It’s easy for a barbecue joint to just churn out a basic potato salad, boil some beans, and call it their side menu, but truly excellent barbecue joints differentiate themselves not just by meat, but a signature side that ties everything together. For Gatlin’s, whose brisket is as smokey and gluttonous as it comes and beef rib is large enough to feed, well, a cow, the real must-order is somehow the dirty rice: a Creole staple of the Gatlin's family that’s worth the visit alone. And hey, Houston could use your business. -- DG

Germantown Commissary

Germantown Commissary

Germantown, Tennessee

In 1981, Walker Taylor purchased a small country store in Germantown, just outside Memphis, and turned it into a BBQ joint named after a small country store. The decision proved apt, and Germantown Commissary developed into one of the most beloved and celebrated spots for smoked meat in an area with no shortage of them. Get yourself a combo plate so you don't have to choose between the hickory smoked ribs or the chopped pork, appreciate the deviled egg that comes with it, and then get the banana pudding because even though having room for dessert is no guarantee after a plate of BBQ, it's a must. -- ML

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Hometown Bar-B-Que

Brooklyn, New York

In the past decade New York City has become a bona fide barbecue destination, with smokey cuisine from North Carolina to Texas making appearances in the Big Apple. There’s plenty of amazing bites to be had, but Hometown is the restaurant that best combines authentic technique with a local melting pot mentality. Mentorship from Wayne Mueller drove pitmaster Billy Durney’s mastery of the beef rib (look to his lower ankle for a tattoo expressing his TX love), but what really sets him apart is incorporating ethnic flavors prevalent in his Red Hook neighborhood into dishes like the Jamaican jerk baby back ribs, Oaxacan wood-fired chicken, and Vietnamese hot wings. -- DG

Shanley Cox/Thrillist

Joe's Kansas City BBQ

Kansas City, Kansas

The story behind how the best barbecue joint in Kansas City came to be named after the state of Oklahoma, then changed that name to reflect geographic realities,  has a few twists and turns (and we can probably stop mentioning at this point, deep down it's always just been "Joe's" to locals) but the common denominator at this barbecue landmark is the ribs that cause all walks of life to line up outside an old gas station for life-changing ribs, burnt ends worth their weight in gold (and only available Monday & Saturday lunchtime, plus Wednesday dinner), and a sandwich that seems to break the rules (provolone on brisket?) but somehow works. Thanks Z-man. -- ML

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

La Barbecue

Austin, Texas

For every young gun in the Texas barbecue world, there’s an old hat descended from a long line of pitmasters with salt and pepper in their veins. LeAnn Mueller has such a lineage. She grew up busing tables at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor and now helms one of Austin’s finest barbecue operations, which after a vagabond trailer journey from four separate locations finally landed in, of all places, a convenience store. Best believe you’ll never taste a better slice of brisket just a few feet away from a refrigerator stocked with Gatorade and Monster Energy drinks. -- DG

Shanley Cox/Thrillist

LC's Bar-B-Q

Kansas City, Missouri

LC's doesn't have the national profile of Joe's or a name that's thoroughly entrenched in KC BBQ lore like Arthur Bryant or George Gates, but what L.C. Richardson's no-frills establishment does have is some of the most consistently outstanding burnt ends in Kansas City, and therefore some of the most consistently outstanding burnt ends on the planet. The sandwich you'll be eating is only a "sandwich" in the sense that there are two pieces of bread present, but the reality is you'll be picking up juicy, fatty, crusty protein bits off your plate with your bare hands before you know it. There are plenty of paper towels nearby, and they are necessary. -- ML

Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Lem's Bar-B-Q

Chicago, Illinois

The tradition of Chicago barbecue (yes, it's a thing) lost one of its titans a couple of years back when longtime Lem's owner and operator James Lemons passed away, the last survivor of a group of brothers that made a mark on the Chicago meat map that goes back to the 1940s. Nonetheless, Lem's remains an essential destination for anyone looking to dig into a pile of rib tips -- the gloriously gelatinous, slightly cumbersome but worth-the-trouble staple of the Chicago barbecue scene. And if picking your way through bits of bone and cartilage isn't your thing, don't worry, the straight-up spare ribs are plenty legendary in their own right. -- ML

Courtesy of Lewis BBQ

Lewis Barbecue

Charleston, South Carolina

The Carolinas may be pork country, but Texas native (and Franklin and la Barbecue alum) John Lewis is putting Charleston's barbecue scene firmly on the national map, selling brisket that took a decade to perfect in smokers he custom-built for the task. Somehow said brisket isn't the most exclusive beef on the menu -- massive, beefy short ribs are served strictly on Saturdays. And don't worry, Lewis does plenty of justice to the porcine pursuits like pulled pork and spare ribs -- this is, after all, still Carolina. -- ML

Courtesy of Lexington Visitors Center

Lexington Barbecue

Lexington, North Carolina

As the small city of Lexington grew in barbecue might (it boasts more than 20 joints with a population of less than 20,000), the Piedmont school of Carolina barbecue, with its vinegary red sauce , came to be known as Lexington-style, and a big reason a small town serves as a stand in for a region is the Monk family behind (what else?) Lexington BBQ. It's still pretty much the same drill it's been for decades -- pork shoulders get 10 hours over mostly oak coals and transform into pork perfection. Well, wait -- add some of that slaw. NOW it's perfect. -- ML

