Where to Find Charlotte’s Best Barbecue
Barbecue is more than a noun — it’s a way of life. 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 comprehensive list of Charlotte-area barbecue joints is sure to fire up your craving for stellar local ‘cue.
by Charlie Leonard
Neighborhood: 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
Big Tiny’s BBQ
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 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
Blue Bar & Smokehouse
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
Bobbee O’s BBQ
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
City Barbeque and Catering
Neighborhood: Huntersville, University City, Matthews and Ballantyne
An award-winning local favorite, 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: Beef brisket sandwich
The Improper Pig
Neighborhood: South Charlotte and Fort Mill, S.C.
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
Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
Area: Steele Creek, Concord and Indian Land, S.C.
Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q started smoking pork in 1985 when father-son duo Jim and Nick Pihakis reclaimed an old pizza parlor in Birmingham, Alabama. Today, there are nearly 40 Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q locations across seven states. At each, 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 (and the popular cheese biscuits)
Kyle Fletcher’s BBQ & Catering
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 balogna 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
Mac’s Speed Shop
Neighborhood: South End, Steele Creek, Matthews and Cornelius
Named after a man who used to work in the old transmission shop 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
McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon
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 guests feel like they’re dining in McKoy’s home.
Claim to fame: St. Louis-style ribs
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood, Montford, Huntersville and Ballantyne
Restaurateur Frank Scibelli toured barbecue joints throughout Texas, picking 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
Neighborhood: Wesley Heights, Optimist Park
Noble Smoke is the dream come to life of 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. Housed in a former truck maintenance facility on Freedom Drive and with a food stall at Optimist Hall, 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
The Q Shack
Neighborhood: South Charlotte
If you’re on the 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. 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: Hickory-smoked pulled pork
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 has been serving up eastern-style ‘cue with all the fixins ever since.
Claim to fame: Eastern-Carolina style, vinegar-based barbecue
Ray’s Country Smokehouse-Grill
Barbecue is king at Ray’s Country Smokehouse-Grill, a Gastonia mainstay for smoky goodness. 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: A homemade vinegar-based sauce
Like being greeted with warm hospitality and the smell of smoked meats as you walk in the door? 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 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 two R.O.’s mobile units around the area 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: Slaw sandwich
The Smoke Pit
Area: Concord, Monroe, Gastonia and Salisbury
Serving Texas-style barbecue in North Carolina, The Smoke Pit's four Charlotte-area locations serve up flavorful meat slow-cooked for 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
Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Neighborhood: Belmont, Charlotte
This 450-square-foot 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 until the meat runs out.
Claim to fame: 15-hour beef brisket