The 57 American Barbecue Joints You Need to Visit Right Now
In the land of the brisket and ribs, go where combo platters are a whole lifestyle.
Barbecue crisscrosses cultures like grill marks on a marbled rib-eye steak. People in all corners of the world have harnessed flames to cook food—slow-roasted pig in banana leaf-lined pits, skewered meat caramelized over hot coals. It is an ancient craft, after all, with simple instructions: fire plus meat equals mealtime.
With credit due to many storied foundations of barbecue—through indigenous peoples, immigrants, enslaved people—today’s smoked meats are, in some parts, tried-and-true traditions and, in others, contemporary approaches.
A Thai-meets-Texas joint in Portland. A food truck in Austin purveying ’cue kissed with flavors of the African diaspora. In Brooklyn, smoked meats with a New York deli bent. An old dog can learn new tricks—while our mainstay capitals of barbecue, from Texas to the Carolinas, hold down history.
The result is a diverse list of pitmasters that reflects who is sweating over smokers to bring us tender brisket bark, sticky glazed ribs, juicy smoked pork, heaping jalapeño mac and cheese, and honey-laced cornbread.
Without further ado, here are the 57 best barbecue joints in America.
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 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 for those who can't make the journey, they even ship their meat overnight.
After having a successful stint at a farmers market stand for over a year, 2Fifty BBQ finally solidified a storefront in DC’s Riverdale Park neighborhood. The shop’s star is Texas-style brisket that is oak-smoked and made from wagyu-grade beef—making one of the most decadent interpretations of the dish in town. Pitmaster Fernando González and his wife Debby González also offer St. Louis-style pork ribs, pulled pork, and mustard-laced potato salad. You’ll see the couple’s Salvadoran heritage reflected in specials like barbecue pupusas.
This newer spot from El Che executive chef-owner John Manion is located inside legendary Berwyn music venue FitzGerald’s, which has undergone a host of welcome upgrades under new owner Will Duncan, including an Airbnb “sleepover castle” above the venue and mobile musician-in-truck concerts that drove around the neighborhood throughout the pandemic. Now back in full swing with live music almost nightly, Babygold Barbeque offers the perfect culinary compliment to a rollicking summer evening. Try a Berwyn-Style Super Deluxe BBQ Board, an ever-changing chef’s choice of smoked meats, fixins, and sides, and wash it down with their own Babygold branded brews.
Beast’s David Sandusky brings a chef-minded meticulousness and 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.
On the one hand, the barbecue boom has fueled enough interest in regional variations that it’s not remotely uncommon anymore to enter a recently opened barbecue 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.
What started out as a pop-up between brothers Robin and Terry Wong and chief smoker Quy Hoang has turned into a long-lasting barbecue love affair. These blood brothers opened their brick-and-mortar location in 2018, taking inspiration from their Chinese and Vietnamese roots to create next-gen, outside-the-box barbecue that challenges everything you thought you knew about smoked cuisine. Today, they’ve got another spot in Vegas and a James Beard nom for pitmaster Quy under their belt. Try the inventive specials like brisket burnt end steamed buns, gochujang-glazed pork ribs, smoked turkey bánh mì, and thit nuong pork belly.
Weekly specials are a good starting point for experiencing some of what makes Cattleack stand out from the pack. Featuring lesser-seen items like pork steaks, chopped whole hog, and beer-bacon-and-beef sausages. Of course, you can’t go wrong with other standards, including beef ribs, burnt ends, and the Pitboss, a sandwich made with a hefty trio of brisket, ribs, and sausage piled on a bun with pickled red onion and jalapeño. And don’t forget a good hunk of decadent Crack Cake for dessert.
San Diego, California
All of the meats at Coop’s are “Texas-true and Texas-approved” thanks to owner Brad Cooper’s family recipe. The Lemon Grove barbecue joint is enthusiastically popular with locals and visitors alike—and for good reason. The meats are slow-cooked over a fire made with mesquite and oak wood; delectable brisket, jerk chicken and homemade Texas or hot sausages don’t need any saucy embellishments, but we won’t judge you for adding them.