Courtesy of Little Miss BBQ

Little Miss BBQ

Phoenix, Arizona

When the temperature outside cracks 120, it takes a saint to stand in front of a hot smoker. As such, Phoenix residents have nearly canonized the folks from Little Miss, who toil through the heat to bring Central Texas style barbecue to folks hungry enough to line up for an hour plus in the blistering sun. Like so many restaurants on this list, the brisket can’t be ignored, but plan a visit wisely, as the daily specials like pastrami deserve a place on any combo plate. -- DG

Courtesy of Louie Mueller BBQ

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Taylor, Texas

What is there to say that hasn’t been said about Louie Mueller Barbecue? The Taylor, Texas temple to smoked beef has earned permanent legend status since opening in 1949, and although they scored a James Beard America's Classics award back in 2006, they’re a rare legacy restaurant that’s not only kept up with the times, but evolved with them. Current third generation Wayne Mueller is considered the Socrates of barbecue, and his brisket and beef ribs might just be the platonic ideal of the food. Sound like Greek to you? Make the pilgrimage and become a believer. -- DG

Moonlite Bar BBQ

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Owensboro, Kentucky

With the surge in interest in regional barbecue styles in recent years, how come mutton hasn't caught on? People in Kentucky have to be wondering that, especially of they've been to Owensboro for a trip to Moonlite and taken a trip through their legendary barbecue buffet, a setup that only works because it's virtually always sufficiently crowded for the hickory-smoked meats to be cycling through constantly. And sure, you'll also find chopped pork and ribs and chicken on said buffet, and they are good, but mutton is definitely the juicy heart and flavorful soul here. There's gonna be a mutton boom in 2018. You heard it here first. Sheep, beware. -- ML

Courtesy of SWLouis photography by Scott Louis

Pappy's Smokehouse

St. Louis, Missouri

In 2008, Mike Emerson and company wowed St. Louis with a Memphis-channeling barbecue joint that could make even a Tennessee transplant nod his head in begrudging approval before asking for another slab of ribs. Nearly 10 years in, Emerson has quietly stepped back from the day-to-day business operations, but thankfully the noises the customers make when tearing into Pappy's carefully rubbed, apple-and-cherrywood-smoked ribs remain anything but quiet. If you have a craving for something a little bit different, and room after the ribs, you can get yourself a Frito pie augmented with the protein of your choice. -- ML

Sarah Rossi-Sélavie Photography/Thrillist

Payne's Bar-B-Que

Memphis, Tennessee

In middle-of-nowhere Memphis, Payne’s serves one of the most revelatory sandwiches in the world. That’s tall talk, but the dim church rec room vibe contrasts a bite of meat so bright that a die-hard mustard hater couldn’t help but savor every bite of the yellow slaw piled atop scoops of dripping pork. Actually, no place with a sandwich like this can possibly be the middle of nowhere. Instead it's the exact place you want to be. -- DG

Robert Strickland

Pecan Lodge

Dallas, Texas

Spud dishes at barbecue joints typically skew toward cold potato salad, but Pecan Lodge changes the game with their Hot Mess, a sea-salted baked potato stuffed with barbacoa, chipotle cream, cheese, butter, and green onions. They also happen to cook one of the smokiest briskets in the country, packing so much mesquite flavor that each bite that you’ll need a moment to compose yourself before biting into another explosion of beef dripping with fat. Pro tip: bring a crew and order the Trough, a 5-pound bounty of their finest cuts. -- DG

Courtesy of Peg Leg Porker

Peg Leg Porker

Nashville, Tennessee

A lifelong Tennessean and longtime competition circuit regular, Casey Bringle went brick-and-mortar in 2013 with Peg Leg Porker, the name being a nod to the fact that Bringle lost a leg to bone cancer treatments at the age of 17. Fortunately for Nashville residents, Bringle's knack for smoked meat is just as strong as is persevering sense of humor. Once you bite into one of his dry-rubbed ribs, his with even more of his signature 16-ingredient, chili and paprika-forward rub after being pulled out of the smoker glistening with fat, you'll be smiling, too. -- ML

Red Bridges

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Shelby, North Carolina

First off: Red Bridges was a guy, not a series of things you drive over. Moreover, he was a guy who learned the finer points of Carolina barbecue from legend Wayne Stamey before striking out on his own to open his namesake restaurant with his wife, Lyttle, in 1949. Red passed away in 1966, leaving Lyttle to run the business into her 80s (their daughter now runs the show, Lyttle passed in 2008). That's a rich history, sure, but how's that Carolina pit barbecue? Tens of thousands of Thrillist BBQ Bracket voters couldn't be wrong. You know what would be wrong? Leaving without sampling a little of Mama B's pimento cheese while you're there. -- ML

