The 41 American Barbecue Joints You Need to Try Right Now

We know your mouth is watering already.

Feges Barbecue Platter
Feges Barbecue Platter | ROBERT JACOB LERMA
Feges Barbecue Platter | ROBERT JACOB LERMA

Much like a good sauce, the exact origins of the word “barbecue” are storied and messy. The word “barbacoa” is can be traced back to what the Spanish called the indigenous peoples’ way of cooking meats over a wooden platform. And there have been generations of debate about what meat, method, marinade, and municipality makes for the “best” barbecue in this country. What is undeniable, however, is that the cuisine’s very existence can be attributed to America’s indigenous people and enslaved Africans. And, like a new Netflix documentary, we want to give credit where credit is due.

From your typical barbecue capitals like Texas, the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City, and St. Louis to some unexpected joints in Phoenix, Richmond, Brooklyn, and Portland, the following 41 spots have been vetted by a team of writers, testers, and pitmasters. Some have survived for generations, even opening up second locations, rebounding after fires, and, of course, withstanding the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is a diverse list of pitmasters that reflects who is really sweating over smokers while challenging the status quo.

So read on to find out our favorite barbecue joints in America to get tender brisket bark, sticky glazed ribs, juicy smoked pork, heaping jalapeño mac and cheese, honey-laced cornbread, and a gooey slice of triple chocolate cake for dessert. We know your mouth is watering already.

17th Street Barbecue
Courtesy of 17th Street Barbecue

Murphysboro, Illinois 
Few figures in barbecue are as revered as the late Mike Mills and as respected as his daughter Amy, the driving forces behind 17th Street BBQ. Since the early ’90s, 17th Street’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.

Advertisement

Courtesy of Travel Texas

There’s truly no place like Texas when it comes to barbecue. You’ll find various styles of its signature slow-smoked, pit-style brisket, pulled pork, and ribs at festivals, food trucks, and restaurants across the state — which means you’re going to need to stay awhile to try them all. Plan your Texas vacation now and travel when you’re ready to have a barbecue experience that’ll blow your mind (or at least your taste buds).

Beast Craft Barbecue
Jennifer Silverberg

Belleville, Illinois
There are many paths to achieve the title of pitmaster. These days barbecue is embraced by not just local boys following in family traditions, but fine dining chefs seduced by fire, smoke, and an escape from the pretension of upscale kitchen culture. Beast’s David Sandusky followed that path, bringing chefy meticulousness and a reverence for ingredients to St. Louis’s barbecue scene. Along the way he’s racked up a kitchen counter worth of local and national awards, as well as a radio co-hosting gig on The Budweiser Big BBQ Show. At Beast, Old Hickory pits smoke only the finest proteins, from Duroc pork to Wagyu brisket. Although, of course, it offers the traditional combo plate fair, the most popular orders are rarer finds: a reverse seared pork steak and Brussels sprouts. Plus, now you can order BBQ online, both for pickup and delivery.

Big Bob Gibson's
Claus Peuckert

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.

Blood Bros.
Blood Bros.

Houston, Texas
What started out as a pop-up between brothers Robin and Terry Wong (of Glitter Karaoke fame) and best friend/chief smoker Quy Hoang has turned into a full-on barbecue love affair. The “blood brothers” opened their brick-and-mortar location in Bellaire in 2018, taking inspiration from their Chinese and Vietnamese roots to create next-gen, outside-the-box barbecue that changes everything you thought you knew about smoke. Get ingenious specials like brisket burnt end steamed buns, gochujang glazed pork ribs, smoked turkey banh mi, and thit nuong pork belly.

See the top barbecue spots in all of Houston.

Blu’s Barbecue
Blu’s Barbecue

Dallas, Texas
More precious goods have never been found inside a shipping container than the smoky delights served up by the innovative smoke-gurus who’ve turned one of the steel giants into their kitchen and smoker facility. Daily specials add to the appeal of this creative-minded team with an ever-changing array of unique offerings—including prime rib, smoked brisket tamales, and the occasional whole smoked alligator—in addition to traditional plates and sandwiches made from brisket, Akaushi sausage, turkey, or pulled pork. Make sure to try the bacon-jalapeño mac & cheese, as well as bacon cookies when available.

