Where to Find Charlotte’s Best Barbecue
Barbecue is more than a noun — it’s a way of life in North Carolina.
by Charlie Leonard
Carolina BBQ Festival
This blog is brought to you in partnership with the Carolina BBQ Festival.
Whether you prefer whole hog or pork shoulder, burnt ends or brisket or maybe some smoked wings with a few racks of ribs in between, this list of Charlotte-area barbecue joints is sure to fire up your craving for stellar local ‘cue.
Neighborhood: Belmont, Charlotte
This service-station-turned-smoke-shack in the Belmont neighborhood is churning out authentic Carolina barbecue, slow smoked over a blend of hickory, pecan and peach woods. The concept from owners Lewis Donald and Laura Furman Grice transports guests back to the small Southern barbecue joints that you’d happen upon on an old country road. The menu is simple: meats, sides, drinks and desserts, plus combo platters and meat by the pound.
Claim to fame: Smoked beef brisket
Sweet Lew’s pitmaster, Lewis Donald, brings together other Carolina pitmasters for a day of whole-hot barbecue at the Carolina BBQ Festival. This event is a great way to get your fill of local ‘cue, while supporting local and national charities.
Area: West Charlotte
A West Charlotte treasure since 1959, Bar-B-Q King still serves barbecue sandwiches curbside. Want that authentic park-and-eat experience? Don’t leave until you’ve demolished an order of their famous Bar-B-Q fried chicken, which comes dunked in barbecue sauce. This drool-worthy dish even made a national TV cameo when Guy Fieri and the crew from Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” came to town.
Claim to Fame: Bar-B-Q fried chicken
When they moved to Mooresville, owners John and Elizabeth Maddox brought their Texas roots and love for barbecue with them. After 25 years in racing, John decided it was time to hang up his helmet and become a pitmaster, specializing in mesquite-style smoked meats. The couple opened Big Tiny’s, named after their late dog, Tiny, in downtown Mooresville in 2016 and serve up what’s been dubbed “dog gone good BBQ.”
Claim to fame: Chopped brisket sandwich
Area: Fort Mill, S.C.
This local, fast-casual barbecue joint in Fort Mill, South Carolina, is all about the smoke: smoked wings with eight sauces to choose from, smoked brisket, smoked pork, smoked chicken and more. Joining the Charlotte-area barbecue lineup in late 2020, Blue Bar & Smokehouse serves up fresh barbecue, a full bar, live music and Southern hospitality.
Claim to fame: Brisket burger
Area: North Charlotte
Bob Roberts always loved helping his mom in the kitchen. His love of cooking carried on through adulthood, at which point he started perfecting his barbecue and homemade sauce techniques. While you can’t go wrong with any of the choices at Bobbee O’s BBQ, the pulled pork is the most popular because it truly puts the spotlight on the sauce. The restaurant’s slogan is even, “It’s all in the sauce!”
Claim to fame: The sauce
Area: North Charlotte
Bubba’s Barbecue has been a longtime favorite in Charlotte since its original concept, Jackson and Spoon’s Barbeque, opened in 1963. Ralph “Bubba” Miller brought his eastern Carolina-style barbecue recipes from South Boulevard to the restaurant’s current location in North Charlotte. Bubba’s uses a 33-hour process to slow cook meat to lean, tender perfection. Wet your whistle with endless beverages from the all-you-can-drink soda station.
Claim to fame: Eastern North Carolina-style chopped pork
An award-winning local favorite, City Barbeque serves up meats smoked on-site over North Carolina hickory and sides whipped up fresh every day at all four Charlotte-area locations.
Claim to fame: Beef brisket sandwich
Leave your regional barbecue debates at the door and become a barbecue explorer at The Improper Pig, where fusion barbecue is celebrated. The menu combines classic Carolina-style pork and St. Louis-style ribs with new influences, like Pork Rolls, aka Southern-style egg rolls; Chow Bao Sliders with barbecue meat, Asian slaw and Hoisin sauce; and even the vegetarian No Pig sandwich, made with a hickory wood-grilled portobello mushroom.
Claim to fame: Vegetarian options
Father-son duo Jim and Nick Pihakis started smoking pork in 1985. At each Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q location, the local owners, cooks and pitmasters are taught the Pihakis’ recipes, techniques and flavors of Southern barbecue. The menu focuses on a variety of low-and-slow smoked meats, including classic pulled pork and chicken, beef brisket, turkey breast, pork hot links and baby back ribs.
Claim to fame: Pulled pork and chicken, as well as the popular cheese biscuits
Plan for a Saturday barbecue excursion to Jon G’s Barbecue, located about an hour outside of Charlotte. Locals and visitors alike flock to this rural spot and eagerly wait in line to pile platters high with meat, sides and dessert. Jon G’s is best known for its Texas-inspired meats, such as slow-smoked brisket, served with all the fixins. Skip the drive and track down Jon G’s food truck at various breweries around Charlotte throughout the week.
