13 Not-to-Miss BBQ Joints in the Carolinas, According to Pitmasters

Everything but the squeal.

There’s no shortage of barbecue in the South, a region where smokestacks and rib joints sing their sauce-laden siren songs from the mountains to the coast and every pocket in between. And in the Carolinas, the cuisine in all its meaty multitudes invariably evokes passionate and heated debate, as its precise definition varies wildly depending on who you ask.

“Barbecue is based on geography and what piece of dirt you happen to be standing on,” says Sam Jones, third-generation pitmaster and owner of North Carolina’s dual-location Sam Jones BBQ. “It’s subject to change based on 50 to 100 miles from where you are.”

The Jones family has long been a fixture of the state’s barbecue landscape, a standing that dates back to 1947 when Sam’s grandfather Pete opened Ayden, NC’s legendary Skylight Inn. According to the seasoned ‘cue expert, capital city Raleigh marks the approximate line of demarcation between shoulder- and whole hog-focused cooking in North Carolina, but those same lines have begun to blur over the last decade or so as barbecue continues to undergo a coolness renaissance.

If we’re sticking with tradition, North Carolina’s scene can be broken down into Lexington-style and Piedmont-style: “The main difference is the introduction of tomato in the sauce in the Piedmont region,” says Jones. “In Eastern North Carolina, where vinegar is the main component, we do use a sauce with tomato for our ribs, but not in our main dish. It’s a different style of barbecue—they still cook over a wood fire, but they cook shoulders when we cook whole hogs.

Across the border in South Carolina, barbecue remains a serious subject, though the climate is markedly more lax when it comes to such strict divides. The key distinction arrives covered in sauce—vinegar-based or mustard-based, to be precise. “If you’re comparing my style and [celebrated South Carolina pitmaster] Rodney Scott’s, the main difference is what we do after we take the hog off the grill,” Jones explains. “Rodney’s sauce is still vinegar-based, but his is spicier and more peppery, and he pulls his pork and doesn’t chop it, like we do.”

Beyond the sauce, Scott and his fellow Palmetto Staters generally take a more forward-thinking approach, incorporating alternative cuts, inventive sides, and all sorts of flavors and spices. Case and point? You can’t talk about South Carolina barbecue without giving a shout out to BBQ hash. The signature dish is typically made from diced pork and potatoes, cooked chili-style in cast-iron over a wood-fueled fire and served over a bed of rice. It’s an instant crowd-charmer, so much so that Sam Jones BBQ Raleigh pitmaster Rich Pettitt, a man who’s driven across the country in pursuit of barbecue, makes a point to call the mustard-forward version peddled by Dowd’s BBQ Hash in Newberry, SC “highly addictive.”

Like all good things, the Carolinas’ barbecue scene continues to grow, evolve, and adapt. Barbecue joints now line city limits, keeping the tradition alive while adding a modern day perspective. And judging from the success and prowess of relative newcomers like Asheville’s Buxton Hall and Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, the future shines brighter than pork fat dripping on live coals. Jones commends Buxton Hall’s Elliot Moss for cranking out solid whole hog ‘cue while managing to put his own spin on it, while Lewis Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis echoes the sentiment. "Elliot was one of the first Carolina-based barbecue guys I connected with and he was really welcoming," he says. "He’s doing things his own way and I really respect how versatile the menu is."

As for the ever-iconic Rodney Scott, who's been working the pits since he was a child, it all comes down to the sense of terroir. “When it comes to BBQ I enjoy, they all have a unique taste to them,” reports the mastermind behind Charleston’s Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ. The one big difference? “Location!” he says.

North or South, East or West, Low Country, High Country, Piedmont, or Lexington, if it’s Carolina-born barbecue, odds are it slaps. So roll up your sleeves, tuck in that napkin, and gear up for this expert-recommended two-state tour of the region’s best barbecue outposts.

