The key to great barbecue is to keep it simple: meat slow-smoked over wood. America’s barbecue scene is diverse, ranging from roadside shacks to full restaurants serving craft beer and brisket. Many barbecue joints create an admixture of styles from key cities like Memphis, Kansas City, and St. Louis, and states like Texas and the Carolinas. And even though the meat is the star of the show, what would a good barbecue meal be without a few solid sides? Here's our roundup of the best barbecue joint in every state.
1. ALABAMA // SAW’S BBQ
Last year, Men’s Journal highlighted Alabama barbecue, including Saw’s. In fact, Saw’s has garnered a lot of acclaim since opening in 2009. Newcomer Saw’s Soul Kitchen opened in 2012, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks co-owns a third location, Saw’s Juke Joint. They serve barbecue with Alabama’s signature white sauce—made with mayo—and a baked potato stuffed with pork, which the Alabama Tourism Department proclaimed as one of the top 100 dishes in the state to try before you die.
2. ALASKA // BLACK JAXX BBQ
Soldotna and Homer, Alaska
Their remote location in Alaska may lead some to think of exotic meats, like moose, but Black Jaxx's weirdest offering is bologna. Their menu is fairly minimal: spiced meat sandwiches like pulled pork and brisket and traditional sides, served out of a food truck. Because of Alaska’s weather, they’re only open during the temperate spring and summer months, which makes their offerings even more special.
3. ARIZONA // BIGFOOT BBQ
As their website reads, “Nothin’ fancy, just thoughtful consideration.” That consideration entails a good combination of fire, smoke, and spice. Try the BBQ Tour (pulled pork, beef brisket, short rack of ribs) or the Bigfoot Steak and Cheese (brisket, onions, cheese, and peppers). They also have some things for meat-averse vegetarians: “Everybody is welcome at Bigfoot, and to prove it we got non-meat bbq.” Finally, an inclusive addition to the barbecue kingdom.
4. ARKANSAS // SMOKIN’ BUNS
Arkansas's Smokin' Buns's menu runs the gamut, from traditional meat to pig skins (potato skins with pulled pork) and piggie pie (Fritos topped with smoked beans and pork). Catfish, shrimp, and blackened salmon platters are also available, served with hush puppies, battered fries and coleslaw. An Arkansas Times review stated Smokin’ Buns has the best brisket in the state, and that some Texans even compared it to the famous barbecue found in Austin.
5. CALIFORNIA // COPPER TOP BBQ
Big Pine, California
The Golden State’s barbecue claim to fame is the Central California Santa Maria-style of barbecue: tri-tip. The best is located inside a window-serve joint in Big Pine, nestled in a valley between the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains. Copper Top smokes tri-tip, St. Louis-style pork ribs, and chicken, and was named the best restaurant in the U.S. last year according to Yelp, so there must be something good in that mountain air.
6. COLORADO // GEORGIA BOYS BBQ COMPANY
Longmont and Frederick, Colorado
In order to smoke the highest quality of meats, Georgia Boys purchased a XLR 1600 Southern Pride Smoker—“the finest and most advanced wood-burning barbecue pit available,” reads the website. The restaurant’s divided into two locations: The Shack, in Longmont, focusing on a small barbecue menu, and The Smokehouse, in Frederick, which has a bigger menu, draft beers, and the Barnyard Challenge: six pounds of meat in a cast iron skillet. If you don’t finish it, you’ll be memorialized on their wall of shame.
7. CONNECTICUT // PIG RIG BBQ
The Pig Rig uses an Ole’ Hickory Smoker and their motto is "Go Pig Or Go Home." They coat a secret dry rub on the meats, and offer Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, the Jamaican topped with homemade jerk bbq sauce, and the PigMac topped with smoked macaroni and cheese. If you're not in the mood for pork, they also have chicken thighs, baby back ribs, and beef brisket platters.
8. DELAWARE // BETHANY BLUES BBQ
Bethany Beach and Lewes, Delaware
Barbecue joints aren’t typically found within a stone's throw of the ocean, but you can walk there from Bethany’s. The home of what they call Delmarva Penisula barbeque, named for the restaurant's location, was lovingly formulated after researching famous smokehouses in Austin, Texas, New York, and ones all across Tennessee. Everything is wood smoked between four and 16 hours, but try their signature St. Louis ribs, all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, and non-barbecue East Coast favorites like crab dip.
