America's 35 Best Ribs (Slideshow)
May 5, 2014
There are few foods more perfect than a well-cooked rib
35) Morgan’s Barbecue, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pitmaster John Avila, formerly of Austin’s renowned Franklin Barbecue, is no longer manning the pit that he helped build when Morgan’s opened on Brooklyn’s well-trafficked Flatbush Avenue not far from the Barclays Center, but his legacy — and amazing ribs — live on. These are Texas-style ribs, meaning they rely only on a salt-and-pepper-heavy dry rub and oak wood smoke to make the meat shine. They’re smoked for upwards of 12 hours, and are tender, juicy, and full of flavor.
34) Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Llano, Texas
This 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.
33) Roper’s Ribs, St. Louis
Family-owned since 1976, Roper’s St. Louis and baby back ribs are meaty, smoky, and coated in a hearty sweet and spicy sauce that doesn’t overpower the meat. It’s a tiny, smoky place, so be prepared to take your order to go; you’ll be amply rewarded with ribs that are also considered to be among America’s best.
32) Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, Flat Rock, N.C.
You order at the window and grab an outdoor table at Hubba Hubba in this historic and picturesque village 30 miles southeast of Asheville. This cash-only hidden gem is one of only 30 wood-fired smokehouses in the state, and ribs here are smoked low and slow in a custom pit by pitmaster Starr Teel, who also makes all the side dishes and five different sauces (ranging from mustard- to tomatillo-based) throughout the day. They’re tender, nicely-charred, and done the old-fashioned way.
31) Bludso’s, Compton, Calif.
A favorite of the Los Angeles Times’ Jonathan Gold, 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. The smoky smell will lure you in from blocks away.
30) Off the Bone, Dallas
An unassuming spot located on an unassuming street just outside of Dallas, Off the Bone serves arguably Dallas' finest plate of ribs. The pecan-smoked ribs served out of this converted gas station might be considered gourmet by most standards, but that doesn’t mean they’re not down-home and delicious, especially when you catch a glimpse of them being mopped with sauce by the pitmaster in the back.
29) 12 Bones Smokehouse, Asheville, N.C.
This laid-back eatery with two locations in Asheville serves some mighty fine ribs, smoked low and slow and served with a solid selection of sauces (opt for the blueberry chipotle). They require a bit of tug to get off the bone (which for many purists is the way to go), and are nicely browned and not mushy at all.
28) Twin Anchors, Chicago
Once a favorite hangout of Frank Sinatra, this Chicago institution opened in 1932 in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood as a Prohibition-era tavern. The ribs are slow-cooked for five hours, finished on the grill, and served to tender perfection. If you find yourself there on a weekend with a wait more than an hour, though, make sure to heed the establishment’s golden rule: No dancing.
27) Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish, Washington, D.C.
Yelp/ Chris Z
The Washington Post’s Tim Carman suggested we add Mr. P’s to our list, and public opinion clearly agrees that it deserves a spot, even though it’s just a broken-down bus that’s only open Friday through Sunday. Yes, an old converted bus is serving some of the country’s best ribs. These ribs are about as simple as it gets, with a well-developed bark, a perfect smoke ring, and no frills. This is working man’s barbecue, served in big, hearty portions.
26) Alamo BBQ, Richmond, Va.
Another suggestion from Carman, Alamo 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.
25) Phillips BBQ, Los Angeles
Yelp/ Raphael Aizan
Featuring the best ribs in Los Angeles, according to Jonathan Gold, this small restaurant and its newer second and third locations serve "the tastiest barbecued ribs south of Oakland," according to the Los Angeles Times critic. These ribs are spicy, peppery, and require a bit of tug to get them off the bone, and the smokiness and work-of-genius flavor combination has attracted legions of fans. If you decide to make a pilgrimage, go to the original, a tiny, greasy takeout window. It’s about as authentic a barbecue experience as you’ll ever get.
24) Smoke, Dallas
"I dote on the beef ribs at Smoke," 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, even though there are several smoked meats on the menu, 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 and is tender but not falling apart. It's served with a chimichurri sauce that provides an extra kick, but it’s wholly unnecessary.
23) 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. It might 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.
22) Archibald’s, Northport, Ala.
"I love the pork ribs at Archibald's," John T. Edge told us. "They have a great char, come slathered in an orange-hued vinegary sauce, and require — as great pork ribs do — a tug of the incisors to loosen meat from bone." The restaurant has been run by the Archibald family since it opened in 1962, and today it’s run by George Archibald Jr. who sticks with the same recipe his father used. Ribs are smoked low and slow over hickory wood, and served out of a little shack. Grab a rack and a cup of sauce, snag a picnic table, and enter barbecue nirvana.
21) Home Team BBQ, Charleston, S.C.
Home Team Barbecue has been around for less than 10 years, but that wasn’t enough to stop it from being named "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 they smoke, 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. It’s just about impossible to get through a rack of these without groaning for joy at least a few times.
20) Central BBQ, Memphis, Tenn.
With three locations in Memphis, Central BBQ is an under-the-radar restaurant that’s worth knowing about. Ribs here are dry-rubbed 24 hours before heading to the smoker, then smoked sauce-free low and slow over pecan and hickory. You’ll get through the entire rack before remembering that once upon a time you put sauce on your ribs; they are so tender and flavorful that none is necessary.
19) Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, Columbus, Ohio
This walk-up trailer located in a non-descript parking lot might just serve the best barbecue in Columbus. The ribs here are given a mild rub, smoked for hours and finished on the grill, all the while being mopped with a molasses-rich sauce. The end result is tender, smoky, and super-meaty. A great bark and a perfect smoke ring requires a slight tug to get off the bone. No sauce necessary.
