Opened in 1972 in the heart of peanut country, Cowling’s serves pit-cooked pork shoulders prepared over white oak and served with a tomato-based sauce including vinegar, sugar, and spices. Sides include a coleslaw of green and white cabbage and carrots, baked beans, and pan-fried cornbread.
The Checkered Pig got its name from its beginnings as a roadside catering business at the Martinsville Speedway. From its humble start it grew into a full-blown restaurant that expanded to include another Virginia location in Danville in 2009. Its nickname (and original name of the restaurant), "Pigs-R-Us," is a testament to the quality and flavor of their award-winning ribs and roasted pork sandwiches. A favorite of locals and tourists alike, Checkered Pig BBQ in Danville even has a drive-thru window to provide quality BBQ on the go.
Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q was established in an old gas station in November, 1949, by current owner David B. Wilson’s father-in-law, Johnny Overby, in an area that didn’t have much barbecue at the time. The original restaurant only had counter service, but a dining room, takeout, and curb service were added in 1982. Short Sugar’s has won many awards over the years. In 1982, at an annual Barbecue Bowl organized by members of Congress from North and South Carolina, it won the blue ribbon.
Signature dishes include three North Carolina styles: sliced, chopped, and minced, all served with homemade sauce that is more brown than red. Popular sides include baked beans, potato salad, and slaw. While Short Sugar’s barbecue is its most popular offering, the homemade chili made from an 1949 original recipe from 1949 is also popular, as are the hot dogs, plain or with some of that chili. Johnny Overby formulated the original sauce recipe when he set up shop, and it hasn’t changed since. "We have a very distinct sauce which sets us apart from other barbecue restaurants," Wilson told The Daily Meal. Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q does not sell its sauce commercially, but it does ship it throughout the U.S., including Hawaii, for those who can’t make the trip.
Chip Stamey of Stamey’s carries on the tradition set forth by his grandfather, C. Warner Stamey, who studied and worked under Lexington pit-cooking pioneers Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver in the 1920s. Warner eventually bought out his mentor Swicegood and renamed the operation, relocating it to Greensboro in 1953.
Stamey’s has been frying hushpuppies, a traditional barbecue side in North Carolina, for 40 years, and serve pork shoulders slow-cooked over hickory coals and doused with "dip." Patrons can order their ‘cue sliced or chopped. Plates are served with rolls, hushpuppies, or the signature ketchup-based slaw with red pepper, black pepper, sugar, and cabbage.
If you are curious about or craving Western North Carolina-style barbecue, Lexington Barbecue serves the epitome of the genre. The pork is hickory-smoked for nine hours and served with a typical-for-the-area vinegar-based sauce with tomato ketchup. When ordering, ask for the brown, or bark, meat, which is the shoulder meat that gets the deepest smoky flavor and crispiest exterior because of its proximity to the coals. Lexington Barbecue cooks about 7,000 pounds of meat per week, and it is usually busy, but the service is quick and efficient. Don’t forget to order hushpuppies and the tangy slaw.
With two locations in Asheville, N.C., 12 Bones Smokehouse has its own twist on barbecue. Married co-owners Tom Montgomery and Sabra Kelley use fruits for their pork barbecue sauces, such as blueberries, peaches, and oranges, and beer — try the blueberry chipotle ribs that just fall off the bone. It’s so good that even President Obama and first lady Michelle have visited the joint on three of their four visits to Asheville. 12 Bones Smokehouse also won the "Best Bites Challenge" on ABC’s Good Morning America. Made-from-scratch sides include jalapeño cheese grits, corn pudding, and mashed sweet potatoes, and there’s a variety of homemade sauces such as tomato, jalapeño, mustard, and vinegar. Even though the food is served on metal "prison" plates, 12 Bones Smokehouse is a must-visit.
Red and Lyttle Bridges officially opened Red Bridges Barbecue in 1949, when they moved their original restaurant, Dedmond’s Barbecue, to uptown Shelby (the restaurant moved to its current location in 1953). When Red died in 1966, Lyttle ran the business by herself until she was 80 years old and had to retire. Today, their daughter, Debbie, runs Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge with her children Natalie and Chase. They cook their pork over hickory wood overnight, a method that has remained unchanged since Red Bridge's opening. The restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday, serving North Carolina barbecue classics like hushpuppies alongside pulled pork sandwiches. A standard BBQ plate comes with a red, vinegar-based slaw and beans, and more ambitious diners can top off their meal with some banana pudding.
The original "son," Keith Allen, sold Allen & Son BBQ to Jimmy Stubbs almost 20 years ago. But the quality has in no way faltered from the change in ownership. Allen & Son BBQ offers Eastern North Carolina chopped barbecue, so it's vinegar- and pepper-based with no tomato ketchup in site. The joint is also notorious for its hand-cut french fries, cut fresh daily from whole potatoes, and of course the hushpuppies.
