Photo: Melissa Hom / Graphic: Ravi Bangaroo
There are few cuisines more quintessentially American than barbecue, and ribs are arguably the ultimate barbecue dish. Whether the ribs are pork or beef, prepared Memphis- or Texas-style, few carnivores can turn down a tender and juicy barbecued rib, which is why The Daily Meal has been ranking America’s best ribs since 2013. So, did your favorite ribs make this year's list? What about that rack you’ve heard everyone raving about? You’ll just have to read on to find out.
Rocklands is a D.C. favorite — so much so that they’ve been voted the best barbecue joint by the Washington City Paper seven years running. One look at the ribs and it’s easy to see why, as they achieve a gorgeous pink hue by being smoked over red oak and hickory wood. They offer beef ribs, too, but go for the pork, as they’re the crowd favorite.
Don’t let the simple name fool you — this is one special place. Legendary pitmaster Ed Mitchell founded The Pit in 2007, and although he’s no longer a part of the venture, it’s still imbued with his famous touch. They source pigs in-state, all raised using free-range farming practices, and the proof is in the pudding — or ribs, if you will. They have whole and half racks of baby back ribs, but you should really order the Carolina-style ribs because, as their menu cheers, “more bone, more fat, more flavor!”
Memphis is a town filled with barbecue joints, and in this competitive landscape, Cozy Corner has made a name for themselves — evident in the near-constant long lines of hungry customers. Tragically, in January 2015, there was a fire in the original location, but this family-owned and -operated business bounced back, opening just down the street inside Encore Café on Saint Patrick’s Day. Proprietor Desiree Robinson continues to churn out ’cue in the tradition of her late husband, local legend Raymond Robinson, and that includes ribs. Just check out this clip from Saveur’s BBQ Nation in which they’re highlighted and let us know if you can keep your mouth from watering.
Martin’s has been featured on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, and The Today Show, as well as in print outlets Bon Appétit, Esquire, Condé Nast Traveler, and Men’s Journal, so we think it’s high time we gave them a little love, too. The cooking process begins at 5 a.m. every day for Pat Martin and his team because, as their website states, “Whole hog, live-fire bar-b-que is our roots. It’s the essence of who we are.” They offer both Memphis-style dry rubbed racks and “wet” ribs slathered in Southern Belle sauce. We say go for the dry, and if you like a little kick, sprinkle on just a drop or two of their “Devil’s Nectar” sauce — it’s made with habanero chiles and is sure to pep up your rib experience, though these succulent specimens are fantastic all on their lonesome.
Home Team BBQ
Home Team Barbecue, around since 2006, was described as serving "the most life-changing BBQ ribs" in America by Esquire in 2012. Pitmaster Aaron Siegel starts with a sweet and spicy rub that’s used on just about everything he smokes, and the ribs go down for five to six hours. When they emerge, they’re covered in a deeply caramelized bark and are moist and tender. The place also has killer cocktails you can sip while you bask in their ribs’ meaty glory.
Bogart’s is helmed by the former pitmaster from Pappy’s, a St. Louis institution. The sides here are spectacular (think pit baked beans and barbecued pork skins), but make sure not to fill up, because the ribs are the main event here. They’re pleasantly sticky and caramelized due to a special treatment that they get after being removed from the grill: they’re hit with a blowtorch, a genius move if we ever saw one.
Development was underway for this Red Hook ’que joint when Hurricane Sandy wiped out much of the neighborhood in November 2012. Just about 11 months later, with, as the Village Voice put it, “the help of indefatigable community hands and nary a cent from the government or insurance,” Hometown Bar-B-Que opened its doors. Ever since, pitmaster and owner Billy Durney has churning out real barbecue for Northerners. They serve pork spare ribs, jerk baby backs, and off-the-menu Korean sticky ribs, which are first smoked and then fried. Your best bet for rib satisfaction, however, is the beef ribs — they’re huge and peppery, and the smoke flavor runs all the way down to the bone.
Everett and Jones Barbeque / Facebook
Here’s one of those feel-good personal stories you don't hear every day. Back in 1973, after moving from rural Alabama and separating from her husband, single mother Dorothy Everett opened Everett & Jones with her eight daughters, one son, one son-in-law, and a lot of faith. As their website explains, “she borrowed seven hundred dollars from her good friend Cora, ‘the Angel.’ With a week's line of credit from her suppliers she opened her own barbeque restaurant heavily dependent upon the Lord.” More than 40 years later, Everett & Jones is still serving great barbecue and has become a pillar of the Oakland community. If you like ooey-gooey ribs, than Everett has your number — they’re doused in a fantastic red sauce that comes hot, medium, or mild. The meat is smoked over an oak fire and seasoned with their special “Super Q” seasoning, lending a smoky, spicy taste that has lured many back for more for over four decades.
