America's 35 Best Ribs 2017 Slideshow
July 14, 2017
A coast-to-coast look at the country's best ribs
34. Woodshed Smokehouse, Dallas
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!
35. John Brown Smokehouse, Long Island City, Queens
This Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant has slowly expanded its reach in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. The joint features a large back courtyard, perfect for throwing back KC-original beers, listening to live music, and noshing on those sauce-slathered ribs. (Throw some burnt ends on your tray, too; you won’t regret it.)
33. BBQ Shop, Memphis
This family-run joint in the River City may have grabbed headlines with its BBQ spaghetti, but the dry-rubbed ribs are the real star. These pork ribs can be prepared to your liking: dry, wet, or even glazed. And, living up to its name, you can bring home your favorite sauce or dry rub to try to recreate that sticky-finger deliciousness at home.
32. Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville
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.
31. Bogart’s Smokehouse, St. Louis
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.
30. 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.
29. City Market, Luling, Texas
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.
28. The Pit, Raleigh, N.C.
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
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.
25. Heim Barbecue, Fort Worth, Texas
Heim Barbecue has been deemed one of the best in the entire city. All the meat is smoked daily and the sides are made in house. With that in mind, we were excited to sink our teeth into some really good Texas brisket. We were not disappointed, as the signature savory slices of smoky, fork-tender brisket brought a smile to our faces and a deep satisfaction to our empty stomachs. This joint sources all of its ribs from the respected Niman Ranch, because the best results come from all-natural cattle and pigs. After all that great brisket and green chile mac and cheese, we made our way back to the Stockyards for some rest and relaxation on our last night in Fort Worth. – Elaine and Scott Harris
24. Smoke, Dallas
"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.
23. Swig and Swine, Charleston
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 the meat's tender and practically falling off the bone.
22. Sweatman’s BBQ, Holly Hill, S.C.
Mr. and Mrs. Harold Sweatman opened their first barbecue 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.
21. Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis
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.
20. 17th Street Barbecue, Marion, Ill.
This father-daughter team of pitmaster and restaurateur is slowly growing a barbecue chain. There are now two locations of their barbecue in Southern Illinois. Mike Mills is a partner at New York City’s Blue Smoke restaurant and has been inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. (He’s also received top-secret clearance to Air Force One, which sets his barbecue miles apart.)
19. 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.
18. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, Kansas City, Mo.
With five 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.
17. Smitty’s Market, Lockhart, Texas
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.
16. The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas
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 transcendent 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. There’s nothing like that famous Southern hospitality, right?
15. Gque Championship BBQ, Westminster, Colorado
When food talk turns to great barbecue locales, one typically thinks of places like Memphis, Charleston, Kansas City, and Austin. But Westminster, Colorado? Clearly, this isn’t on most people’s lists of where to go for great barbecue. But at Gque Championship BBQ, owner Jason Ganahl may be changing that perception with his own tried and tested version of barbecue, a mouth-watering effort to put this town on the barbecue map with his pork spare ribs.
Most days, Ganahl can be found out back making YouTube videos for his channel and grilling on the backyard grill, just like his dad used to. –Ron Stern
14. Pecan Lodge, Dallas
The Pecan Lodge has 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.
13. Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, Decatur, Ala.
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 wood, 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.
12. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City, Kan.
Formerly known 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.
11. Ten50 Barbecue, Richardson, Texas
This Central Texas temple slow-roasts its meats 24 hours a day, so no matter when you swing by, you’re assured fresh, long-roasted pork ribs. The spacious barn-inspired interior plays host to dozens of picnic tables and a stage for live music. If you’re able, save room for some homemade banana pudding for dessert.
10. The Shed, Ocean Springs, Miss.
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 family-owned and -run, and moreover, has a loyal following of customers 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, The Shed’s pitmasters slowly smoke the meats daily and slather on the signature homemade sweet sauce to finish it off. It’s even won the World Grand Championship in Memphis.
9. Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn
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 been 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.
8. Franklin Barbecue, Austin
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. 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.
6. Smoke Ring, Atlanta
Jordan Wakefield, the head chef at this upscale barbecue spot, comes from a diverse background. Originally trained as a pastry chef, he once ran the kitchen at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market; Wakefield has now settled into the barbecue groove. Only recently opened, this spot quickly ran up the rankings in the barbecue-dense South.
5. Peg Leg Porker, Nashville
Pitmaster Carey Bringle grew up in a ‘cue-centric family and has been competing in the World Championship of Barbecue for 25 years. He finally turned that competitive spirit into a brick-and-mortar joint in 2013. His ribs and other specialties have been recognized by everyone from the James Beard Foundation to Cooking With Paula Deen magazine.
4. Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
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.
3. Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart, Texas
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. Opened back in 1932 (and still using the same massive pits 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.
2. Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor, Texas
Less than a 40-minute drive from Austin is the small town of Taylor, Texas, and in Taylor 2015’s, 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. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, Austin
When a renowned barbecue joint lists its beef ribs under the heading “Cadillac of the menu,” you should probably order them. Pair your beef ribs (yes, this is what you’re ordering) with one of the many craft brews on tap. Pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick has 15 years of ‘cue-ing experience that led this spot to being ranked among the top 50 barbecue joints in the world by Texas Monthly.