The Pit opened almost five years ago in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh. Greg Hatem, who is from Halifax County in eastern North Carolina and grew up cooking pigs each fall, came up with the idea to establish a serious restaurant to honor his state's best-known food, partnering with celebrated local pitmaster Ed Mitchell and including a full bar with cocktails, beer, and wine — an amenity rarely found at barbecue joints.
Mitchell has since to open his own place in nearby Durham, but The Pit remains a great Raleigh favorite for its signature eastern North Carolina-style chopped whole-hog barbecue. The hogs are raised free-range in North Carolina farms which meet the standards of the Animal Welfare Institute, and they’re cooked the way it’s been done for nearly 150 years in the region, for about 12 hours, with plenty of smoke from hickory and oak. The meat is removed from the carcasses, and everything is blended together — shoulders, legs, ribs, and belly meat with a bit of cracklins added. Then the pork is seasoned with The Pit’s special vinegar-based sauce, which gives it a hot, tangy flavor that’s just a little bit sweet. "When they’re done,” said Samantha Hatem, who handles media relations for her husband’s Empire Eats restaurant group, "the meat is so tender, you can cut it with a butter knife. It tastes great with a nice smoky flavor even without the sauce, but when you add the sauce? That’s perfect barbecue,"
Signature dishes include the chopped barbecue plate for $12.99, which includes two of more than a dozen side dishes, many of which change seasonally. One of the most popular is coleslaw.
Founded by Ralph Parker (who sadly passed away on July 4, 2013 at the age of 89), Graham Parker, and Henry Parker Brewer in 1946, Parker’s Barbecue serves more than 150 smoked pigs and 8,000 fried chickens to 20,000 customers each week, according to Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). Not much has changed about Parker’s Barbecue since its opening. Longtime employees Kevin Lamm and Donald Williams now own the restaurant and the staff still wears white paper hats and aprons in the dining room. The only items that have been added to the original menu are string beans, hushpuppies, and fish.
Meat from the whole hogs is served with house vinegar-based sauce and a mustard-dressed slaw. The fried chicken is also worth a try. "It’s just chopped, vinegar-based barbecue. And yeah, come try you some. When it’s good — when it’s moist, you can tell," Lamm told SFA. Parker’s closes for one week each year, the week of Father’s Day.
The self-proclaimed "BBQ Capitol of the World," Skylight Inn is known for great barbecue fare as well as the American flag that sits atop their roof, which is meant to look like the top of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. BBQ veteran Pete Jones opened the Skylight Inn in 1947, and since then it has gained a following among BBQ enthusiasts. The restaurant has been open for more than 60 years, but the Jones family has an even longer history with barbecue, going back all the way to the 1830s. The menu is limited — diners have a choice of a small, medium, or large whole-hog BBQ tray — but it's delicious.
King’s was founded more than 75 years ago by Wilbur King, who started serving food out of his father’s country store and filling station in Kinston, N.C. Years later, Wilbur's homemade sauce and Southern recipes support a business that has reached all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
King’s became so popular that a catering company was launched for those who couldn’t make it out to Kinston but couldn’t live without their King’s barbecue. It is even possible to order everything online, from the secret sauce to BBQ ribs.
Kings serves eastern North Carolina barbecue lovers locally and nationally. According to their website, they serve 8,000 pounds of pork, 6,000 pounds of chicken, and 1,500 pounds of collards every week.
Stephen and Gerri Grady took over Grady's BBQ in 1986, the year they got married, buying it from Mr. Grady's brother, who lasted only one day at the restaurant because he quickly discovered the restaurant business wasn’t for him. On their own first day as owners, the Gradys ran out of hog, hushpuppies, bread, and coleslaw within hours of opening.
Stephen grew up helping his pitmaster grandfather; Gerri grew up on a farm and helped her family roast whole hogs in ground-dug pits. Today, they slow-roast the animals over oak and hickory coals and serve the chopped meat with vinegar sauce. The Gradys also brew sweet tea on the stovetop, and make black-eyed peas, steamed cabbage, and boiled potatoes daily. Other staples include Brunswick stew, hushpuppies, and coleslaw. "Everybody seems to think theirs is better than the next person's and some of it’s right and some of it’s not. But we think ours is the best," Stephen Grady told SFA.
Scott's, near Myrtle Beach, is the quintessential mom-and-pop restaurant, the mom and pop in question being Roosevelt "Rosie" Scott and his wife, Ella, who founded the place in 1972, according to SFA. The couple still runs the restaurant, with their son Rodney, who is the pitmaster. Rodney’s famed barbeque skills were even featured on the Cooking Channel’s show, 'Man, Fire, Food' back in May. Scott's is open Thursday through Saturday only, and Rodney reportedly spends Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays cutting down trees and chopping wood for the restaurant’s pits.