Yet another success for Danny Meyer, Blue Smoke is what really started the barbecue craze in New York. Along with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, they transformed the city’s meatscape and helped to educate New Yorkers on what real barbecue is all about. A year after opening in 2002, Blue Smoke threw the first Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, inviting the nation’s best pitmasters to cook their signature specialties for over 125,000 attendees. That tradition is still going strong, as are both locations of Blue Smoke — and their ribs are definitely a big part of their success. There's the big beef short ribs, the pork baby back ribs (available by the full or half rack), and the pork spare ribs. You really can't go wrong with any of them, so you might as well bring a few friends, go whole-hog, and order all three.
This restaurant specializes in Texas-style ribs from a recipe handed down by owner Kevin Bludso’s great-great-grandfather. The recipes are a well-guarded secret, but the end result is world-class: smoky, sweet, and requiring a little tug to get at. Bludso’s has enjoyed such success that there’s now a location in a very different corner of Los Angeles, West Hollywood.
Archibald’s has been run by the Archibald family since it opened in 1962, and today it’s helmed by George Archibald Jr., who sticks with the same recipe his father used. Ribs, smoked low and slow over hickory wood, are served out of a little shack. Grab a rack and a cup of the distinctly orange, vinegary sauce; snag a picnic table; and enter barbecue nirvana.
Greg W /Yelp
Chaps has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives; Man v. Food; No Reservations; Appetite for Destruction; and 101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown — and it’s pretty easy to see why. True to their name, they cook their meat over charcoal instead of wood, and they slather their pork ribs in a sweet, tomato-based sauce. You can order ribs by the pound, and we suggest getting a side of their gravy-covered fries — your whole plate will be finger lickin’ fantastic.
Fette Sau BBQ / Facebook
Brooklyn’s Fette Sau is one of the few smokehouses in America to use exclusively heritage animals from farms in its region. Their ribs are dry-rubbed and smoked over a blend of beech, cherry, maple, and red and white oak woods. They offer a variety of sauces, but they leave it up to you to apply them — they’re confident that their meat doesn’t need sauce, and we tend to agree.
In a city known for its barbecue, Corky’s has found its way to the top of the heap thanks to its ribs. The place’s website describes the process that its ribs go through before reaching the eater: "Corky's meats are SLOW COOKED over hickory wood and charcoal. As we say... cookin' the old fashion way! Each slab of ribs is trimmed out to our very tight specifications, and every pork shoulder is HAND PULLED... NO AUTOMATION! So pull up a chair, roll up your sleeves and dig into the best BBQ in the world.” If that doesn’t make you hungry, we don’t know what will.
"I dote on the beef ribs at Smoke," Southern food specialist and Daily Meal Council John T. Edge told us. "These show great smoke penetration, and the meat has a kind of roundness, a beefiness that recalls the best dry-aged steakhouse stuff." The rest of the country tends to agree. Chef Tim Byres opened this restaurant inside the city’s Belmont Hotel in 2009, and while it’s not a barbecue joint per se, there are several smoked meats on the menu, and his fine-dining approach to the cuisine elevates it above the pack. The giant "big rib" is slow-smoked over oak and hickory until it develops a beautiful crust; it’s tender, but not falling apart. It's served with a chimichurri sauce that provides an extra kick, but you’ll find it’s wholly unnecessary.
17th Street Bar and Grill
Champion pitmasters Mike and Amy Mills know their way around a pig (their chopped pork shoulder is legendary), but their ribs have won enough awards to fill up their own trophy room. Rubbed with Mills’ signature “Magic Dust” before heading to the pit, where they’re smoked for six hours with apple and cherry wood, they’re tender, moist, and full of flavor. Don’t try looking for the pink “smoke ring,” though; they’re so well smoked that the meat is the smoke ring.
Delaney Barbecue / Facebook
BrisketTown serves Central Texas-style barbecue in the ultimate hipsterdom that is Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but they do it so well that The Village Voice’s Robert Sietsema declared it “every bit as good as you get in Texas.” Their pork ribs are meaty and a rich brown color created by the joint’s eight-spice rub. They’re finished with a touch of molasses, too, which lends a kiss of sweetness as you tear into them.
