BBQ, barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-que, bar-b-q … however you spell it, it tastes great, especially when it’s cooked low and slow over wood fire.
Listed below are 25 BBQ restaurants. Each one of these independent and mostly family-owned establishments astounded my palate profoundly with authentic and traditionally made American food.
The list is in alphabetical order, but I do have opinions about which places rank where on my list. Moreover, I definitely have an answer to whom should indisputably be ranked the top BBQ in America– as I had the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted there.
Curious about how I’d rank ‘em? Buy me a beer.
Why 25? I hit just over 30 joints during my tour. Only a few didn’t make the cut. And aside from one particular place that was hands down my absolute fave, all the others pretty much came in neck-and-neck as runners up.
Please note, this list is hardly exhaustive and merely reflects how I chose to spend my time during the year and is comprised of well established and brand new venues as well as businesses that are somehow related to where work and play took me. It is not without glaring omissions. For each pit checked off, several other shrines of wood-smoked tradition were closed when I would have been able to visit or just out of reach for whatever reason.
Best BBQ in the American South
751 Bs Barbecue Road, Greenville, North Carolina 27858
Opened in 1977 by William and Peggy McLawhorn, B’s Barbecue today is run by their daughters Donna, Tammy, and Judy. And folks still don’t mind driving for miles and lining up for the traditional smoked pork they do just like their parents taught ‘em. It’s the “best things since snuff” according to Donna.
900 North Main Street, Lexington, North Carolina 27292
Once an ice cream parlour (and they still do a mean banana split), Barbecue Center has been in the Conrad family since 1955 and has been serving up properly low and slow wood-smoked Lexington/Piedmont/Western Carolina BBQ all these many decades. The chopped Boston butt lunch tray with a side of local favourite red slaw is gorgeous. The hushpuppies are especially addictive.
566 3rd Street, Ayden, North Carolina 28513
As downhome as it gets, this multi-generation family-owned and run restaurant in downtown Ayden does southern food and slow smoked whole hog BBQ to perfection. Twenty-hour wood smoked whole hog cooked, a plateful of homegrown veggies, and an opportunity to cut up and share a laugh makes a meal at Bum’s a memorable experience.
2249 Central Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104
Awarding winning and with good reason, Central BBQ is “where the locals go.” The pulled pork sandwich jammed full of super tender and flavoursome meat is especially noteworthy.
Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ
1205 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, South Carolina 29407
Aaron Seigel, Ruckel and crew a moreish homage to the best of BBQ craft with every lick of with every lick of flame stoked. Indeed, the brisket might as well be Texan as its flavour, texture and moisture suggest Austin and Dallas. The pulled pork and dry rubbed ribs holler Memphis to me, and the Brunswick stew brings the Georgia coast to mind.
3947 Houston Ave, Macon, Georgia 31206
Pit-cooking hams in the Middle Georgia style for more than 75 years, family-owned Fincher’s Barbecue in Macon has the distinction of smoking the only BBQ to be sent into space. One taste and it’s easy to see why astronaut Sonny Carter made his odd request for Fincher’s wood-smoked ham to be part of the cargo for his 1989 NASA mission.
Fox Bros Bar-B-Q
1238 DeKalb Avenue NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30307
Jonathan and Justin Fox, two Texan expats hunkered down in ATL, started a low ‘n slow fire that proved unstoppable when they commenced cooking for their friends … and then their friends’ parties … and then their friends’ friends parties … all eventually leading to opening their own place which to me looked to be one of Atlanta’s most ridiculously popular restaurants – if judging only by the trouble finding a place to park nearby for Sunday lunch. Any minor hassles or waits were well worth the effort though as every bite is full of mega flavour. Fox Bros’ most munchable must-try mega bite? It’s gotta be the chicken fried ribs (double sided, thick cut ribs breaded, fried and served with white sauce).
900 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas 78702
Is world famous Franklin’s world famous brisket worth the hours’ long queue it usually takes to have a taste? Well, it made this list of top 25 BBQs in the South and even if the list were to be narrowed to top ten and possibly even whittled down further Franklin would be in the running.
Fresh Air Barbecue
3076 Riverside Drive, Macon, Georgia 31210
With locations in Macon and Jackson, the 18-hour wood-smoked hams at family-owned Fresh Air have been wowing local folks (and out-of-towners keen for an authentic taste of Georgia BBQ) since the 1929 The hams are amazing, as is the Brunswick stew.
Helen’s Bar B Q
1016 North Washington Avenue, Brownsville, Tennessee 38012
In the sleepy town of Brownsville, Tennessee – about halfway between Memphis and Jackson and not too far from the Nutbush City Limits made famous by Tina Turner, there’s been a pit in operation at this same spot for many years. It’s been owned by Helen Turner since 1996. You can see the plumes of hickory smoke billowing out the back this tiny joint from about a mile away and probably smell its full aromatic glory from slightly farther if you’re downwind and lucky. Follow those aromatic plumes for some of the most tender pork you might ever eat in your life. Helen’s is the real deal.
Hillsborough BBQ Company
236 S Nash Street, Hillsborough, North Carolina 27278
Hillsborough BBQ Company is an amazing place to eat and an especially friendly venue. Want to feel like a local star having your homecoming moment? Take a seat at the bar and revel in the chatty hospitality. Grab a bite while you’re there. The pit here is but a few years old but no less authentic than any in the South or yielding anything less than top quality smoked meat. HBC’s brisket could hold its own among any Texan contenders. The smoked turkey is out of this world – moist and tender with a subtle woody flavour. And the banana pudding? Damn!
