Since signing on as the Southern Living Contributing Barbecue Editor back in 2014, I’ve been traveling the South in search of the best barbecue that the region has to offer. Last summer we published our initial list of the South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints, and now, with another year’s worth of eating under my belt, it’s time to go back and revisit the selection.
Compiling the original list was challenging enough; refining it is even harder, for there is so much delicious barbecue to be found in the South. We seem to getting even more of it with each passing month, too, as new restaurants open their doors. And, when you get off the Interstate highways and out onto the lonely two-lane country roads, you find that there are many more superlative barbecue joints operating quietly off the beaten path, far away from the media buzz and publicist hype.
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Over the past year, my travels took me to new barbecue territories, like the hills and hollows of Kentucky, the expansive barbecue territory in and around Houston, and all the way south to Miami, which has a long and proud barbecue tradition of its own. (On the way there, I sampled a couple of gems in St. Simons, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, which are among the new entrants on this year's list.)
The criteria for making the Top 50 include, first and foremost, the flavor of the barbecue itself, but the quality of the overall experience matters, too—the setting, the aroma, the sauces and dishes on the side. We’ve tried to cast as wide a net as possible, selecting the restaurants that best embody the unique barbecue style of their particular region. Ultimately, any such selection is highly personal and subjective, but when I look across the broad array of barbecue restaurants operating in the South today, these are the ones that bubble to the top.
Now, as to the order of the entries. The South’s best barbecue restaurants are so different in style and technique that it’s impossible to declare that any single one is the absolute best—how, after all, could one compare a slice of brisket from Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas, with a chopped pork sandwich at Grady’s in Dudley, North Carolina? For that reason, the entries are presented in alphabetical order. Taken together, they constitute Southern Living’s current picks for the 50 Best Barbecue Joints in the South.
As with any such endeavor, this list can never be final. New players will enter the scene and some older ones may start to lose their game or close their doors altogether. Despite thousands of miles logged on the odometer, there are always new hidden gems out there waiting to be found. Which ones have we missed? We’d love to hear from you.
And, without further ado, here's the list of Southern Living's Top 50 Southern BBQ Joints for 2016 . . .