It’s hard to remember what Charleston was like before Lewis Barbecue moved into the neighborhood -- granted it was only 2 years ago, but that feels like a lifetime to live without hot guts and brisket (plus what would we do without puffy tacos from Juan Luis in Workshop?). The brisket is an absolute must-try (John Lewis is a Texan, after all), and if you stop by on a Saturday, try to get a rack of short ribs before they sell out -- they absolutely live up to the hype.
There’s a reason Rodney Scott won a James Beard Award this year: his barbecue is absolutely delicious. While the pulled pork and bbq chicken are both solid choices, the real magic here is in the ribs. Pair them with a side of hushpuppies (with a drizzle of honey) and mac and cheese, and you’re in for a good time.
Black Wood Smokehouse opened last year quietly and without a lot of fanfare, but they are definitely a sleeper hit, because everything they do--from the cocktails to the ‘cue--is top notch. Their BLT for example has bacon and pork belly, which is definitely a sign of a quality establishment. Pro tip: save room for dessert, because the caramel pound cake is a must try.
The goal at Swig & Swine is to marry delicious, smoky BBQ with cold craft beer, a favorite combination for those of us south of the Mason-Dixon. The menu is full of meats that are slow-smoked in a custom-built smoker, which you can see working hard whenever you pass by. Can’t decide between all the delicious options on the menu? Get the family platter, served with seven different types of meat, plus your choice of three excellent sides (I recommend the baked beans, mac and cheese, and pickled veggies).
Part of the Dukes' family of BBQ joints that span the state, this ‘cue spot requires a totally empty stomach to take advantage of the buffet lin-up. If nothing else, you should come here for mac and cheese alone. It’s creamy and delicious, and almost manages to overshadow the slightly smoky pork.
West Ashley (& other locations)
If ribs are more your thing, then head to Home Team BBQ. The ribs have been dubbed the “most life-changing ribs” you’ll ever eat. Prepare to leave the restaurant with a whole new outlook on life. They’re dry-rubbed and slow-smoked, so each bite is packed with flavor.
Bessinger’s is like two restaurants in one. First, you’ve got the buffet side, which is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and is loaded with BBQ and other Southern favorites. Then, you’ve got the basic order-at-the-counter sandwich shop, where you can get specialties like the Big Joe (chopped BBQ pork sandwich), served with signature steak fries and a giant onion ring (which is really more of an onion donut, on account of how sweet it is. Which is perfectly fine with us.)
If you’re willing to make the drive out to Moncks Corner, you’ll find some of the best chopped pork and catfish stew in the low country at Music Man’s Bar-B-Que. The atmosphere is family oriented and no frills, offering only two sauces for you to choose from. You should choose the vinegar sauce, because hot damn, that stuff is good.
If you’re looking for a bar to watch the latest sports game over some quality BBQ, Cumberland Smokehouse is the place. Its chicken wings are kiler, and the ribs tend to sell out when they’re on special. The best thing on the menu, though, is the loaded duck fat fries, topped with pulled chicken or pork, smoked cheddar, jalapeños, and bacon, with a side of the white BBQ sauce.
Smoky Oak is a James Island favorite that is constantly packed full of people waiting to gorge themselves on BBQ. In addition to classic ribs and pulled pork, it offers more unique takes on BBQ, like wood-grilled quesadillas stuffed with hickory-smoked pork, BBQ chicken pizza, or the “Spudzilla,” a giant baked potato stuffed with beef brisket, cheese sauce, chili, bacon, and green onions.
The newest member of the Charleston BBQ family, Poogan’s Smokehouse is one of Downtown’s best places to find some ‘cue. It already has name recognition from its ever-popular sister restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. The Smokehouse does a great job marrying upscale Southern cuisine with BBQ. Try the pork belly/pulled pork sliders with “Red Neck” kimchee and Duke’s mayo, served on Hawaiian rolls. You’ll see exactly what we mean.
Downtown & Mount Pleasant
When a BBQ food truck takes over the space formerly occupied by a vegan restaurant, you can bet it's out to prove itself. Smoke BBQ’s menu is full of sandwiches (on buns from Brown’s Court Bakery) and tacos that are sure to please any barbecue fanatic. If you’re more of a purist, opt for the smoked chicken wings, which are fantastic. Before you leave, be sure to try a shot of the house-made cinnamon whiskey.