Instapundit publishes an email that mistakenly suggests that Calhoun’s BBQ in Knoxville is the best BBQ in the country.
As someone who once diverted a business trip to New York to go via Kansas City and eat at Arthur Bryant’s, I can testify that Los Angeles has world-class barbecue. The reasons are simple to understand; when the great WWII migration happened, someone had to feed everyone, and we managed to bring in practitioners of the various regional styles.
I’ll suggest three places, in no particular order:
The Pit
All are small family-run places in South-Central. Go see the newly renovated Watts Towers and make a lunch of it.
UPDATE: As long as we’re talking brisket, I have to add California’s contribution, Santa Maria tri-tip. To really enjoy it, you have to go to Central California; in Nipomo, Jocko’s (my personal favorite) and The Hitching Post in Casmalia. Check out this review of both.
Thanks to all the commenters here, we went and had mediocre ribs last night at a local chain BBQ place. I was desperate…

58 thoughts on “BBQ”

  1. R. Alex is right on.
    Almost ANY BBQ place in Texas is better than I’ve had anywhere else. I haven’t eaten Memphis BBQ, but I have eaten Arthur Bryant’s and it was nothing compared to Texas. I crave smoked brisquit that is cooked better in Texas than anywhere else in the country.
    Second for me, is Twin Anchors in Chicago. I made the rounds of rib places and always came back to Twin Anchors for a full rack of baby back ribs. Even Texas ribs don’t compare.
    I will, however, make a run to Watts for a taste of California BBQ.

  2. I’m from North Carolina, and as far as I can tell, none of these supposed “barbeque” places actually serve barbeque. They seem like fine places to get smoked beef brisket or ribs, which are both fine foods. To a North Carolinian, neither are barbeque, which is reserved for a particular style of cooking pork. (For those of us from the Carolinas, the dispute is over sliced v. chopped, or Western NC tomato-based sauces v. Eastern NC vinegar sauces, or possibly SC yellow mustard based sauce.)

  3. You yankees have no idea what you are talking about. I live in Memphis, but travel frequently to Texas and elsewhere, and Memphis has by far the best BBQ in the country. The 10 best BBQ places I have ever been to are all in Memphis. Nothing else comes close. Sorry, guys.

  4. I won’t go so far as to say it’s the best BBQ joint on the planet – since I’ve regrettably not been to all of them – but there’s a place in Hattiesburg, Mississippi called The Front Porch that sets my salivary glands running like a Pavlovian mutt’s every time I hear the name. And all you can eat for about $7.

  5. I respectfully disgaree with Mr. Thacker. I am not sure what that vinegary nonsense they serve in North Carolina is, but it most assuredly is not barbecue.
    I will second the Kansas City and Memphis nominations as good bbq towns, and there was a place I ate in Birmingham that was spectacular.

  6. I went to the Front Porch, no great shakes at all. Best place I ever went was near Hattiesburg, next, well damn-near on, a railroad track. It was called Letha’s and I probably could not find it today, but there were people lined up on the street to get in. It’s really someone’s (Letha’s) home with an outbuilding for a dinning area. The barbecue was spectacular.

  7. Someone forgot to mention Jacks Stack in Kansas City. Great Barbecue and great non barbecue food, too. Some other good K.C. joints: Gates and Sons, Haywards, Arthur Bryants and hundreds of other tin shacks with amazing sauces and ribs. I live in N.Carolina for four years and while their ‘pork’ tastes fine, it isn’t barbecue proper if its swimming in a pool of vinegar.

  8. Always on the lookout for the best barbecue I must say that the best BBQ I have had and will drive hundreds of miles out of my way for is at the Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood TX. The smoked brisket is out of this world. I am also very partial to Eastern NC Pork BBQ with the vinegar/pepper sauce. It’s interesting to note the passionate way all the posters talk about their fave BBQ joints and the regions they prefer. I’d certainly like to get some more of those Memphis vibes though. Chow on!