9. FLORIDA // AL’S FINGER LICKING GOOD BAR-B-QUE
Menu items like Terrance's chopped beef, Aunt Nita's black-eyed peas, and of course Al's ribs give this family-run barbecue joint a personal touch. It all started as a concession stand in 2003, but now Al's is housed inside a bungalow in Tampa's historic Ybor City neighborhood. Al’s expertise centers on Tennessee-style dry rub and tomato-based sauce, good enough to be named one of Yelp’s top 10 best restaurants in Tampa Bay. Try Tia's TGIF Mac and Cheese, named after Al's daughter and served Fridays only.
10. GEORGIA // SOUTHERN SOUL BARBECUE
St. Simons Island, Georgia
Another coastal location that would make more sense for a seafood restaurant, Southern Soul promises the aura of oak-smoked meats near a scenic locale. They smoke their pork, turkey, chicken, and brisket for at least 12 hours, and pit-fire their prime rib. Brunswick stew and Hoppin’ John—traditional southern dishes—are also presented on the menu.
11. HAWAII // UNCLE BOBO’S SMOKED BBQ
Kaaawa, Oahu, Hawaii
Oahu certainly knows its ‘cue. Using a combination of hickory and tropical woods, at Uncle Bobo's they smoke their meats with a “low and slow” method. The menu covers everything from pork shoulder to barbecued Sloppy Joes, and serves Redneck rice (with bacon drippings) and other Hawaiian favorites such as shaved ice and a healthy acai bowl.
12. IDAHO // BBQ4LIFE
Opening a part barbecue and part vegan restaurant might seem contradictory, but there’s something for every dietary need here. Vegans and vegetarians can enjoy the vegan bread pudding, smoked vegan potato salad or vegaloaf, while carnivores happily dine on pecan wood smoked sausage sandwiches, a Big Foot sandwich (pulled pork, mac and cheese, barbecue sauce on Hawaiian bread), and tri-tip.
13. ILLINOIS // BLACK DOG SMOKE AND ALE HOUSE
Urbana and Champaign, Illinois
The first location opened in Urbana in 2009, and a second location, in Champaign, opened last year. Using a custom-made smoker, Black Dog cooks Polish sausages, free-range chickens, burgers, and spare ribs. They also make a line of sauces, including Georgia Peach (sweet), a hot mustard sauce, and a habanero sauce. To wash the meat and all the spiciness down, several craft beers are on draft.
14. INDIANA // RIP’S FAMILY BBQ
Rip’s mainly offers Memphis-style barbecue, but Texas and Carolina can also be enjoyed. They use apple and hickory woods to smoke the meats listed on their vast menu, consisting of pork nachos, salads topped with meat, pork egg rolls served with barbecue sauce, pork-stuffed burritos, a smoked turkey sub, and the Beale Street (pulled pork topped with coleslaw).
15. IOWA // MOSLEY’S BARBECUE AND PROVISIONS
Iowa City, Iowa
Mosley’s has only been open for a year, but their Carolina-style barbecue has made a great dent in Iowa’s barbecue scene. Their bone-in pork butt (which is actually a shoulder) is pit-smoked for 12 hours, hand pulled, and topped with a couple of housemade sauces. Their red rib sauce isn’t the sticky variety, and their Gold Standard sauce is “sweet, with a kick.” They also offer St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, various sides like their jar of bacon (yes, a full $4.50 jar of hickory smoked bacon), and pitchers of southern sangria and craft cocktails.
16. KANSAS // JOE’S KANSAS CITY BAR-B-QUE
Kansas City, Leawood, and Olathe, Kansas
Though Kansas has much barbecue to offer, Joe’s Kansas City is the hands-down favorite—all the time. They have four locations throughout the state, including the original location (formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's), established in 1996 at a former gas station, and a private event space called The 180 Room. Joe’s has become such a brand, you can get it shipped to you. Their restaurants serve championship-winning barbecue, such as beef brisket, smoked ham, sandwiches like the Z-Man (brisket, provolone cheese, onion rings), and a whole section of “just ribs.”
