Food & Drink

The Barbecue Bucket List

Try these Southern barbecue joints while you still can

Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee

Everyone has a favorite place for barbecue, and we couldn’t possibly list all the worthy spots out there. But these fifty joints below the Mason-Dixon line, which serve everything from pork to beef to mutton to mullet, are all worth any serious barbecue lover’s time.

Alabama Barbecue

Archibald’s BBQ
Established: 1962

In the same smoke-stained cinderblock building where his grandfather cooked fifty years ago, Tray Archibald glazes ribs with a tangy, rust-colored barbecue sauce. 205-345-6861


Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
Established: 1925

Big Bob Gibson invented white barbecue sauce at the backyard predecessor to his first brick-and-mortar restaurant. Nowadays, it’s slathered on smoked chicken all over Alabama.


Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q
Vestavia Hills
Established: 1984

The pork and beef are fine, but the chicken is the main attraction—a tender, crisp-skinned testament to Alabama-style barbecue, best with plenty of white sauce. 205-967-6004


Saw’s BBQ
Established: 2009

It’s a young joint helmed by a classically trained chef, but the smoky atmosphere and no-frills ribs, pulled pork, and chicken are timeless.

Arkansas Barbecue

Craig’s Bar-B-Q
Devalls Bluff
Established: 1947

Stop by in winter and chances are you’ll see plenty of duck hunters enjoying pork sandwiches, soaked with a proprietary sauce that most definitely includes a few secret ingredients. 870-998-2616


Jones-Bar-B-Q Diner
Established: 1910

More than a century of accumulated wisdom goes into the pulled pork at Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, still operated by the same family that founded the place. 870-295-3802


McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant
Hot Springs
Established: 1928

McClard’s can count former president Bill Clinton among the many Hot Springs residents past and present who have fallen in love with the restaurant’s ribs and secret-recipe sauce.

Florida Barbecue

Pearl Country Store & Barbecue
Established: 2002
It’s a gas station, a convenience store, and a highway-adjacent barbecue joint with surprisingly tasty chopped pork, ribs, and sides.


Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
South Pasadena
Established: 1951

Mullet, German potato salad, coleslaw, a pickle wedge, a lemon wedge, a slice of tomato, and a slice of sweet onion. That’s the smoked mullet dinner, unchanged for generations.

Georgia Barbecue

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
Established: 2007

Twins Jonathan and Justin Fox may have moved east, but they haven’t lost their Texas swagger, manifested in chicken-fried pork ribs, chili-smothered tater tots, and thick-cut brisket.


Heirloom Market BBQ
Established: 2010

When a barbecue-loving Georgia boy and a former Korean pop star cook together, they produce the likes of Heirloom Market’s popular gochujang-marinated pork sandwich.


B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Established: 2014

Bryan Furman serves locally sourced meats dressed with a peach-mustard barbecue sauce at his unassuming roadside joint. 


Gary Lee’s Market
Established: 1968

Less than two miles from I-95, Gary Lee’s is a barbecue purist’s dream: a family-owned grocery store offering superb smoked chicken, brisket, pork ribs, and sausage by the pound. 912-265-1925


Southern Soul Barbeque
St. Simons Island
Established: 2007

Maybe Virginia has the better claim on Brunswick Stew, but Southern Soul near Brunswick, Georgia, has some of the best in the South. Tasty pulled pork, too.

Kentucky Barbecue

Marion Pit Bar-B-Q
Established: 1972

Regulars line up for pit master Jack Easley’s seventeen-hour-smoked pork. There aren’t many places to sit, but that’s okay. Your takeout container probably won’t last long anyway. 270-965-3318


Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
Established: 1949

Aficionados visit this famous spot to check two rarities off their bucket lists: Kentucky burgoo and mutton barbecue, served with an umami-rich black sauce.

Louisiana Barbecue

Johnson’s Boucanière
Established: 1937

Boudin meets brisket at Johnson’s Boucanière, known for both its barbecue and its grilled cheeses, stuffed with sausage and smoked meats and pressed until warm and gooey.


The Joint
New Orleans
Established: 2004

There isn’t really such a thing as New Orleans-style barbecue, but a combination platter that weds spicy chaurice sausage and pulled pork makes a case that maybe there ought to be.


Walker’s Southern Style Barbecue
New Orleans
Established: 2004

Wanda Walker plays a little loose with the term cochon de lait, which usually refers to a slow-roasted suckling pig, but the pork in her cochon po’boy is equally as tender and flavorful.

Maryland Barbecue

Chaps Pit Beef
Established: 1987

Baltimore’s answer to low-and-slow barbecue is pit beef: Charcoal-cooked bottom round, sliced thin and served on a roll with horseradish sauce. Chaps is a Charm City institution.

Mississippi Barbecue

Abe’s Bar-B-Q
Established: 1924

The pits smolder at the same crossroads where blues legend Robert Johnson supposedly made his bargain with the devil. Make an easier choice: get a pork plate and a bundle of hot tamales on the side.


Lamar Lounge
Established: 2012

The nineteenth-century bar by the front door is impressive, but the centerpiece at Lamar Lounge is the patio-side barbecue pit, built to cook whole hogs—and draw a crowd.


Leatha’s Bar-B-Que Inn
Established: 1974

With a tin roof, plywood floors, and mismatched chairs, Leatha’s is a no-frills joint. The focus is on the food: pulled pork and chicken, ribs, grilled ribeyes, and classic sides. 601-271-6003

North Carolina Barbecue

12 Bones Smokehouse
Established: 2005

True to its laid-back mountain surroundings, 12 Bones serves freeform barbecue with creative twists. The local favorite: baby back ribs glazed with a blueberry-chipotle sauce.


