Best Southern BBQ (2015)


What does barbecue mean to you? Is it a pile of Carolina pulled pork doused in spice and vinegar? Maybe a plate of burnt ends coated in a thick, sweet sauce? Or perhaps you prefer smoked chicken with white sauce, or a slab of spice-coated ribs, hold the sauce. No matter which barbecue style has your loyalty, it's undeniable that many of the best barbecue joints in the world are found in the South.

  • Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

    Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
    Kansas City, Kan.

    Ranked by many critics as the single best BBQ spot in the country, it is hard to argue against Joe’s, set in a onetime gas station that still operates its pumps. Most places have a specialty, and very few do it all well, but Joe’s manages this trick. The full racks of ribs are so perfect they look Photoshopped, the KC burnt ends are perfectly seasoned, the brisket and pulled pork are both standout. That alone would put in the top pantheon of smoky goodness, but surprisingly, many locals come for the creative and standout specialty sandwiches, like the Z-Man, loaded with brisket, provolone, and onion rings on a Kaiser roll. Or the Hog Heaven, with lots of pulled pork and sliced sausage. Or the Smoky Joe, chopped beef and pulled pork. No wonder people start lining up an hour before the doors open.
    Photo courtesy of Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

  • Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

    Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
    Llano, Texas

    A staple of the rich Texas BBQ scene for more than half a century, Cooper’s is known for the sheer variety of meats packed into its huge smokers: in addition to the standard Lone Star brisket, sausage (multiple varieties) and pork ribs triumvirate, choices run the gamut from sirloin steak to pork chops, with chicken, often hard to find but delicious beef ribs, and sometimes even goat. Spice rubs are used generously, and many of the meats have a deliciously peppery exterior while all are well sealed and juicy inside. It’s hard to go wrong but the big meaty beef ribs are a must-try. Otherwise Cooper’s is simple and austere in the true “joint” fashion, with a condiment table where you can fill a styrofoam cup with the thin house BBQ sauce, only on the side and never used in cooking.
    Photo courtesy of Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

  • Luling City Market

    Luling City Market
    Luling, Texas

    Simple but classic, with a walk-in smoker/butcher counter in back, City Market has a very limited meat menu, offering just the Texan big three: beef brisket, ribs and sausage. They take an equally Spartan approach to the sides, which are just pinto beans, potato salad, bagged chips, and their offbeat signature, slabs of cheddar-like yellow cheese in plastic wrap. This “less is more” approach is validated by the quality, especially of the exceptional brisket. Besides the cheese slabs, City Market’s longtime claim to fame is for offering house barbecue sauce, a rarity in this dry part of Texas, just outside Austin. Also sold in bottles, the orange colored liquid is unique and delicious, fruity and tangy. Loyalists go for the juicy brisket smothered in sauce and a no-frills setting.
    Photo courtesy of Kent Wang / Flickr

  • Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse

    Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse

    Texas is world famous for its barbecue, but surprisingly Dallas is not - with the notable exception of legendary Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse. They have been doing it here for well over half a century, serving everyone from Julia Childs to Warren Buffet to President George W. Bush, and it is unique among BBQ joints as a James Beard Award winner. The broad menu includes smoked turkey, ham, chicken, pulled pork, ribs and sausage, but being Texas, they are best known for their beef brisket, offered two ways, chopped or sliced. Sonny Bryan’s is also a great place to try a less common Texan specialty, Frito Pie, sort of like nachos except made with Fritos, piled with beef brisket, beans, BBQ sauce and cheese.
    Photo courtesy of Jay Clark / Flickr

  • Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue

    Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue
    Kansas City, Mo.

    Jack Stack takes a “date night” approach few top barbecue places can match, with full table service, cloth napkins, even a wine list. This makes it perfect for those who want to experience top shelf barbecue without the dive aspects, or without waiting in long lines (though it gets very crowded). But the pleasant surroundings should not overshadow the stunning variety of BBQ: brisket, two styles of pork ribs, pulled pork, sausage, rarer beef ribs – two ways, regular or thick short ribs – plus even rarer lamb ribs, smoked turkey, ham and an innovative range of KC’s famed burnt ends using pork, sausage and ham in addition to standard beef. As if that is not enough choices, they also offer four different sauces.
    Photo courtesy of Visit KC

  • Skylight Inn BBQ

    Skylight Inn BBQ
    Ayden, N.C.

    Perhaps the most famous temple of Carolina “Whole Hog” smoking, the Skylight Inn enjoys a legendary spot in the upper pantheon of barbecue. Of course, the replica of the US Capitol Dome that sits atop the eatery hasn’t hurt, and not coincidentally its nickname is the “Capitol of BBQ.” But the real reason is because ever since 1947 they have been doing it the old traditional way, slow smoking whole butterflied hogs with wood fire, chopping it to include crispy bits of delicious skin, aka “pig candy,” and dousing the results with thin vinegar based sauce. Skyline remains a regional standout for both the local sauce and the state’s disappearing whole hog tradition.
    Photo courtesy of kowarski / Flickr

  • Scott's Bar-B-Que

    Scott's Bar-B-Que
    Hemingway, S.C.

