Arrogant Swine
Arrogant Swine, New York City | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Arrogant Swine, New York City | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Food & Drink

The 33 Best BBQ Joints in America

Barbecue is political. It reeks with lots of choices and never-ending debates. Is the housemade sausage spicy enough? Does the meat need a mop splattering of mustard liquid? Poking through oil-stained butcher paper and aluminum foils creases is the cuisine that indigenous people of the Americas and enslaved Africans single-handedly invented -- full stop.

From Houston to Portland, our 33 joints include smoke meat crusts and crispy ends curated outside of a vacuum. We went back and forth with folks like Beard award-winning writer Adrian Miller, pitmaster Howard Conyers, southern-based food writer Keia Mastrianni, editor-in-chief of Kansas City's 435 Magazine Martin Cizmar, and Virginian-Pilot food writer Matthew Korfhage. Plus, we dug into past barbecue coverage and found our most exciting contributors.

The list has places with fatty beef brisket mostly associated with Texas-style 'cue, and the whole hog smoked and dressed in the way of both Carolinas. We included BBQ joints with global takes on chicken wings, and dessert offerings of cream pies bursting with peanut butter and shaved chocolate.  We do solemnly swear your chews won't raise taxes, but the arguments about your favorites might increase your blood pressure. -- Nicole A Taylor

17th Street Barbecue
Courtesy of 17th Street Barbecue

17th Street Barbecue

Murphysboro, Illinois

Few figures in barbecue are as revered as Mike Mills and as respected as his daughter Amy, the driving forces behind 17th Street BBQ. Since the early '90s, Mike'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. -- Dan Gentile

arrogant swine
Arrogant Swine, New York City | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Arrogant Swine

Brooklyn, New York

North Carolina-style BBQ and the word Williamsburg in the same sentence -- seems odd. How did deep-hued pork shoulders and vinegar-drenched pork parts end up in the big city? Alongside artisanal condiments and hairy men, Native New Yorker Tyson Ho is to blame. He geeked out over every element of preparing whole-hog 'cue and brought the regional specialty to Brooklyn. From cracklings to pepper sauce and slaws, this place is legit. Order the outside brown shoulder cuts dipped in tangy sauce over everything else because it’s hard to find above the Mason Dixon line. Be sure to order the sweet potato waffle: The sweetness is a nice break between fatty bites. -- Nicole A. Taylor

Beast Craft Barbecue
Jennifer Silverberg

Beast Craft Barbecue

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 they offer the traditional combo plate fair, the most popular orders are rarer finds: a reverse seared pork steak and Brussels sprouts. And like most of the other joints on this list, early arrival is recommended, because you best believe they’re selling out. -- DG

Big Bob Gibson's
Claus Peuckert

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que

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. -- Matt Lynch

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. Pair that with a killer cocktail menu and the genius pies of Ashley Capps, Buxton’s James Beard-nominated pastry chef, and you’ve got a barbecue destination of the nth degree. -- Keia Mastrianni

Shana Anderson/Thrillist

Cattleack BBQ

Dallas, 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 full on destination. And in addition to some of the best-tasting, fattiest brisket in the state, there’s few bites of meat in the barbecue world as indulgent as their intensely-marbled Akaushi beef ribs. -- DG

Central BBQ

Memphis, Tennessee

There can be a tricky relationship between a BBQ outfit expanding to multiple locations and still retaining the fervent following that made said expansion possible in the first place, but Central and its three Memphis outposts still inspire just as much local love as they ever did. That probably has something to do with the fact that the 14-plus-hour smoked pork shoulders still yield some of the juiciest chopped pork sandwiches around. It also has something to do with ribs that continue to be mandatory in any discussion of Memphis' best. -- ML

Feges Barbecue Platter
Feges Barbecue Platter | Robert Jacob Lerma

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. The husband/wife owners’ journey into barbecue began with a backyard Brinkman vertical smoker, took a left turn towards fine dining at iconic spots ranging from Underbelly to Per Se, and then returned to the world of smoke. 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. -- DG

franklin bbq
Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue

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 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.  -- DG

Grady’s Barbecue

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 Stephen 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. -- Howard Conyers

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 of Raytown, Missouri -- a locale otherwise 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 a local brewery. Harp has been to 300 of the best barbecue spots in the country, and says he learns something everywhere he goes. You'll experience that in his museum-quality beef ribs that come with perfect KC-style cheesy corn bake. -- Martin Cizmar

hometown bbq
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Hometown Bar-B-Que

Brooklyn, New York

Yes, New York City has above average barbecue, and it has become easier to find joints with real-deal wood stacks and smoke rings. Pitmaster Billy Durney’s spacious beef-brisket temple is more than meets the eye. Tucked near Red Hook, Brooklyn’s waterfront and boasting space for live music performances, the menu has smoked lamb -- the most underrated item behind the cutting block. One can find the lamb belly stuffed inside crusted bread and topped with pickled daikon and carrots or piled on your tray alongside cornbread. Many succulent cultural nods, like the Jamaican jerk spare ribs, are eclipsed by hearty sides like the meaty smoked pit beans. From chicken wings to the daily specials, let your senses guide. -- NAT