The signature dish off the small menu (just pork, chicken, and smoked rib-eye, "a new local favorite") is the pulled pork plate, the meat served with a heap of crispy skin and some vinegar-based barbecue sauce on the side. "Extras" include boiled peanuts and more kettle-fried pork skins.
Scott’s hosts an annual community picnic in the spring, free for all. The Scott family times its family reunion to the event to ensure there is enough staff to serve everyone, so if you time your trip right, you can get some free barbecue and Southern hospitality
Melvin’s has been known for serving some of the best St. Louis-style pork ribs, chicken, and "All Ham" barbecue in the South since 1939.
This famous restaurant grew from humble beginnings: Melvin Bessinger’s father, Big Joe Bessinger, taught Melvin the secret to his barbecue sauce, which came to be known as Golden Secret Recipe BBQ sauce, in 1993 when Melvin was just 10 years old. In 1939 Big Joe opened Holly Hill Café. When Melvin returned from WWII he went to work for his father, and after the Great Depression, Melvin opened Eat at Joe’s as an ode to his father. Along with his song David, Melvin grew the small family business to a successful chain of restaurants.
The legend continues today with two locations in Mt. Pleasant and James Island. Guests can enjoy the Bessinger family recipes with chicken, pork, and brisket. Many of the menu items pay homage to the restaurant's history, with names such as "Big Joe Pork" or "Little Joe Brisket."
Harold "Bub" and Margie Sweatman opened their first Holly Hill barbecue restaurant in 1959. When the business failed, they cooked for special events for friends and families — but then tried again in 1977, buying an old farmhouse and converting it into Sweatman’s BBQ. At first, the Sweatmans raised their own hogs, but as business boomed, they turned to local markets. Only open on Fridays and Saturdays, Sweatman’s cooks whole hogs over oak and pecan wood for 12 to 14 hours, basting them with a mustard-based sauce. The late Senator Strom Thurmond was a fan of Sweatman’s, as are actor Ian McKellan and television personality Anthony Bourdain.
In 2011, Sweatman’s was sold to Mark and Lynn Behr who are also Holy Hill residents, who also purchased the family recipes to maintain authenticity.
Maurice’s BBQ Piggy Park has been an institution in the South — and founder Maurice Bessinger has been a polarizing figure — since 1953. Bessinger learned how to barbecue from his father, Joseph Bessinger, who owned a barbecue business in Holly Hill, S.C. After his father’s death, Maurice carried on the tradition with his own establishment. He also found time to head up the National Association for the Preservation of White People, and had to be forced by the Supreme Court to integrate his dining room.
Bessinger's sons, daughter, and grandchildren now run Piggy Park, which currently boasts some 11 locations around the Palmetto State, and Bessinger senior has retired and, he once said, changed his prejudicial beliefs after becoming a born-again Christian.
Meanwhile, Piggy Park's pigs, which are sourced from the restaurant’s own organic free-range farm, are pit-cooked over hickory coals for 24 hours — the chain spends $100,000 a year on wood — then basted with the restaurant’s own mustard-based Southern Golden BBQ Sauce. (There are also original hickory, spicy, and honey sauce varieties as well as a trio of vinegar pepper sauces — original, hot chipotle, and habanero.)
Hite’s Bar-B-Que was opened in 1957 in West Columbia, S.C., and has been serving authentic South Carolina-style barbecue ever since. Family owned and operated, the people at Hite's take pride in their recipes that have been passed down through generations. They are only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and are known for their tender slow-cooked meats. Hite’s provides high-quality and well-seasoned BBQ for an incredibly low price, though fans say they would pay much more. Their regular menu includes BBQ classics like spareribs and ham, with a special seasonal menu that runs from the first weekend in November through Easter weekend, and features a wider variety of items such as pig feet and short ribs. The lack of seating in Hite’s makes it a drive-by spot for customers to quickly pick up some of their famed meats. Be sure to get there early to beat long lines and the high probability that they will sell out.
This no-frills, hole-in-the-wall barbecue shack serves its signature pork sandwiches on house-made buns from a long counter; the kitchen staff smokes the pork out back. There’s no liquor or tea at Grayson Bar-B-Que, just canned sodas to wash down the hearty and inexpensive pork plates and ham sandwiches coated in brown sauce that have kept locals coming here year after year.
The Church of Holy Smoke began as a fundraiser for the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville. The idea for the restaurant began when Annie May Ward cooked barbecue outside the church while the pastor and her husband worked to build the church. According to the Southern Foodways Alliance, people driving by would stop and ask if they could buy the barbecue and, at the insistence of the pastor and her husband, Ward began by selling sandwiches, according to SFA.