Buxton Hall

Asheville

The basics: A South Carolina native, chef and pitmaster Elliott Moss brings a taste of whole hog barbecue to Asheville. Succulent pulled pork, festooned with a tangy mop sauce, is what you came for, and rightfully so. But don’t sleep on the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, smoked sausage platter, and fried catfish sandwich. Sides are just as stellar as the meat, with dishes like chicken bog and South Carolina-style hash topping the list complemented by classic Southern desserts like banana pudding pie. 
What the pitmasters say: "Elliot Moss is like the Andre 3000 of bbq," says Brandon Shepard, of Emerald Isle’s Shepard Barbecue. "I go for the whole hog and then remember the hash—that stuff is too good for so many not to know about it—and then there’s the chicken sandwich that made me stop making chicken sandwiches. It’s like stepping into Moss’ mind."
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 336-249-9814 for take-out.

A staple since the ‘80s, Grady’s is a straightforward, no-frills, good old-fashioned barbecue one-stop-shop. Not only is it one of just a handful of original whole hog smokehouses left standing, it’s the only Black-owned whole hog operation in the entire state. The prized swine are cooked over wood in a pit behind the restaurant, making the BBQ pork dinner plate and BBQ sandwich frequently ordered items. Finish with a slice of creamy sweet potato pie, if you know what’s good for you. 
What the pitmasters say: “They cook whole hogs the old-school way, one of those benchmarks of North Carolina barbecue that unfortunately goes away,” says Jones of Sam Jones BBQ. “And, they’re just good people.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 919-735-7243 for take-out.

The basics: Pitmaster Wayne Monk, who opened the Lexington hub everyone knows simply as “the Monk” back in 1962, doesn’t shy away from ketchup. The sweet-and-salty condiment goes in the sauce, it goes in the slaw, and you’ll probably need a pump or two for your fries. But it’s the hefty pork shoulder, smoked slow-and-low over oak coals, that truly put Monk on the map..
What the pitmasters say: “There aren’t many places that have remained the same since they started, and that family has held the same standard this whole time,” remarks Jones. “From what I know, they’re great people, down to earth, and they still cook barbecue the way their grandaddy did, over wood. I say kudos to them—they do a great job.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 336-249-9814 for take-out.

Noble Smoke

Charlotte

The basics: A perfect mashup of Lexington and Texas-style barbecue, the folks behind Noble Smoke cook some 1,200 pounds of beef, pork, and chicken over hickory coals for hours to capture the essence of true, slow-smoked barbecue. The pork shoulders are smoked in a pit Jim Noble had commissioned to mimic Lexington Barbecue’s (with permission from the Monk family, of course). As for the menu, Miss Mary’s platter is a solid way to taste the rainbow here, but if that’s too aggressive, a pulled pork sandwich, capped with Western-style slaw and cradled in a soft bun, will do the job. When the meat is gone, so too are the customers, so plan your visit on the earlier side. 
What the pitmasters say: “Lexington and Texas style bbq in Charlotte—great chopped BBQ, turkey, and sides,” notes Sam Jones BBQ Raleigh pitmaster Rich Pettitt. “Ask for a pit tour!” 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Pik N Pig

Carthage

The basics: Opened in 2007 by third-generation barbecue pros Janie and Ashley Sheppard, this family-owned heavy hitter offers hickory-smoked ‘cue in a homestyle setting, albeit attached to a small but definitely active airport. Slow-smoked Boston butts, ribs, and chicken plus sides a’plenty are available on the daily.  
What the pitmasters say: “It’s a one of a kind experience, eating good BBQ while watching planes land and take off,” says Pettitt. “People even fly in just to eat.”
How to book it: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via ChowNow.

Sam Jones BBQ
Sam Jones BBQ | Photo courtesy of Forrest Mason Media

The basics: A prime example of Carolina barbecue’s leap into the 21st century, Sam Jones BBQ serves alcohol, accepts credit cards, and lists both small plates and salads on the menu. But don’t let the newfangled additions fool you—Jones smokes his whole hogs the same exact way his grandfather Pete once did at the famed (and still operating) Skylight Inn in nearby Ayden. 
What the pitmasters say: "I love the way that they not only put coleslaw on the sandwiches, but also have chopped up skin mixed in with the pork—delicious,” raves Charleston barbecue titan Rodney Scott. "Sam and I have been on the barbecue circuit together for a while now and I’ve always been impressed with his attention to detail and commitment to the craft," adds Lewis. "His whole hog is some of the best I’ve ever tried and I appreciate how he’s combined his old-school roots with a modern menu."
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