Black’s BBQ / Facebook
In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024, making Lockhart the official barbecue capital of the Lone Star State. One of the best of the pack on this hallowed turf is Black’s. Opened back in 1932 (and still using the same massive pits as the ones the original pitmaster built back in the 1940s), the place is a local institution, and they offer three different kinds of ribs: pork baby back, pork spare, and beef. They’ve all been smoked over post oak wood — the preferred wood of most Texas barbecue pitmasters — but the pork spare ribs are just a little more satisfying then the baby back variety. For diversity, you might as well order a massive beef rib while you’re at it, as each bone averages nine inches in length and weighs about a pound.
The pork ribs at Hill Country, with locations in New York (both a Manhattan and a Brooklyn location) and Washington, D.C., pay homage to — where else? — the Texas Hill Country. They’re peppery, tender (but not falling off the bone), and delicately scented with wood smoke. You’ll eat more than a few before you even realize that they don’t have any sauce on them, because you just don't need it. If there’s room left in your stomach, order some of the perfectly smoked prime rib and thank us later.
With three locations in Memphis, Central BBQ is an under-the-radar restaurant that’s worth knowing about. Their ribs are dry-rubbed 24 hours ahead of smoking, then smoked sauce-free low and slow over pecan and hickory wood. They are so tender and flavorful, you’ll get through the entire rack before remembering that once upon a time you put sauce on your ribs.
Both the beef and pork ribs from this Texas institution are good enough to bring you to tears. There’s just something about the meat, the smoke, and the shady, tree-filled setting that combine for a transcendental barbecue experience. These ribs are mopped as they smoke on a giant central pit, and the pork ones emerge right in that sweet spot, tender and pulled clean from the bone without falling off. The beef ribs (go for double-cut if you’re feeling especially gung-ho), which are the stuff of dreams even without a drop of sauce, will have you strategizing your return visit before you exit the building. Don’t forget to bring along a six-pack. They’ll put it on ice for you — nothing like that famous Southern hospitality, right?
The Pecan Lodge has been only been around for five years, but they’ve made quite the name for themselves on the national barbecue circuit. The smokers are fired up around the clock with a mixture of mesquite and oak, and they offer both beef and pork ribs on their menu, but we hear you need to arrive early to get your hands on the beef kind, which is always a good sign. The pork ribs are both peppery and sweet with a crunchy bark and tender meat, so you know what to do: Get in early, order both beef and pork ribs, and launch yourself into barbecue bliss.
Just beating out their Lockhart neighbors Pecan Lodge is Smitty's Market. Housed in the space originally occupied by Kreuz Market from 1900 to 1999 (which you will see later on this list), Smitty’s is considerably smaller than the transplanted Kreuz’s new location, but it has a time-worn ambience — as well as its original pits. These well-seasoned pits turn out well-seasoned ribs, both pork and beef. The pork is the way to go here — their strong flavor may permeate the layers of brown paper in which they’re wrapped and leave your hands smelling like smoky pork even after you’ve finished your meal, but hey, you won’t find us complaining.
Jumping up all the way from No. 26 last year is Alamo, which specializes in Texas-style barbecue, as the name implies. Its brisket is the stuff of legend, but the ribs are also world-class. They’re smoky, mopped with a stellar but not overpowering barbecue sauce, and are so good that you might just end up ordering a second rack.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack
With four locations in the Kansas City area, Jack Stack is a bit of a barbecue anomaly in this order-at-the-window town: there’s table service, a wine list, a nice bar, and even a hostess stand. This isn’t to cover up for a lack of quality, however: this place does everything, and they do it really well. Take the ribs, for example: there are pork baby back and spare ribs, beef back ribs, lamb ribs, and the “Crown Prime Beef Ribs,” three huge slabs of beef short ribs. While you can go for a sampler, if you have to try just one, go for the spare ribs: hickory-smoked, requiring a little tug to get off the bone, sweet and smoky.
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
Cooper’s gained the most traction of any place on last year’s list, rocketing from the barely-made-it No. 34 spot to make it into this year’s top 10. Their supremely peppery pork rib breaks a trademark rule of barbecue — it’s finished over direct heat — but it’s just about impossible not to fall in love with Cooper’s ribs. That finishing touch gives it a great char, and you’re also allowed to choose your own rack right off the grill.
