The 50 Best Barbecue Joints in America
While the South is known as the place for exceptional barbecue and countless regional styles of smoked meats, superb barbecue can be found all around the United States. Many smoke shacks and pitmasters located in states without a storied barbecue history have created their own styles and unique adaptations that are just as good as the classics. Next time you're on a road trip, plan to stop at some of these fantastic barbecue joints.
When you're in Alabama, you've got to get your hands on some white barbecue sauce. It's a regional specialty made from mayonnaise, spices, and vinegar, and usually goes on smoked chicken or turkey. Head to Big Bob Gibson's for a smoked chicken platter basted in white barbecue sauce and served with red skin potato salad.
Alaska probably isn't the place you think of when you think of good barbecue, but the Oklahoma natives running Black Jaxx are bringing expert-level smoked meats to the frozen north. Chopped brisket sandwiches are a favorite, as are the unique smoked bologna links.
Who knew that fried catfish and barbecue make such good companions? At Smokin' Buns, get The Hoss sandwich, a massive creation of Texas toast, smoked pork, baked beans, slaw, onion rings, and smoked ribs. If you're with company, ask them to grab the cornmeal-battered, fried catfish and hushpuppies, and share all the dishes for a winning meal.
City: Big Pine
On the side of the highway in the small town of Big Pine is Copper Top. The little smoke stand only has outdoor seating at picnic tables, but that's the best way to enjoy barbecue anyway. Order the tri-tip steak, which is smoked in open pits to a pink medium. Fire-roasted chili with beans makes for a complementary side.
If there was such a thing as Colorado-style barbecue, Roaming Buffalo would be it. They specialize in smoking local lamb and bison, along with the usual favorites. Pulled lamb shoulder, lamb shank, bison ribs, and bison green chile sausage all go well with the restaurant's smoked poblano cheddar mac.
Taino Smokehouse is a tiny storefront with only seven tables, but in the summer, the owners open up the patio, which can seat an additional 250 people. They'll need all that space: People line up for their food, including smoked corned beef that they turn into an amazing Reuben sandwich. They've also got a Thai twist on barbecue with drunken noodles made with chopped smoked meat and Thai basil.
If a barbecue spot sells out of smoked meat everyday by 5 p.m., then you know it's going to be good. Russell's Quality Food sells its goodies from a shack in a parking lot. Pulled pork, ribs, smoked chicken, and jerk chicken are all favorites, and are ridiculously inexpensive. A sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce accompanies it all, and mashed sweet potatoes are a must-get side order.
City: St. Augustine
True to its name, Woodpecker's Backyard BBQ has a large yard where you can hang out and enjoy some smoked meat while you throw a Frisbee around. They serve up their barbecued turkey, brisket, pork, ribs, and sausage with four different sauces, including Alabama white sauce and a spicy version with datil peppers grown in St. Augustine.
The barbecue at Fresh Air is simple and iconic, with the restaurant's history dating back to 1929. Chopped pork is about all you can get, though that's all you need when it's topped with Fresh Air's vinegar-based sauce and slapped on some white bread. Add a side of brunswick stew, a regional speciality made with leftover bits of barbecued meat and vegetables.
Guava Smoked puts a Hawaiian twist on traditional barbecue. The pitmasters here smoke their meats with guava wood, giving it a sweeter smoked flavor. Thanks to the Asian influences in Hawaii, this restaurant offers Korean kalbi smoked ribs, along with salmon belly and butterfish collars. Everything comes together with scoops of rice and macaroni salad, just like more traditional Hawaiian plate lunches.
Mister BBQ does only four types of smoked meats -- brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, and ribs -- but that's all you need when they're done really well. Everything is made from scratch, including the slaw, baked beans, and potato salad, but what you really need to save room for after your brisket is the homemade pies. Custardy buttermilk pie, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie are all too irresistible to pass up.
Head to the south side of Chicago for a regional classic. Lem's has been fueling the area's love of rib tips and hot links since it opened in 1954. Buy the tips by the bucket to feed a crowd and order extra bright red barbecue sauce on the side. Both the tips and links are so popular you can order them in a combo and satisfy both cravings at once.
Indiana doesn't exactly have a famous style of barbecue, so the folks at Big Hoffa's likes to take classics and put their own twist on them. Various woods are used for smoking meats depending on the season, and brisket and pork shoulder both cook low and slow for over 24 hours. Get their meats on anything from a "buccaneer sandwich" with fries and slaw right on top, to a "barbecue sundae," which despite its name is not a dessert, but rather is an ice-cream soda glass filled with baked beans and topped with smoked meat and sauce.
