Essential Barbecue: 20 Dishes Every Meat Eater Should Devour

Cattleack Barbeque

Alex N./Yelp

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Cattleack Barbeque
Alex N./Yelp

Carnivores Welcome

Have you ever had a barbecue bucket list? If you're an avowed meat-eater, you probably should. Smoked meats of all kinds have a long history in the United States, and especially the South. Styles, sauces, and local preferences vary by region, so you can get unique barbecue almost anywhere you go. If you're looking for the very best of the best, start with this list of noted items at popular smokehouses. 

Related: Essential Meat Dishes That Every Carnivore Should Try at Least Once

Pig Tray
Gina B./Yelp

Pig Tray | Skylight Inn

Ayden, North Carolina

One of the most famous whole-hog barbecue spots, the Skylight Inn has been operating since 1947 and is on its third generation of pitmasters. Though the interior of the building has been updated a bit, it's still just as simple as the menu, which only has "pig," "yard bird," and sides. Order the classic pig tray, and you'll get a paper boat of finely chopped, lightly seasoned, and overnight-smoked pig, a boat of sweet, finely chopped coleslaw, and a slab of dense cornbread cake between the two. It's a photo-worthy part of barbecue history.

Related: Barbecue Recipes and Tricks From Celebrity Chefs

Sliced Brisket
Andrew S./Yelp

Sliced Brisket | Franklin Barbecue

Austin, Texas

Franklin Barbecue has been called the best barbecue by a lot of people who know what they're talking about. Since he opened it in 2009, Aaron Franklin has won a James Beard Award and become a quasi-celebrity. If you want to taste his insanely good brisket — and you do — you have to plan ahead by ordering weeks in advance, or standing in line for hours on end. How to just acquire this brisket and other smoked meats is the subject of many websites, so do a little research and get some of your own. It's worth it.

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Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous: Pork Ribs
Ryan H./Yelp

Pork Ribs | Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous

Memphis, Tennessee

If you want Memphis-style ribs at the OG spot for them, head to Rendezvous. The basement-level restaurant accessed off an alley feels cavernlike and charming, with walls covered in bric-a-brac collected since it opened in 1948. The ribs are cooked over charcoal and served dry and coated with a Greek-influenced spice rub. That seasoning is so popular it's sprinkled on the cheese and sausage appetizer. 

Related: Oldest Restaurant in Every State

Brisket or Beef Rib
Gavin T./Yelp

Brisket or Beef Rib | Louie Mueller Barbecue

Taylor, Texas

Texas is the land of beef barbecue, and Louis Mueller is an iconic purveyor of brisket and massive beef ribs. This is central Texas meat market-style, which means you order by the pound at the counter in a haze of smoke, and everything will be served on a paper-lined tray with pickles, raw onions, and sliced white bread. No matter which beef you order, it'll be encrusted with a thick layer of cracked black pepper rub. 

Related: Grilling Accessories You Didn't Know You Needed

Rib Tips
Jaclyn W./Yelp

Rib Tips | Lem's Bar-B-Q


There is a strong barbecue heritage in Chicago, especially on the South Side, and tib tips are the meat of choice. One of the best places to get them is Lem's. It opened in 1954, and has been serving up tips and hot links ever since. Tips are full of cartilage, but the messy, dark red-sauced chunks of smoky rib meat are worth the effort. Grab a tip and link combo for the best taste of the South Side. 

Related: How Much Do You Actually Know About Grilling?

Grady's Barbecue
Grady's Barbecue/Yelp

BBQ Pork Dinner | Grady's Barbecue

Dudley, North Carolina

Grady's is the last Black-owned whole hog barbecue joint in North Carolina. Husband and wife team Steve and Gerri Grady do everything: He runs the brick open pits where the whole hogs are smoked overnight, and she makes all the sides from scratch. The pork is finely chopped, and the sauce is thin and vinegar-based with pepper flecks throughout. Collards and black eyed peas are standout sides, but go for broke and get some fried chicken, too.