    “Whole Hog” barbecue was once common in the Carolinas, but the vanishing specialty has become much rarer – Scott’s is a holdout to the tradition. As the name suggests, whole hog style cooks the pig intact rather than as separate shoulders, racks of ribs, and so on, and chopped pork made from the whole beast includes delicious chunks of crispy skin. Revered pit master Rodney Scott uses 180-pound hogs, butterflied and smoked overnight for up to 12 hours, and when morning comes he doesn’t mess around with other meats. The classic here is simply barbecue, meaning pulled pork, served with vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce and a generous side of crispy skin, the unique touch that has made Scott’s a true legend.
    Photo courtesy of JoeGough

  • Dreamland Bar-B-Que

    Dreamland Bar-B-Que
    Tuscaloosa, Ala.

    Many classic BBQ joints have a great origin story but none like Dreamland - one night the late brick mason John “Big Daddy” Bishop dreamed that God told him he should open a barbecue place, so he started cooking in his front yard in 1958. Today many fans dream about the succulent ribs here (he eventually built an actual building in front of his house), so good that for more than half a century Dreamland served absolutely nothing but ribs and white bread, yet still became a runaway success. Just over five years ago they added sausage and a few classic BBQ sides, but ribs remain the dream of visitors, huge, meaty, juicy, cut apart and served heaped on platters, drizzled with the incredible house sauce, a secret recipe that is spicy in a robust, flavorful way, but not hot. They are some of the best ribs on earth and live up to the motto, “Ain’t Nothing Like ‘em Nowhere.”
    Photo courtesy of Dreamland Bar-B-Que

  • Arthur Bryant's Barbeque

    Arthur Bryant's Barbeque
    Kansas City, Mo.

    One of the most famous barbecue restaurants on earth, Arthur Bryant’s is also one of the more controversial. Fans love it, critics think it overrated, but ever since writer Calvin Trillin famously called it “possibly the single best restaurant in the world,” more than four decades ago, visitors from all over the globe have made it a must-try when visiting KC - President Obama ate there last year. The brisket, for which it is well known, is sliced thinly by machine not hand, for a different take, but the place is most famous for its “burnt ends.” Kansas City’s contribution to the BBQ canon, these are cubes cut from the spice rubbed exterior of a beef brisket, or “bark,” then re-seasoned and re-smoked and served as rich bites of beefy goodness.
    Photo courtesy of Visit KC

  • Black's Barbecue

    Black's Barbecue
    Lockhart, Texas

    In the BBQ rich town of Lockhart, home to legendary Kreuz and Smitty’s, Black’s has carved out its own longtime following, mainly for its superlative beef ribs. While more common in the Lone Star state than elsewhere, these dinosaur style on the bone ribs are still rare compared to pork, but at Black’s they are tender, utterly delicious and meaty - one rib can weigh well over a pound. While the beef ribs are famous, Black’s also does an amazing brisket, using a self-invented two-step process where they are partially cooked in a wood-fired rotisserie smoker, rested for days, and then finished in the traditional Lockhart-style brick pits. Texas Monthly, the bible of BBQ, called the result the best in town.
    Photo courtesy of Black's Barbecue

For the past four weeks USA TODAY 10Best readers have been casting their votes for the Best Southern BBQ, and the results are in!

It was a tough fight throughout between Kansas City- and Texas-style barbecue, but in the end, KC came out tops, with Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que winning the most reader votes and the title of Best Southern BBQ.

Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, runner-up for Best Southern BBQ, serves up a mouthwatering variety of traditional Texas-style smoked meats in the tiny Texas town of Llano. Texas and KC racked up every spot in the top five, as well as seven of the top 10 spots!

The top 10 winners in the category Best Southern BBQ are as follows:

  1. Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que - Kansas City, Kan.
  2. Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que - Llano, Texas
  3. Luling City Market - Luling, Texas
  4. Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse - Dallas
  5. Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue - Kansas City, Mo.
  6. Skylight Inn BBQ - Ayden, N.C.
  7. Scott's Bar-B-Que - Hemingway, S.C.
  8. Dreamland Bar-B-Que - Tuscaloosa, Ala.
  9. Arthur Bryant's Barbeque - Kansas City, Mo.
  10. Black's Barbecue - Lockhart, Texas

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Larry Bleiberg (, Tanner Latham ( and Lacy Morris (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of travel in the American South.

Other nominees for Best Southern BBQ included Archibald & Woodrow's BBQ in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala.; Cozy Corner Barbecue in Memphis; Franklin Barbecue in Austin; Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, Mo.; Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas; Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q in Vestavia Hills, Ala.; Saw's BBQ in Birmingham, Ala.; Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas and Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro, N.C.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

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Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Tanner Latham

Tanner Latham

Tanner Latham

Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris