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Pat Martin’s whole-hog BBQ empire continues to grow with new outposts announced for Louisville and Spring Hill, but it’s the dramatic new pitmaster playground that he constructed Downtown that is really generating buzz. Four whole hog pits contribute a hickory smoked incense that draws tourists and locals alike into the full-service fast-casual restaurant on the ground floor or the upstairs beer garden. Order any of Martin’s meats on a corncake known as a Redneck Taco for a unique experience.
The godfather of BBQ in Nashville, Jack Cawthon opened this spot in 1976 overlooking the riverfront on Broadway and 1st Ave. It was one of the few successful restaurants on lower Broad back when Demonbreun St was nothing but wax museums. Today, it have two other locations, and the original now sits just a few blocks up next to Tootsies. It doesn’t discriminate on style, with a range of Tennessee pork shoulder, Texas brisket, smoked Boston turkey, and St. Louis ribs -- and it's all delicious.
You know you’ve found an authentic BBQ joint when your seating options are picnic tables on a screened-in porch. Hog Heaven has introduced a lot of Nashvillians to their first good ‘cue for more than 25 years, and its Alabama-style white sauce served with smoked chicken or turkey is truly remarkable.
Beloved by tourists for its biscuits and fried chicken, locals know The Loveless Café as a reliable spot for quality barbecue. Just a mere 20 minutes from Downtown, it’s worth the drive to sink your teeth into the pit-cooked pork or the pit-smoked turkey with cranberry barbecue sauce. Watermelon ribs are a specialty you’ll not likely see anywhere else in town, so don’t skip it.
Tucked behind the high rises of the Gulch, Peg Leg Porker has become a star on the Nashville BBQ scene since opening in 2013, and an expanded second story is in the plans for the popular restaurant. A Nashville native, pitmaster Carey Bringle was raised on West Tennessee traditions and smokes his barbecue low and slow (as the pork gods intended) with a Memphis-style sauce on the side. Try the Memphis Sushi, a sausage and cheese platter on saltines, or the BBQ nachos to start, followed by the dry ribs, pulled pork platter, or the yardbird smothered in a tangy, white sauce with a Kool-Aid pickle on the side.
Edley’s is pretty much the perfect combination of BBQ and the Southern tradition of meat and three. Now with a trio of Nashville locations in 12th South, East Nashville, and, the newest, in Sylvan Park, Edley’s continues to be wildly popular among aficionados. We recommend the Tuck Special, a brisket sandwich with house-made spicy pimento cheese, over-easy egg, and red and white sauce, or perhaps the pork tacos with slaw and pico de gallo. Sides are made daily, ranging from eight to 10 choices of secret family recipes.
Bacon and Caviar, or B & C, began as a catering company where the smoked meats became the routinely requested encore. All sides are made from scratch daily, making it hard to choose just two or three, but the "Grits of the Day" is a safe bet. Forgo the bun and get the pulled pork over grits with a side of smoked or fried pork egg rolls. The second location downtown is one of the best dining destinations at the Nashville Farmer’s Market.
Puckett’s is known for its Southern staples like the chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and meat and three platters, but its cherry wood-smoked barbecue is some of the best around. And the serving options are endless -- whether you choose pulled pork, brisket, ribs or chicken, you can have it in a skillet, on a platter with greens and smoked Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese, in a sandwich like the Tennessee Philly and Mojo Burger, or in a tortilla known as the “Redneck Burrito.”
Bar-B-Cutie is a long-running Nashville tradition that started out in a downtown pie wagon in 1940 then became a South Nashville Car Hop in the ‘50s, all before evolving into a successful smokehouse chain with multiple locations throughout Middle Tennessee and beyond. Its Southern-style sides are made fresh daily and the banana pudding is certainly worth the struggle of saving room for dessert.
Butchertown Hall may not be what you’d expect from a best-of-barbecue list, but this eatery smokes some of the juiciest, German-inspired barbecue with a taste of Texas Hill Country. Its brisket is slow-cooked for 14 hours over white oak chips, charred to perfection, and served with either handmade tortillas, Texas toast, or on a sandwich. Go for the Texas Trinity and sample the brisket with ribs and house-made sausage.
Barbecue joints are certainly known for their lack of pretentiousness, but no place in town is more modest than The Gambling Stick, a small food truck and canvas tent tucked into the corner of Porter Road Butcher’s parking lot. But, oh, what they’re cooking up in that tiny trailer! Try the “pigsket” for a unique flavor and textural experience that you won’t find in a regular ole pulled shoulder sandwich. And the sweet and spicy baked beans flavored with burnt ends is one of the most remarkable side dishes at any BBQ joint in town.
Mainly known for soul food and meat-and-three fare, Swett’s upped its barbecue game a few years back when it added a new serving line and modern smokehouse dedicated to just smoked meats including ribs, pulled pork, chicken, brisket, and pork chops. It also serve delicious rib tips, a specialized dish found more often in Chicago than in the South. Pro tip: Finish off your meal with one of Swett’s signature cobblers.