City: Mount Vernon
All the meats at Big's BBQ are smoked with locally harvested cherry wood for a sweet flavor. You can grab the burnt ends, brisket, pork, and sausage by the pound, or something unique like its "Iowa BBQ Pie" with Fritos, beans, and smoked meat. Top your selection with either a raspberry sriracha or sweet mustard vinegar sauce.
When it comes to barbecue in The Sunflower State, Kansas City gets a lot of attention. But there are plenty of other areas in the state with expertly smoked meat, including Biemer's in Lawrence. While its pork, brisket, and burnt ends are delightful, the smoked turkey is unique. Biemer's team slices it extra thin, making for fantastic sandwiches topped with one of their many barbecue sauces.
In a small part of western Kentucky, there's a long tradition of barbecuing mutton, and you can try this unusual classic at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn. You can get the shredded, rich meat on a platter with cornbread muffins and pickles, but you might as well get the buffet so you can sample all kinds of Southern sides. The burgoo, a kind of regional stew, is also made with mutton, so don't pass it up.
This whimsical smoke shack with a large patio that often hosts local musicians pumps out some seriously delicious smoked meats. The Flying Pig BBQ crew likes to put their own twist on barbecue, like espresso-rubbed brisket and sweet tea-brined chicken. Pies and cookies are all homemade, too, so save plenty of room for dessert.
Spring Creek, a barbecue shack in the little town of Monson, has become a pilgrimage destination for many ever since Anthony Bourdain visited it during one of his shows. The restaurant is as casual as you can get, and the meats are Texas-style and spicy. The ever-changing menu is written in chalk on the wall, so just order whatever sounds best that day, from in-demand ribs to mac and cheese.
A Baltimore tradition for decades, pit beef is a lightly smoked and thinly sliced beef sandwich. You can get one of the best versions at Chaps, where the team there will top it with creamy horseradish sauce if you'd like. Or if you're really hungry, get a combination sandwich with beef, corned beef, turkey, sausage, and cheese all on one roll.
Since 1995, Blue Ribbon BBQ has been serving up various styles of Southern barbecue to the residents of Arlington. The North Carolina-style pork is the way to go here as it goes exceptionally well with the vinegar-based barbecue sauce available at the sauce bar. A big slab of cornbread and fluffy mashed potatoes are great accompaniments.
Slows BBQ is the mainstay of busy Michigan Avenue in Detroit, and serves up a variety of smoked meats, from huge beef ribs with a salt and pepper rub, to smoked meatloaf. Pulled chicken glazed with apple barbecue sauce is a standout, especially for those who like their barbecue on the sweeter side. Most meats are served dry, though, allowing you to sauce as you like with their six varieties.
Ted Cook's has only changed hands twice since it was founded in 1968. The original owner, Ted Cook, was an avid golfer and member of the Twin Cities Golf Club, hence the restaurant's name. All of this joint's meats are smoked over hickory and cherry wood, including the juicy beef hot links and beef ribs. For a side, get the jojo potatoes, a homemade cross between a potato chip and french fry that's perfect for mopping up its thick barbecue sauce.
Many recent alumni of Ole Miss have probably eaten barbecue from Rebel Barn, located just off campus, whether they've visited the restaurant or had its food at tailgate parties. It stands to become a long-term classic, thanks to its juicy smoked brisket, beef bologna, and regional specialities like Delta hot tamales. All are cooked in a rotisserie-style smoker over an open flame, which is the traditional way of smoking that's more labor intensive than in a gas smoker.
City: Kansas City
Arthur Bryant's is one of the most famous barbecue joints in the country, and is often credited with creating the Kansas City style of barbecue and sauce. Order either pork ribs or burnt ends, and top them with one of three sauces, including a sweet heat, and a rich and spicy version of the original classic. Orders come served on paper on a cafeteria tray, making for a casual dining experience.
The owner of Notorious P.I.G., Burke Holmes, is from Missouri, and it shows in his menu. Burnt ends are a popular menu item, and go well with the Kansas City-style barbecue sauce he calls "Sweet Cady's." Order the smoked pulled pork or turkey for a nice pairing with a bright yellow mustard-based sauce.
With two locations in the Omaha area, Swine Dining is one of the most popular barbecue joints in Nebraska. Omaha World-Herald called Swine Dining's pulled pork as the best in Omaha. Try it on a giant sandwich called the "All in the Pool," made with pork, brisket, and smoked sausage. Apple crisp topped with oats makes for a sweet side.
City: Boulder City
Fox Smokehouse is the restaurant from a barbecue competition team that goes by the name of "BBQ Junkie on the Circuit." That same team name is emblazoned on the their competition trophies they've won, which adorn the walls of the dining area. Beef and pork ribs, sliced chicken, pulled pork, and brisket are solid options, as well as a Midwest-influenced smoked bratwurst.
There won't be a doubt in your mind that Gabi's serves up Texas-style barbecue when you walk in. After all, you'll immediately find a Texas flag and Texas license plates adorning its front counter. On that note, you'd probably be doing yourself a favor by ordering the brisket, either sliced or chopped. It's also available in tacos and as beef brisket chili during the winter months.
Henri's Hotts originally started as a food truck serving at festivals and events throughout New Jersey, before its owner opened up a permanent location in 2009. This joint serves Texas-style barbecue along with Southern sides. Jerked smoked chicken and baby back ribs are standouts, but the main attraction comes on weekends with its buffet, which features a variety of smoked meats, black-eyed peas, whipped sweet potatoes, corn pudding, and peach cobbler.
What could make barbecue uniquely New Mexican? Adding Hatch green chiles, of course. The finely chopped central Texas-style brisket at MAD Jack's Mountaintop Barbecue is topped with Hatch chiles on its "Chile the Kid" sandwich, bringing together Texas and New Mexican traditions. If you're more of a brisket purist but still want some of that New Mexican spice, you can order green chile stew on the side instead.
City: New York City
Mighty Quinn's is a staple in the East Village. The folks there have created their own unique style by bringing together the barbecue traditions from many different regions. Brisket is a go-to, and you can also get your fill with burnt end baked beans or dirty fries, which are smothered in burnt ends and chile-lime sauce. Chicken wings are smoked and then deep fried to re-crisp the skin.
There are two styles of barbecue in North Carolina, and Skylight Inn is a follower of the Eastern style. Whole hog is king here. It's smoke overnight in brick pits, then chopped and seasoned with hot sauce and cider vinegar before the crisp cracklings are added to the mix. It's served no-frills with a slab of thin, dense cornbread and a pile of coleslaw. It's simple and classic.
Though Taylor Made has only been open since the end of 2016, it's already making a name for itself in North Dakota. This spot blends a variety of regional styles, like Texas brisket, St. Louis pork ribs, and Carolina barbecue sauce, into a one-stop shop for smoked meats. The team here gets even more creative with their sides and specials, like Hawaiian macaroni salad, Cubano pork tacos, and Korean sweet potatoes.
City: North Lewisberg
The St. Louis-style ribs at Uncle Beth's are served wet; these chunks of meat are mopped with the restaurant's sweet barbecue sauce, though you can get a spicy sauce on request. Pulled pork, served either on a bun or on top of a baked potato with cheese, are the stars here. Brisket is available on Saturdays and goes well with the joint's spiced apples and jalapeño cornbread pudding on the side.
City: Oklahoma City
Ribs are king at Oklahoma's Earl's Rib Palace, though the state's proximity to Texas means brisket is also a priority. Try the Earl's binge dinner for a full platter of ribs and brisket, plus hot links and smoked bologna for variety. Cornmeal-dusted fried okra and a scattering of grilled jalapeño strips are good additions.
Once a roving food truck but now permanently housed in a parking lot, Matt's BBQ brings Texas-style barbecue to Portlanders. The usual beef brisket, pulled pork, and pork ribs are all great, but there's also pork belly and jalapeño cheddar sausage to choose from. And to make choosing ever harder for you, there are the enticing tacos with your choice of meat, topped with guacamole. But if you get to Matt's too late in the day, your choice might be made for you, as they sell out every day.
Memphis-style baby back ribs and chopped brisket are always a great standby at Sweet Lucy's, but the hickory-smoked hot chicken wings and Friday-special smoked salmon are both delicious. Spicy braised collard greens go well with everything, especially if you put it right on top of a pulled pork sandwich. A self-serve condiment and fixins bar has everything from hot sauce to pickles and onions.
