The 10 Best Barbecue Chains in America (Slideshow)
Old Carolina was inspired by the roadside shacks you’ll find in the Carolinas, and the menu at their eight locations in Ohio (and several more in development) reflect just that, with Carolina-style pulled pork as a menu highlight, along with beef brisket, ribs, pulled chicken, and turkey. All meats are smoked for up to 14 hours over hickory wood, and the no-frills menu is rounded out by Southern classics like hush puppies, Brunswick stew, banana pudding, sweet tea, and Cheerwinie, the Carolina classic soft drink. Five sauces are available to go. You may not have heard of Old Carolina outside of Ohio yet, but you will soon.
Flickr/ reynolds james
With more than 30 locations centered in Alabama and Colorado, Moe’s is doing barbecue right. It was founded by three friends from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and since 2001, it has grown from a small slopeside catering operation to a barbecue destination. They still offer catering, but a trip to any of their restaurants is sure to be a good time, and is also a great primer in Alabama-style barbecue. Pork and chicken are their showcased items, topped with the signature Alabama white barbecue sauce, but the Angus beef brisket, hot links, St. Louis spare ribs, and fried catfish are also worth saving room for.
Moe’s Original BBQ
If the name Billy Sims sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was a Heisman Trophy winner, All-American, the #1 draft pick, Rookie of the Year in 1980, and spent 4 ½ seasons as running back for the Detroit Lions. The St. Louis native has put just as much energy into his barbecue as he did football, and his eponymous chain of more than 35 restaurants, mostly in Oklahoma, is a winner. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausages, turkey, chicken, and bologna (don’t knock it till you try it) are all smoked low and slow, and have developed a rabid following across the region. Save room for a chili cheese dog if you can.
Billy Sims BBQ
With nine locations throughout East and Middle Tennessee, this Knoxville-based chain has become legendary in its home state since it first launched in 1983 and won the National Rib Cook-Off the following year. Hickory-smoked baby back ribs are still prepared with the award-winning recipe, and their smoked pork plate and smoked chicken can hold their own with the country’s finest. Other specialties include Southern-fried catfish, prime rib dinner, beer cheese dip, and fresh-baked soft pretzels.
This Florida-based chain has 65 locations in 17 states, and the name doesn’t lie: there’s some serious hickory smoke going on here, 24 hours a day. Pulled pork is smoked for nine hours, beef brisket is only available after 4 p.m. every day after being smoked for 14 hours and sells out regularly, turkey is smoked for three hours, and ribs (both baby back and St. Louis-style) are smoked for four hours. Go for their top-seller, the pulled pork: each location goes through between 70 and 100 pounds of it daily.
flickr/ fast eddie maloney
A Minnesota-based chain founded by a Chippewa Indian might be a surprising place to find great barbecue, but Dave Anderson really knows his stuff. Since starting the company in 1994, he’s opened more than 200 locations and is also a formidable contender on the competitive barbecue circuit. Anderson has mastered just about every variety of barbecue, and it’s all on display on his menu. Texas beef brisket is dry-rubbed and hickory-smoked, Georgia-style chopped pork is smoked for 12 hours, Memphis-style rib tips are coated in a spicy dry rub, and the St. Louis-style spare ribs are smoked for four hours, slathered in a sweet and sticky sauce and grilled until it’s caramelized. Don’t leave without trying the brisket burnt ends; however, they’re tender, smoky, and caramelized in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce that you can (thankfully) bring home a bottle of.
With more than 400 locations in 43 states, Dickey’s is the world’s largest barbecue franchise. Founded by Travis Dickey more than 70 years ago, each location pit-smokes its meat on-premises, and free kids’ meals are still offered every Sunday. While it’s certainly old-fashioned, that’s more the result of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Meats are served by the pound, and include Southern-style pulled pork, hickory-smoked brisket, honey ham, spicy cheddar and Polish sausages, pork ribs, chicken, and turkey breast. There are no frills at Dickey’s, just solid, honest-to-goodness barbecue.
Dickey’s BBQ Pit
Founded 25 years ago in Arlington, Va. by a group of Southern transplants looking for good barbecue in DC (including former RNC chairman Lee Atwater and former Tennessee Governor–House member Don Sundquist), the chain today has additional locations in Maryland, Texas, New Jersey, Missouri, Michigan, and North Carolina. The restaurants have a distinctly Southern vibe, with menu items including fried Delta catfish and chicken fried steak, but it’s the barbecue that’s been the secret to its success. St. Louis-style ribs are served wet, dry-rubbed, or sweet; pulled chicken and pork are hickory-smoked low and slow; brisket is served sliced or chopped; housemade sausages are smoked and grilled; and thankfully sampler platters are available so you can try a little bit of everything.
Red Hot & Blue
What started as a honky tonk-style rib joint in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1988 has exploded in popularity over the years, offering some of the best barbecue available in the Northeast. Today there are locations in Rochester and Troy, N.Y., Newark, N.J., Stamford, Conn., Harlem and Brooklyn, N.Y. and long waits to get in every night of the week. What do the crowds line up for? Brisket pit smoked for 14 hours, both classic and Carolina-style pulled pork, homemade hot links, smoked chicken, and slow-smoked St. Louis ribs for those looking for classic barbecue; and killer burgers, pulled pork poutine, smoked wings, peel & eat shrimp, and sandwiches including the Chopped Melt (chopped brisket tossed with barbecue sauce, sautéed onions, and melted cheddar pressed in a Cuban roll) for those looking for something different. Dinosaur is a fun, rollicking kind of place with plenty of live music, an extensive beer and cocktail list, and thankfully you can also buy bottles of their legendary dry rub and barbecue sauce.
Flickr/ Sharon Drummond
If you’re going to open a chain of barbecue restaurants in the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Colorado, you better make sure that your product is on-point. A visit to Jim N’ Nick’s, which was founded in 1985 by a father-son duo in Birmingham, Alabama and now has 30 locations, will show you that this is the real deal. Perennial exhibitors at best-of-the-best showcases like New York’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party, they’re smoking their own pork (sold pulled or chopped with a vinegary Carolina-style sauce), spare and baby back ribs, house-cured bone-in ham, legendary housemade pork hot links, chicken, turkey breast, and beef brisket, all served with a big dose of Southern hospitality. They also offer a killer hickory-grilled burger and pimento cheese sandwich, but honestly, you’re going to want to reserve all the room in your stomach for this crazy-good barbecue.
flickr/ Arnold Inuyaki