Related: Best Hole-in-the-Wall Spots for Fried Chicken in Every State

Burnt End Plate
Bob T./Yelp

Burnt End Plate | Jones Bar-B-Q

Kansas City, Kansas

Burnt ends, the charred bark-covered point end of a beef brisket cut into chunks, are synonymous with Kansas City barbecue. Try one of the best renditions in the city at Jones Bar-B-Q, a smokehouse that opened in the 1970s that's run by two sisters who learned the business from their father. The ends are roughly chopped and full of juice and rendered fat. Squirt on some of the thick, deep red barbecue sauce and dig in.

Related: Barbecue Sauce Recipes for Grill Season

Brunswick Stew
Amy B./Yelp

Brunswick Stew | Fresh Air Bar-B-Que

Jackson, Georgia

The dish that makes Georgia barbecue stand out from all other regions is brunswick stew. In rural areas, practically every smokehouse sells it, including Fresh Air, founded in 1929. Here, brunswick stew is a thin but viscous dish of chopped vegetables (tomatoes, corn, lima beans) and smoked meats cooked down into a cup of orange comfort food. Get it as a substantial side to a hickory-smoked chopped pork sandwich, or make it your full meal with a sleeve of saltines crushed into it.

Related: Roadside Restaurants Across America Worth a Detour

Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn:
James D./Yelp

BBQ Mutton | Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Owensboro, Kentucky

In a small part of northwestern Kentucky, mutton is the barbecue meat of choice. Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn is the best place in town to get the smoked adult sheep, as it has been since the ’60s. The dark meat is rich, gamy, and pulled into long, tender strands of meat seasoned with a savory and tangy blend of sauces and spices. Don't skip the burgoo, Kentucky's regional barbecue stew, or the many slices of pie on offer. 

Related: Strange But Surprisingly Tasty Local Foods to Try

Chopped Pork Sandwich
Michele M./Yelp

Chopped Pork Sandwich | Payne's Bar-B-Que

Memphis, Tennessee

There are two famous Memphis barbecue dishes: dry-rubbed ribs, and the lesser-known, local favorite, the chopped pork sandwich. Run by Flora Payne, Payne's Bar-B-Que has one of the best sandwiches in the area. The sandwich is simple, with finely chopped smoked pork covered with a sweet red barbecue sauce, then topped with coleslaw. It's the slaw that's the key to the dish, with its saucy consistency and bright yellow color from an abundance of mustard. It acts as a second sauce, full of sharp tang.

Related: You Have to Try These Famous Sandwiches in Every State

BBQ Sandwich
Fred B./Yelp

BBQ Sandwich | Scott's Bar-B-Que

Hemingway, South Carolina

The idyllic but ramshackle blue and white shack that houses Scott's Bar-B-Que might look unassuming, but there is treasure inside. This is one of the quintessential South Carolina smokehouses, where whole hogs are smoked over oak and hickory coals in covered pits in a huge shed just behind the store. The meat is pulled and mopped with a spicy vinegar sauce, but you'll want more sauce on the side too. Always grab a couple bags of the homemade cracklins to crunch on in between bites of succulent pig.

Related: Best Hole-in-the-Wall BBQ Joints Across America

Beef Ribs
Albert T./Yelp

Beef Ribs | Cattleack BBQ


Though brisket is king in Texas, you can't overlook the other cut of smoked beef: massive, dinosaur-sized ribs such as the ones at Cattleack BBQ, where one rib might be a meal for some. The meat is soft and supple, with a thick crust of rub and char outside. The strip mall location might not match the stereotypical "good barbecue" signifiers, but the limited hours and huge lines do. 

Related: Fantastic Regional Rib Recipes

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Bologna Sandwich
Sophia J./Yelp

Bologna Sandwich | Burn Co. Barbecue

Jenks, Oklahoma

Oklahoma has its own claim to barbecue fame: the bologna sandwich. Try one at Burn Co. BBQ, where they use all-meat bologna with no fillers. The big tubes of meat are scored deeply so the smoke penetrates them, then smoked until practically blackened for the most flavor and texture. Cut into a thick slab and served on a squishy bun, they're a specialty you can't find easily outside of Oklahoma.