Jones Bar-B-Q

Kansas City, Kansas

In general, you should be skeptical of any pit that made its bones off TV fame. But the low-key Kansas City, Kanas, 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 'cue 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. Come early, because they're known to sell out just 15 minutes after officially opening at 11am and be warned there's no indoor seating so you'll be eating under the hot Kansas sun. -- MC

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner

Marianna, Arkansas

Located in the Arkansas Delta, this jewel started with a hole in the ground before Jones grandfather's built the cinder blocks pits. 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. The cooking pits are fired directly with hickory embers. Starting at 6am, 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. It is truly an American classic. -- HC

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

La Barbecue

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 after a vagabond trailer journey from four separate locations finally landed in, of all places, a convenience store. Best believe you’ll never taste a better slice of brisket just a few feet away from a refrigerator stocked with Gatorade and Monster Energy drinks. -- DG

Lem's BBQ
Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Lem's Bar-B-Q

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 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. -- ML

Check out our full list of the best BBQ joints in Chicago

Lewis BBQ
Courtesy of Lewis BBQ

Lewis Barbecue

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. -- ML

Check out our full list of the best BBQ joints in Charleston

Lexington Barbecue North Carolina
Courtesy of Lexington Visitors Center

Lexington Barbecue

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 vinegary red 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 (what else?) 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. Well, wait -- add some of that slaw. NOW it's perfect. -- ML

Little Miss BBQ
Courtesy of Little Miss BBQ

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. Like so many restaurants on this list, the brisket can’t be ignored, but plan a visit wisely, as the daily specials like pastrami deserve a place on any combo plate. -- DG

Louie Mueller BBQ
Courtesy of Louie Mueller BBQ

Louie Mueller Barbecue

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. -- DG

matt's bbq
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Matt’s BBQ

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 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-jalapeno hot links are West-coast legend. Vicedomini is slowly building a barbecue empire in Portland, with an Austin-style brisket taco cart and a transcendent Thai-BBQ mash-up called EEM with the city’s most decorated Thai restaurateur, Earl Ninsom. 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? Buy a beer first at German bar Prost -- the Matt’s trailer is now parked in their side yard -- and drink it while you wait in line. There will always, always be a line. -- Matthew Korfhage

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Owensboro, Kentucky

With the surge in interest in regional barbecue styles in recent years, how come mutton hasn't caught on? People in Kentucky have to be wondering that, especially if they've been to Owensboro for a trip to Moonlite and taken a trip through their legendary barbecue buffet, a setup that only works because it's virtually always sufficiently crowded for the hickory-smoked meats to be cycling through constantly. And sure, you'll also find chopped pork and ribs and chicken on said buffet, and they are good, but mutton is definitely the juicy heart and flavorful soul here. There's gonna be a mutton boom in 2019. You heard it here first. Sheep, beware. -- ML

Courtesy of SWLouis photography by Scott Louis

Pappy's Smokehouse

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. -- ML

Payne's BBQ
Sarah Rossi-Sélavie Photography/Thrillist

Payne's Bar-B-Que

Memphis, Tennessee

In middle-of-nowhere Memphis, 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. Actually, no place with a sandwich like this can possibly be the middle of nowhere. Instead it's the exact place you want to be. -- DG

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. -- DG

Check out our list of the rest of the best LA BBQ joints

Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ

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 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.  -- Adrian Miller

The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint

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. -- DG

Skylight Inn
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Skylight Inn BBQ

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+ years in the business, the whole town seemingly lines 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. -- DG

smittys market
Smitty’s Market | Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Smitty’s Market

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, jalapeno sausage, and pork ribs are cooked and served fresh off the pit after they goes 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. -- HC

Snow's BBQ

Lexington, Texas

Women don’t get enough love in the barbecue industry, but one lady pitmaster with an unparalleled rep is Tootsie Tomanetz at Snow’s in Lexington, Texas. 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 8am, but if you think that’s early, consider that Tootsie starts shoveling coals to prepare around 2am. -- DG

Sweet Lew’s Barbecue

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. -- KM

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. They recently expanded from a tiny shack in Brenham to the big leagues of Houston, a move that’s sure to shake 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 their meticulous plating, which is guaranteed to rack up the Instagram likes. -- ML

ZZQ RIbs | Fred Elliot


Richmond, Virginia

You can take the Texan out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of a Texan. 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, Virginia’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. Their three 1000-gallon offset pits are imported from Austin Smoke Works and burn local white oak (traditional post oak would be “in-authentic to the region”). They spike the brisket rub with a few other herbs to make it their own, but it doesn’t deviate too far from the coarse black pepper and salt standard. Still, this is Virginia after all, so they finish their pulled pork shoulder with an Eastern North Carolina/Southern Virginia vinegar sauce, and keep local with sides like tomato pie and Cajun creamed corn that use produce from nearby farms. The bad news: all the glowing reviews have resulted in Texas-sized lines, so expect a wait. -- DG

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Nicole A. Taylor is the executive food editor at Thrillist. Her last meal requests are gold-dusted pork ribs and North Fork Potato Chips. Follow her on Twitter @foodculturist.
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