See the top barbecue spots in all of Dallas.

Bludso’s
Bludso’s

Los Angeles, California
Sadly, the OG Bludso’s in Compton is gone, but the fancier La Brea offshoot lives on, taking Kevin Bludso’s original recipes—juicy brisket smoked low and slow for 14 hours, great pork ribs, amazing pulled pork—and giving them the love they deserve. In addition to its bevy of barbecue dishes available for instant gratification, you can also get Bludso’s @ Home frozen and vacuum-sealed family-size portions of whole brisket, smoked pork shoulder, and Texas red hot links along with refrigerated sides, all with reheating instructions and whole pans of that standout banana pudding.

Buxton Hall Barbecue
Buxton Hall Barbecue

Asheville, North Carolina
Stepping into Buxton Hall Barbecue is like stepping into the technicolor mind of barbecue cook Elliott Moss, the Florence, South Carolina, native who has infused his entire being into the craft of whole-hog barbecue. The old skating rink-turned-barbecue restaurant, open since August 2015, features brick bones, wood floors, and vintage hand-painted murals—the perfect backdrop for Moss’s whimsical talents. Son of a welder and South Carolina barbecue traditions, Moss incorporates regional delights into the Buxton repertoire including hog’s head hash and chicken bog in addition to his Eastern North Carolina style whole hog barbecue with its vinegary red-pepper flecked mop, while his seasonal sides utilize the properties of wood smoke, fire, and hog fat as law.

Cattleack
Shana Anderson/Thrillist

Farmers Branch, 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. Cattleack is just one of several places raising Dallas’s barbecue profile to a full-on destination. And in addition to some of the best-tasting, fattiest brisket in the state, there are few bites of meat in the barbecue world as indulgent as their intensely-marbled Akaushi beef ribs.

Central BBQ
Central BBQ

Memphis, Tennessee
Now with four local restaurants and a Nashville outpost, Central BBQ frequently tops local polls for best barbecue. Known for the slow smoked Memphis-style ribs, it’s the barbecue nachos top the sales charts. Made with tortilla chips or house-made barbecue chips, two kinds of cheese, sauce, and your choice of pulled pork, smoked chicken, or a smoked portabella mushroom, they are hard to beat. Plus, the 14-plus-hour smoked pork shoulders still yield some of the juiciest chopped pork sandwiches around and Central’s ribs that continue to be mandatory in any discussion of Memphis’ best. Another bonus, when the dining rooms are open, is the self-serve sauces: mild, hot, vinegar, and mustard.

Cozy Corner BBQ
Cozy Corner BBQ

Memphis, Tennessee
A hometown favorite, Cozy Corner is one of the most iconic shops in town run by four generations of Robinsons. Though Cozy Corner is well (and rightly) known for its barbecued Cornish hens, the ribs shouldn’t be overlooked. Either way, plan to get messy. Raymond Robinsons built his legacy with a Chicago-style smoker where meat is placed on the lowest rack then progressively moved upward until it is smoked to perfection. His wife, Desiree, became the part-time pitmaster after his passing and recently became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame.

Feges Barbecue Platter
Feges Barbecue Platter | Feges BBQ

Houston, Texas
Cooking with all wood in a food court? A barbecue skeptic might decry it as impossible, but the folks from Feges have found a way to bring legit smoked meats into the heart of Houston’s Greenway Plaza mixed use development, and are about to open a second location in Spring Branch. Erin Smith first opened Feges with her husband Patrick Feges after first barbecuing with a backyard Brinkman vertical smoker and taking a left turn towards fine dining at iconic spots ranging from Underbelly to Per Se. Naturally, they take their brisket seriously, but one thing that sets them apart from other Texans is a love of whole hog cooking, done crispy Carolina-style over wood burned to the coals. And while many Texas joints get away with considering sides an afterthought, Feges puts them front and center, with 12 daily choices that range from Moroccan glazed carrots to elote corn salad. Not only that, but the spot is currently looking to hire more women on staff, so what’s not to like?