A local favorite, Cozy Corner is one of the most iconic shops in town run by four generations of Robinsons since 1977. Known for the barbecued Cornish hens, and rightly so, it is also highly recommended that you try the ribs. Either way, plan to get messy. Raymond Robinson built his legacy with a Chicago-style smoker where meat is placed on the lowest rack then progressively upward until it is smoked to perfection. His wife, Desiree, became the part-time pitmaster after his passing and was the first African American woman to be inducted into the The American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame in June 2020.
At his truck parked at Meanwhile Brewing in South Austin, pitmaster Damien Brockway cooks mind-blowing dishes that honor the flavors of the African diaspora and their contribution to barbecue’s culinary history. From the heavily spiced pork ribs (our favorite in the city) to the collards that are so delicious even the pickiest palate will have no trouble eating their greens, it's easy to see why the buzz hasn’t stopped around Distant Relatives since it’s opened. Brockway and his crew have already scored a mentions in Texas Monthly’s revered ranking as well as a James Beard nomination. It makes sense considering everything at the truck, down to the smoked peanuts, are seasoned to perfection.
Eem is a tiki drink-fueled oasis where Texas-style barbecue meets bold Thai flavors. Barbecue brisket fried rice with chili jam, white curry with brisket burnts, pork belly krapao—the menu at this cocktail and ’cue joint isn’t long, but it hits the spot every dang time. Pitmaster Matt Vicedomini, Thai chef Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, and barman Eric Nelson have thoughtfully smashed together their expertises into one bombastic and ever-bustling tropical spot that’s unlike any other place on this list.
Brooklyn, New York
Fette Sau is a popular and long-standing Williamsburg spot serving by-the-pound smoked meats that’s one part Central Texas, and another part New York deli. An order of black angus beef brisket comes with a half-pound of delicious, slow-smoked meat coated in a house-made dry rub; and the restaurant’s renowned burnt end baked beans is made with pork and beef. With items usually selling out quickly, be sure to check their Instagram for any menu changes or specials of the day.
Fette Sau, which is German for fat pig, is the place to go with a big crew when you want to settle in for an evening of rowdy drinking and lots of smoked meats. This Philly go-to offers counter service only, which makes it easy for everyone to order and pay for themselves, and the long picnic tables beg for a group to pile in. Stephen Starr’s spots never disappoint, and Fette Sau is no exception with top-notch brisket and satisfying burnt end sandwiches that combine both pork and beef. It’s also a great place to go with a group that includes vegetarians, as the sides are so good that some have been known to visit for those alone.
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.
This family-run fan favorite from pit boss Greg Gatlin underwent a bigger, better facelift when it moved to its new location. Now, current kitchen master and executive chef Michelle Wallace, who you can catch on this season of Food Network’s BBQ Brawl, impresses with specials from protein-packed gumbo to smoked oxtails. Order the trio of smoked ribs (there’s a short and meaty baby back varietal, a St. Louis-style spare rib, and a megaton beef number) and engage your inner-caveman as you gnaw ‘em straight down to the bone. Or switch it up with the loaded Kitchen Sink Sandwich, biscuits and gravy, and a giblet-laden Dirty Rice so filthy you’ll need a cold shower afterward.
Fort Worth, Texas
A quintet of pitmasters craft succulent pork ribs and juicy brisket whose crisp bark might bring you to tears. The sides—potato salad, jalapeño cheese grits, housemade bread—prove this no-frill joint on the outskirts of Fort Worth knows how to complement their post oak-smoked meats. With smoked jalapeño cheese sausage and perfect turkey, it’s no wonder this newcomer notched the top spot on Texas Monthly’s list of best Texas barbecue joints. They’re only open Friday to Sunday, from 11 am until they sell out or 3 pm, whichever comes sooner (psst, it’s usually the sellout that happens first).
Dudley, North Carolina
Stephen Grady knows whole hog cookery. The octogenarian pitmaster and owner of his eponymous barbecue slowly roasts pig over a bed of oak and hickory embers, which is then served with a signature vinegar-pepper sauce. He and his wife Gerri run this down-home restaurant in eastern North Carolina, where there’s room for about 16 diners and plenty of parking. The pork is delicious, but don’t sleep on the sides: A to-go container filled 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.