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Picnic

Durham, North Carolina

To find a pitmaster upending North Carolina’s whole hog tradition, just drive 10 miles from downtown Durham to Picnic. Pitmaster Wyatt Dickson left turned from a law career to hog butchery, using old-school smoking techniques on new-school heritage breed pigs, then hand-pulling it into a sweet, savory, chewy mess of pork. But unlike many Spartan Carolina joints, they up the ante on sides with kale salad, fried green tomatoes, and Brunswick stew. And even if you’re not the swine-loving type, Picnic’s worth a visit for some of the juiciest and flakiest smoked buttermilk fried chicken on the planet. -- DG

Q39

Q39

Kansas City, Missouri

The latest entrant into Kansas City's pantheon of standout barbecue establishments, Q39 is the brainchild of Rob McGee, a Culinary Institute of America grad who also presided over a much-decorated competition BBQ team, and the dual respect for the respective arts of smoking meat and running a restaurant kitchen shines through. Get the judges plate with honey-glazed spare ribs, brisket, chicken and a sausage link and you won't be disappointed (especially with some help from their brightly acidic apple-enhanced slaw). Of course, they're not afraid to push boundaries here, and it results in magic like a burnt end burger, featuring ground up hunks of crusty brisket that make for a mouthwatering patty topped with -- even more burnt ends (!) and a spicy pickle slaw. Sometimes change is good. -- ML

Flickr/Eugene Mah

Scott's Bar-B-Que

Hemingway, South Carolina

Sure, Rodney Scott now presides over a red-hot namesake restaurant in Charleston that opened earlier this year (combining with John Lewis' joint to make Charleston the present talk of the barbecue world), but Hemingway is where it all started -- and where a tragic 2013 fire nearly put arguably the nation's singular whole hog barbecue operation out of commission before a fundraising tour got it back on its feet. And make no mistake, Scott's doing his typical excellent pork-related work at his new place, but there's something special about making the trek out to Hemingway and polishing off a piled-high pork plate with beans and slaw. The journey feels even more special if you get extra pork skins. -- ML

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Skylight Inn BBQ

Ayden, North Carolina

The word "Mecca" gets thrown around a lot in the barbecue world, and Skylight Inn is one of those pilgrimages that’s a requisite for any serious barbecue lover. Along the way to the tiny North Carolina town of Ayden, you’ll pass dozens of abandoned barns, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that those farmers who long since passed ate many a chopped pork sandwich for lunch. Even today after 70 years in the business, the whole town seemingly lines up to eat on a daily basis. If you’re still hungry after devouring what’s quite possibly the most iconic pork sandwich in the country, it’s also worth the trek 8 miles North to pitmaster Sam Jones’ new joint with an expanded menu and a selection of local draft beers. -- DG

Flickr/Pierluigi Miraglia

Snow's BBQ

Lexington, Texas

Women don’t get enough love in the barbecue industry, but one lady pitmaster with an unparalleled rep is Tootsie Tomanetz at Snow’s in Lexington, Texas. At this point it’s almost considered gospel that her food is the best in the state (and Texans will tell you, that means the best in the world). Five days a week she works maintenance at a local high school, but on Saturday mornings the 82-year-old Texas legend turns into a barbecue Superwoman. The line starts moving at 8am, but if you think that’s early, consider that Tootsie starts shoveling coals to prepare around 2am. -- DG

The Shed

The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Competition circuit phenoms and Food Network reality stars the Orrisons paint the picture of the ideal barbecue family. Everyone chips in, with Daddy-O making the sauce, Brad managing the pits, Mom handling the marketing, and Brooke making sure the ship doesn’t sink. Whole hog is their award-winning specialty at competitions, but at the ramshackle Ocean Springs restaurant, you can’t go wrong with any order. And the meat tastes even better with a side of live music. -- DG

Kimberly Murray/Thrillist

The Greater Good

Atlanta, Georgia

Already at three locations and growing after just four short years in business, Atlanta's The Greater Good still manages to feel more like an unassuming neighborhood joint than a burgeoning empire. The barbecue, however, does anything but fly under the radar. Tender baby back ribs, smoked chicken, and pulled pork all make for fine choices if you're into platter construction but -- and this is rarely said at barbecue joints -- don't skip the appetizers. If you do, you'll be missing out on liberally rubbed smoked chicken wings and pimento BBQ potato skins that get topped with your choice of pork or brisket (or both?). Your move, TGI Friday's. -- ML

Truth BBQ

Truth BBQ

Brenham, Texas

Cracking Texas Monthly’s canonic list of best barbecue is an achievement for any pitmaster. Doing it within two years of opening is nearly unheard of. The boys at Truth pulled it off, landing at No. 10 for their perfect execution of traditional Texas barbecue. They’re currently expanding from a tiny shack in Brenham to the big leagues of Houston, a move that’s sure to shake up the city’s barbecue hierarchy. Once you’ve reached the front of the line (expect a manageable wait around an hour), the brisket’s a must, but the jalapeño cheddar sausage puts Texas’s legacy cased meat purveyors to shame. There may be no juicier link in the state. Bonus points for their meticulous plating, which is guarantee to rack up the Instagram likes. -- ML

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