Growing up in the West, I never knew good food until my husband and I moved to the South and fell in love with Southern pork barbecue. Here’s a little page I put together with all the barbecue opinions I never knew I had, including 15 qualifications for good Southern BBQ, restaurant reviews, and the discovery of BBQ at local fairs. Enjoy!
(Do you have a favorite BBQ restaurant to add to the list? Add your comment below. )
We highly recommend this song (YouTube link) to help clarify the regional variations of BBQ.
15 qualifications for good Southern BBQ
First of all for barbecue to earn five pigs (), it’s gotta taste of out this world, and incorporate the following criteria:
- Pork. ‘Nuff said.
- Cheap. Who can really enjoy a good meal if you know you’ll be working overtime to pay it off? A good pork plate, including slaw, fries, and a pickle, should run about $5-$6. Ribs — baby-back, of course — might be closer to $10 with all the fixins‘.
- Ma-Pa owned. Sure, there are good barbecue chain restaurants, a few of which we rated. But the appeal of barbecue is tasting a person’s homemade sauce, which usually tastes so good that friends and neighbors ask for the recipe. Then the person has a good start at establishing his or her own restaurant.
- A place where everyone knows everyone else — except for us, usually. When Jim the Sheriff and Bob the barber come in for lunch, Louise hollers at them, “Hey boys. C’mon in — your table is open. I’ll bring y’all your usual.”
- Most of the staff should be plump–a sure sign that the product is worth tastin‘.
- No coupons. Any barbecue restaurant that has to lure you in with a coupon isn’t worth tastin‘. It should be all word-of-mouth marketing.
- The aroma of roasting pork should permeate your senses as soon as you pull in the parking lot–even before you open your car door.
- It’s got to be casual enough for entire families–great uncle Norm, Great Grandma Ruth, and little toddler Nick, who can’t sit still or keep his voice down low, no many how many reminders from his step-daddy.
- Southern accents. Southern town. Southern folks. Southern Southern Southern. (My husband added a couple of non-Southern reviews.)
- Vinegar-based barbecue is our favorite, but tomato-based, which is sweeter, is a close second, followed by mustard-based. True Southerners would quickly step-up to define which geographical region caters to which type of barbecue–vinegar, sweet, or mustard-based. However, each restaurant caters to what they like best, so we’ve concluded it’s a Southern myth. Each restaurant serves pork just how they like it.
- Tributes to the pig in all forms around the restaurant: Pig pictures on the outside signs and menu, pig statues in the waiting area, and bathrooms, pig toothpick holder at the cashier’s station . . . you get the picture. You just gotta be reminded of what animal you’re eating.
- Greasy fries. You know the kind — fried in the left-over dirty greasy from yesterday.
- Tart, crisp coleslaw.
- Free refills on soda, and keep ’em comin‘. If you have to ask your waitress for a refill, she isn’t quick enough. We need something to wash down the grease.
- If it’s a chain restaurant, it has to specialize in barbecue and preferably mention that in the name. Regular all-American grills with a wide range of food choices don’t produce good barbecue.
We found most of these BBQ restaurants by word of mouth, or just driving past and smelling the hickory-smoked pork. Our reviews are based solely on my husband’s and my personal dining experience, i.e. our taste buds. Listed alphabetically by restaurant name.
BBQ House, Lithia Springs, GA
Cheap and satisfying. Very casual atmosphere–order and pick-up at the counter. The brunswick stew was very good. The pork was a little on the spicey side. Okay, a lot. They don’t serve fries, so they automatically lose a pig. They lost the other pig on too much spice. There is a nice older gentleman that cleans the tables and goes around conversing with the customers as we wait for our name to be called. They have an autographed, framed photo of Captain Herb, the traffic reporter from A.M. 750, hanging on the wall near the entrance. (Editor’s note: commenter James Robinson claims they do indeed serve fries and recommends the deep-fried corn.)
Mike Broadhead’s BBQ, Newnan, GA
Mike Broadhead is a friend of ours who roasts a whole pig once in a while and invites us over. Talk about good. He and his wife, Susan Jane, are originally from North Carolina. They make a delicious tangy vinegar-based sauce. He gets up in the wee hours of the early morning to go outside and start cooking the pig–an all day process. His wife fries up some yummy hush puppies right before serving time. The hush puppies are crunchy and sweet and compliment the meat well. But oh, the meat. So good, it doesn’t need any BBQ sauce to bring out the flavor–it stands on its own. I can smell the goodness as soon as we pull up to his house. He serves the pork shredded, which is the only way BBQ pork should be served (as opposed to slicing or cubing). His shredded pork just melts in my mouth. He’s nice enough to send us home with extra meat, which will feed my husband for lunch for the next two months. I also made some delicious Brunswick stew with some leftover pork. The only downside is that he doesn’t open up for regular business! But we’re glad to be on the invite list for the pig roasts.