17. KENTUCKY // RED STATE BBQ
A little known fact: Kentucky has its own style of barbecue, and it’s quite different in the Bluegrass state. Though many Kentuckians enjoy traditional barbecue like smoked brisket and sausage, some prefer specialty food like mutton (sheep) and the state's official dish, burgoo (meat stew). At Red State, you'll find the more traditional version of smoked chicken, pork, and sausage served with a selection of domestic and craft beers. Try the BBQ Parfait: Your choice of meat and two sides served in a clear Solo cup for $5.
18. LOUISIANA // BIG MIKE’S BBQ
New Orleans’s The Joint frequently gets named the Best BBQ in Louisiana, but an hour outside of NOLA in Houma, the family-owned Big Mike’s challenges that reign. Their varied menu offers smoked brisket, grilled boudin, crawfish, ribs, burgers, and Creole rice. Try the Big Bertha Que for your next large gathering: three whole chickens, three pounds of sausage, three pounds of ribs, three pounds of brisket, and three pounds of pork—all of which should feed around 50 people.
19. MAINE // SMOKIN’ GOOD BBQ
Using an orange trailer, Smokin’ Good makes “real pit bbq.” The menu includes hot chili, North Carolina pulled pork, Texas beef brisket, hot links, and Dave’s Double Wide Family combo, with full slabs of ribs and a whole chicken. Coming in a close second is Portland’s Elsmere BBQ, which has grass-fed beef, seafood sandwiches, and oysters on their menu.
20. MARYLAND // THE BBQ JOINT
Easton and Pasadena, Maryland; Washington D.C.
Singling out the best barbecue in the Maryland/D.C. area is tough, especially with choices like Andy Nelson’s Barbecue, Mission BBQ, and Big Bad Wolf’s BBQ in the area. But former-chef-turned-pitmaster Andrew Evans keeps it simple at his four BBQ Joint locations in Maryland and D.C. They cook St. Louis ribs and whole barbecued chickens, and serve Texas cheesesteak, skillet cookies, sloppy Joe sliders, and pork rinds, and have an extensive list of craft beers and cocktails to boot.
21. MASSACHUSETTS // BLACKSTRAP BBQ
Since their opening in 2010, Blackstrap—named for a type of molasses used to make their barbecue sauces—has made grit fries, hand-cut onion rings, smoked chicken, burnt ends, Texas brisket, catfish, and habanero-watermelon slushies in a laid back and playful atmosphere. Blackstrap has daily specials and sometimes even hosts themed nights like a Golden Girls screening party.
22. MICHIGAN // SADDLEBACK BBQ
A lot of good barbecue thrives in Michigan, but only one place is named after the British saddleback pig. Saddleback—which opened last year in REO Town—smokes ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork shoulder, and they’re so dedicated to their craft they have an overnight shift to monitor the smoking. They sell boxed lunches, brisket rib chili, and their Wednesday special is "Wu-Tang Wings."
23. MINNESOTA // SCOTT JA-MAMA’S
The menu is so tiny, you could conceivably try everything on the menu at least once, but Scott Ja-Mama's offers full-, half-, and quarter-racks of ribs, half and quarter chickens, steak sandwiches, and pork sandwiches. Their famous twice-baked potato and slaw comes with every platter, and you can check out the eclectic memorabilia on the walls while you wait.
24. MISSISSIPPI // LEATHA’S BAR-B-QUE INN
Though Leatha died in 2013 at age 90, her restaurant lives on. She started the Inn in 1976, and wrote a book about her rise from poverty to becoming the “barbecue queen” of Mississippi. The menu consists of chicken, pork and beef ribs, wood-grilled steaks, and a “secret recipe” slaw. Apparently quarterback legend (and local) Brett Favre is a regular.
