Where to Find Charlotte’s Best Barbecue
Curb your ‘cue craving at one of these beloved Charlotte barbecue joints.
From those serving up whole hog to pork shoulder, burnt ends to brisket and smoked wings with a few racks of ribs in between, this comprehensive list of Charlotte-area barbecue joints is sure to fire up your craving for stellar local ‘cue.
Neighborhood: West Charlotte
A West Charlotte treasure since 1959, this historic drive-in still serves barbecue sandwiches curbside. Come to Bar-B-Q King for an authentic park-and-eat experience, and don’t leave until you’ve demolished an order of the famous Bar-B-Que fried chicken, which comes dunked in barbecue sauce. Guy Fieri and the crew from Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” made the drool-worthy dish known to national TV audiences.
Claim to fame: Bar-B-Que fried chicken
Neighborhood: North Charlotte
Originally from Rowland, North Carolina, 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 focus is fitting; the spot’s slogan is, “It’s all in the sauce!”
Claim to fame: The sauce
Named Voters' Choice: Charlotte's Best BBQ in 2018 by Charlotte magazine's Best of the Best Awards, City Barbeque serves up meats smoked on-site over North Carolina hickory and sides whipped up fresh every day in all four Charlotte-area locations.
Claim to fame: More Cowbell beef brisket sandwich
Neighborhood: Steele Creek and Concord, NC
Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ started smoking pork in 1985 when father-son duo Jim and Nick Pihakis reclaimed an old pizza parlor in Birmingham, Alabama. Today, nearly 40 Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ locations operate across seven states. At each, the local owners, cooks and pitmasters are taught the Pihakis’ recipes, techniques and flavors of Southern barbecue. The well-recognized 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 (and the popular cheese biscuits)
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 side of cold craft beer; the homegrown chain boasts more than 60 beers on tap and even sponsors a beer club.
Claim to fame: Dry-rubbed beef brisket
Neighborhood: Lower South End
McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon is a true family operation, right down to its name. The moniker pays homage to McKoy Register, grandfather of co-owners Ryan and Jim Register and father of co-owner Namon Register. The spot serves up award-winning St. Louis-style ribs, smokehouse wings and other barbecue mainstays with a side of service that makes guests feel like they’re dining in McKoy’s home.
Claim to fame: St. Louis-style ribs
Jon G’s Barbecue
Area: Peachland, NC
Approximately 40 miles east of Charlotte, Jon G’s Barbecue is serving up Texas-inspired meats and sides (like mac & cheese and brown sugar smoked beans) that have locals lining up as early as 9 a.m. for opening at 11 a.m. on Saturdays (and take note: they are only open on Saturdays and it’s first-come, first-served). North Carolina natives and husband-and-wife team Garren, known as “Jon G,” and Kelly Kirkman have a barbecue obsession turned passion that all started with smoking beef brisket for family and friends and then at a local brewery in 2015. From there, they launched a food truck and catering services before opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2020 just outside of their hometown of Peachland. In 2021, they garnered national attention as one of “The Best New Barbecue Joints in the South” in Southern Living. While the food rivals any Texas or Carolina barbecue establishment, the experience in itself is one worth having. Guests are even invited to BYOB while they wait in line.
Claim to fame: Brisket and house-made sausage links stuffed with jalapeño cheddar and Cheerwine
Restaurateur Frank Scibelli toured barbecue joints throughout Texas and picked up invaluable tips before debuting his popular concept Midwood Smokehouse in Charlotte. The cooks on Midwood’s culinary team each attend a professional brisket school, where they learn the tricks of the trade (including how to burn hickory logs 24 hours a day) to slow smoke the restaurant’s Texas-style brisket and burnt ends.
Claim to fame: Brisket and burnt ends
The brainchild of three college friends who met at The University of Alabama and all later relocated to Colorado, Moe’s Original BBQ developed slow and steady, just how its meat is cooked. After running separate restaurants, the trio came together to launch a catering operation that proved successful. They then purchased a food truck-like trailer that they ran seasonally before finding their first restaurant space in 2002. From there, the brand continued to grow and now has more than 60 locations worldwide, including two in the Charlotte area. Try the slow-smoked chicken or turkey with the famous Alabama white sauce and choose two Southern sides (we recommend the potato salad and banana puddin’), although you can’t go wrong with any— they’re all scratch-made using recipes from past generations.
Claim to fame: Smoked wings with Alabama white sauce
Area: Hickory, NC
Travis Dickey opened the first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Dallas in 1941. Today, there are dozens of Dickey’s franchises across 42 states in the nation, including one northwest of Charlotte in Hickory, North Carolina. Despite the widespread presence Dickey’s enjoys, some things never change: starring Texas beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs and an array of other meats, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit still slow smokes all of its meat on-site, just like Travis did in the earliest days.
Claim to fame: Texas-style brisket
Neighborhood: Wesley Heights
Noble Smoke is the dream come to life of longtime restaurateur, chef and pastor Jim Noble. Noble is the owner of 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. Housed in a former truck maintenance facility on Freedom Drive, Noble Smoke pays tribute to the pitmaster legends that inspired Noble and his love of smoked meats. More than 1,200 pounds of meat are smoked over hickory coals daily, but don’t go too late because when the meat runs out for the day that’s it.
