America’s Top 25 Barbecue Chains
April 6, 2017
You voted, we tallied, and here’s how the restaurants stack up
Sarah M./ Yelp
America’s Top 25 Barbecue Chains
Sarah M./ Yelp
See your list of the best barbecue chains in America. We ranked them based on your votes.
25. Shane's Rib Shack
Shane's Rib Shack/ Yelp
Shane and Stacey Thompson opened the first Shane’s Rib Shack in 2002 in a literal roadside shack on Highway 155 in McDonough, Georgia, featuring Shane’s grandfather’s recipes. Between 2004 and 2008 it grew from two locations to a whopping 85. While there are now outposts in 10 states, most remain in Georgia. There’s plenty to choose from on the menu, including smoked wings, loaded baked potatoes, and chicken tenders, but the reason for Shane’s overwhelming success is the meat: the barbecue pork is hand-carved, and the baby back ribs are tender and juicy. Beef brisket is also available.
24. Mission BBQ
Not surprisingly, this Northeast-based chain that opened its doors on 9/11 has two America-centric “missions.” First and foremost is to provide the most American of dishes (barbecue) using the highest-quality ingredients. Second, the ownership supports non-profits that focus on veterans and law enforcement as well as take a special interest in hiring veterans. The menu highlights the best of the nation’s barbecue styles, from Texas-inspired brisket to St. Louis-style ribs.
23. Goode Company
Since opening its doors in 1977, the family-owned-and-operated Goode Company has stuck to the same time-tested, homemade, and mesquite-smoked barbecuing techniques it began with. With three locations in Texas, meats are offered by the pound and include jalapeño pork sausage, sweetwater duck, honey-smoked ham, beef brisket, and chicken. In addition, Goode Company serves a variety of po’boys and combo plates, as well as traditional sides like baked beans.
22. Full Moon Bar-B-Que
Full Moon BBQ/Yelp
For more than 30 years, this barbecue chain — which grew out of a single restaurant opened in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1981 by an assistant football coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide — has always smoked its meats the traditional way: slowly, over a hickory wood-fired pit and spiced with its award-winning barbecue sauce. Calling itself the "Best Little Pork House in Alabama," this joint has 12 locations throughout the state. Full Moon features its famed hickory-smoked pork, pulled chicken, turkey, Black Angus beef brisket, pork links, and its famous baby back ribs and spareribs. The menu is huge and offers a selection of stuffed potatoes like the Big Baker, which includes pork, cheese, butter, and sour cream; salads; and a sweet list of desserts, including its popular Half Moon cookies, made from scratch, filled with chocolate and pecans, and hand-dipped in chocolate sauce.
21. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que/ Yelp
What started as a honky-tonk-style rib joint in Syracuse, New York, in 1988 has exploded in popularity over the years, offering some of the best barbecue available in the Northeast. Today there are nearly a dozen locations and long waits 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 like 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 and an extensive beer and cocktail list. You can also buy bottles of their legendary dry rub and barbecue sauce.
20. Brother Jimmy's
We know that New York City isn’t the traditional hub of barbecue, but the city’s growing demand for slow-roasted meats is making it competitive on a national scale. Although there are many standalone shops in the Big Apple, Brother Jimmy’s was one of the forerunners. There are now nine spots, spread from Connecticut to Florida, that specialize in North Carolina-style barbecue and have become a home away from home for ACC alumni. The anything-goes Southern hospitality welcomes everyone from rowdy sports fans to families.
19. The Country Line
The County Line's original location opened its doors in 1975 in Austin, Texas. Priding itself on serving generous portions of barbecue at affordable prices, it currently has nine locations throughout Texas and New Mexico. Its smoked meat platters include peppered turkey, sausage, chicken, lean brisket, and the rib king platter. This chain features all-you-can-eat family-style options for barbecue, as well as traditional sides such as coleslaw, potato salad, and beans.
18. Smokey Bones
Lucille's Smokehouse B-B-Q/ Yelp
This Florida-based chain has 67 locations in 17 states, and the name doesn’t lie: There’s some serious hickory smoke going on at every location, 24 hours a day. Pulled pork is hickory-smoked for 11 hours, beef brisket is 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, and you have more than 40 beer options to wash it all down with.
17. Lucille's Smokehouse B-B-Q
West Coast barbecue joints are not represented as heavily in our list as those from the South, but this chain was founded in Long Beach, California, and now has 22 locations spread across the Sunshine State, Nevada, and Arizona. The matriarch has recreated her grandmother’s recipe to fantastic success, and some of Lucille’s meats are smoked for up to 12 hours. A hickory smoker occupies the center of each location so guests can see the hickory-smoke magic unfold. Swing by for traditional beef tips and peach cobbler or the Cali-inspired brisket nachos.
16. Red Hot & Blue
Founded 26 years ago in Arlington, Virginia, by a group of Southern transplants (including the late former Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater, from Atlanta, and former Tennessee governor and House member Don Sundquist) looking for good barbecue in D.C., the chain today has additional locations in Maryland, Texas, New Jersey, Missouri, 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; sausages are smoked and grilled; and, thankfully, sampler platters are available so you can try a little bit of everything.
This Alabama chain has seven locations throughout the state, but Dreamland got its start in Tuscaloosa in 1958, rising to fame due to the hickory-smoked ribs and sauce cooked by founder John “Big Daddy” Bishop and his wife, Miss Lilly. Those recipes haven’t ever changed, and neither has the down-home feel of all of its locations. The menu has expanded, albeit slightly, to include sausage, chicken, chopped pork, and a handful of appetizers and sides, but the ribs are what keep customers coming back. Don’t believe it? Order some for yourself.
14. Coopers Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
A barbecue chain in Texas is held to a higher standard than in the rest of country — Texans, proud of their meats and their barbecue, are tough to impress. This family-owned chain of four restaurants has such a following that the owners have developed a healthy mail-order business as well. All the mesquite-smoked meats are delicious and rely on roasting the meats over embers. However, the big chop is the specialty that has developed a cult following. This cut of meat takes an hour to cook over low heat. With more than 50 years of experience, this mini chain has earned our trust for out-of-the-box barbecue meat.
13. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q
This barbecue chain began in San Antonio in 1950 as a simple poultry and egg business, which evolved into a full-blown barbecue chain that currently has 73 locations throughout Texas. With pit-smoked meats that include beef brisket, sausage links, chicken, pork spare ribs, ham, and turkey, this chain offers large barbecue plates and a variety of combo meals. The menu also features fried chicken and several classic sides. For those starting the day early, Bill Miller's features a morning menu complete with breakfast tacos, biscuits, and griddle cakes.
12. Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ
Sarah M./ Yelp
If you’re going to open a chain of barbecue restaurants in the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Colorado, you had 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 34 locations (with three more in the works), 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 smoke their own pork (sold pulled or chopped with a vinegary Carolina-style sauce), spare and baby back ribs, house-cured bone-in ham, legendary house-made pork hot links, chicken, turkey breast, and beef brisket, all of which are served with a big dose of Southern hospitality. They also offer a killer hickory-grilled burger and pimiento cheese sandwich, but honestly, you’re going to want to reserve all the room in your stomach for this crazy-good barbecue.
11. Bandana's Bar-B-Q
It should be no surprise that this Missouri-centric chain of 30 shops specializes in Kansas City-style ‘cue. Each location keeps a wood fire burning 24 hours a day to smoke its meats, making its slogan “Smell That Smoke” all the more appropriate. Founded in 1996, the mini empire now stretches across four states. Meat is sliced to order, and the suggested “feasts” are a great at-home catering option for a football watch party or, heck, even a casual Tuesday. The sauce selection does offer tastes of Chicago, Memphis, and St. Louis, so you could sample your way through barbecue country.
10. 4 Rivers Smokehouse
Richard H./ Yelp
4 Rivers is the brainchild of Florida barbecue master John Rivers. Since opening in October 2009, it has become incredibly well-respected, with nine operating smokehouses across the state. Rivers’ backstory is certainly nontraditional: He spent 20 years in the health care industry, but during his travels he decided to learn everything there is to know about barbecue, and after retiring he set about perfecting his own recipes. The smoker at each location is on at full blast throughout the day and night, smoking everything from Angus brisket, St. Louis ribs, pork shoulders, and chicken to wings, jalapeños, and a “brontosaurus” beef rib. The meat alone is enough to leave you happy and satisfied, but don’t forget about the sandwiches, like the famed Texas Destroyer: smoked brisket, onion rings, jalapeños, and melted provolone smothered in house barbecue sauce.
9. Corky's BBQ
Momo B./ Yelp
Hickory-smoked ribs are the claim to fame at Corky’s, a 33-year-old Memphis institution that boasts six Tennessee locations, two in Arkansas, and one in Mississippi. Corky’s ribs are rubbed, basted, and smoked for 18 hours, and are available dry or wet (that is, with or without sauce). Pork shoulder, smoked chicken and turkey, and smoked sausage are also worth the visit, as are Memphis staples like the smoked sausage and cheese plate and fried catfish. You’ll also find some unexpected treats, like chili-topped hot tamales and an onion loaf. Come hungry!
8. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
With more than 470 locations across the country, Dickey’s, founded by Travis Dickey more than 70 years ago, is the world’s largest barbecue franchise. Each location pit-smokes its meat on the premises, and free kids’ meals are still offered every Sunday. While it’s certainly old-fashioned, that’s 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.
7. Rudy’s Bar-B-Q
Rudy’s has over 30 locations in Texas and more spread throughout Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. They’re Texas-style through and through. Brisket, sausage, turkey, ribs, chicken, and pork loin are given a hefty dry rub and long-smoked with 100 percent oak. The menu is no-frills, with just meat and sides, including three-bean salad, creamed corn, a jumbo smoked potato, and green chili stew, but that’s the way it should be. Rudy’s will ship its meats, rubs, and famous “sause” nationwide.
6. Famous Dave's
A Minnesota-based chain founded by a Chippewa Indian might strike some as 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 has become 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, then slathered in a sweet and sticky sauce and grilled until they’re caramelized. Don’t leave without trying the brisket burnt ends; they’re tender, smoky, and caramelized in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce that you can (thankfully) bring home in a bottle.
5. Gates Bar-B-Q
Ask anyone in Kansas City where to get a true Kansas City barbecue experience, and odds are they’ll point you in the direction of the nearest Gates. There are six locations in the Kansas City metropolitan area, all carrying on a family tradition dating back to 1946. As at any Kansas City classic, the sauce here is legendary — sweet, slightly smoky, tangy, and just a little bit spicy — but the meat stands on its own. Ribs come via full slab, short end, center cut, or long end (something you rarely see in most barbecue joints), and you can also get chicken, sausage, mutton, beef, ham, turkey, or pork by the pound or in a sandwich. When in Kansas City, don’t miss Gates.
4. Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue
This Kansas City-based chain, whose roots go all the back to 1957, has three locations in the city proper, one in Overland Park, and a fifth in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Jack Stack is classic Kansas City all the way, using hickory wood fire to quickly smoke lots of different varieties of meat, including pork spare ribs, beef ribs, baby back ribs, beef brisket (including burnt ends), turkey, ham, pork, sausage, rack of lamb, and several types of seafood. Don’t miss the hickory pit beans or cheesy corn bake, and if you can’t make it to one of the locations, they’ll ship nationwide.
3. Joe's Kansas City
Lauren F./ Yelp
Dubbed America's best ribs by our recent ranking, Joe’s Kansas City in Kansas City, Kansas, offers smoky, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. This chain began in 1995 in none other than a corner gas station. Since then, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que has opened two more eateries and has been the Zagat #1 Rated barbecue in Kansas City every year from 2004 to 2013. The large menu offers smoked turkey and ham, beef brisket, ribs, barbecue sausage, and the house specialty, pulled pork. If you come in during lunch on Monday or Saturday, or at dinner on Wednesday, you may be lucky enough to indulge in Joe’s much sought after burnt ends (if the dish is not sold out). Oklahoma Joe's menu also features chicken gumbo and a variety of sides, such as dirty rice and barbecue beans.
2. City BBQ
City BBQ/ Yelp
Last year, this nearly-two-decade-old chain did not even appear on our list, and now it’s rocketed up to No. 2. Two key principles likely explain City Barbeque’s meteoric rise: preparing sides from scratch throughout the day and allowing 18 hours to smoke the meats. The chain of 30 shops isn’t looking to grow too rapidly and won’t franchise, enabling the owners to ensure the quality behind the name. Don’t expect to find a single barbecue philosophy here: the crew samples regional styles and serves up their favorites from the Carolinas to Texas. Purists may not approve, but our voters surely did.
1. Sonny's BBQ
For nearly 50 years, Sonny’s has been serving real-deal Southern-style barbecue. The barbecue joint got its start in Gainesville, Florida, where Sonny Tillman and his wife Lucille opened the first restaurant in 1968; they began to franchise nine years later. Today, there are more than 150 locations across eight states. Pork is served pulled or sliced; ribs are served wet, dry, St. Louis-style, or baby back; and all the meats, including beef brisket, chicken, and turkey breast, are smoked for up to 12 hours at each location. A bottomless salad bar, burgers, wings, pulled pork egg rolls, sides including baked beans and three-cheese macaroni and cheese, and desserts like homemade fruit cobbler and banana pudding round out the menu. So congratulations, Sonny’s, America voted you its favorite barbecue chain!