Fette Sau
Fette Sau

Brooklyn, New York
Translating into “fat pig” in German, this popular Williamsburg spot serves by-the-pound smoked meats that’s one part Central Texas, and another part New York deli. An order of their black angus beef brisket comes with half a pound of delicious, slow-smoked meat coated in a house-made dry rub and their renowned burnt end baked beans is made with pork and beef that’s slowly cooked in beans overnight. With items usually selling out quickly, be sure to check their Instagram for any menu changes or specials of the day.

franklin bbq
Courtesy of 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 the 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. Franklin wrote the book on modern Texas brisket—quite literally, plus a recent cookbook on the art of mastering steak—so lest you think that his now-iconic smokestack is all hype… well, all you need is a bite of that brisket to be converted. The waiting, as the late bard Tom Petty said, is the hardest part.

Grady's BBQ
Grady's BBQ

Dudley, North Carolina
When one thinks of cooking of whole hogs over a bed of oak and hickory embers served with a vinegar-pepper base sauce, they should know about pitmaster 86-year-old pitmaster Stephen Grady and his wife Gerri’s down-home restaurant in Eastern North Carolina. The joint has inside seating for about 16 guests and lots of parking spots. The pork is delicious, but don’t sleep on the sides. A to-go styrofoam box with meat, collard greens or cabbage, black-eyed peas, hush puppies, lightly seasoned boiled potatoes, and sweet potato pie is a perfect meal to eat in the car.

Harp Barbecue
Harp Barbecue

Raytown, Missouri
When it comes to barbecue, Kansas City is not doctrinaire. In contrast to the borderline-puritanical ideas of perfection that define the other great regions, KC is messy and proud of it. Enter local man Tyler Harp, a Texophile who's bringing Lone Star State technique to a dusty dirt lot in the blue-collar suburb known for being the setting of the sitcom Mama's Family. Harp grew up watching his dad and uncle cook on the competitive ’cue circuit, but had his own epiphany on a trip to Texas, where he found brisket and sausage could up the game back home. He started cooking in his backyard and selling briskets out of his driveway before securing a spot at Crane Brewing. Harp has been to 300 of the best barbecue spots in the country, and says he learns something everywhere he goes. Check weekend specials like Cajun shrimp poutine, Texas-sliced brisket, and whole pork butt.

Heim
Heim

Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas
Husband-and-wife team Travis and Emma Heim began their BBQ journey in 2015 when they opened a food truck that quickly drew massive crowds and daily sell-outs. Now they have three brick-and-mortar locations showcasing their “farm to smoker” philosophy, which includes the highest quality pork from Niman Ranch and Certified Angus Beef Prime Grade brisket. They’ve sold over a million pounds of smoked meats to date, thanks in no small part to show stoppers including impeccably moist brisket (life’s too short for lean), bacon burnt ends, brisket-topped burgers, and addictive green chile mac & cheese.


 

hometown bbq
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Brooklyn, New York
It's safe to say that Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que is NYC’s current ’cue king. With locations in Red Hook and Industry City, Durney’s spots serve up Brooklyn-style barbecue (true to the namesake) that utilize southern cooking techniques reflecting the diverse flavor profiles found in his home borough. Vietnamese wings, Caribbean jerk baby back ribs, Oaxacan marinated chicken, and Korean sticky ribs are just some of the items to enjoy along with Texas-style brisket, pulled pork, collard greens, and Hometown slaw.

Jones BBQ
Jones BBQ

Kansas City, Kansas
In general, you should be skeptical of any pit that made its bones off TV fame. But this low-key pit operated by sisters Deborah “Shorty” and Mary “Little” Jones are getting a much-deserved reappraisal in the wake of an appearance on Queer Eye. The Jones sisters learned to ’cue at the knee of their father, and they’re now standard-bearers of family barbecue traditions. In an era when so much KC barbecue comes off propane-assisted commercial pits, the Jones sisters only burn logs in the weathered old locker smoker in the parking lot of their cinder block shack. The charms of their messy, saucy, bark-heavy plates are immediately obvious. They don’t trim the meat into pristine competition cuts, but rather use thick smoke and tangy sauce to summon something primal from the blackened burnt ends, which are miracle morsels of fat, smoke, salt, and sweet. And the sisters are still innovating. In 2020, Jones installed a 24/7 barbecue vending machine where customers can get chicken wings and sandwiches on demand.

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner

Marianna, Arkansas
Perhaps the oldest BBQ spot in the country, owned and operated by fourth-generation pitmaster James Jones, this diner is a no-frills place, but an experience when you make the drive from Memphis, Tennessee. Located in the Arkansas Delta, this jewel started with a hole in the ground before Jones’ grandfather built the cinder blocks pits. The cooking pits are fired directly with hickory embers. Starting at 6 am, you can get the pulled pork sandwich, served with coleslaw or without, and a vinegar pepper-based BBQ sauce on fresh white bread. If you are lucky, you can get links, but it's not a daily offering. Jones is even going strong after a devastating fire in March and, thanks to massive community donations, continues to sell out as workers finish up a new shed to cover a new smoker and pit.

La BBQ
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

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 just recently opened its own brick-and-mortar. The dry-rubbed brisket at la Barbecue is smoked from 12-15 hours at a low temp; when it’s sliced, you can see the distinct pink ring that indicates a textbook smoke and its melt-in-your-mouth moisture. The housemade sausage, pulled pork, house vinegar-based sauce, and spicy mac & cheese also shine. Stop by the new location at 2401 E. Cesar Chavez for first-come, first-served seating or order takeout online.

Lem's BBQ
Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

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, the oldest Black-owned barbecue spot in Chicago, 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. Be sure to note that Lem’s is takeout only and, currently, only three customers are allowed inside at a time.

Lewis BBQ
Courtesy of Lewis BBQ

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. Lewis continues to expand, opening a permanent spot for his Mexican offshoot, Juan Luis, this fall and a second barbecue outpost in Greenville in 2022.

Lexington Barbecue North Carolina
Courtesy of Lexington Visitors Center

Lexington, North Carolina
As the small city of Lexington grew in barbecue might (it boasts more than 20 joints despite a population of less than 20,000), the Piedmont school of Carolina barbecue, with its vinegar-ketchup 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 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. Add some of the slaw (which, yes, also has that ketchup sauce) and it’s perfection. There’s a reason Wayne Monk was recently inducted into the American Royal Association’s Barbecue Hall of Fame.

Little Miss BBQ
Courtesy of 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. Whether you stop into the Sunnyslope location or the original on University Drive, the brisket can’t be ignored, but plan a visit wisely, as the daily specials like pastrami deserve a place on any combo plate.

Louie Mueller BBQ
Courtesy of Louie Mueller BBQ

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 boss 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.

matt's bbq
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Portland, Oregon
Never mind that pitmaster Matt Vicedomini grew up on Long Island and learned his craft in Australia. Ever since he first fired up his offset smoker in a pawn shop parking lot in 2015, Vicedomini has been smoking ’cue that could make a Texan weep when they have to go back home. His tender brisket’s bark comes with a perfect love bite of salt and pepper, the white-oak-smoked ribs look like a Platonic ideal and taste of pure soul, and the cheese and jalapeño hot links are West-coast legend. Vicedomini is slowly building a barbecue empire in Portland, with an Austin-style brisket taco cart. But come to the original Matt’s BBQ trailer in North Portland for straight-ahead Texas barbecue as good as you'll find it anywhere in the country, certified as “rad” by Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue. A tip, though? Pre-order your food online, which can be placed both the same day or 48 hours in advance.

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Owensboro, Kentucky
Debates have raged for years about what’s the superior regional barbecue style—is it Memphis or Kansas City? Alabama or East Texas? Folks in Western Kentucky have a completely different dog in that fight. Specifically, the city of Owensboro is sort of the de facto capital of mutton barbecue—that’s a style of barbecue made from the meat of an adult sheep, if you’re scoring at home. Moonlite BBQ is a regional destination for its barbecue buffet with signature sides and, of course, a focus on mutton (some Kentuckians prefer cross-town rival Old Hickory Bar-B-Que, but that’s part of the fun). Chopped or sliced, mutton is similar to traditional brisket, if a bit richer in flavor, and it holds up to whatever kind of sauce you want to throw its way. When in Kentucky, make time for some Moonlite mutton.