San Diego, California
Sister restaurant to owner and pitmaster Andy Harris’s Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park (currently undergoing renovations), Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs has two full bars, plenty of indoor and patio seating, and live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Central Texas-style barbecue is the draw, with succulent brisket, St. Louis cut ribs, Texas turkey, and hot links, plus a tempting lineup of stoner foods like Stimey’s Walking Frito Pie, chili, brisket or pulled pork nachos, and a trio of loaded fries. Wash it down with something cold from their two dozen taps or creative cocktails, including a nearly perfect Topo Chico margarita.
Fusion maestro Richard Hales, of Sakaya and Blackbrick Chinese fame, dips his hand into the barbecue world, eschewing his usual cuisine-merging for strict Texas-style eats. His slow-smoked brisket might be the best outside of the Lone Star State, and the massive sandwiches he’s plating up are enough for two meals. Hales downplays the importance of his sauces, preferring to let the white oak-induced char and the quality of the meat speak for themselves. But try a little of his Miami Little Haiti Habanero Sauce, and you’ll know he’s just being modest.
Kansas City ’cue is messy and proud of it. Tyler Harp, a Texophile who’s bringing Lone Star State technique to a dusty dirt lot in the blue-collar suburb locally known for being the setting of the sitcom Mama’s Family. Harp grew up watching his dad and uncle cook on the competitive barbecue circuit, but had his own epiphany on a trip to Texas. He started cooking in his backyard and selling briskets out of his driveway before securing a spot at Crane Brewing. Now you can check Saturday specials like chopped beef sandos and Texas-sliced brisket. Then wash it down with a corn lager or farmhouse IPA.
Throngs of people line up outside the restaurant, waiting for Korean-lilted barbecue and hoping for a covet spot on the patio. Husband and wife chefs Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee helm Heirloom Market and its offerings like smoked brisket injected with miso, gochujang-marinated pulled chicken, and spicy pork. Don’t miss sides like the macaroni and cheese punched up with kimchi, fried sweet potatoes tossed in a soy-ginger sauce, and kimchi coleslaw. The fried chicken, available on Tuesdays, is another must.
San Juan Capistrano, California
While we were looking the other way, San Juan Capistrano turned into a miniature food paradise along the Orange Coast, led in large part by Brenda and Daniel Castillo of Heritage Barbecue. When they opened in 2020, running the first legal offset smokers in Orange County, they pushed the OC barbecue scene to a higher level, finally able to legally smoke and sell Central Texas-style barbecue cooked and served the way they do at the Austin legends. They are immensely popular, and deservedly so, for their brisket and hot links, and they’ve also added specials like Texas chili, pastrami, and Hawaiian-style potato salad to boot.
Hill Country specializes in Central Texas barbecue with meats smoked in post oak wood from the Lone Star State. Along with the traditional wood, this popular spot combines high-quality meat and a simple dry rub with low-and-slow cooking that results in a beautifully fatty and moist brisket. Pork spare ribs, Hill Country jalapeño cheese sausage, fried chicken sandwiches and sides like Campfire Baked Beans with burnt ends, and potato salad will complete an already hearty meal.
Brooklyn, New York
It's pretty safe to say that Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que is NYC’s current ’cue king. Durney’s spots serve up Brooklyn-style barbecue (true to the namesake) that utilize southern cooking techniques reflecting the diverse flavor profiles found in Durney’s home borough. Vietnamese hot wings, Caribbean jerk baby back ribs, Oaxacan chicken, and Korean pork ribs are just some of the items to enjoy along with Texas-style brisket, pulled pork, collard greens, and Hometown slaw.
Pitmaster Mark Smith has been skillfully manning the smokers since 1986. And all that time perfecting his Tennessee-style barbecue craft has certainly paid off. Honey Bear’s lineup of smoked eats includes classics like combo plates packed with wood-smoked proteins, hefty sauce-drenched sandwiches, and all the standard fixings including collard greens, Cowbro’ Beans, and uber cheesy, Meaty Mac topped with your choice of pulled pork, beef brisket, or shredded chicken. Don’t skip the house-made desserts, such as cobbler and sweet potato pie.