As word spread, the church built a restaurant for Ward, with proceeds going to running the church. When Ward had a stroke in 2003, parishioners Horace and May Archie began helping out at the restaurant, and in 2004, they took over. Mr. Archie mans the pit and Mrs. Archie cooks the sides and serves diners. Meat is smoked over red and white oak wood with a little hickory, pecan, and mesquite mixed in toward the end of the cooking process to add flavor to the brisket. The restaurant is open Wednesdays to Saturdays only; on busy days, customers are sometimes seated in the church’s cafeteria.
Founded in 1981, Luling City Market was created in "an attempt to bring the distinct Central Texas barbecue style to the city." They take pride in their food, which features everything from brisket and chicken to their own homemade sausage links, all cooked over Post Oak wood in a specially designed pit. Luling City Market is no stranger to accolades; it's been named the "Best Beef Sausage" by Barbecue America and among the "Best Bites in the USA" by Esquire magazine. Dessert is just as important at this joint, with pecan pies and "Texas-size" brownies on the menu. But don’t miss out of the special sauce, which is also available for purchase for your own summer barbecue.
This local hot spot serves delicious barbecue, plain and simple. There are only three meat options on the menu — sausage, pork ribs, and brisket — but the simplicity adds to the authenticity of the meal. The restaurant prides itself on their "plain and simple" style. There is no table service; instead, customers order at the meat counter (which is cash-only) and wait to be buzzed when their meat is ready. Fans not only obsess over the meat, but also the sauces, one of which is mustard-based. There is always a long line of eager customers, many of whom travel from all over Texas, so come prepared to wait.
Kreuz Market was founded by Charles Kreuz (pronounced "krites" in these parts) in 1900, originally a meat market and a grocery store, according to SFA. Like most markets at the time, it pit-barbecued the better cuts of meat and made sausage out of the lesser cuts. Customers bought barbecue and sausage and garnishes like bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes, and cheese from the grocery store, and ate it straight off butcher paper. The business was passed on to Kreuz’s sons, who ran it until 1948. That year, Edgar A. "Smitty" Schmidt bought the place, phased out the groceries, but continued to serve the same barbecue and sausage. Cabbage knives were chained to the tables so that customers could cut their meat (but not take home the cutlery). Schmidt’s son, Rick Schmidt, bought the business, and when he and his sister Nina went their separate ways, he moved, along with the Kreuz name, to a cavernous new 560-seat location nearby, opening in 1999. Nina kept the old location (see next slide). Today, Kreuz boasts eight 16-foot pits for barbecuing meat (it cooks for four to six hours, a short period by industry standards) and for grilling approximately 15,000 rings of sausage each week. The original menu has expanded to include baked beans, German potato salad, sauerkraut, and dipped ice cream.
Smitty’s Market, housed in the old Kreuz Market space, is considerably smaller than the transplanted Kreuz, but has the patina of age and a time-worn ambience. Here, Nina Schmidt Sells keeps things simple, serving barbecue and sausage with just bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes, avocado, and cheese, as at the original Kreuz, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays only.
Many dishes, barbecue included, are often the outcome of thrift and necessity. Such is the story for The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. According to the restaurant’s history, the restaurant started as a means for the Roberts family to stay in Driftwood. It started as a single pit that prepared meat every Thursday before adding a simple screen porch, and then eventually the restaurant as it exists today. Their specialties include pork ribs, sausage, and brisket, but an essential part of The Salt Lick is the restaurant itself: the original pit occupies the center of the establishment.
Opened in 2009 by Aaron and Stacy Franklin, Franklin Barbecue started serving barbecue from a little vintage trailer, but has since moved into a brick-and-mortar location, and has just announced plans to expand the cooking facilities. At Franklin Barbecue, meats are served by the pound, with a focus on all-natural brisket and pork spareribs. "We still do it the old-fashioned way; we spend long hours smoking the meats over oak," said the folks at Franklin Barbecue to The Daily Meal. "Order brisket by the pound and get your choice of lean or fatty. Throw it on a piece of white bread with pickles and onions, and go to town."
At 88-years-old, pitmaster Vencil Mares is still serving what some connoisseurs consider the best brisket in the Texas Hill Country, along with turkey, sausage links, and other meats. Mares learned his craft at nearby Southside Market in Elgin, before buying the Taylor Café in 1949, according to the SFA. Mares seasons his brisket two days ahead and roasts it in a pit with post oak wood for five to six hours. The brisket is served with a sauce based on ketchup, with lemon juice, onion, celery, brown sugar, butter, and Louisiana hot sauce added. Taylor Café, which is more than a century old, has not changed much since its opening. Telltale signs include an aging jukebox, old-fashioned cash register, and mismatched bar stools.