  9. When you “bring in” some cuisine from its traditional home you cut it off from the roots of its origin. It evolves, maybe better, maybe worse, but never the same.
    You guys want BBQ, REAL BBQ, you are going to have to come to Texas…and you are not particularly invited.

  10. I’ve had CA BBQ, and there is no way that it could stack up against Jack Stack or Arthur Bryants in KC. Texas BBQ??? I second the nomination for the city of KC.

  11. Ross –
    Twin Anchors? Oh god… that place is THE most overrated rib joint on the planet. I live in Chicago, and I’ve been there on several occassions, and it’s not very good. For those of you outside the area, they boil their baby-back ribs (to make them soft) and then broil them under a gas burner (to crisp them up), then serve ‘em with a sauce that if it’s not original recipe Open Pit, Kraft should sue. No smoke AT ALL. >shudder<
    Chicago is not (unfortunately) a great BBQ town, but Freddy’s Ribhouse on Sheffield is pretty decent (two tomato-based sauces, the ribs are actually smoked). Merle’s in Evanston (first burb north of Chicago) has nice, slow-smoked ribs of the Carolina variety (a bit of a chew to the meat), dry-rubbed with both West NC (tomato/vinegar) and Texas style (tomato + spice) sauces on the side.
    A lot of the better ‘que North Side joints have closed, so the REALLY good stuff can only be found in tough-to-find shops on the South Side.

  12. Mr. Thacker is most correct, and though I’m also originally from North Carolina, his truth is evident here in Georgia as well. Barbecue is two things: [1] a noun, not a verb, and [2] pork, not beef. My vote goes to Fincher’s Barbecue in Macon and Warner Robins, Ga.

  13. In Lowcounty South Carolina: “Country Cousins” in Scranton, and in Kingstree a place called (if I remember right) Brown’s.
    And yes this is lowcountry chopped pork vinegar barbecue and it rules, I tell thee. Though the midlands mustard barbecue is real fine, too.

  14. Daddy Bruce’s in Boulder, CO has amazing Brisket, Ribs and Chicken, smoked, with the vinegar type sauce that some like and some don’t…I forget where down south he is a transplant from, but DAMN is his BBQ good!! (A quart or 2 of his sauce to go is considered mandatory by many :-)
    A bit pricey, as he’s selling to boulder yuppies, but worth it (he IS out there splitting wood every day!)

  15. For Northern California, Backdoor BBQ in Richmond near El Cerritos. This place is a dive sharing space with a bar. None of that sissie overly sweet crap, though. This is Cajun BBQ. If you order the sauce spicy, expect it to BURN! The one thing they need (besides a better location) is biscuits. They server factory packaged white bread. Yuck.
    It must be good. B.B. King played there one night.

  16. Glad Chris Le came by to get the Memphis nom in. I grew up there, and have never had as good BBQ as in my former hometown, including other places in the South. I do think you have to make distinctions, however, since Memphis is the home of the International Pork BBQ contest, whereas in KC or Texas you’ll be feasting on yummy beef barbecue for the most part.

  17. For the record, I wasn’t the one who recommended Twin Anchors.
    I can give a second to the Salt Lick’s beef brisket. Outstanding. You can actually get some in the Austin airport. And I’m a big fan of Memphis BBQ (Corky’s actually brought a franchise to my home town, but it’s still not quite the same as in Memphis). Still think for pork, 17th Street’s a hair better.