Oakland’s Horn Barbecue comes from pitmaster-extraordinaire Matt Horn and, believe us, you’ll want to get his Michelin Bib Gourmand-listed, West Coast-style barbecue featuring brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork, and more. Want to go hog wild? You can on Sundays when you can buy a whole hog. Also, you cannot leave without an order of the banana pudding.
Cue the jokes about meats that are so good they will launch you into the atmosphere. In the case of Interstellar BBQ, however, this isn’t so much a witty, name-based analogy, as it is a (figurative) reality. Recently sitting pretty at the incredibly impressive number two spot on Texas Monthly’s list of best ’cue in the state, pitmaster John Bates delivers his customers an incredible one-two rocket punch of smoker-fueled flavor in his offerings. Here, you can find both sensational, foundational barbecue dishes, like pulled pork, sausage, and, of course, brisket, along with more modern options, such as the beer-marinated Tipsy Turkey, and pork belly covered with the sweet hint of peach tea glaze.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Any barbecue joint named after a renegade “Bandit Queen” is bound to intrigue. Iron Star Urban Barbecue, open since 2002, pays homage to Oklahoma’s most notorious outlaw, Belle Starr, with a polished saloon motif that looks like the kind of place for an old-timey bar brawl. In this case, the only brawling you’ll be doing is over dibs on the restaurant’s upscale-ish, Southern-tinged ’cue: cornbread with salsa verde butter, meatloaf with smoked tomato gravy, deviled eggs with pepper ceviche, and cheddar-flecked brisket tacos. Wash it all down with a pour from their extensive, saloon-worthy whiskey selection.
This spot is easy to overlook, but then you’d be missing out on owner Dwight “Jabo” Lawson’s hickory-smoked offerings and more than 20 sauce varieties. We know, purists think sauce belongs on the side (or not on the table at all), but Jabo’s sauces are a treat on their own. They run the gamut, from choices like smoky mango and pecan to mustard-based. Choose wisely then throw your sauce on the super-sized pulled pork sandwich—and absolutely opt for Carolina-style which comes complete with slaw on top. It might be Jabo's Utah Sconut, a donut-like treat smothered in honey butter.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The place began as a slaughterhouse back in the ’50s and still processes game for hunters. Today, the meat market and barbecue stand is known for long lines, especially on the weekends, but the payoff is some of the best barbecue in Nevada and one of the most essential dining experiences in Las Vegas. All the bases are covered: pulled pork, chicken, ribs, burnt ends (plus tri-top on Tuesdays and Thursdays). But the lengendary hot links are cured for 16 hours and smoked for six. All of the aforementioned is best enjoyed on an ever-expanding covered patio with picnic tables.
Kansas City, Kansas
You might be skeptical of its TV-spurred fame, but this low-key pit operated by sisters Deborah “Shorty” and Mary “Little” Jones are getting a much-deserved praise since its appearance on season 3 of Queer Eye. The Jones sisters learned to ’cue at the knee of their father, and now they’re the 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.
The oldest barbecue spot in the South and possibly in the whole country, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is owned and operated by fourth-generation pitmaster James Jones. Jones, like his forefathers, uphold Arkansas Delta barbecue traditions and keep things simple and fuss free. You’ll find meats that have been cooked over hickory—get it by the pound or on white sandwich bread, a vinegar-pepper sauce, handmade slaw, maybe some links if it’s on offer. Don’t expect a ton of sides and such, just a historic joint that was dubbed a James Beard America’s Classic.
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. The dry-rubbed brisket at La Barbecue is smoked from 12 to 15 hours at a low temp; when it’s sliced, you can see the distinct pink ring that indicates a textbook smoke and melt-in-your-mouth moisture. The housemade sausage, pulled pork, house vinegar-based sauce, and spicy mac and cheese likewise shine.