25. MISSOURI // BOGART’S SMOKEHOUSE
St. Louis, Missouri
Barbecue chains reign in Missouri (e.g. Jack Stack), but Bogart’s only has one location and a minimal menu. That gives the staff more time to focus on the meats: ribs, pulled pork, tri-tip, burnt ends, and sides like deviled egg potato salad, and barbecued pork skins. Their VooDoo sauce hits an eight on a hot scale, but they also feature more mild sauces, like their Pineapple Express. So far their attention to detail has paid off—Yelp named them one of the top 100 restaurants in the U.S.
26. MONTANA // THE NOTORIOUS P.I.G.
We’re not just picking this place because of its punny name—it is a great name, though—but because they feature a tour of the best kinds of barbecue: Memphis-style ribs, Kansas City burnt ends, Texas-style brisket, tri-tip sirloin, and, a curveball: New York pastrami.
27. NEBRASKA // LIPPY’S BBQ
Lippy’s specializes in “naked barbecue,” which means they don’t add any sauce to their meats, instead letting the high-quality meat speak for itself. Their menu includes a beef brisket sandwich, Memphis-style pulled pork, brisket fajitas, and a Mix-Up Sandwich Meal: brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken.
28. NEVADA // JOHN MULL’S MEATS AND ROAD KILL GRILL
Las Vegas, Nevada
The location started as John Mull’s Meats and Deer Processing, until third generation owner Chuck Frommer took over the business in 1981. Deer and other meats are no longer slaughtered on the premises, and the space has evolved into a catering company, a meat market, and a small picnic-style lunch and dinner spot. You can pick up pork offal and goat meat by the pound from the market, or you can have them prepare the food for you: half-chicken dinners, five-bone rib dinners, hot links, mac and cheese, and cobbler.
29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // GOODY COLE’S SMOKEHOUSE & CATERING
Brentwood, New Hampshire
The husband and wife team behind Goody Cole’s use an Oyler Barbecue Pit—which can hold up to 1200 pounds of meat—to hickory-smoke their meats for 12 hours. One of the owners hails from Texas, so she knows a thing or two about smoking barbecue well. The results are mouth-watering turkey, kielbasa, beef brisket, and a "world famous" St. Louis-style pork rib, dry seasoned with their own secret recipe.
30. NEW JERSEY // HENRI’S HOTTS BARBEQUE
Hammonton, New Jersey
As if one plate of barbecue wasn’t filling enough, now you have the option of endlessly stuffing your face with pulled pork, black-eyed peas, ribs, whipped yams, and meatloaf at Henri's all-you-can-eat weekend buffet (or, thankfully, you can also opt to take your buffet to go). During the week, Henri’s serves a regular menu with many of the same items, including platters, wings, sandwiches, and burgers, which are just part of the reason Henri's has won the Best BBQ in South Jersey title for five years in a row.
31. NEW MEXICO // WATSON’S BBQ
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Tucumcari Ranch Supply is home to a general store that sells livestock feed and sundries, but it’s also where owners Jimmy and Stella Watson smoke meats for their restaurant, Watson’s. They have Frito pie, a Bucky Special (brisket and sausage), a turkey leg plate, and a New Mexico green chili stew, as well as a full (not barbecued) donut menu.
32. NEW YORK // BIG W’S ROADSIDE BAR-B-QUE
Wingdale, New York
New York City may have tons of barbecue options, but take a 90-minute drive outside the city and visit Big W’s in Wingdale. The “W” stands for owner/pitboss Warren Norstein, who started his barbecue adventure in 2003, on the side of Route 22. His chickens are smoked over wood for six hours, hence the name “slow chicken.” Besides poultry, their menu offers sandwiches and spare ribs in portions “truly sensible,” “sensible,” and “roadside.” If you’re feeding a lot of people, choose the For The Table meal: one whole rack of ribs, whole chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, and six sides for $99.
33. NORTH CAROLINA // HIGH COTTON
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge wins a lot of barbecue brackets, but North Carolina has other barbecue joints. Enter the Outer Banks’ High Cotton, which serves up family-sized portions of eastern North Carolina 'cue. The hand-chopped pork is smoked on hickory for 12 hours, and they also make mean southern fried chicken, chocolate pecan Chess pie, hushpuppies, and Texas brisket.