Helmed by pitmaster Robbie Robinson, this popular food truck is known statewide for its Texas and Carolina-style barbecue. The spread features wood-smoked meats accompanied by a roster of scratchmade sides that change frequently. And when they sell out, that’s all, folks, so be prepared to show up early or risk leaving empty handed.
What the pitmasters say: Pettit calls this ambitious venture “a contender for the best brisket in South Carolina,” and advises hungry hopefuls to “check Instagram or join the email list for the schedule—Robinson pops up on Saturdays—and snag a beef rib when you see them on the menu.”
How to book: Track down the truck for counter service.

Home Team BBQ

Multiple locations

On the progressive end of the smoky spectrum sits Home Team Barbecue, a six-location empire hard-bent on marrying age-old traditions with the trends of today. Think: Slow-cooked meats galore, but also tacos, wraps, and comfort food-inspired snacks plus a fun beverage menu with an expansive Whiskey selection and frozen cocktails. 
What the pitmasters say: Scott enthusiastically recommends “their wings, pork sandwich, and of course, Boudin balls.” 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Lewis Barbecue

Charleston

Texas native John Lewis, whose resume boasts stints at Austin gamechangers La Barbecue and Franklin Barbecue, continues to shake up South Carolina’s ‘cue scene by cooking up some of the region’s very best brisket inside his meticulous, custom-built smokers. Pulled pork and spare ribs are a vision, however, the beef short ribs (when available), Texas hot gut sausages, and juicy turkey will keep you coming back for more… and more.
What the pitmasters say: Don’t forget the sides, says Pettitt, who puts his stamp of approval on the green chile corn pudding, a mess of cheesy cornbread littered with verdant Hatch chiles. 
How to book it: Stop by for first come, first served seating and order inside, order take-out via Toast, or get nationwide shipping online.

Scott's Bar-B-Que
Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que | Photo by Angie Mosier

Rodney Scott is easily the biggest barbecue star to emerge from South Carolina in years. The pitmaster’s name now graces restaurants from Atlanta to Birmingham, but he got his start at this convenience store owned by his parents, where whole hogs still get the wood-fired treatment after being rubbed down with a satisfyingly immodest amount of pepper. 
What the pitmasters say: “First off, it’s good," says Jones. "I think it complements his style and is very unique.”
How to book it: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 843-558-0134 for take-out.

Sweatman's BBQ

Holly Hill

Like many of the nation’s greatest barbecue institutions, Sweatman’s keeps very short hours: The restaurant is open exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays. But customers can go through the buffet line as many times as they’d like, so you won’t have to skimp on the magnificent pulled pork to make room for hash or banana pudding.
What the pitmasters say: “A must stop when going to or from Charleston,” says Pettitt, noting his particular devotion to the mustard-based sauce.
How to book it: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 803-496-1227 for take-out.

Swig & Swine

Charleston

With three locations scattered throughout Charleston, pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo brings house-smoked meats and sides with a twist to South Carolina. The menu spans all the meat you could ever dream up, including pulled pork, turkey, chicken, brisket, sausage, and more, but fans constantly gravitate toward DiBernardo’s smoked chicken wings, corn pudding, and peanut butter pie. 
What the pitmasters say: "I'll either grab their turkey or pulled pork,” says Scott. “They also have mouthwatering chunks of belly that are incredible.”
How to book it: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

Garren “Jon G” and Kelly Kirkman's story starts out with an unparalleled love for brisket. And after years of working around the clock while also slinging their precious barbecue meat, Jon G's came to life in 2020. You’re naturally there for the beefy belle of the ball, but the Porky B tacos and every last succulent side should also make your list. 
What the pitmasters say: "My guy, Garren Kirkman, is so next level right now," extols Shepard. "His brisket is Texas Monthly-certified and his ribs are ridiculous—if you want a Texas experience in North Carolina, this is the spot."
How to book:  Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 704-272-6301 for take-out.

Jenn Rice is a contributor for Thrillist. 
Hanna Raskin is a contributor for Thrillist.