Austin pitmaster Mel Rodriguez brings classic Texas-style brisket, turkey, and pulled pork to South Florida, teaming up with Bills wideout McKenzie for some celebrity cache. While the meats are the headline-grabbers, the half-pound Pit-smoked Burger incorporates brisket scraps, creating some of the more unique flavors you’ll find squished between a bun. Even with his mastery of Texas technique, Rodriguez also nods to local cuisine with Brisket and Queso Empanadas and a standout Tres Leches for dessert—that is, assuming you’ve still got room.
The tradition of Chicago barbecue (yes, it's a thing) lost one of its titans a few 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.
The innovative dishes served up at LeRoy and Lewis will make you rethink all your preconceived notions about what barbecue should be. This truck fits solidly in the “new school” category. These mad scientists of smoked meat serve unique dishes you can’t find anywhere else such as bacon ribs, a burnt ends and pork belly combination you’ll dream about for months after devouring, and some fantastic burgers. If that last sentence still leaves you in any doubt that they are worthy of nabbing the number five spot on the prestigious Texas Monthly’s list of the best barbecue joint in the state, showing up to one of their legendary, whole hog cookout days will have you eating your words—not to mention, everything on your plate.
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, Rancho Lewis.
After trying over 200 barbecue places across the country, esteemed barbecue judge and writer Adrian Miller named Little Red’s one of the 20 best black-owned barbecue joints in the nation in his book Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. Lil Red is a mix of owner Erasto “Red” Jackson’s love of barbecue and Leleith’s Jamaican heritage. The burnt ends plus the pork ribs with jerk sauce is the way to go at Red’s, but it’s impossible to not recommend the escovitch fish, curry goat, and the jerk chicken. It is the only barbecue place in town where you can get these island flavors.
Nab a spot in line and experience the bliss that is Little Miss BBQ and its impressive offering of wonderfully smoked meats. After finding inspiration in Texas, competing in local barbecue competitions here in Arizona, and tirelessly perfecting his craft, owner and pitmaster Scott Holmes debuted the first Little Miss BBQ in 2014. Now, Arizona ’cue fans can get a taste of Central Texas-style barbecue with proteins like sliced and chopped brisket, pulled pork and pork spare ribs, sausage, turkey breast, and beef short ribs, all of which are available by the pound at Little Miss. The jalapeño-cheddar grits, ranch-style beans, spoonable mac and cheese, and personal smoked pecan pies are undoubtedly worth saving room for, too.
Pat Martin’s downtown Nashville outpost of his growing barbecue empire is definitely the crown jewel. The massive building boasts a full-service restaurant on the ground floor, a huge beer garden upstairs with picnic tables, a stage for live music, two bars, and private dining space for up to 150 guests. Four whole hog pits contribute a hickory-smoked incense that draws tourists and locals alike into the pitmaster playground for an evening of fun. Order any of Martin’s meats on a corncake, known as a Redneck Taco, for a singular experience.
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. 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.
Los Angeles, California
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz played a major part in the rise of backyard barbecue, pumping out stunning Texas-style brisket and Mexican American sides from their home in East LA in 2017. After rising through ranks, they’ve finally landed a brick-and-mortar home, which opened in June 2021. Throughout the journey, the barbecue has been stellar and stunningly consistent. The menu has grown and includes a variety of specials influenced by the flavors of LA like burnt ends with Korean-style glaze, smoked chicken tostadas, mushroom tacos, and a bonkers smoked burger. It doesn’t hurt that their new restaurant also has more than 25 taps of the best local beer.
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.
Most of the barbecue restaurants in Memphis are family-owned and that the barbecue here just has a certain “soulfulness” to it. Payne’s is no exception. 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. It’s these traditions that keep the barbecue scene in Memphis alive. 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.
San Antonio, Texas
Pinkerton’s is where barbecue and bourbon go hand in hand. The pulled pork and pork ribs reign here, but the boudin is steller, too. Order up a whiskey and pair it with some sausage, prime brisket (sliced or chopped), or perhaps the gargantuan Man Bear Pig Sandwich (a blend of pulled pork and brisket under one bun). Rosemary bacon mac and cheese and Aunt Ruby’s blueberry cobbler can also be enhanced with a few sips of bourbon, of course.
