America's 35 Best Ribs 2016
July 13, 2017
Over 40 rib experts have weighed in, and we proudly present the 35 ribs that came out on top
America's 35 Best Ribs 2016
What makes a rack of ribs excellent? Should the meat be falling off the bone? Be doused in a sauce? How tender is too tender? Is there a nice, well-seasoned “bark” surrounding the meat? The answers to these questions will vary depending on who you ask. Though Americans are known to love pizza, burgers, and the like, few cuisines light America’s fire like barbecue. We take it extremely seriously, because as any ‘cue connoisseur will tell you, it’s not just about the meat, but also about regional identity, pride, and the journey to barbecue perfection.
#35 BrisketTown, Brooklyn, NY
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.” Its 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.
#34 The Woodshed Smokehouse, Dallas, TX
Established in 2012, The Woodshed is a 14,000-square-foot open-air restaurant. As the name suggests, this restaurant makes the point that what wood is used to smoke your meats matters. It offers tender oak smoked beef ribs and pecan smoked pork ribs. In addition, this smokehouse utilizes three smokers, two rotisseries, two wood grills, and a rotating variety of four to five woods on which to cook. So if you’re looking for an eco-friendly barbecue restaurant you’re at the right place. Not to mention your dog friends are allowed to join, too!
#33 Bludso's, Compton, CA
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. Not to mention the latest outpost in Melbourne, Australia!
#32 Bogart's Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO
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.
#31 Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Llano, Texas
Cooper’s supremely peppery pork rib breaks a cardinal 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.
#30 City Market, Luling City
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.
#29 Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville, TN
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 its 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.
#28 The Pit, Raleigh, NC
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 the 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 its the cheers, “more bone, more fat, more flavor!”
#27 Central BBQ, Memphis, TN
With two 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.
#26 Alamo BBQ, Richmond, VA
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.
#24 Blue Smoke
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.
#23 Smoke, Dallas, TX
"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.
#22 Killen’s BBQ, Pearland, TX
This barbecue restaurant delivers huge beef ribs, Texas style. Despite long waits, Killen’s frequently sells, out so you know it's worth the time and effort to get your hands on those ribs. They're juicy and tender, with thick shreds of beef falling off the bone. Like all the smoked meats here, the beef ribs get no seasonings other than salt and several layers of black pepper. At Killen’s you can taste the meat, in all its beefy-glory. No need for slathers, sauces, or rubs; that said they do offer an eclectic variety of sauces such as the "coffee sauce," and its mustardy, tart-sweet sauce.
#21 Swig and Swine, Charleston, S.C.
Relatively new to the scene, this Charleston barbecue spot offers St. Louis cut ribs — thick and meaty. At Swig and Swine, its ribs are coated in a slightly peppery dry rub. On the other hand, if you like your ribs doused in sauce, it offers four types on the table: South Carolina mustard BBQ sauce, North Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce, white horseradish BBQ sauce, and Tennessee tomato-based BBQ sauce. Rumor has it that they also have a jalapeño smoked BBQ sauce in the back. That said, most stick with just the dry rub, since the smoky seasoned ribs are cooked until it the meat's tender and practically falling off the bone.
#20 Sweatman's BBQ, Holly Hill, S.C.
Mr. and Mrs. Harold Sweatman opened their first bar-b-que place in Holly Hill in 1959. After closing, they continued to cook for family and friends, but it wasn't until 1977 that they re-opened Sweatman's Bar-B-Que. Today they continue to cook their whole hogs over hot coals for up to 14 hours, while oak, hickory, and pecan trees are used for the wood burned in the cooking process. Known for traditional Southern Carolina barbecue, their secret mustard based sauce is continually slathered on the meat until fully smoked.
#19 Fette Sau, Brooklyn, NY
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.
#18 Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO
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.
#17 Hill Country, New York, NY
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.
#16 Home Team BBQ, Charleston, S.C.
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.
#15 Gates Bar-B-Q, Kansas City, MO
In order to stand out in Kansas City you have to be better than good, and Gates is much better than good. While the menu at this restaurant, which has locations scattered throughout the area, is more varied than you might expect, ribs are the way to go. Lightly seasoned with a secret rub, they’re seared over an open flame before getting the low and slow treatment, resulting in a rib with the perfect amount of char, smoke, and tenderness. The tomato and vinegar-based sauces are so popular that they’re sold nationwide, but these ribs are so good that you should consider eating them sauce-less.
#14 Fiorella's Jack, Kansas City, MO
With 5 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.
#13 Smitty's, Lockhart, TX
Housed in the space originally occupied by Kreuz Market from 1900 to 1999 (which you will see later on this list), Smitty's Market 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.
#12 The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX
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?
#11 Pecan Lodge, Dallas, TX
The Pecan Lodge has been only been around for six 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.
#10 Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, Decatur, AL
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.
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City, KS
Formerly as Oklahoma Joe’s, 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.
#8 Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX
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.
#7 The Shed, Multiple locations, MS
The Shed's founders are a young sibling duo who turned their love of good 'bayou' barbecue into full time careers for themselves and their family. The Shed is both family-owned and ran, and moreover, has a loyal following who call themselves “shedheds.” Described as having a “junkadelic atmosphere,” this quirky barbecue joint features old school, sweet Southern barbecue. Using pecan wood-burning smokers, its pitmasters slowly smoke the meats daily and slather on its signature homemade sweet sauce to finish it off. Last year it won the World Grand Championship at Memphis thanks to its sweet 'cue.
#6 Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn, NY
Philip Traugott/ Yelp
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.
#5 Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, MO
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.
#4 Charles Vergo's Rendezvous, Memphis, TN
While there are tons of barbecue joints all over Memphis, Charles Vergo's Rendezvous has been the standard for Memphis style barbecue ribs for over 60 years. Rendezvous' ribs are served in the Rendezvous signature dry rub that originated from Charlie Vergos' father's Greek chili recipe. These 18 inch racks of meat are grilled for an hour and 15 minutes, and given a vinegar wash to keep them juicy. With its smoky charcoal flavor and its unique dry rub “seasoning,” the moist ribs have a nice complexity in spice and flavor and certainly don't need to be slathered in any sauce to be enjoyed.
#3 Kreuz Market, Lockhart, TX
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 116 years (since 1900), we think it’s best that they continue to operate under their “if it ain’t broke” culinary philosophy.
#2 Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor, TX
Less than a 40 minute drive from Austin is the small town of Taylor, Texas, and in Taylor sits last year's number one, Louie Mueller Barbecue. This barbecue spot, features 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.
#1 Black's Barbecue, Lockhart, TX
In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024, making Lockhart the official barbecue capital of the Lone Star State. Leading the pack on this hallowed turf of ‘cue is Black’s, the new home of America’s Best Ribs, as voted by you. 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.