Claim to fame: Chopped Cheshire pork with western or eastern slaw
Area: Gastonia, NC
A Gastonia institution for 75 years, R.O.’s Bar-B-Que 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 in her kitchen that’s still used today and sold wholesale through R.O.’s Distributing Company. You’ll also find two R.O.’s mobile units around town serving all the favorites, including pork sandwiches, pimento cheese sandwiches, burgers and more. The old-fashioned restaurant offers drive-in, dine-in and curbside service so you can get your ‘cue fix the way you prefer.
Claim to fame: RO’s famous slaw sandwich (just the slaw, sauce and dip on a bun!)
Big Tiny’s BBQ
Area: Mooresville, NC
Owners John and Elizabeth Maddox brought their Texas roots and love for barbecue with them when they moved to Mooresville. After 25 years in racing, John decided it was time to hang up his helmet and put on his apron to 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, serving up what’s been dubbed “dog gone good BBQ.”
Claim to fame: Chopped brisket sandwich
Area: Gastonia, NC
Barbecue is king at this mainstay for smoky goodness in Gastonia, North Carolina. Serving old-school smoked barbecue and traditional sides, Ray’s Country Smokehouse-Grill 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: A homemade vinegar-based sauce
This 450-square-foot service station turned smoke shack in the Belmont neighborhood near Uptown 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 a small Southern barbecue joint that you happen upon on an old country road. The menu is simple: meats, sides, drinks and desserts, plus combo platters and meat by the pound. The restaurant is open until the meat runs out.
Claim to fame: 15 hour beef brisket
Neighborhood: South Charlotte and Fort Mill, SC
Leave your regional barbecue debates at the door and become a barbecue explorer at The Improper Pig, where fusion barbecue is celebrated. The menu is a combination of classic Carolina-style pork and St. Louis-style ribs with new influences, like Southern-style egg rolls (aka pork rolls), chow bao sliders with barbecue meat and Asian fixin's, and even a vegetarian “no pig” portabella mushroom sandwich.
Claim to fame: Vegetarian options
Area: Shelby, NC
A passion for barbecue runs in the Bridges family. Red and Lyttle Bridges opened their family’s first barbecue joint in Shelby, North Carolina, in 1946, serving pit-cooked pork and classic sides. More than 70 years later, Red and Lyttle’s daughter, Debbie Webb, and her two children run Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, where they’re still serving customers the signature hickory-smoked, slow-cooked barbecue for which their name became famous.
Claim to fame: Hickory-smoked pork
Area: Stallings, NC
What started in 1936 as the only gas station for miles around Stallings, North Carolina, now serves some of the area’s best barbecue to locals and visitors. All of Stallings Rock Store Bar-B-Q’s meats are smoked overnight with a blend of hickory and cherry wood. Then they’re hand-pulled to ensure the highest quality product. Try the sandwich combo; for less than $10, you get your choice of sandwich, side and drink, and as the locals like to say, “A little taste of home!
Claim to fame: The sandwich combo
Blue Bar & Smokehouse
Area: Fort Mill, SC
This locally owned and operated 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 barbecue lineup in the Charlotte region in late 2020, Blue Bar & Smokehouse serves up fresh barbecue, a full bar, live music and Southern hospitality.
Claim to fame: Brisket burger
Area: Gastonia, SC
Greeted with warm hospitality and the smell of smoked meats as you walk in the door, you’ll instantly feel at home when you enter 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 (sliced brisket with ghost pepper jack cheese and pickled cherry pepper white sauce)
Area: Concord, NC
Bob Critz and Rob Emore share more than just a name; they also share a love for true eastern North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue. With a shared initial and a restaurant located next to railroad tracks, R&R Bar-B-Que opened in 1998, and it’s been serving up eastern-style ‘cue with all the fixins’ ever since.
Claim to fame: Eastern-Carolina style, vinegar-based barbecue
This barbecue mecca originally hails from Gainesville, Florida, but it’s been serving its signature oak-smoked meats in the region since 1978. With two restaurants in the Charlotte area, it's worth the drive for a Sonny’s Sampler: a pitmaster’s pick of all the restaurant’s slow-smoked favorites. Also engaged in the community, Sonny’s recognizes hometown heroes with a complimentary barbecue feast through their Random Acts of BBQ program.
Claim to fame: The sampler plate
Neighborhood: South Charlotte
If you’re on the mission for pork in a pinch, look no further than The Q Shack, a fast and casual go-to in the Promenade on Providence shopping center. The chain, 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: The pulled pork sandwich
Serving Texas-style barbecue in North Carolina, The Smoke Pit's four Charlotte-area locations serve up flavorful meat slow cooked for up to 18 hours over local hickory wood. Massive portions, flavorful meats and creative, scratch-made sides—think deviled egg potato salad and smoked pork barbecue beans—have garnered the diner a loyal following.
Claim to fame: Deviled egg potato salad
Original article published in 2018, updates and additions made by Kristen Moore in September 2021.