Charleston, South Carolina
Few have done more to celebrate whole-hog barbecue than James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott. 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’s offers fried catfish and pit-smoked and spice-rubbed chicken, turkey, and steak. 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.
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.
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.
Beef brisket used to be an afterthought at Nashville barbecue joints: rarely attempted and basically tolerated as a change of pace from the usual porktopia. Once Bill Laviolette started importing prime brisket and sausages from his home state of Texas and cooking them in his massive smoker, local barbecue lovers finally discovered what they had been missing. Now he’s the undisputed smoke beef king of Nashville and a welcome addition to the local barbecue scene. Order plates of meat “market-style” by the quarter-pound, and he’ll keep piling it on your plate until you cry uncle.
Ayden, North Carolina
The word “pilgrimage” gets tossed around a lot in barbecue 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.
Half the fun of visiting Slow Bone is walking through the line and picking out exactly what you want from the vast assortment of meats and sides. Must-eats include the Texas Nail, a sandwich made with slow-smoked Prime brisket, cheddar cheese from brewery darling Revolver Blood & Honey, smoked mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted green chiles, lime crema, and jalapeño-barbecue sauce. There’s hangover-annihilating Frito pie. Even fried chicken gets some smoky treatment here. And because meats are only part of the balanced barbecue diet, braised greens, Brussels and cauliflower au gratin, roasted squash casserole, and pea salad headline a huge list of creative takes on typical sides—some of the best in Texas.
If Texas-style is your thing, this venerable smoke shack has your slow-smoked cravings covered. Unsurprisingly, succulent, perfectly rendered, and bark-topped brisket tops the menu, followed by ribs, pulled pork, and juicy smoked sausages shipped all the way from Taylor, Texas. You’ll even find a few plot twists, like chopped brisket tacos, strewn with fresh cilantro and chile de arbol salsa. And save some room for dessert—the pecan bread pudding, thick and velvety beneath a generous drizzle of bourbon caramel sauce, is a true sleeper hit.
Women don’t get enough love in the barbecue industry, but one pitmaster with an unparalleled rep is Tootsie Tomanetz, who you might recognize from Netflix’s Chef’s Table. It’s almost barbecue gospel that hers 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 octogenarian 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 the pit around 2 am.
Las Vegas, Nevada
After spreading the word with a series of pop-up events around town, Bruce Kalman finally has a permanent brick-and-mortar location for SoulBelly BBQ, making it one of the best restaurants in town. Sandwiched between two breweries, Nevada Brew Works and HUDL, in the Arts District, the bar and restaurant already feels like a comfortable, worn-in neighborhood hangout with picnic tables and a stage for live music among indoor string lights and Southern-industrial decor. The brisket is so buttery and flavorful, it doesn't need any sauce (but don't let that stop you from slathering some on top). Along with chicken, ribs, and other meats, it’s smoked over Texas post oak in one of two heavy-duty thousand-gallon propane smokers.
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.
Before the world was turned upside-down, everything felt right when owner-pitmaster Leonard Botello IV brought Brenham’s finest barbecue joint to H-town. Hit up Truth to snag fatty, 18-hour-smoked Brisket and succulent and crisp burnt ends, peppery pork ribs, and sides from old-school tater tot casserole to a corn pudding that you absolutely need in your mouth right now. Pro tip: do not, under any circumstances, skip dessert.
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. Smoked over white oak, the brisket is coated in salt, pepper, and a few other herbs and spices. Still, this is Virginia, so the pulled pork shoulder is finished with an Eastern North Carolina/Southern Virginia vinegar sauce, and sides that use produce from nearby farms, which might be a tomato pie or Cajun creamed corn.
Writers: Mary Beth Abate, Daisy Barringer, Izzy Baskette, Erica Buehler, Chris Chamberlain, Stacey Greenberg, Rob Kachelriess, Steven Lindsey, Ben Mesirow, Matt Metlzter, Molly Moltzen, Tiffany Ran, Jennifer Rice, Joshua Robinson, Lauren Topor Reichert, and Brooke Viggiano.