Dallas’ Pecan Lodge began in 2009 as a "culinary adventure" after owners Justin and Diane Fourton left corporate management consulting jobs. Not only did the Fourtons have a desire to change their career paths, but they also felt the need to craft "authentic Texas cuisine" with local ingredients and serve it out of a truck. The truck turned out to be a successful project, but they eventually felt the need to settle down.
Remaining faithful to their original "local" ideology, Pecan Lodge installed itself at the Dallas Farmers' Market and has since established itself as an award-winning community landmark. In addition to their brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage, and beef ribs, the restaurant is known for its signature "Hot Mess," or a jumbo sea salt-crusted sweet potato topped with South Texas barbacoa (shredded brisket with Southwestern seasoning), chipotle cream, cheese, butter, and green onions. If you go, don’t be surprised to wait more than an hour, though — the line is increasingly part of the experience.
Since 1988, Baker’s Ribs has been serving St. Louis-style pork ribs. Originally from Dallas, the restaurant has evolved into a mini chain (they have nine restaurants throughout Texas and one transplanted outlet in Minneapolis). The chain firmly believes in serving hickory-smoked BBQ and hence keeps wood-burning barbecue pits in their kitchens. As the name suggests, go there for the ribs, without sauce.
Roughly a decade old, the folks at Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell, Texas, pride themselves on the breadth of their menu; in addition to a wide variety of BBQ, they serve pork chops, rib-eyes, and other nontraditional barbecue cuts. When you go, don’t be surprised by the wait, since a line is the norm. When your turn finally comes along, you’ll find yourself standing in front of the pit, where you can order your desired meat (anything from pork ribs, ham, sausage, and sliced brisket to shrimp poppers) by the pound. The portions might seem a little too bountiful, but at least they warn you: above the pit hangs a sign that reads, "be careful not to over order — your eyes may be bigger than your stomach." It’s best to heed this advice if you plan to sample their delicious homemade sides and desserts, too.
Fall-off-the-bone ribs, thick-cut bologna, dill pickles, and more are on offer at Smokin’ Joe’s. While the tabs may be a bit higher than at other places on this list, the massive portions easily yield enough for two to three people, 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.
Located in a former gas station, this small, hole-in-the wall barbecue joint on Main Street is known for its ribs and brisket, and its warm baked potato salad. Order at the counter, where BBQ Station’s meat is cut to order, before you sit in the nostalgic dining room or take some for the road.
Blues and barbecue are on the menu at BB’s Lawnside, which slow roasts and smokes its sausage, chicken, beef, and pork in a 60-year-old pit. Husband-and-wife team Lindsay and Jo Shannon left their jobs in sales and advertising to open BB’s Lawnside in 1990. The menu includes Lindsay’s Kansas City-style barbecue and Jo’s Louisiana gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya — all accompanied by live blues most nights.
Don’t let its unlikely location in a gas station put you off from dining at Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. Jeff Stehney named the restaurant for the first smoker he purchased, back in 1991 — an Oklahoma Joe’s 24" model. Stehney and a handful of friends, who dubbed themselves the Slaughterhouse Five, started entering barbecue competitions with the smoker, and won eight grand championship awards. He then went into partnership with Oklahoma Joe's Smoker Company founder Joe Don Davidson, opening his first restaurant in Stillwater, Okla., site of Davidson's company headquarters, in 1996. Eight months later, he opened in Kansas City. Three locations now serve chicken and pork plates and sandwiches including the house specialty, a pulled pork sandwich. Don’t stop at the pulled pork since the ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s were number one on The Daily Meal’s list of America’s Best Ribs!
Russ Fiorella opened Smokestack BBQ in 1957. His eldest son, Jack, worked at Smokestack until 1974, and then started his own place, Fiorella’s Jack Stack. Over the years, Fiorella's has opened three more locations and the menu has expanded from the original six item-menu Jack borrowed from his father to include hickory-smoked lamb ribs, Angus beef steaks, brisket, beef, and the restaurant's signature Kansas City beef, pork, and ham burnt ends.
Probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America — thanks largely to the efforts of Kansas City-born writer Calvin Trillin, who wrote in Playboy, back in 1974, that it was "possibly the single best restaurant in the world" — Arthur Bryant’s grew out of a place owned by Henry Perry, the so-called "father of Kansas City barbecue." When Perry died in 1940, Charlie Bryant, one of his employees, took it over, and after his death, his brother Arthur assumed ownership. Baseball players and fans alike, along with U.S. presidents, movie stars, and other notables, have been flocking to it ever since for its hickory- and oak wood-smoked ribs slathered in a tangy vinegar sauce. Arthur Bryant passed away in 1982, at 80, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
This St. Louis spot prepares delicious Memphis-style BBQ with "only the best ingredients." The restaurant slow-smokes their meats for four to 14 hours over apple or cherry wood and then allows the customer to choose between three sauces (Pappy’s Original, Sweet Baby Jane, or Holly’s Hot Sauce), all of which are made in-house. The house specialty is the ribs, and all meat options are served with your choice of two sides, which includes classic BBQ favorites like slaw, baked beans, and fried corn on the cob. The portions are known for being large, and the restaurant boasts, "If you leave hungry, it’s your fault!"