Charles Vergo's Rendezvous is consistently ranked among the best barbecue joints in the country, and you do not want to miss out on their ribs. What makes these ribs so good is the rub, or as they call it, "the seasoning" (word is that it’s not called a rub because it’s not rubbed in). The baby back ribs are cooked hot and fast, which might seem against-the-grain, but the proof is in the pudding: The technique works.
It might be Memphis-style barbecue in St. Louis, but Pappy’s makes some of the best ribs in a city that’s renowned for them. The lines form early to get into this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and it closes as soon as the barbecue runs out. These ribs are smoked over apple or cherry wood, and have a kick of black pepper and rosemary. The whole scene can be a bit of a madhouse, but just close your eyes and take a bite and you’ll be in your happy place in no time.
City Market is one of Texas’ great barbecue joints and a true claim to fame for the city of Luling. You’d be hard-pressed to find better brisket, and the ribs are simply out of this world. It’s a comfortable, air-conditioned restaurant (a nice change of pace from some of the state’s more rustic establishments), and while the sauce is some of the best you’ll ever have, it’s completely beside the point on these beautifully smoked ribs.
Kreuz Market / Facebook
Definitive Hill Country barbecue meat on butcher paper in a big barn of a place perfumed with wood smoke is what you’ll find at Kreuz Market, the third member in the Lockhart rib trifecta. Their brisket and sausages are legendary, but they make some really mean pork spare and beef ribs, too. In true Central Texas-style, they use post oak wood, but what sets them apart is actually the absence of something: barbecue sauce. They don’t have any in the kitchen and you won’t find any on the tables, just a little bottle of hot sauce here and there. They like to let the intense smoky flavor really shine in their ribs, and since they’ve been doing it for 115 years (since 1900), we think it’s best that they continue to operate under their “if it ain’t broke” culinary philosophy.
Chris Lilly is one of America’s most renowned pitmasters, and with good reason. He took over the pit at the circa-1925 barbecue joint a couple of decades ago, introducing new sauces and rubs to the equation, and suddenly Big Bob Gibson’s was on the map. He’s best known for his Alabama-style white sauce, a tangy concoction that best complements his smoked chicken, but his ribs are not to be missed. After being liberally seasoned with his award-winning dry rub, they’re pit-smoked low and slow over hickory smoke, then glazed toward the end with his famous red sauce and honey. The end result is sweet, smoky, spicy, tender, juicy, and just about everything you’d look for in a rib.
Kansas City can be very proud to be home to Arthur Bryant’s, arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America. You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you were to pay a visit to this place, which was founded in the 1920s, without trying the ribs. The secret to the barbecue here lies in the wood: the hickory and fruit wood used is of the quality more often used for making furniture than for burning. The pork ribs are pink and perfectly smoked, and when slathered with Bryant’s famous orange-red barbecue sauce (made with double-strength pickling vinegar), they’re the stuff dreams are made of.
What started as a trailer in 2009 quickly became one of the most revered spots in all of ’cuedom, and loyalists and pilgrims all line up outside the front door for hours on end every day. No visit is complete without sampling some of the impossibly tender ribs, which are peppery and have a well-caramelized bark. You have your choice of three sauces for slathering (espresso-based, vinegar-based, or a sweeter variety), but as is usually the case with barbecue this good, none is necessary.
Formerly Oklahoma Joe's, and last year’s winner, Joe’s Kansas City boasts ribs that are a deeply burnished shade of red thanks to a rub heavy with paprika, cumin, brown sugar, and chili powder. These ribs are postcard-picture-perfect, and you’ll most likely find yourself snapping a photo of them before you even take that first bite. But once you do, you’ll learn what the fuss has been about. Moist, juicy, smoky, tender — all those adjectives you thought you knew the definition of will conjure only one image in your mind from here on out: Joe's pork ribs.
Louie Mueller Barbecue
Less than a 40 minute drive from Austin is the small town of Taylor, Texas, and in Taylor sits Louie Mueller Barbecue, the home of America’s best ribs. They’ve got big meaty beef ribs, which they rub with salt and cracked pepper before slow-cooking them over post oak wood; pork spare ribs, which get salt-and-pepper rubbed just like the beef ribs; and their newest entrée, baby back ribs, which are dusted with a “magic” spice mix and basted with a sweet glaze. Let’s not kid ourselves here — just order all three, because you know you want to. You can blame it on us; we won’t mind.