Pappy's
Courtesy of SWLouis photography by Scott Louis

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. Ten 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. Pappy’s opened a second location in St. Peters in the fall of 2020 with a very similar menu sans fried food. But, don’t worry, you can still get sides like cornbread and a baked potato. 

Payne's BBQ
Sarah Rossi-Sélavie Photography/Thrillist

Memphis, Tennessee
Driving down Lamar Avenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a hand-drawn sign on the front door of Payne’s that read “Please open.” Three generations of Paynes have kept this modest cinder block building with a recessed pit set into the wall full of hickory coals going for four decades—and it reopened in June of 2020. 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.

Ragtop Fern

Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles doesn’t have a barbecue style to call its own, but few American cities have a street food culture as vibrant. It’s led pitmasters to take to the streets, or rather, their front yards. Ragtop Fern isn’t your traditional barbecue restaurant, but rather a weekend pop-up on the stoop of the self-taught pitmaster’s home. The address is kept secret, but the tales of his barbecue have spread far and wide, with a brisket and beef ribs that would make Texas proud, as well as finger-licking pork ribs, all cooked on a smoker that the owner welded himself. It’s a cozy operation, all tucked under one small tent, but the cramped quarters make it likely that another patron will have an extra beer to share (naturally, it’s BYOB). Curious to try it yourself? The only way is to make like a millennial and slide into those Instagram DMs to place an order.

Rodney Scott's BBQ
Rodney Scott's BBQ

Charleston, South Carolina
Few have done more to celebrate whole-hog barbecue than James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott (who just came out with his first cookbook in March). In 2016, after years of learning his craft at his family's barbecue restaurant in nearby Hemingway, Scott opened his restaurant in Charleston. In addition to the traditional vinegary chopped pork, Scott BBQ offers fried catfish and pit-smoked and spice-rubbed chicken, turkey, and steak. The incredibly smoky and slightly sweet pork spareribs are also a nice surprise on the menu. Don't miss the house-made sides, especially the peppery and creamy coleslaw and the velvety collard greens seasoned with pork. If you still have room, Ella’s Banana Puddin’ is a sweetly satisfying way to finish your feast.

Sam Jones BBQ
Sam Jones BBQ

Raleigh, North Carolina 
Sam Jones, third-generation pitmaster, brings a glimpse of Eastern North Carolina barbecue to Raleigh—his first venture into a city— by way of Sam Jones BBQ. Jones, who spent his teens working at Skylight Inn alongside his family, in Ayden, where the menu focused on whole hog barbecue, coleslaw, and cornbread. Jones opened the first Sam Jones BBQ location in Winterville with a straightforward menu and a focus on barbecue pork. The Raleigh location features a replica menu of its sister spot, as Jones is a firm believer in sticking to what the team does well: whole hog barbecue. The hogs are cooked on a wood-fired pit for hours, in the smokehouse on site, until crisped to perfection—and chopped, never pulled. The best way to get a full taste of the institution is by way of the Jones Family Original BBQ Tray, complete with iconic barbecue pork, cornbread, and a side. The BBQ sandwich with slaw (an original recipe, with lots of sugar) with baked beans, where ground beef plays an important taste factor role, are not to be missed. On any given day, the place is packed so plan accordingly.

 

Scott’s Parker’s
Scott’s Parker’s

Lexington, Tennessee
First about the convoluted name of this West Tennessee barbecue institution: This isn't some odd Ruth’s Chris Steak House situation. This joint is so old school that when Ricky Parker purchased the business that B.E. “Early” Scott started in 1960, he didn’t even add his own name to the sign for two decades. Now Ricky’s son Zach carries on the tradition of whole hog barbecue, muscling huge pigs onto grates set atop cinderblock pits stoked with shovelfuls of glowing embers to provide the heat and the flavor. The pits are then covered with sheets of cardboard to insulate the hogs while they take their 24-hour smoke nap. You’re guaranteed to enjoy a delicious bite of an almost bygone piece of barbecue history. But get there early, because when they run out of whole hog, they close for the day until the next round of pigs emerge from the pits tomorrow.

the shed
The Shed

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.

Skylight Inn
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Ayden, North Carolina
The word “pilgrimage” gets tossed around a lot in BBQ circles, but Skylight Inn is one of those destinations 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-plus years in the business, Skylight Inn sees seemingly the whole town line 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’ other joint with an expanded menu and a selection of local draft beers.

smittys market
Smitty’s Market | Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Lockhart, Texas
Walking into Smitty’s, you know you are in for a treat when you have to walk right past the fire that heats the brick pits. Black soot covers the inside public foyer and pit room from the years of cooking inside a building. The pit room and line to purchase meat are not separate. Texas BBQ is most famously known today for its indirect smoking approach to cooking meat—it's perfection at Smitty’s. The brisket, jalapeño sausage, and pork ribs are cooked and served fresh off the pit after they go to the enormous wooden chopping block behind the cash register to your plate. If you are a Texas BBQ enthusiast, all roads should go through Lockhart.

snow's bbq
Flickr/Pierluigi Miraglia

Lexington, Texas
Women don’t get enough love in the barbecue industry, but one lady pitmaster with an unparalleled rep is Tootsie Tomanetz (who you might recognize from Netflix’s Chef’s Table). 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 octangerian Texas legend turns into a barbecue Superwoman. The line starts moving at 8 am, but if you think that’s early, consider that Tootsie starts shoveling coals to prepare around 2 am. 

Sweet Lew's Barbeque
Sweet Lew's Barbeque

Charlotte, North Carolina
Lewis Donald jumped on the barbecue scene in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte, a city not typically known for its barbecue traditions like the pork shoulders of Lexington fame or the whole hog further east. Sweet Lew’s lives inside an old service station in a historically working-class neighborhood, and it’s exactly what a barbecue joint should be—unfussy and homey, with casual counter service and a concise menu of chopped-pork sandwiches with Lexington-style slaw, barbecue spare ribs, smoked chicken, and classic sides (don’t sleep on the boiled potatoes) along with a rotating list of daily specials. More than that, Sweet Lew’s has done something unique in a city where rapid growth and shiny new concepts have often done more harm than good to its longtime residents—it’s become part of the neighborhood, and quick.

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. In 2019, they expanded from a tiny shack in Brenham to the big leagues of Houston, a move that surely shook up the city’s barbecue hierarchy. Once you’ve reached the front of the line (expect a manageable wait around an hour), the brisket is 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 meticulous plating, which is guaranteed to rack up the Instagram likes, and a killer triple-chocolate cake for dessert.

ZZQ RIbs
ZZQ RIbs | Fred Elliot

Richmond, Virginia
You know the old saying: You can take the Texan out of Texas... The Lone Star State’s barbecue style is perhaps the most exported of any region so it’s natural to be skeptical of imitators, but Richmond’s ZZQ is the real deal, started by a native Austinite (raised in Mesquite), who honors his home state by cooking some of the best brisket you’ll find outside its boundaries. The three, 1,000-gallon offset pits are imported from Austin Smoke Works and burn local white oak (traditional post oak would be “inauthentic to the region”). The brisket rub is spiked with a few other herbs, but it doesn’t deviate too far from the coarse black pepper and salt standard. Still, this is Virginia, so the pulled pork shoulder is finished with an Eastern North Carolina/Southern Virginia vinegar sauce, and sides include tomato pie and Cajun creamed corn that use produce from nearby farms.

Editors: James Chrisman, Kelly Dobkin, Danielle Dorsey, Jess Mayhugh, Meredith Heil, and Tae Yoon

Writers: Kristen Adaway, Chris Chamberlain, Martin Cizmar, Howard Conyers, Dan Gentile, Kevin Gibson, Stacey Greenberg, Matthew Korfhage, Steven Lindsey, Matt Lynch, Keia Mastrianni, Adrian Miller, Jenn Rice, Lizbeth Scordo, Nicole A. Taylor, Anastacia Uriegas, and Brooke Viggiano

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.