Claim to fame: Brisket
Nestled on the side of Wilkinson Boulevard in Gastonia, Kyle Fletcher’s BBQ & Catering serves juicy western North Carolina-style pork and other favorites like fried bologna sandwiches and crispy onion rings. Kyle Fletcher’s regularly wins Best of Gaston awards and, if you’re a North Carolina Tar Heels basketball fan, you’ll love their interior decked out in memorabilia.
Claim to fame: Western North Carolina-style pork and a side of onion rings
Named after a man, who used to work in the old transmission shop that’s now home to the South Boulevard location, Mac’s Speed Shop serves smoky pulled pork, dry-rubbed beef brisket and a menu full of distinctive Southern fare. Pair your pulled pork with a cold craft beer. This homegrown chain boasts more than 60 beers on tap and even sponsors a beer club.
Claim to fame: Dry-rubbed beef brisket
McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon is a true family operation, right down to its name. The moniker pays homage to McKoy Register, father of co-owner Namon Register and grandfather of co-owners Ryan and Jim Register. The spot serves up award-winning St. Louis-style ribs, smokehouse wings and other barbecue mainstays with a side of service that makes you feel like you’re dining in McKoy’s home.
Claim to fame: St. Louis-style ribs
Restaurateur Frank Scibelli and pitmaster Matt Barry toured and worked alongside barbecue joints throughout Texas, Kansas City and the Carolinas before debuting the popular concept, Midwood Smokehouse, in Charlotte. The Midwood Smokehouse culinary team attended a professional brisket school where they learned how to perfect regional favorites, including the restaurant’s Texas-style brisket and burnt ends they are famous for.
Claim to fame: Brisket and burnt ends
Noble Smoke is a dream come to life for longtime restaurateur Jim Noble. Noble owns popular Charlotte locales, Rooster’s and The King’s Kitchen, but this Southern barbecue joint has been part of his long-term plans for more than 25 years. Noble Smoke pays tribute to the pitmaster legends that inspired Noble and his love of smoked meat.
Claim to fame: Chopped Cheshire pork with Western or Eastern slaw
Area: South Charlotte
If you’re on a mission for pork in a pinch, look no further than The Q Shack, a fast-casual go-to in the Promenade on Providence shopping center. This barbecue joint, tucked into an upscale strip mall, will satisfy your ‘cue cravings with its popular hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich or chile-rubbed beef brisket.
Claim to fame: Hickory-smoked pulled pork
Bob Critz and Rob Emore share more than just the name Robert; they also share a love for true eastern North Carolina-style, vinegar-based barbecue. With the same initial and a restaurant located next to railroad tracks, R&R Bar-B-Que opened in 1998 and has been serving up Eastern-style ‘cue with all the fixins ever since.
Claim to fame: Eastern Carolina-style barbecue
Barbecue is king at Ray’s Country Smokehouse-Grill, a Gastonia mainstay for smoked meats. Serving old-school smoked barbecue and traditional sides, the restaurant boasts plenty of pig to pair with its tasty, homemade vinegar-based sauce. Not in the mood for pork but want the barbecue experience? Order one of Ray’s most praised dishes: a hearty plate of beef brisket and zesty potato salad.
Claim to fame: Homemade vinegar-based sauce
You’ll instantly feel at home when you stop by RayNathan’s in Gastonia. Owned by friends Stephen Carroll and Thomas Blanding, who originally met working in restaurants as teens, RayNathan’s is their dream of more than 20 years come to life. With a focus on hardwood-smoked meats, scratch-made sides and an old-school Delta blues vibe, this must-try barbecue destination is all about its people, pork and popular banana pudding.
Claim to fame: Stephen’s brisket sandwich
A Gastonia institution for more than 75 years, R.O.’s Bar-B-Cue was the brainchild of R.O. and Pearl Black in the 1940s and became famous for its barbecue sandwiches, sauce and slaw. Pearl came up with the secret slaw recipe that’s still used today and sold wholesale through R.O.’s Distributing Company. You’ll also find R.O.’s mobile units around the area serving all the favorites, including pork sandwiches, pimento cheese sandwiches, burgers and more.
Claim to fame: Slaw sandwich
Serving Texas-style barbecue in North Carolina, The Smoke Pit's four Charlotte-area locations specialize in flavorful meat slow cooked for 18 hours over local hickory wood. Massive portions, tender meats and creative, scratch-made sides — think deviled egg potato salad and smoked pork barbecue beans — have garnered the restaurant a loyal following.
Claim to fame: Deviled egg potato salad
Article originally written by Charlie Leonard. Updates by Arielle Patterson in April 2023.