Barbecue is as quintessentially American as apple pie or baseball. Each region has its own definition of what constitutes proper barbecue, and each is willing to fight for the title of “the best.” Some states or regions prefer their meats smoked slowly over hickory wood, while others use hardwood coals; St. Louis focuses on meaty ribs, North Carolina is about whole hog, while Texas is all about the beef; and of course, one of the deciding factors of great barbecue is the sauce (tangy, sweet, spicy…) — or lack thereof. Whether you spell it BBQ, Bar-B-Q, or barbecue, the craving is universal and impossible to ignore. We're proud to present our fifth-annual ranking of America's best barbecue chains.
America has hundreds, if not thousands, of barbecue joints, and choosing the best of the independents is nearly impossible, and at the very least a tough call — people can spend their whole lives seeking America’s best barbecue spots and still feel like they’ve only scratched the surface. But we've ranked a different kind of barbecue restaurant: the chain — which can mean anything from a handful of places clustered around the same city to a large-scale operation covering many states.
Chains tend to get a bad rap, because (for the most part) they rely on production lines and cost-cutting measures to deliver food that’s as inexpensive and quickly-made as it is completely unremarkable. But when it comes to barbecue, there’s really no way to cut corners. Because if you cut corners with barbecue — by using low-grade meat, for example, or employing artificial means to give it smoky flavor — people will know. And not only will they know, they’ll get angry. You can mess around with burgers or pizza, but you can’t mess around with 'cue.
All the owners of the restaurants on our list are well aware of this fact, and it comes through in the food they serve. In order to assemble our ranking, we created a survey with nearly 70 barbecue joints with more than two locations and asked the public to weigh in and vote for their favorites. And more than 3,200 of you did.
Choosing a favorite type of barbecue is a subjective matter, but we can all agree that when done right, there are few foods on Earth that are more delicious. So loosen your belt and read on to learn which 25 barbecue chains are America’s best.