Allen & Son Barbeque
Chapel Hill
Established: 1970

Diners go to Allen & Son for chopped pork, dressed with an eastern North Carolina–style vinegar-pepper sauce, but they linger after dinner for the scratch-made pie and ice cream. 919-942-7576


B’s Barbecue
Established: Late 1970s

There’s no phone, and the joint closes when the smoked pork and chicken run out. Even locals line up for a taste. 252-758-7126


Bar-B-Q Center
Established: 1955

Your order at one of the oldest joints in a barbecue capital: chopped pork, red slaw, crinkle-cut fries, and a banana split, heaped with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. 336-248-4633


Lexington Barbecue
Established: 1962

Wayne Monk might be the most famous pit master in the North Carolina Piedmont, and his chopped pork shoulder still sets the standard in one of the state’s barbecue capitals.


Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
Established: 1949

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That old mantra keeps the hickory burning at Red Bridges, where Debbie Bridges-Webb makes sure the pork and red slaw remain up to her father’s standards.


Skylight Inn
Established: 1947

Skylight Inn is a window into the nineteenth-century origins of barbecue, serving chopped hog dressed with salt, pepper, vinegar, and hot sauce in the eastern North Carolina style.

Oklahoma Barbecue

Smokies BBQ
Broken Arrow
Established: 2012

Out west, smoked bologna also goes by the tongue-in-cheek moniker Oklahoma Prime Rib. Some of the best in the Sooner State comes from the unusual concrete cooker at Smokies.

South Carolina Barbecue

Hite’s Bar-B-Que
West Columbia
Established: 1957

Locals lust after the rib cut, a bone-framed rectangle of tender meat carved from a whole hog and backed by crisp, mustard-lacquered skin. Hash and rice on the side.


McCabe’s Bar-B-Que
Established: 1982

How about sides of fried chicken and black-eyed peas with your pulled pork? Ninety-three-year-old Jessie McCabe still oversees everything but the smoker at her family’s buffet. 803-435-2833


Scott’s Bar-B-Que
Established: 1972

First, the boll weevil killed the cotton crop. Then, tobacco went out of style. These days, pit master Rodney Scott keeps little Hemingway on the map with his famous whole hog barbecue.


Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que
Holly Hill
Established: 1977

Takeout is an option, but regulars generally spring for the all-you-can-eat buffet, stocked with everything from mustard-sauced pork to green beans to banana pudding.

Tennessee Barbecue

Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous
Established: 1948

Decades of cooks have tried to copy the dry rub that Charlie Vergos devised to coat ribs in his basement restaurant more than fifty years ago. It’s still a closely guarded secret.


Cozy Corner
Established: 1977

This Memphis stalwart’s temporary closing due to fire damage has likely caused conniptions among the devoted patrons who go starry-eyed over its smoked cornish hens and barbecue spaghetti.


Helen’s Bar-B-Q
Established: 1996

Helen Turner has worked in a cloud of hickory smoke since her barbecue pits melted the fans she bought to clear the air. You can taste the smoke in every bite of her hand-cleaved pork shoulder. 731-779-3255


Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
Three locations in Tennessee and Morgantown, West Virginia
Established: 2006

Pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and coleslaw—all great individually and, even better when heaped together on a freshly griddled hoecake to make one of Pat Martin’s Redneck Tacos.


Peg Leg Porker
Established: 2013

In a brick bunker of a barbecue joint, Carey Bringle serves some of Nashville’s finest ribs, dusted with a tomato-red dry rub that testifies to his roots in the western part of the state.


Ridgewood Barbecue
Bluff City
Established: 1952

Call it Appalachian-style barbecue. At Ridgewood, smoked and shaved ham comes doused with a thick, sweet, and top-secret sauce. 423-538-7543

Texas Barbecue

Franklin Barbecue
Established: 2009

Although Aaron Franklin has only been in the business for six years, his brisket has already earned him some of the culinary world’s highest honors.


Kreuz Market
Established: 1900

One of the original Texas barbecue temples, Kreuz is still marvelously minimalist. No forks, sauce, or plates. Just great flavor.


La Barbecue
Established: 2012

Pit master John Lewis is a lanky, bespectacled perfectionist who welds his own barbecue pits, stuffs his own sausage, and holds his brisket to exacting standards.


Pecan Lodge
Established: 2010

Like many Texas joints, Pecan Lodge is all about the meat: Brisket, pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, and sausage, served glistening with fat and accompanied by pickles and raw onion.


Snow’s BBQ
Established: 2003

Brisket, pork ribs, chicken, pork steak, and sausage. Saturdays only, starting at 8:00 a.m. Show up around noon, and 79-year-old pit master Tootsie Tomanetz might already be sold out.


Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que
Established: 1955

Texas health codes have been hard on traditional cow’s-head barbacoa, cooked on mesquite coals in an underground pit. Luckily, Vera’s has been grandfathered in—ojos and all. 956-546-4159

Virginia Barbecue

Barbeque Exchange
Established: 2010

Barbeque Exchange’s encyclopedic menu of smoked meats could drive an indecisive diner to madness. Relax and order the pork belly, with collard greens and a pumpkin muffin.


Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que
Established: 1971

The name came from a sign painter’s mistake, according to legend. Nowadays, plenty of diners pull up under the curiously misspelled logo for piled-high pork sandwiches and sides.

Washington DC Barbecue

DCity Smokehouse
Established: 2013

Layering smoked meats with red chile coleslaw and cilantro ranch dressing, DCity Smokehouse is the irreverent, multicultural barbecue joint our nation’s capital needs.