  18. From the Dept. of historical goibberish…
    Advertisement: Seattle ‘Post Intelligencer’. 1930.
    Famed “Barbecurean” is back from Snohomish County, Everett Highway and Kinf County Jail.
    Reopening Barbecue Pit at 908 Twelfth Avenue.
    Having taken a post-graduate course in cooking under that renowned epicurean, Sheriff Claude Bannick, I am now able to cook ‘possum and sweet ‘taters to the taste of H.R.H. King George of England or that great doctor of divinity, Billy Sunday.
    I have made my gin fizz shakers and cocktail concocters into boilin’ pots and skillets. I have some of the cutest little chickens, the most bashful little pigs, bullingest little beefs, you have ever tasted in your life. Yes, sir! I have even learned to sing the blues taught by those inimitable professors, Lyle and Whitney.
    I want all of my past, present and future patrons to come to the first and only real Barbeque Pit, which has been enlarged in the last few weeks to accomodate over 200 and help to celebrate the holidays by eating caviar for culture, hogshead and black-eyed peas for luck, chicken and corn fritters for beauty, ham and pork for plumpness, turkey for flightiness, ‘possum and sweet ‘taters for wisdom, and nice juicy beef for family and kidney troubles. Yes, sir!
    Hear me sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man River,” “Moanin’ Low” and “Piccolo Pete,” and then I will dance the hoedown.

  19. Lived in Chi-town for 3 years. Twin Anchors is only ok. Nice neighborhood place, though the near-north pizza places with 1,000 brands of beer to choose from are better.
    Best BBQ-ribs in the world are from Montgomery Inn in Cinti. Bob Hope used to have’em flown out to his golf tournament cook-outs.
    In Texas, there’s lots of great BBQ – try Angelo’s in Fort Worth, for instance. Ribs are only OK, but the brisket and chopped BBQ sandwiches are beyond wonderful.

  20. For the record, I am the one who recommended Twin Anchors. As a three winter resident I tried many rib joints and no matter what TA did back in the early nineties, they cooked the best.
    And as a UT (that’s Texas) I third the Salt Lick nomination from back when it was one room and not so famous. Bring your own cooler, order all you can eat of ribs, link and brisquit and leave stuffed and happy.
    So, as I see it, in Texas BBQ means brisquit cooked long and slow until the meat gets so tender that you don’t need no stinking sauce. Secondarily comes link.
    NC is about port, cooked I have no idea how, – and vinegar sauce? What’s that.
    KC I have no idea what it’s about. The meat was tough, the link tasteless and the sauce just another add on. They have good steak, though.
    Chicago is about the ribs, whether you agree with me or not. I don’t think anyone knows what BBQ is besides ribs.
    What’s the Memphis specialty?

  21. First: If you haven’t had ribs at Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City then you have no right to give an opinion on Barbeque! and Secondly: It truly is sad when a person mentions the Salt Lick as the best brisket. I mean it is ok but calling it the best tosses around the word way too freely. Especially since you have to drive by a Rudy’s to get there, it is probably not even the best in Austin. Now above all the reason Kansas City Barbeque it the BEST in the world is Burnt Ends. Whether it is Gates and Son’s, Arthur Bryant’s or even Zarda a plate of burnt ends will make you sorry that you wasted so much of your life not eating them.

  22. South Carolina votes with Mr. Thacker of North Carolina. Too many good pits to count in the Southeast. I know that the yankees have a few good places though. One of my favorites is the Dinosaur BBQ out of Syracuse NY. I still import their sauce as Christmas gifts to my southern neighbors and kin. They like it too!!

  23. Memphis BBQ is always pork, either ribs or pork shoulder, cooked slow. The pulled pork sandwiches come with a tomato and molasses based sauce. The ribs come either dry with no sauce at all and a little seasoning or wet with the same tomato-molasses sauce. The best ribs in town are made at an old dive called the Cozy Corner in a poor section of town. The best sandwich comes from either Corky’s or Neely’s.
    I don’t know anything about KC BBQ. Isn’t that a steak town? I have never heard they had good BBQ there? Carolina BBQ is awful. That vinegar based sloppy Joe they call BBQ is a disgrace. In fact, the most successful place in South Carolina is called Sticky Fingers and it is Memphis style.
    Texas does have good brisket. I just don’t like the style as much and they have no idea how to cook a rib. Can’t comment on Chicago, but most yankees call BBQ cooking a burger on a grill. And California, please!