Related: Amazing Sandwiches From Around the World

Chopped BBQ Plate
Thomas R./Yelp

Chopped BBQ Plate | Lexington Barbecue

Lexington, North Carolina

The town of Lexington is not very large, but it's got a ton of barbecue joints. The unimaginatively named Lexington Barbecue is a staple, and serves some of the best local-style pork: Unlike the eastern part of the state and its whole hogs, pork shoulder is the focus here. It's smoked over oak and hickory for 10 hours, then chopped or sliced. It's topped with a thin vinegar-based sauce that's tinged with tomato, just like the unique red slaw, also an orange hue from ketchup. 

Related: Historic Sandwich Shops That Changed Lunch Forever

Jones Bar-B-Que Diner: BBQ Pork Sandwich
Nakkal O./Yelp

BBQ Pork Sandwich | Jones Bar-B-Q Diner

Marianna, Arkansas

Though the stenciled sign says 1964, the history of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner can be dated to at least 1910, and it's been called the oldest Black-owned restaurant in the country. Fourth generation pitmaster James Jones runs the show, smoking only two things: pork shoulder every day, and hot links occasionally. The only real dish served is a pork sandwich on Wonder bread with a sprinkle of vinegar and pepper sauce, with or without coleslaw. Or just get pork by the pound. No matter what, this historical spot, which survived a fire in 2021, is well worth the pilgrimage. 

Related: The Best Hole-in-the-Wall Diner in Every State

Snow's BBQ
Howard L./Yelp

Brisket | Snow's BBQ

Lexington, Texas

You'll have to get in line early at Snow's BBQ on Saturdays, the only day it's open. Tootsie Tomanetz is the pitmaster here, and her meats have been called the best in Texas. The brisket is the star, and seemingly melts in your mouth, but the smoked turkey, jalapeño sausage, and pork ribs are all well worth waiting in line for. They'll all be sold out by noon. Plan to make a morning of waiting, and enjoy the camaraderie in line with all the other meat lovers.

Related: Restaurants and Bakeries That Always Sell Out

Archibald's BBQ
Craig A. /Yelp

Ribs | Archibald & Woodrow's Barbeque

Northport, Alabama

The big cinder block chimney on the side of the Archibald & Woodrow's Barbeque building was once white, but now it's black and streaked with decades of flavorful hickory smoke. That smoke has made its way into countless racks of succulent pork ribs, the most popular meat here by far. The ribs are cut and coated in an orange, vinegar-based sauce for serving, making them a messy thing to eat. Watch them sizzle as they get mopped with sauce right behind the ordering counter. 

Related: Exotic Condiments to Add Zing to Meals

Spicy Korean Pork Sandwich
Anjali S./Yelp

Spicy Korean Pork Sandwich | Heirloom Market BBQ


Heirloom Market BBQ is a newfangled smokehouse that's a fusion of Cody Taylor's Texan upbringing and his wife Jiyeon Lee's Korean cooking. Those heritages combine into a sandwich everyone goes crazy for, the spicy Korean pork sandwich. Pork is marinated in gochujang chili paste before smoking, and it's topped with kimchi coleslaw and pickles. It's an irresistible mix of heat, tang, and richness in one hefty sandwich. 

Related: From Barbacoa to Yakitori, Barbecue Styles From Around the World

Midway BBQ: Hash
Adam B./Yelp

Hash | Midway BBQ

Buffalo, South Carolina

The barbecue side dish — and sometimes main course — of choice in parts of South Carolina is simply called hash. You can get one of the best renditions of it at Midway BBQ, a spot that's been selling Southern comfort food since the 1940s. Hash was historically made with scraps and bits of leftover meat cooked down with seasonings into a hearty stew. At Midway, it's made with beef, butter, onions, salt, and pepper and simmered for at least 12 hours so it's a tender, flavorful, and rich topping for white rice. 

Related: Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches and More Unexpected Recipes for the Barbecue

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que: Barbecue Chicken Platter
Glen B./Yelp

Barbecue Chicken Platter | Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que

Decatur, Alabama

Big Bob Gibson is the originator of Alabama's biggest claim to barbecue fame: white barbecue sauce. It's mayo-based and creamy, but full of enough vinegar and black pepper to give it some tang and spice. A classic way to eat it is on smoked poultry, so grab the hickory-smoked chicken, basted with white sauce over dark brown burnished skin. If you enjoy it, grab a bottle on your way out.

Related: Spices and Spice Blends That Will Make Almost Any Meal Better

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