America's Best Barbecue Restaurants, According To Prizewinning Pitmasters

America's Best Barbecue Restaurants, According to Prizewinning Pitmasters

Great barbecue is a subjective matter, and there's no shortage of spectacular barbecue joints across the country. But for all the listings of top barbecue restaurants out there, nobody's thought to ask the guys who are arguably more close to it than anybody else: competition pitmasters. We did just that, and their picks for America's best barbecue restaurants might surprise you. 

Peg Leg Porker, Nashville

Pitmaster Carey Bringle has been smoking meat since he was a teenager, and his Gulch restaurant has become renowned in the past few years for the spectacular barbecue he's turning out. Dry and wet rub ribs, pulled pork, and chicken are smoked low and slow in Bringle's custom-built smoker and doused in Memphis-style sauce, and those in the know are spreading the gospel of this Nashville must-visit.

Find more details on Peg Leg Porker here.

Central BBQ, Memphis

With three locations in town, Central BBQ is the real deal. Ribs, pork, chicken (pulled, halved, or hot wings), turkey, and brisket are rubbed with spices, marinated for 24 hours, and smoked low and slow over hickory and pecan woods, and the process is presided over by former competition pitmasters Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp. Bologna, sausage, barbecue nachos, and homemade pork rinds are also noteworthy.

Find more details on Central BBQ here.

Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn

Development was underway for this Red Hook 'cue 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. Pitmaster Billy Durney is serving 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, are the beef ribs — they're huge and peppery, and the smoke flavor runs all the way down to the bone. Hometown is quickly establishing itself as nothing short of the best barbecue the city has to offer.

Find more details on Hometown Bar-B-Que here.

Hank’s #1 BBQ, Columbus, Miss.

Hank Vaiden has been cleaning up the competitive barbecue circuit since 2002, and his namesake restaurant has become a Columbus institution. His brisket, pork shoulders, and whole hogs are injected with a flavorful solution and rubbed down with spices before being smoked over cherry and peach wood; whole hogs take a full 24 hours to prepare. Pair the barbecue with coleslaw made with Vaiden's wife Carol's recipe, and be sure to buy a bottle of sauce before leaving.

Find more details on Hank's #1 BBQ here.

CorkScrew BBQ, Houston

This low-key BYOB spot was launched by Will Buckman and his wife, Nichole, after Will left his job at AT&T to attend to his passion full time. Pulled pork, brisket, turkey breast, link sausage, and pork spare ribs are available in sandwiches or by the pound, with extras including potato salad, coleslaw, beans, macaroni and cheese, and giant loaded baked potatoes. Will, we're glad you quit your day job.

Find more details on CorkScrew BBQ here.

HooDoo Brown BBQ, Ridgefield, Conn.

Serving classic Texas barbecue in an Old West-themed space, HooDoo Brown might look like a gimmick at first glance, but this place is in fact the real deal. Owner Cody Sperry was inspired to take up barbecue after visiting more than a dozen barbecue joints on a trip to Texas, and what started as a hobby and a Big Green Egg became a catering business, and in May 2015, a full-fledged restaurant. Brisket, pulled pork, pork belly, turkey, spare ribs, chicken, sausage, and beef ribs are smoked for up to 14 hours, and while they're all spectacular on their own, you can also go hog wild with the Hogzilla, a sandwich with shaved pork ribs, pulled pork, pork belly, special sauce, fried green tomato, and smoked garlic bacon mayo.

Find more details on HooDoo Brown BBQ here.

Mighty Quinn’s BBQ, New York City

Hugh Magnum was first exposed to barbecue while growing up in Houston, and he turned the New York barbecue scene on its head when he opened Mighty Quinn's in the East Village. Since then, he's turned it into a mini-empire with four locations in Manhattan, three in Brooklyn, one in Clifton, New Jersey, and one in Taiwan. Naturally raised pork and beef are lightly seasoned and slow-smoked; the brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, sausage, spare ribs, and half-chicken are all spot-on, but the piece de resistance is the Brontosaurus rib, a full beef rib that's easily one of America's best bites of barbecue.

Find more details on Mighty Quinn's BBQ here.

Gators BBQ, Jacksonville, Fla.

The "Swamp Crew" at Gators proudly runs their smoker all day, every day, to ensure the best and freshest meat, with highlights including their selection of sandwiches (from smoked beef and sausage to pork chops) and a number of gator-sized plates that come with two sides and tasty garlic bread. Undecided? Opt for the "Smoke House Grand Slam," which comes with beef, chicken, pork, turkey, ribs, and sausage — all for just $17.99.

Find more details on Gators BBQ here.

Smokin’ Joe’s Rib Ranch and RV Park, Davis, Okla.

Smokin' Joe's Rib Ranch and RV Park, Davis, Okla.  
Chow down on fall-off-the-bone ribs, thick-cut bologna, dill pickles, and much more at Smokin' Joe's in Oklahoma. The massive portions easily yield enough for two to three people in one serving, especially the chopped brisket sandwich, with mounds of meat that fall from the Texas toast. With only a handful of tables, most diners take the 'cue to go and eat in their RVs, which can conveniently be parked out back — hence, the "RV Park" part of the name.

Find more details on Smokin' Joe's here. 

Payne’s Bar-B-Q, Memphis

Payne's was opened in a converted Memphis gas station by Horton Payne and his mother, Emily, in 1972 — but after his death at the age of 35 in 1984, his wife, Flora, took over. Today, she and her son, Ron, turn the pork shoulders over hickory coals in a recessed pit set into the wall behind the counter. A mild sauce simmers all afternoon on the stove and hot sauce is dispensed from an old liquid soap bottle. The specialty here is pork shoulder sandwich topped with neon-green mustard-based coleslaw.

Find more details on Payne's Bar-B-Q here.

Killen’s Barbecue, Pearland, Texas

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 really 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 a mustardy, tart-sweet sauce.

Find more details on Killen's Barbecue here.

Franklin Barbecue, Austin

By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest establishment, which traces its roots back to 2009 and a turquoise trailer. The 90 people who show in the next half hour wait in vain; a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin Barbecue, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas' greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to be. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You've heard the buzz. You've seen Franklin on TV. You've heard his acolytes' brisket gospel. It's not hype. It really is that good.

Find more details on Franklin Barbecue here.