Mike Mills, known as "The Legend," started barbecuing using his grandmother Mama Landess’ sauce and his father’s expertise at the pit. He barbecued throughout his early life at family events and for friends’ celebrations and in parking lots before opening the first 17th Street Bar & Grill in 1985. Since that first restaurant, three more have opened in Southern Illinois and two in Las Vegas, under the name Memphis Championship Barbecue.
The Memphis-style barbecue served by Mills is dry rubbed with savory "Magic Dust" combined with a swizzle of sauce and smoked over applewood. "17th Street BBQ is the best example of Memphis-style barbecue because of the flavor profile and the care and love that goes into each rack of ribs," said Mills' daughter, Amy Mills, to The Daily Meal.
17th Street is famous for its baby back ribs and tangy pit beans. Mills’ ribs have won numerous awards, including a record-setting four World Champion and three Grand World Champion trophies at Memphis in May and Grand Champion overall at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue Cooking Contest. The beans are an unusual mixture of five different types of beans and special spices.
Located in Hot Springs National Park, McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant was started in 1928 by Alex and Gladys McClard, then owners of the Westside Tourist Court hotel. When one of their guests couldn’t afford the $10 bill for his two-month stay, he asked if he could pay instead with a recipe for what he claimed was the greatest barbecue sauce in the world. The claim must have been true, since the Westside Tourist Court became Westside Bar-B-Q. In 1942, McClard’s moved to its current location, where carhops once served barbecued goat, ribs, and sandwiches to travelers on the go.
Today, the second, third, and fourth generations of the McClard family pit-cook 7,000 pounds of hickory-smoked beef, pork, and ribs and sides like coleslaw, spicy barbecue beans, and hot tamales every morning Tuesday through Saturday.
Located about halfway between Little Rock and Memphis, Craig Brothers was started by brothers Lawrence Craig, a former cook on a Mississippi River boat, and Leslie Craig in 1947. Today, Lawrence’s son Robert overseas the restaurant’s operation. Uncured ham, ribs, pork, pork sausage, and chicken are cooked over hickory smoke in an outdoor pit. Order the sliced pork sandwich, slathered in a brownish-orange sauce involving apples and bell peppers, mild, medium, or hot, with green apple slaw on top.
After suffering a back injury, Jim Vaughn went from working as a mechanic to toiling as a barbecue pitmaster, opening J & N BBQ with his wife, Nora, in 1996. The couple had provided smoked meats and sides for community gatherings for years, and when they opened J & N, they served those same dishes from a small red and white trailer, according to SFA.
Today, their grandson Barry Vaughn does the cooking. He makes ribs, chicken, beef, hamburgers, and hot dogs on charcoal, but J & N will also cook 'coon (raccoon), deer, wild turkey, and other game that locals bring. J & N uses a vinegar-based sauce of sugar, garlic salt, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and ketchup. Order the meat cup, a tall cup with barbecue meat in the bottom, sauce, a layer of beans, and an optional layer of slaw on top.
Raymond and Desiree Robinson came from Memphis originally, but moved to Denver to operate a barbecue restaurant there. In 1977, they returned home and founded Cozy Corner, now run by Desiree (Raymond died in 2001), with the help of three more generations of Robinsons (down to the toddler who occasionally greets guests), according to SFA.
Pork is cooked in an aquarium-style barbecue pit in the front of the restaurant. Sliced pork sandwiches and plates, barbecued Cornish hens, and smoked turkey (on special order) are specialties.
Payne’s was opened in a converted 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 the Paynes' 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. "I pray over this food," said Flora Payne in an interview with SFA. "Bless it."
Jones Bar-B-Q began on Walter Jones’ back porch, where he sold barbecue pork with a vinegar-based sauce to neighbors on Fridays and Saturdays. His son Hubert carried on the tradition, serving the same barbecue from a two-story shotgun building near the Mississippi River. Today, his son, James and his wife Betty continue to cook pork shoulder in a primitive cinder block pit and serve Jones Bar-B-Q’s legendary pork shoulder sandwiches on white bread. In May 2012, James Jones won the James Beard Foundation award for American Classics, and accepted the award in New York following his first plane ride ever.
Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been offering Mississippians and their guests "swine dining" since 1924. Its current location, at the fabled crossroads of highways 49 and 61 (where blues pioneer Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in return for prowess on the guitar), hosts musicians like ZZ Top, Paul Simon, and Conway Twitty, road-trippers, and locals alike, all in search of Abe's barbecued pork and beef, ribs, and bundles of hot tamales (a Mississippi tradition) served with crackers and slaw.
