The Hottest BBQ Joints Across the U.S.

By Zagat Staff  |  July 15, 2014
Credit: Teodora Nicolae

Not too long ago, fans of real-deal barbecue had to make pilgrimages down South — not anymore. A recent boon has brought the love of smoked meats to cities all across America, including New York City and San Francisco, where slices of fatty brisket and tender ribs are now as easy to find as steak and sushi. Read on for 15 great newcomers to the BBQ scene across the country. 

  • AtlantaHeirloom Market BBQ

    Combining Southern and Korean flavors (heavier on the former, though), this 'cue spot gives recognizable classics a refreshing new personality without alienating anyone. The owners recently opened the instant hit Sobban in Decatur, a more Asian-leaning Southern-Korean mash-up.

    Don’t Miss: The spicy Korean pork is a good place to start to understand what Heirloom's up to. Pork ribs are marinated in the fermented chile paste gochujang — more sweet and earthy than spicy — then smoked with oak and hickory. Get it on a sandwich or as a combo plate.

    Side Show: Go for an old standby (beans, mac 'n' cheese, etc.) or look to the daily board of specials, which can feature items like crispy tofu or seasonal salads.

    2243 Akers Mill Rd.; 770-612-2502

  • Dallas: Pecan Lodge

    To the delight of Deep Ellum diners, husband-and-wife team Justin and Diane Fourton upped their interior-space game in moving from a booth at the Dallas Farmers Market to a full restaurant with a patio on Main Street. Happily, the smoked meats and sides are still among the best you can find in Dallas-Fort Worth, now with a bar and chill outdoor area with regular live music.

    Don't Miss: The beef: Burnt ends, brisket and giant ribs emerge from the smoker fork-tender and brimming with wondrous marbling and intense flavor. On the other end of the meat spectrum, fried chicken will melt your Southern food-loving heart.

    Side Show: The green chile-bacon mac 'n' cheese is a standout, and the sumptuous banana pudding makes a fine ending to a meal.

    2702 Main St.; 214-748-8900

  • Portland: Reverend’s BBQ 

    Can by-the-pound fried chicken compete with brisket? At this Sellwood neighborhood locale, you’ll find both as well as smoked tempeh on the menu. The family restaurant from the folks behind Laurelhurst Market also features big-screen TVs and an expansive patio.

    Don’t Miss: Brisket, sausage and ribs.

    Side Show: Wash down all of that smoke with a craft beer or draft cocktail like the Singapore Sling.

    7712 SE 13th Ave.; 503-327-8755

  • Charleston: Swig & Swine

    The new upscale barbecue joint from the Queen Street Hospitality Group (82 Queen, Low Country Bistro) features a solid menu with everything from the traditional brisket to smoked pork belly, plus four kinds of sauce.

    Don’t Miss: Pimento cheese and Ritz crackers, barbecue plates with collards and hash and rice, and piled-high pies like the coconut-custard (pictured).

    Side Show: Brisket comes dry here so you can dress it with the sauce of your choice.

    1217 Savannah Hwy.; 843-225-3805

  • Credit: Robert Jacob Lerma

    AustinTerry Black’s BBQ

    Part of the family that brought you Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart has struck out on its own, new recipes and all, and opened a joint on Barton Springs Road.

    Don’t Miss: Brisket, ribs and sausage. (Keep in mind that new restaurants often have a few kinks to work out.)

    Side Show: The grandsons Black are producing enough meat for you to drop in for dinner. Plus three cash registers and three cutting stations keep the line moving.

    1003 Barton Springs Rd.

  • Los Angeles: Horse Thief BBQ

    Self-taught pitmasters Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi serve up central Texas-style barbecue at this take-out window located at the historic Grand Central Market. Order off the handwritten paper menu, then snag a seat at one of the alfresco picnic tables.

    Don't Miss: Staying true to their Texan roots, McElroy and Malixi smoke beef brisket with a dry rub until tender and moist.

    Side Show: Gussied-up fixings include a bacon and blue-cheese potato salad and aged white cheddar mac 'n' cheese.

    324 South Hill St.; 213-625-0341

  • Credit: Landon Vonderschmidt Photography

    Kansas City: Q39

    Kansas City barbecue just got fancy at this “urban-rustic” locale from barbecue circuit champion Rob Magee.

    Don’t Miss: Sandwiches like the Pitmaster Brisket with provolone cheese and onion straws; brisket burgers like the Burnt End Burger; and a competition-worthy barbecue plate.

    Side Show: Craft cocktails at the full bar.

    1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City, MO; 816-255-3753

  • Credit: Kimberly Park

    HoustonKillen’s BBQ

    Chef Ronnie Killen, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, owns and operates the barbecue place in Pearland (and the steakhouse next door). Although there's usually a line (get there early; Killen's only serves until the eats run out), you won't be disappointed, especially on weekends when your wait time includes a free cold brew.