Hot Thomas BBQ
3753 Greensboro Highway, Watkinsville, Georgia 30677
Blink-and-miss-it Watkinsville is where owner Mark Thomas carries on the family legacy at Hot Thomas BBQ. The name does not refer to the restaurant’s tantalisingly tangy sauces but the fevers Mark’s father, “Hot” Thomas, suffered as a small child. Evolving out of the family-owned general store, Hot Thomas BBQ opened in 1984, the. The humble eatery’s focus is on smoked ham. But a selection of choice meats and sides is available.
100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, North Carolina 27295
Just outside the town centre of Lexington this family run eatery has been in business since 1962. Lots of folks (and major media outlets) claim it’s the best in town and even the whole state and among the very best in the nation. A tray of local style chopped pork is an edible love affair with proud regional folk traditions.
Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ
400 West Davis Street, Dallas, Texas 75208
A hokey hole-in-the-wall in Dallas’ walkable and trendy Bishop Arts District, Lockhart is a standout establishment. Lockhart’s shoulder clod is one the best cuts of meat you’ll ever sink your teeth into.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Road, Nolensville, Tennessee 37135
Pat Martin’s celebrated restaurant in suburban Nashville does hickory smoked whole hog, accompanied by as enticing a menu as any. Highly recommended is the Redneck Taco (BBQ on top of a cornbread hoe-cake topped with slaw and sauce with a choice of pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, turkey or catfish).
Micklethwait Craft Meats
1309 Rosewood Avenue, Austin, Texas 78702
Going at a mound of frito pie topped with strips of brisket at a picnic table in the sun is a gourmand delight. The brisket is gorgeous and good enough to pacify any Texan’s carno-cravings. Service from the window of the Micklethwiat trailer is swift, appreciative and friendly.
2702 Main Street, Dallas, Texas 75226
In the hip and happening neighbourhood of Deep Ellum, this popular smokehouse is an easy recommendation for proper BBQ. Wanna over do it in gratuitously delicious glory? Go for “The Trough” (one beef rib, a pound of pork ribs, a pound of brisket, half of pound of pulled pork, three sausage links, and a heap of southern style sides) … or if watching your figure consider ordering the “Hot Mess” (jumbo sea salt-crusted sweet potato, shredded brisket with southwestern seasoning, chipotle cream, cream, butter and green onions).
Pulaski Heights BBQ
The Leathers Building, 675 Pulaski Street, Suite 100, Athens, Georgia 30601
Owned by hands-on Chef Chuck Ramsay, Pulaski Heights adheres to old ways when it comes to slow-cooking meats to succulent perfection but tends to go about its veg with worldlier health-conscious methods. Unlike many BBQ joints, Chef Chuck Ramsey makes his side dishes to complement his ‘que rather than being another excuse for big smoky meaty flavour that merely manages to mirror the main course. Ramsey’s vinegar lime slaw, collard greens, squash casserole, smoked cauliflower, kimchi and more are all excellent accompaniments for a mega meaty chow down but equally would please as a veggie plate.
18300 Farm to Market Road 1826, Driftwood, Texas, 78619
Head to the Texas Hill Country for authentic BBQ at the legendary Salt Lick. An expansive restaurant, bar and winery fanned out from the original stone pit built by Thurmond Howard in 1967. Everything from the pit is juicy and delectable– the brisket especially so.
4618 S Lee Street, Ayden, North Carolina 28513
For a mouthful of the most delicious BBQ you can’t even comprehend without trying for yourself, go to Skylight. Third generation proprietor Sam Jones sees no reason to “bastardise what made me and my family.” God bless the man for that! What “made” Sam and his family since 1947 is 16-18 hour wood-smoked and “dirt raised” whole hog chopped and blended with some skin left in for flavour and a bit of crunch.
901 Fort Worth Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75208
Chef Tim Byre’s outpost at the stylish Belmont Hotel does diners right all day long with a smart menu of smokehouse favourites served in a hip atmosphere.
309 Nelson Street SW, Atlanta, Georgia 30313
Husband and wife team Executive Chef Jordan Wakefield and bar manager Erin Leigh Wakefield have created an excellent setting for having a meal or grabbing a drink with friends at their Smoke Ring restaurant in the historic downtown Castleberry Hill neighbourhood. Kitchen doings are chef-y and creative – yet proudly downhome. Among the most notable were the BBQ deviled eggs and the best brisket you might ever have outside of Texas.
Southern Soul Barbeque
2020 Demere Rd, St Simons Island, Georgia 31522
Locals and vacationers alike know the best bites on St Simons Island are cooked in the kitchens and smoked in the pits at Southern Soul. Ribs are among the tastiest and most tender you’re ever apt to have.
Swig and Swine
1217 Savannah Highway, Charleston, South Carolina 29407
At Swig & Swine chef/owner Anthony Dibernardo equation of an inventive BBQ menu and an ever-updated list of mostly local craft beer adds up an awesome dining experience. Of particular note are the pork rinds with Tabasco honey and blue cheese, the smoked wings, and the melt-in-your-mouth smoked pork belly.
Wiley’s Championship BBQ
4700 US Highway 80 East, Savannah, Georgia 31410
Wiley and Janet McCrary’s award-winning restaurant opened in 2008 after the couple decided to turn their many years in the catering business and many accomplishments on the professional competition BBQ circuit into a dream come true. Soon expanding to twice its dining room size to keep up with burgeoning demand, the restaurant is a fantasy fulfilled not just for the dynamic duo behind its wood-burning pits but also for fans of low ‘n slow BBQ and southern style food made with flair.
More of the Best of 2015 to follow!