The story of this BBQ joint begins with the Roark family in southeast Missouri in the 1930s and '40s, when Monnie and Lute Roark would often invite family and friends over for a whole-hog barbecue. Later, their son, Ubon Roark, built a BBQ pit in his backyard and began mixing gallons of his mother’s sauce recipe every weekend, and soon it was known throughout the Yazoo City area. After Ubon passed away, his son, Garry, began to market the sauce, and Ubon's was born. Now, the sauce is nationally recognized and is a fixture at many BBQ competitions. To make Ubon's BBQ more accessible, the family has opened a restaurant in Yazoo City, Miss. A local favorite, the restaurant offers different specials daily and serves meats with various sides. However, the main star of the meal here is the sauce.
It was here at this old-school barbecue joint that Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods feasted on raccoon and possum, but the more traditional pork is also featured on Leatha’s Bar-B-Que Inn’s menu. The ramshackle spot has been in business for more than 70-years, smoking tender ribs and baking homemade pecan pies.
Founded by Barry and Margaret Ann Wood in 1985, The Little Dooey is named after the Wood family’s term for a fun gathering of family and friends, "a little dooey." The husband-and-wife team decided to open the restaurant after successfully serving their barbecue at a Starkville rest stop. The Little Dooey menu includes pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and catfish along with appetizers like dooey (a fried smoked sausage) on a stick and dooey nachos (Fritos topped with baked beans, pulled pork, shredded cheese, onions, jalapeños, and sauce).
George Archibald worked in a steel mill and his wife, Betty, worked at a paper mill for years before opening Archibald’s Bar-B-Q in their hometown of Northport in 1962. George Archibald Jr., and his sister, Paulette Washington, now run the business. The siblings serve ribs the same way their parents did: cooked over hickory with vinegar-based sauce and served in butcher paper with white bread. The secret sauce is so popular people have been known to come by with jars to take some home in.
"I’ve been in the barbecue business all my life," said George Archibald Jr.to SFA of the secret to the restaurant’s success. "This is just a small little place. I just build a fire and keep the fire low and cook it slow."
After working as a bread deliveryman for 49 years, Wilbur Pettit entered the barbecue restaurant business in 1967, buying and slightly renaming a local institution called the Top Hat Inn. Pettit's son Dale, a Baptist deacon, now runs the business and mans the pits. Top Hat's original barbecue sauce recipe — tomato-based, with about 20 ingredients, simmered 10 gallons at a time in a big steam kettle — came, strangely enough, from the kitchens of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York (it has been evolved since then). The sauce is served with nearly everything at Top Hat, especially the signature ribs.
"Everybody has a way — they either skin them out, they rub them with salt, or they have a dried rub; everybody has a way that they do their own ribs, and we do ours in a way that they turn out extremely tender. They fall off the bone; you just pick the bone up, and they will fall apart. But that’s one of those secrets, you know," said Dale Pettit to SFA.
Pork shoulders and ribs are roasted over hickory wood carefully cut and shaped into logs 8 inches in diameter and 24 inches long. "We’ve always [given] God the glory for all our success, and he’s been faithful to us, and we’re 40 years here and still going wide open," said Pettit to SFA.
Bob Gibson worked for the L & N Railroad and hosted barbecues in his backyard on the weekends. He sold his barbecue from a few places until 1952, when he opened Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Sixth Avenue in Decatur. Gibson’s grandson, Don McLemore, took over in 1972. When the restaurant burned down in 1988, the family rebuilt it next door, salvaging the original neon sign, according to SFA. "We like what we do, and we’re very particular about our people that work here, how they process the meat and cook the meat and, again, how they treat people, and I think that’s the secret to our success," McLemore told SFA.
The restaurant’s signature smoked pork and chicken are roasted over a brick pit. The chicken is served with Gibson’s famous vinegar-based white sauce and the pork has a vinegar-based tomato sauce — though some diners insist on using the white sauce on the pork and ribs. Sides include a barbecue-stuffed baked potato. Save room for a slice of coconut cream Heaven High meringue pie, chocolate Heaven High meringue pie, or the lemon icebox pie.
Early Scott was 54 years old when he gave up driving school buses to start Scott’s Barbecue. In 1976 he took on, and took in, a troubled teenager named Ricky Parker, who worked at his side and learned the pitmaster's art. After Scott’s death, Parker took over and ran the business with his son Zach. In May 2013, Parker passed away, and survived by his son’s Zach and Matthew, who have carried on the tradition of authentic barbecue. Diners order pork sandwiches, shoulder or belly meat, with vinegar-based sauce. The fried pies are especially famous.
Open-pit hickory-smoked pork, chicken, beef, and lamb are the mainstays that have kept locals coming back year after year to this no-frills establishment. The signature side dishes at Bar-B-Que Shack are hot slaw, a spicy slaw with a red dressing, and burgoo, a Civil War-era stew from Kentucky made with pulled pork, carrots, and beans.
Chis Ford took his love of Southern barbecue and turned it into his very own business. Sweet P’s started out as a catering company in 2005, and Ford’s wife and daughter, Sweet P, helped him build the company through word-of-mouth. His reputation for authentic barbeque and great sauces didn’t hurt either.
In 2009, Ford and his cousin Jonathan took the catering company to the next level by opening a restaurant, Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House. The restaurant has a family jukebox atmosphere and great entertainment in addition to the well-known food.
The menu takes classic dishes and puts a new spin on them, while still staying true to traditional slow and low barbecuing techniques. Everything is made daily and there is the option of four different sauces, the Thick sauce, Thin sauce, Hot sauce, or Soul Rub. The Soul Rub has served for the inspiration for many menu items, including the pulled chicken and smoked chicken wings.
Nick Pihakis founded Jim ‘N Nick’s with his father Jim in 1985, in Birmingham, Ala., and there are now 29 locations in seven states. The quality of the 'cue is much better than you'd expect from a growing chain. "Our philosophy has always been to serve the freshest product possible, cooked with the best methods and care to produce the best barbecue possible," said Jim 'N Nick’s chef Drew Robinson to The Daily Meal. "Our sauces and rubs are designed to complement that meat and not be the lead flavor or determine the 'style'."
Jim 'N Nick’s signature barbecue meal is the pulled pork sandwich and barbecue plate. The chain buys local whenever possible and is in the final stages of being able to source their own hogs and have them processed locally. Insisting on making everything from scratch daily, the restaurant does not have freezers.
Jim 'N Nick's participates in and sponsors multiple barbecue festivals. For the past five years, they have been a mainstay at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City, and in 2012 they sponsored and took part in the inaugural Big Denver Barbecue Block Party. The Memphis Jim 'N Nick’s is home to the Memphis in May barbecue competition, often referred to as the "Superbowl of Swine."
Each Friday, the family-run Paul’s BBQ smokes hogs in a pit behind the family house and transfers them to the restaurant, which used to be the small town’s general store. The menu is barbecue pork, sold sliced or stuffed between two pieces of white bread, with beans and coleslaw on the side, and Paul's is open only on Saturdays, from 9.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Come early, especially during football season.
Opened in 1947, Dean’s Barbecue is located in a small house with concrete floors and wooden tables. Diners can also opt to eat at outdoor picnic tables located beneath pecan trees. Open Wednesday through Saturday, the family-run restaurant roasts pigs in an outdoor pit over hickory and oak wood and serves only chopped or pulled pork with a sweet and tangy vinegar-based sauce.
Fresh Air Bar-B-Que has been serving barbecue at its original location since 1929. Dr. Joel Watkins, a veterinarian, opened the restaurant, but according to the Southern Foodways Alliance he did not cook pork, and served only beef. When George "Toots" Caston bought Fresh Air in 1952, he added hogs to the menu, according to SFA. The original pits could hold 19 whole hogs, and Brunswick stew was prepared in 25-gallon cast-iron pots. Today, the third generation of the Caston family is at the helm at the Jackson location and a second outpost in Macon, serving barbecue pork roasted over hickory and oak wood and slathered with a vinegar- and tomato-based sauce. "It’s something [our grandfather] instilled in us as children growing up, to have pride in what you did and to do the best job you could do at anything, no matter what it was," said George Barber, one of Caston’s grandchildren, to SFA.
In addition to the expected offerings on John and Sandy Shepherd's menu at their Gators BBQ — brisket, sausage links, spareribs, and so on — there is actually some of its namesake: alligator, available as a starter or as a main dish with two sides and garlic bread. A bit out of the way off I-10, the cozy dining room packs a crowd Monday through Saturday, enjoying dishes like that gator or the two-meat smokehouse combo. There is a choice of five mostly mustard-based sauces.
Before there was Monroe's, there was RSVP Caterers, whose repertoire included barbecue. The barbecue was so popular that the proprietors, Keith Monroe Waller and Kimberly Waller, decided in 2007 to open a restaurant devoted to it. All the Monroe’s Smokehouse meats are slow-smoked with a dry rub, with sauce added at the customers’ discretion. "Monroe's is at the top of the list for this style of BBQ because we take no shortcuts," said Keith Waller. Monroe's Smokehouse’s signature meats are pulled pork, Carolina pork, beef brisket, and smoked wings, and the signature side dish is the collard greens, which are made with Carolina Sauce.
The Monroe’s empire expanded in 2011 with the addition of a mobile kitchen, Monroe’s-on-the-Go, and again in 2012, with the opening of a second location in Jacksonville.