    Don't Miss: The beef ribs are tops in our book.

    Side Show: Although we can't get enough of the tasty 'cue here, it's worth making room for sides of mac 'n' cheese and creamed corn.

    3613 E. Broadway St.; 281-485-2272

  • Credit: Douglas Zimmerman

    San Francisco: Smokestack

    Dave McLean's Smokestack in the Dogpatch features a menu from Dennis Lee, who is also the chef-owner of Namu Gaji. High-quality meat options like barbecued chicken, pork ribs and brisket are offered by the pound, along with a range of sides — all of which you order at a counter. Although prices are on the high side, there's plenty to enjoy here, not the least of which is the stellar options coming out of the bar. The beers from McLean's long-excellent Magnolia Gastropub and other leading craft beers join a vibrant spirits selection and cocktails from bar manager Eric Quilty.

    Don’t Miss: We have one word for you: brisket. Lee's brisket is appropriately fatty, thick-cut and fall-apart tender, with a perfectly crusted skin. It's a lot like the fatty-fabulous brisket we remember loving at Uncle Frank's in Mountain View before it closed in 2011. But Lee uses top-quality Waygu beef and brings in whispers of Asian influence, like kimchi BBQ sauce and other pickled sides.

    Side Show: If Texas toast is in the house, do it. Same goes for a hearty cup of cranberry beans mingling with shredded chunks of pork.

    2505 Third St.; 415-864-7468

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    PhiladelphiaPercy Street Barbecue

    In the three-plus years since opening on South Street, native Southerner Erin O’Shea has built on her pre-opening research trip to Texas with partner Michael Solomonov, so while the ‘cue here started as Lone Star classic, it has since expanded in style and quality. The best-in-the-city craft canned beer list (more than 100 kinds and growing) is the perfect complement.

    Don’t Miss: Slabs of smoked brisket slapped on brown paper and served with three sauce types on the side will make any BBQ fan sigh happily (pictured at the top of this piece), and the free-range Amish chicken in Old Faithful sauce slides off the bone with surprising intensity of flavor.

    Side Show: The single-serving hot skillet of O’Shea’s jalapeño-cheddar cornbread is nearly a meal in itself.

    900 South St.; 215-625-8510

  • ChicagoGreen Street Smoked Meats

    Dripping with cool (and meat fat), Brendan Sodikoff’s take on a Texas BBQ joint is built into a repurposed warehouse with concrete floors, exposed beams and a massive smoker. Grab a PBR or Lone Star out of the beer-filled sink and take a seat at one of the picnic tables for a down-and-dirty dining experience.

    Must Order: There's tender brisket, pork belly, ribs, whole chickens and hot links served by the half-pound.

    Side Show: Frito pie with brisket chili.

    112 North Green St.; 312-754-0431

  • Credit: Christopher Cina

    DenverWayne's Smoke Shack

    This strip-mall smokehouse in Superior has been raking in the accolades for the past few months, with good reason. The Texas native who runs it is proving to be a pitmaster who puts his integrity on the line, encouraging customers to go sauce-free for meat's sake and closing shop when he runs out of product rather than establishing arbitrary business hours.

    Don’t Miss: We put Wayne's brisket on our bucket list of summer dishes and drinks. Enough said.

    Side Show: Don't snub the vegetable of the day, especially if it's smoked cauliflower.

    406 Center Dr., Superior; 303-554-5319

  • St. Louis: Spare No Rib

    In the new school of St. Louis, smoked meats are accompanied by salads and Mexican food. Find ribs and pulled pork, but beware the fish tacos, which, while excellent, can hardly be called barbecue.

    Don’t Miss: Ribs with a cumin-coriander-cinnamon rub, pulled pork sandwiches and a variety of tacos and sandwiches.

    Side Show: Baked beans, sweet corn and coleslaw.

    2200 Gravois Ave., Ste. 101; 314-202-8244

  • Kansas City: Slaps BBQ

    After brothers Mike and Joe Pierce and Brandon Whipple won the regional BBQ Pitmasters competition, they knew what to do: open a restaurant. And in mid-June they did, a neighborhood joint boasting their best recipes.

    Don’t Miss: Killer ribs and burnt ends, plus delicacies like corn bake oozing with cheesy goodness.

    Side Show: “Slaps” stands for “Squeal Like a Pig,” the guys’ team name.

    553 Central Ave., Kansas City, KS

  • AustinBrown’s Bar-B-Q

    Pitmaster Daniel Brown has lived in South Austin his entire life and makes the Texas barbecue to prove it.

    Don’t Miss: Pork ribs.

    Side Show: Cabbage flavored with bacon grease kicks regular coleslaw in the pants.

    1901 S Lamar Blvd.