Two restaurant locations, plus a few food trucks and trailers allows GottaQ BBQ to service Rhode Island with its smoked meats. West Coast-style tri-tip steak is one of its specialities; it's served sliced with a prominent pink smoke ring, red onions, pickles, and horseradish. Texas hot links and refreshing Texas caviar make a nice pair before a slice of pecan pie.
City: Holly Hill
Since Sweatman's is only open two days a week, it's worth planning ahead and figuring out when to stop by so you can get your hands on its whole-hog barbecue. Top it with the joint's yellow mustard-based sauce and some of the crispy skin that was removed from the hog and roasted again separately. Also be sure to try Sweatman's barbecue hash, which is really unlike any breakfast hash you're used to. The hyper-regional dish here is texturally more like a sauce, made from leftover bits of the hog and usually poured over rice. Going strong since 1959, this one is a must-visit for barbecue aficionados.
City: Sioux Falls
What started as a food truck has since turned into a permanent bricks-and-mortar restaurant for Big Rig BBQ. At this spot, its team smokes their meats and make all their sides from scratch every day. Sliced brisket, pulled pork, and ribs are the restaurant's best sellers, but prime rib and pork loin make occasional appearances as well. Meats are served unsauced, letting the flavor of the smoke and rub shine.
The well-known, Memphis-style pork rib likely got its start at Rendezvous in downtown Memphis. Ribs are cooked just 18 inches from the fire and mopped with vinegar, not barbecue sauce, and then finished with a thick layer of dry rub that's heavy on the paprika. Bright yellow chopped slaw and baked beans are this spot's classic accompaniments.
Home to Franklin Barbecue, Stillwater Barbeque, Freedman's, and La Barbecue, Texas is a smoked meat paradise. Even still, the Luling City Market is about as iconic a Texas barbecue joint as you can get. It's been around since 1958, and you can walk in the smoke room to get a peek -- and whiff -- yourself. Brisket is the big draw, of course, but ribs and hot links are not to be missed. It's all served on butcher paper with sliced white bread, pickles, onions and crackers if you want them.
Smokin Bones Barbecue does its take on a regional Southwest specialty: the Navajo taco. Instead of taco toppings, this restaurant tops a freshly fried Utah scone (aka fry bread) with cheese, baked beans, and a huge mound of chopped smoked brisket. Pork ribs are served dry and go well with its sweet, honey butter-topped cornbread.
Perched on a hill at the meeting of two rivers, Top of the Hill Grill is a cozy smokehouse with a great view from its outdoor patio. Whimsical, colorful hand-drawn signs illustrate the menu at the window. Hickory-smoked, meaty burnt ends and apple-smoked turkey make for a good pair on the combo platter, which is served with cornbread, slaw, and baked beans. For a to-go option, get your barbecue stuffed in a tortilla wrap, like a burrito.
Housed in a reclaimed shipping container with only outdoor seating, Saucy's Walk-up has some of the best pulled pork sandwiches in the South, according to Southern Living. This place has gotten so popular it's since expanded to another location, called Saucy's Sit-down, on account of it being a full-service restaurant. Its deep-fried "cue balls" that are filled with bits of meat and its equally fried moon pies are both worth saving room for.
City: Mountlake Terrace
You can choose from a dozen different barbecue sauces to slather on your brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork, and chicken at Gabriel's Fire. All are made from scratch and represent various regional styles, like Carolina mustard and Kansas-City style. There are also Thai and teriyaki sauces, as well as a ghost chile one for brave customers.
Adrian Wright, a former NFL player, owns Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill. He started selling barbecue on a roadside stand, and it soon expanded to two restaurants and two food trucks. The well-charred ribs topped with hot or mild sauce are the stars here, along with its soul-food sides. Braised collard greens, dirty rice, and mashed sweet potato casserole are all exceptional.
Pitmasters have graced Milwaukee for decades, but it's a newcomer that's turning heads. Iron Grate BBQ leaves the pork belly attached to its ribs, creating a thick cap of sticky, smoky fat that melts into the meat. The pitmasters here dub it the "Milwaukee-style rib" and it pairs well with their smoked tomato mac and cheese or a half-pound of barbecue peel-and-eat shrimp.
A husband-and-wife team that competes on the barbecue circuit runs Jo-Bawb's BBQ in northeastern Wyoming. They open their walk-up trailer for lunch and close when they're sold out, usually in the early evening. The menu is simple, with brisket, chicken, pork, and ribs, all hickory-smoked with their homemade rub. Grab a rack of spare ribs and enjoy them on one of the picnic tables next to the trailer.