  24. Re: Memphis BBQ
    OK, I gotta stand up and defend my home turf here. I’ve lived in Memphis all of my life, and feel qualified on the subject of BBQ. Though when I travel, I tend to eat what that city’s known for, so I can’t compare it to what it’s like outside of Tennessee.
    The two big ones in Memphis are Corky’s and The Rendezvous. The former has two locations in Memphis and a couple throughout Tennessee, the latter is a single restaurant. Personally, I prefer Corky’s, but what most people can agree on is that Corky’s is better for wet ribs, and The Rendezvous is better for dry rub (both have excellent pulled pork and side dishes).
    The great thing about Memphis, though, is that there are little Mom & Pop joints everywhere. My absolute favorite of these is the Commissary in Germantown. It’s been there forever, and everything on the menu is wonderful. Topps and Interstate BBQ are both good, and each have a couple of restaurants scattered through the city. Gridley’s used to be good back in the early 80s, but isn’t too good now. Pig & Whistle is OK, and seems to be very popular with older folks, but I’m not a big fan.
    As for beef vs. pork, I’d say 90% of the BBQ here in Memphis is pork, though Corky’s does a great brisket, and Leonard’s does this weird beef BBQ spaghetti (using regular roast, not brisket) that’s good when you’re in the mood for it. I’ve been told that mutton is the preferred meat in Kentucky, but I can’t directly verify this.
    Fortunately, as far as sauce, you can get just about everything here. I tend to prefer the sweeter, molasses-based sauces, and generally pick the “hot” version if they’ve got it. Middle Tennessee’s big on vinegar-based sauces, and I’ve never really gotten into those, preferring them more as marinating & basting material for chicken.
    Something not to be missed: The BBQ pizza at Coletta’s. Two great things in one, and you’ll never order one from Pizza Hut again.
    My Dad participated in the World BBQ Contest several times over the past 20 years, and I joined him for a few of those. I’ve also single-handedly roasted a half hog, staying up all night beside a roasting pit. Homemade BBQ is not to be overlooked, though it tends to be pretty labor-intensive, but the rewards are well worth it. It’s great to have a fridge full of leftovers for that midnight coding session. :)
    Best advice for visitors: Try to hit Corky’s or the Rendezvous once, and then go to some little hole-in-the wall joint. Be on the lookout for smoke pouring out of the chimney, a cloud of flies out back, and grease stains on the menu. You won’t be disappointed.

  25. Give it up people, especially you Memphisians. Been there, ate there, nothing special. I SAY UNTO YOU, BEHOLD Arthur Bryant’s at 15th and Brooklyn in KC. Made a 300 mile trip this weekend just for the beef sandwich and fries…and the sauce…God, the sauce. Also, agitate your local grocer to carry Gates and Sons barbecue sauce. Appropriate for non-professionals and suburban people alike. Please boycott KC Masterpiece. The inventor thereof is from (gasp) suburban Kansas!!!!

  26. … Texas vs. Memphis vs. Carolina vs. KC. … I say eat it all.
    That said, the very best is Carolina barbeque from no-name places in the flatlands near the coast. If they have to ask whether you want coleslaw on the sandwich don’t be offended – they just haven’t seen you before. (Of course you want coleslaw on the sandwich.)
    If you have to eat Q in the Bay Area go to Everett & Jones in Oakland and get the ribs.

  27. Just outside of Bluff City, Tennessee is a little roadside BBQ place called Ridegewood BBQ, not only is the meat to die for, the sauce can be bought by the jar (bet you can’t leave with only one jar) and the beans are…well, ya can’t stop eating them. Not near anywhere, but worth the trip to get there.

  28. As a general rule good BBQ is not produced in mountainous regions.The worst can be found in the Appalachian foothills and Mountains East Tennessee,NW GA, W Carolina all have terrible BBQ.Fall line ‘cue is best,piedmont and coastal plain are mixed with many excellent varieties.N Alabama ridge and valley is generally quite acceptable.
    Beef is never BBQ ,barbecued chicken can be wonderful but it is not ‘cue its chicken.Only pork is BBQ the rest is grilled or smoked meat.

  29. I’ll give the nod to Memphis on the pulled pork, but I won’t back off of Texas on the pork ribs. At the very least, the dry rubs here will stand shoulder to shoulder with any other place in the country. Wet ribs, though? When I see that abomination, I always feel like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird: “But he’s drowning his whole plate in ketchup!” One of these days, I’ll actually find a place in Charlotte that serves BBQ, so for now, they’re not even a contender.
    Yardbird is an interesting diversion, and pretty hard to mess up unless you put Karo or something crazy like that on it.
    Brisket goes without saying — Texas Rules.

  30. Kansas City is KING of BBQ! Memphis is good and parts of Texas too but KC is King. Arthur Bryants, Haywards, Zarda, etc, etc… nothing beats it.

  31. I hope this debate is still raging. I hail from Tampa FL (not really a bbq town, I know)and I’d like to put in my 2 cents.
    I tend toward the “BBQ = pork” rule. BUT…I have to admit the beef BBQ sandwich I had a Arthur Bryants was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. For weeks after returning to FL I yearned for another Arthur Bryant’s sandwich!
    As for joints, yes I have eaten at Twin Anchors and I have enjoyed it. But keep in mind, folks, that their ribs are NOT bbq. Go there to enjoy good “oven baked” ribs, and you’ll be fine. I have also eaten at the Rendezvous and although it was OK, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe I was expecting too much. Waited 5 years for a chance to go there. Dang. Also have eaten at Corky’s and Gates. Both are average in my opinion. Gates maybe a bit above average. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Carolinas on business trips, but I can’t say I care for Carolina bbq all that much. Although … I had some really good pulled pork in Lexington, NC at the Lexington BBQ. I can take or leave the vinegar “dip” , but the pork there was cooked to perfection. I also did like the Piggy Park in Columbia, too. The mustard bbq sauce is actually quite tasty, especially on chicken, I think. I’d go back there if I ever pass through Columbia again. I liked Finchers in Macon, too. Ate a sack of pork sandwiches there.
    My idea of the BEST joints (anyone out there heard of these?): a falling-down shack outside Picayune MS called Louises. Is it still there? Has anyone else reading this ever been there? I had the best ribs of my life there and then topped it off with the very best home-made blackberry cobbler I have ever tasted. I also adore Fatt Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta – a wonderful mix of funk, blues, and good ribs. Other great feeds are Peebles BBQ in Auburndale, FL (a true SHACK – if they ever shut down the county would not allow them to re-open), First Choice BBQ in Brandon, FL, and Southside Jonny’s Downeast BBQ in S. Portland, Maine. What ever happened to Jonny St. Laurent? He made some fine ‘que in his day. One of my all-time favorites (and the joint where I tasted my first real bbq) is Goode Company in Houston, TX. Great links and great pork ribs!! Yes, pork! But that was back in 1981. I have no idea if the place is still as good. Haven’t been back to Houston since I left in ’84. Been to the Goode Company website a time or two. They’ve gotten bigger.

  32. Country Cousins, in Scranton, SC, serves the best, true pit barbeque that I have ever tasted–I have eaten barbeque from FL to NY, and Country Cousins has the best flavor of any I have tried. The flavor seems to be vinegar-based. How I wish I had the recipe!!!!

  33. Day Off, BBQ, and REAL Food

    I started to take one today. I went shopping and to see a movie with Bitchy Mom. Then we went by the gun shop (it was closed) and the liquor store together. This can’t be normal bonding. So, Instapundit found

  34. To really understand and know that Eastern Carolina barbeque is the original and ideal to which all would-be culinary artists should aspire, one needs to know that history is on Eastern Carolina’s side. In the lowlands, tidal flats, swamps and tobacco fields, persons of different color, persons with roots in different countries, and persons from every rung of the social ladder gathered together to cook the food staple of this region-pigs,hogs,pork. Drawing upon their various experiences and cultural habits they worked together to develop a unique and wonderful food which became known as barbeque. Barbeque has a history in this region that goes back over 300 years. In fact the term barbeque has been part of the oral tradition of the inhabitants well before the American Revolution. The geographical area of this tradition encompasses roughly the counties east of Raleigh and south of the Virginia line, and a few of the northeast counties of South Carolina.

  35. I haven’t been there for years, but Port Cape Girardeau in Cape Girardeau, MO had the best pork sandwiches with slaw on them.
    17th Street in Murphysboro, IL is not bad. Schemonia’s is much better even though it is not a restaurant you can take it home.
    I must agree the best ribs are Montgomery Inn in Cincy.

  36. J.R. Proud is a purist, and I can appreciate that. Here in FL we cannot cook a hog in that manner since we have no clay. But we manage, and the pigs we’ve roasted I’d put up against anyone’s.
    But I was hoping to get a discussion going about the “joints” around the country that serve some good eats (BBQ eats). I have had the ribs at Montgomery Inn, and I’d agree they’re good. But nowhere close to BBQ. Twin Anchors is the same story. Good, mouth-watering oven-baked ribs, but not BBQ’d. But, if you’re in the Cincy area, stop by Burbank’s BBQ. It’s actually in a Cincy suburb north of town, about halfway to Dayton. Was there about 10 years ago. It used to be pretty decent.

  37. The word barbecue, barbque, bbq…however you wish to spell it came from the Spanish word barbacoa. Barbacoa means method of slow-cooking meat over hot coals (wood). I guess it really doesn’t matter what kind of meat you are cooking.

  38. the worst BBQ west of the mississippi is in stpaul,MN!!
    If you say NO to this then you let me know where you think it is!!
    Im sick of all thease BBQ Q’s On line wene is your tivia going to be over?

  39. Big BBQ man here. I have travelled from coast to coast and sampled ‘cue all over (even what the Canadians claim is BBQ). The best, hands down, is East Carolina, and the best of that is a little place known as the Skylight Inn in Ayden. Ralph’s in Roanoke Rapids is also good.

  40. Have heard about a famous barbque joint in Macon, GA and am trying to find out the name. Someone said it was the only barbque to make it as fare on a Space Shuttle flight.
    Can anyone confirm this and tell me more?

  41. I currently live in Texas, But am from Memphis. Lived there my first 25-years of life, and would put Memphis barbecue up against any one else’s so-called “barbecue”.
    There is no better. No place, No how!!!

  42. If you haven’t gotten an answer: The barbecue from macon, GA that was taken on the Space Shuttle was from Fincher’s Barbecue. The phone number there is 478-788-1900.

  43. re: Drew, Dec 29, 2002, 1:07 P.M. (Letha’s Barbeque.
    I served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 11 years and did summer camp at USM, in Hattiesburg, Miss 7 of those years.
    I have had the pleasure of eating at Letha’s Barbeque numerous times. I have eaten barbeque from Columbus, OH, Blytheville, AR to Wichita Falls, TX, Memphis TN, Shreveport,LA, New Orleans, LA, and Puducah, KY. Letha’s is the best.
    The last time I was there was in 1996 when she was located on Letha’s Lane off the old Foxworth Jamestown Road, off US 98, outside Foxworth Miss, just a couple miles west of Columbia, Miss. A bit of a shabby joint. The first time I went there, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. But the food was great and Letha is the best cook.
    Ran into a fellow at the Pensacola NAS, was watching an air show by the Navy Blue Angles. He was from Hattiesburg, Miss, and told me that Letha had opened a resturant in Hattiesburg.

  44. Don’t bother getting Corky’s barbeque by mail. I made the mistake of ordering some of this barbeque because I had read it was great!, well it wasn’t! I make better barbeque myself in my oven, and I live in the east!! Maybe it’s good at the restaurant, but the mail order sucks big time. It is totally overpriced for what you get, and barely has any flavor. Keep your money!!

  45. For great brisket, no one anywhere in Texas (the only place to get a good brisket) can touch THE TRADING POST on Hwy 199 near Azle (west of Fort Worth)!!

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