34. NORTH DAKOTA // SPITFIRE BAR AND GRILL
West Fargo, North Dakota
In 2011, Spitfire won first place for chicken in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbeque. The chicken is spitfired, their ribs are pit-smoked, and their burgers, fish, and steaks are wood-fired.
35. OHIO // ELI’S BBQ
In 2012, Elias Leisring started Eli’s in a tent, selling his sandwiches and meat platters at Cincinnati’s Findlay Market. He has since upgraded to two brick-and-mortar locations, including one at Findlay. Last year, Yelp named Eli’s one of the top 100 places to eat in the U.S.—the only Ohio restaurant on the list. For a mere $6, you can get a brisket sandwich, or for a couple of dollars more, a full slab of ribs, rib tips, and smoked all-beef franks. Besides the meats, their jalapeño cheddar grits are also tasty.
36. OKLAHOMA // BURN CO. BARBEQUE
Burn Co. opened in 2011, and they smoke meat (baby back ribs, drumsticks, bologna) and sausages (Polish, pork, venison, bratwurst), and serve sides of smoky baked beans, hand cut coleslaw, and grilled potato salad. Some of their meats are available to take home, so you can grill them up on your own, but the restaurant goes through about 40 gallons of barbecue sauce and 125 pounds of rub each week. Their food is so good that Alton Brown recently said it was the “best barbecue we’ve had on the road so far.”
37. OREGON // BO-MACK’S BBQ EXPRESS
Podnah's Pit is a revered place in Oregon and Portland, but Bo-Mack’s is a true family affair. Owned and operated by a nine-member family, Bo-Mack’s serves complimentary cornbread with fresh whipped honey butter during meals, which are based around dry-rubbed meats smoked for 14-18 hours, as well as a selection of sides like creamy garlic mashed potatoes. They make their own sauces, too, from Sweet and Sassy to the Ghost Pepper-spiced Hooligan.
38. PENNSYLVANIA // HARVEY’S MAIN STREET BBQ
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania
Harvey Schademan and his wife got their start in the barbecue business 30 years ago, selling half chickens on the side of the road. Since then, Harvey has won several barbecue competitions, which he attributes to his ribs being less sugary than typical Kansas City-style ribs. The large menu includes gumbo, cherry-smoked pulled pork, smoked brisket nachos, wild boar, and burgers, and after a 2014 fire destroyed their original building, Harvey's reopened last year with more than twice the seating capacity. Plenty of room to fill up on their "flavory and savory" plates.
39. RHODE ISLAND // BECKY’S BBQ
Middletown, Rhode Island
At Becky’s, they barbecue their pork and beef for 18 hours, and then hand-pull each cut. Since 1998, they’ve offered family style meals, sandwiches, platters, sides like Becky’s three-bean bake, and hickory-smoked ribs. Unfortunately, Becky Bowden, the restaurant's namesake founder, passed away, but her husband, Bob Bringhurst, carries on with their friendly barbecue legacy.
40. SOUTH CAROLINA // SWEATMAN’S BAR-B-QUE
Holly Hill, South Carolina
You will have to drive an hour from Charleston to Holly Hill to find the Sweatman's barbecue place, located inside a an old farmhouse. For 40 years, Sweatman's has served plates with meats, hash, and slaw, and an all-you-can-eat plate of "ribs and skins." Plus, you can get banana pudding for less than a buck. As one Eater commenter wrote, “Any votes other than Sweatman’s have never made the drive.”
41. SOUTH DAKOTA // BIG RIG BBQ
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Big Rig takes a naked, "sauce optional" approach to barbecue. “Try it first without it, and if you need it, add it,” reads their website. Located in front of a Home Depot, everything Big Rig does has a no-frills approach to cooking; they joke that they don't even own a can opener. But the product is superb, which co-owner Bob Brenner's recent Food Falls Tourney win can attest to.
42. TENNESSEE // PEG LEG PORKER
In the Volunteer State, swine is king. Peg Leg pitmaster Carey Bringle opened his restaurant in 2013 (the eatery's name is a good-natured nod to the bone cancer that claimed his right leg as a teenager), and fare is as southern as it gets. Favorites like pimento cheese, smoked green beans, barbecued pulled pork, and pork rinds are served alongside Kool-Aid pickles and "Memphis sushi" (a sausage and cheese platter with saltines). They also sell a variety of bourbon, including their own batch called Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon.
43. TEXAS // THE SALT LICK BBQ
Driftwood and Round Rock, Texas
It’s not hard to find good barbecue in the great state of Texas, but you’d be hard-pressed to find something like Salt Lick. The original location in Driftwood, Texas started smoking their 'cue in 1967, and the brand's popularity grew from there (there are more than 10,000 reviews on its Facebook page, a testament to the widespread appeal). Also located in Round Rock, the two locations serve brisket, a vegetable plate, samplers, turkey, and homemade pecan pie. And, if you're in the mood for something truly Texas-sized, you can order a gallon—yes, a full gallon—of their house barbecue sauce.
44. UTAH // BAM BAM'S BBQ
Owner Cameron “Bam Bam” Treu started competing in the Kansas City Barbecue Society contest circuit, and in 2012 he won grand champion at the Best Dam BBQ Challenge. At his namesake restaurant—which opened in 2013—Bam Bam smokes Central Texas-style meats like chopped beef, sausage links, and turkey for 14 hours. Pick a meat and pile it on their BBQ Swachos (their barbecue-covered nachos).
45. VERMONT // BIG FATTY’S BBQ
White River Junction, Vermont
At Big Fatty’s New England barbecue joint they serve brined chicken wings, beef brisket, five pounds of whole slab ribs, and Texas brisket. And here, being a "Big Fatty" is an accomplishment: To complete the Big Fatty’s Challenge, you must eat four pounds worth of pulled pork and fries on a bun in under an hour.
46. VIRGINIA // BBQ EXCHANGE
Pork belly and smoked tofu aren’t exactly traditional components on a barbecue menu, but the BBQ Exchange takes a unique approach to classic barbecue fare. Their sauces consist of Virginia-style smoky bacon, sweet Kansas City-style, and hog fire made with hot peppers. As a reminder of their southern roots, the Exchange also has fried green tomatoes, collared greens, and Brunswick stew on the menu.
47. WASHINGTON // CAMPFIRE BBQ
Campfire's well-reviewed brisket and Memphis-style ribs are made with locally sourced meat that's organic and sustainable. The sauces—bourbon, beer, and mustard based—use ingredients from local distilleries and brewers. Paying tribute to their Pacific Northwest location, Campfire also offers agave-glazed salmon, barbecued eggplant, and sometimes wild game like elk.
48. WEST VIRGINIA // DEM 2 BROTHERS & A GRILL
Charleston, West Virginia
Only one brother runs the joint—Adrian “Bay” Wright—but he is the youngest of 10 kids. As Wright says on the website, the eatery is “located on the best-smelling corner in Charleston.” Wright visited his hometown of Charleston and cooked roadside ribs for a weekend, and with some coercion from his family, decided to stay indefinitely and open the place. The menu features Big Bay’s ribs, fish, chicken, sweet potato casserole, wings, and on Soul Food Sundays, Wright offers ox tail, collard greens, and fried chicken.
49. WISCONSIN // LD’S BBQ
East Troy, Wisconsin
LD’s is known for their sandwiches, which are piled high in a mix-and-match style of multiple meats. The Shane is made with half chicken and half brisket, the Z-Drake adds pulled pork to the Shane, and the Hocking contains smoked sausage and pulled pork. If meatloaf is your thing, come Wednesdays when they sell it as a special.
50. WYOMING // POKEY’S BBQ & SMOKEHOUSE
For the folks at Pokey’s, their “dinner” menu is “lunch for you cityfolks,” and "supper" [PDF] is served evenings Tuesday through Sunday. Their beef brisket, kielbasa, smoked pork chops, steaks, shrimp, and samplers come with a trip to their salad bar, two sides, and cheesy biscuits. And the sides—tater salad, ale-battered onion rings, fried green tomatoes—are just as crucial as the meats. So what separates Pokey’s from the rest of the barbecue joints in town? Their “wild thang" [PDF] menu: ostrich, gator tail, kangaroo, buffalo skewers, and—for the most adventurous of eaters—python.