Cafe Pig, Peachtree City, GA
Really flavorful, juicy chopped pork sandwiches. You can smell it before you get there. The coleslaw tastes fresh. The french fries are nasty–they’re cooked in the oven, so definitely not enough grease. The pork is so juicy that it quickly saturates the bun.
Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, Memphis, TN
The dry ribs are heaven on earth. They’re called “dry” but are very juicy. They’re coated with mild spices and cooked in an authentic wood oven/pit. The coleslaw is mustard based and fabulous with the ribs. Fries are an option here, but their ribs make up for that. The atmosphere is very cool. It’s right in the heart of Memphis and has been around since the ’40s. If you’ve worked there for only 20 years, you’re considered a newcomer.
Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, Raleigh, NC
Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue is North Carolina BBQ at its best! While visiting my brother in Raleigh Feb. ’08, we ate lunch at Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue in downtown Raleigh. Clyde’s has been in business since 1938. Don’t let the musty table rag smell get to you when you first enter–it soon gets covered up by great smelling pork. Our waiter was really nice, and got the food out quickly. The menu was basic, and consisted of BBQ chicken, and just BBQ, which means pork BBQ. I got the BBQ sandwich and ordered a side of slaw. The waiter looked at me strangely and told me the sandwich was already topped with slaw. I forgot I was in North Carolina! So I had the BBQ with slaw on top AND a side of slaw.
Before I start on the great meat, the slaw is worth a few lines. Clyde’s slaw was the very best slaw I’ve ever eaten. It’s a vinegar based slaw, unlike the often mushy, wilty, mayo slaw found in other joints. The waiter said the coleslaw is made fresh every day. So good. The BBQ pork was melt-in-your-mouth good. It was finely chopped without any chewy grissle to knaw on. It’s NC BBQ, so it’s not drenched in sauce, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s already very moist. I added the vinegar/pepper sauce on the table to the pork for added tang, but still not necessary. The meat tasted just like Mike Broadhead’s chopped pork, which is a high compliment. My brother Ryan got the BBQ chicken, and it was equally delicious. My husband got butter beans on the side and my brother got brussel sprouts and collard greens and like them all. Our table was served a few baskets of hushpuppies–very crispy and corny–a great accompanment to BBQ. The french fries has a spice blend on them and are thick, cut steak fries–very good. And nothing cost more than about five bucks on the menu–a great deal. Now, if only Clyde’s would consider moving to Newnan, we couold actually enjoy real BBQ without having to drive seven hours away for it!
Downside: no fountain drinks–sodas are only served in cans. But the lemonade is out of gallon containers and include free refills. Beware: it’s a cash only place, no credit cards, so be prepared. There’s no kids meals, and our kids didn’t appreciate the good BBQ, but then again, I think they were sick of eating french fries at every meal that weekend. I helped clean up their BBQ sandwiches, so I can’t complain.
Five Star Day Cafe, Athens, GA
Wow, didn’t quite get as many stars (pigs) as its name. Good, juicy pork sandwich. Cool college hangout across from the U of GA campus. Justin loved the pot roast (“I don’t want it to end”), although beef shouldn’t even be mentioned on the same page as Southern BBQ.
Hole in the Wall Barbecue, Seattle, WA
Justin ate here several times while he was working in Seattle. It’s definitely a hole in the wall — three or four stools make up all the seating. The barbecue sauce has coffee grounds in it, which is fitting for Seattle. There are no fries, but they have a good selection of chips, potato salad, and barbecued beans. The coleslaw is apparently very good, but he doesn’t like coleslaw. Try a sandwich “hot and wet” if you like it spicy and drenched in sauce.
Johnny B’s, Hogansville, GA
The lukewarm chopped pork has a bit of good flavor at first bite, but it tasted bland quickly. I put their homemade sauce on it to save it, but it wasn’t any good either–just tasted like Worcestershire sauce. The fries were just frozen crinkle cut and almost flavorless. The ribs aren’t baby back ribs–the other kind of pork ribs, so no good. It didn’t smell of pork anywhere in the vicinity of the restaurant. It’s a pretty building next to a big meadow with horses, so it looks like it would almost be authentic. Pickles were soggy. Disappointing.
Lexington BBQ, Lexington, North Carolina
We lived in North Carolina for two years, and as pathetic as it sounds, Wendy didn’t get hooked on BBQ until we moved away. So when Justin and Wendy visited this very famous BBQ restaurant, Wendy ordered the grilled chicken sandwich–how sad. Lexington BBQ is sweet, which is my favorite.
Nana’s Country Cooking, Palmetto, GA
This is a general Southern cooking restaurant. Still, the BBQ pork sandwich on the lunch menu was worth going back a second time. The bun was a little stale. Flavorful coleslaw, but the fries weren’t good.
Roger’s BBQ, Hogansville, GA
This is tomato-based sauce, which is a little sweeter than my favorite vinegar-based. I wouldn’t stop here again for lunch, but it satisfied me that day.
Shane’s Rib Shack, Newnan, GA
A new place in town with very good pork barbecue. Cooked in a delicious vinegar-based sauce. Pretty quick, casual service. The fries weren’t too flavorful. The price was a bit high for a typical pork plate–$6.50 for a sandwich with two sides, but drink is extra. So it comes to about $8.00 for a full meal. It replaced a Noodle Bowl, which was good, but apparently a little too eclectic for the Newnan crowd.
Smoke House Barbecue, Palmetto, GA
This trailer did have good pork sandwiches, but unfortunately went out of business.
Smokey Bones, Mobile, Alabama
It’s a chain, so it’s pricier. But it’s good barbecue. Worth the drive. We stopped in, not knowing what to expect, but savored every mouthful. The pork was cooked on wood for sure with lots of smoked flavor. The fries were greasy, hmm yum. The portions were big and the refills just kept coming.
Some BBQ place in Murphy, North Carolina
This place knows ribs. Even our little five-year old licked off every rib bone in her kid’s meal. These ribs just melted in my mouth. Packed with real flavor. The fries were great. Poor Justin was sick this day and couldn’t enjoy his could-have-been favorite rib experience. The waiting room is very quaint with many wooden rocking chairs lining the walls. Very family friendly. Good prices for ribs and kid’s meal, and the bread was fresh.
Sonny’s BBQ, Douglasville, GA
Nasty. The meat is dry without flavor, and their specialty sauce is basically a thicker version of ketchup.
Sprayberry’s Barbecue, Newnan, GA
This place is famous in Newnan. It’s been around since the 1920s and is still family-run. The meat tends to be dry, and their sauce isn’t packed with flavor either, but if the place has been around that long, I must be missing something that other people dig. Justin likes their brunswick stew. (Editor’s note: this is the rating that is most-disputed on this page — see comments below. There were a few other comments that have been excluded for profanity and taking BBQ ratings entirely too personally. Justin decided to give the place a second chance and really liked his sandwich. He’s almost convinced me to go back.)
Sticky Fingers, Hilton Head, South Carolina
It’s a chain, but it’s a good chain. The pork plate topped with slaw was melt-in-my-mouth good.
The Barbecue Kitchen, Hapeville, GA
Pretty good barbecue, until the place burned down. (It’s back in business now, but I haven’t been back yet.)
Wallace Barbecue, Lithia Springs, GA
I owe all of my love for BBQ to Wallace’s. This is where I got hooked on BBQ. We compare all barbecue restaurants to Wallace’s. It is the epitome of Southern BBQ and has all 15 criteria. The “pork thrift plate” is under $5 and comes with a pork sandwich, slaw, and fries. You can smell this place from a mile away. The meat has a wonderful smoked flavor with a vinegar taste. You don’t need to add any barbecue sauce to the meat to make it good. The pork is very tender. The fries are thick and dirty and greasy and salty, just the way I like ’em. The coleslaw is tart and vinegar-based. The only time I’d hesitate to visit is in July after they shut down for a few days and clean out, among other things, the deep fryer. Wait a couple of weeks until it builds up “flavor” again for the fries.
BBQ at Local Fairs and Festivals
Also worth mentioning are county fairs and seasonal festivals, which are some of the best places to get BBQ. Unfortunately, these occassions are few and far between. Spring and fall are the likely times of these events, so keep your eye out. Nothin‘ beats eating good BBQ ribs on the grass while a hometown bluegrass band entertains us all. Events worth noting:
- Big Pig Jig, Vienna, GA, held in October: From www.bigpigjig.com: “BIG PIG JIG® was born in Vienna, Georgia when a group of self-professed gourmets made wagers on who among them could cook the most succulent pig! . . .Twenty-one years after the idea took shape, the contest drew 121 teams cooking over 400 entries of hogs, shoulders, ribs, plus kettles of Brunswick stew, barbecue sauce, and barbecued chicken. The event attracted over 20,000 spectators and required more than 425 judges, 325 volunteers, plus countless pounds of pork. In 2002 the Dooly County Chamber of Commerce awarded more than $12,000 in cash plus trophies to BIG PIG JIG’s top cooks and accommodated huge crowds of festival fun-seekers at the facility now known as BBQ CITY, ”
- The Barbecue Festival, Lexington, North Carolina, held in October: From www.barbecuefestival.com: ” Lexington, North Carolina is the Barbecue Capital of the world. The barbecue is legendary. We invite everyone to come to Uptown Lexington where we provide over 100,000 people with the finest exhibits, the most exciting entertainment, and of course, the Best Barbecue in the world!”
- Dylan, GA–a BBQ cookoff gathers BBQ fans from around the state
- Dogwood festival, Atlanta, GA–local vendors show off their unique BBQ