18) Bogart’s Smokehouse, St. Louis
A relative newcomer, Bogart’s is helmed by the former pitmaster from, Pappy’s, a St. Louis institution. The sides here are spectacular, but make sure not to fill up on them because their ribs are the main event. They’re 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.
17) Corky’s, Memphis, Tenn.
"Born of a unique combination of place, history, and just plain knowing what great ribs and barbecue are supposed to taste like, Corky’s unrivaled ribs and authentic, hand-pulled barbecue are meaty, succulent, and falling-off-the-bone-tender. Corky’s barbecue is made with old-fashioned Southern tradition — slow-cooked in pits with hickory chips and charcoal, hand-pulled to select only the best, and basted in our special blend of Corky’s sauces."
If that doesn’t make you hungry, we don’t know what will.
16) Wagner’s Ribs, Porter, Ind.
This Porter County institution is legendary for its ribs, super-tender, falling off the bone, and — shockingly — grilled instead of smoked (you can also order smoked ones, but stick with the classic). Ask for them extra-charred, and be sure to top them with some of the house specialty barbecue sauce.
15) Hill Country, New York City and Washington, D.C.
The pork ribs at Hill Country, with locations in New York (both Manhattan and a new Brooklyn location) and Washington, pay homage to — where else? — Texas’ Hill Country. They’re peppery, tender but don’t fall 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 it’s completely unnecessary. If there’s room left in your stomach, order some of the perfectly smoked prime rib and thank us later.
14) 17th Street Bar and Grill, Multiple Locations
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.
13) The Shed, Multiple Locations
Mississippi barbecue hasn’t been the same since Brad Orrison and The Shed came on the scene in 2002, when he was only 24. Since then, several more locations have opened throughout the Gulf Coast, but the original, wonderfully ramshackle Ocean Springs, Miss. location is the one to visit. His baby backs are the house specialty, tender and full of smoky flavor, and the spareribs have a great texture and are among the most flavorful you’ll ever try. As Adam Richman said when he visited on Man versus Food Nation, "The ribs here had layers of flavor, like a good stew or the filling of a beef Wellington."
12) Montgomery Inn, Montgomery, Ohio
This humble restaurant has been serving the best ribs in Montgomery since 1951, and since then they’ve expanded to another location in Cincinnati as well as two others in Dublin, Ohio and another in Fort Mitchell, Ky. Their back ribs are tender, juicy, and perfectly smoky. While they don’t need much in the way of help, you’d be smart to slather them in some of the restaurant’s famous barbecue sauce.
11) Rendezvous, Memphis, Tenn.
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.
10) The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas
Both the beef and pork ribs from this Texas institution, Alan Richman’s favorite, 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 macho), which are the stuff of dreams even without a drop of sauce, will have you strategizing your return visit even before you leave. Don’t forget to bring along a six-pack, they’ll put it on ice for you. Now that’s hospitality.
9) Franklin Barbecue, Austin, Texas
Aaron Franklin must be some kind of sorcerer. 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 slathering on three sauces (espresso-based, vinegar-based, or a sweeter variety), but as is usually the case with barbecue this good, none is necessary.
8) Fiorella’s Jack Stack, Kansas City, Mo.
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 waiter 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.
7) Dreamland BBQ, Ala. and Ga.
This Tuscaloosa-based barbecue paradise has six locations in major Alabama cities and one in Roswell, Ga. Their biggest claim to fame are their hickory-smoked ribs, the top-seller for the past 50 years and unchanged during that time (items other than ribs were only added to the menu within the past decade). The ribs here are full-sized, meaty, and as opposed to the traditional low and slow method, these are cooked for about an hour in a brick pit over a hickory-fueled fire. They’re juicy, seasoned aggressively with a robust and non-spicy dry rub, still require some tug to get off the bone (a sign of being properly cooked), and absolutely memorable.
6) Big Bob Gibson, 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 and introduced 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. They’re pit-smoked low and slow over hickory smoke after being liberally seasoned with his award-winning dry rub, 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.
5) 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 unnecessary on these beautifully smoky ribs that really let the meat speak for itself.
4) 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 sauceless.
3) Sam’s BBQ1, Marietta, Ga.
Sam Huff had been competing in the professional barbecue circuit for more than 30 years before opening Sam & Dave’s BBQ in 2005. They went their separate ways four years later, and today Huff caters, teaches, and smokes some killer meat. Hickory smoked for upwards of 12 hours, his ribs are super-smoky, tender, properly-rendered, and require no sauce (even though the Kansas City-style sauce is great). Get there early, because they close up shop when they run out of meat.
2) Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City, Mo.
Arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America, Kansas City can be very proud to be home to Arthur Bryant’s. Founded in the 1920s, you would be doing yourself a great disservice is you were to pay a visit without trying the ribs. The secret to the barbecue here lies in the wood: the hickory and fruit wood used is better suited to making furniture from than 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.
1) Oklahoma Joe’s, Kansas City, Kan.
In a city renowned for its pork ribs, the ones at Oklahoma Joe’s are simply the best, and appeared on more than one of our panelists’ lists. Boasting a deeply burnished shade of red thanks to a rub heavy with paprika, cumin, brown sugar, and chili powder, these ribs also happen to be postcard-picture-perfect to look at, and you’ll most likely find yourself snapping a photo of them before you even take that first bite. And 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 only conjure one image in your mind from here on out: Oklahoma Joe’s pork ribs. They’re the best you’ll ever have.