Where to Find Charlotte’s Best Barbecue
Curb your ‘cue craving at one of these beloved Charlotte barbecue joints.
Per a COVID-19-related Mecklenburg County health directive issued Jan. 12, 2021, please note that some businesses may have modified their hours of operation and changed procedures in order to comply with CDC and Mecklenburg County Health Department guidelines. Please wear a mask, limit any non-essential activities and refrain from gathering with anyone outside of your household.
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.
Claim to fame: Bar-B-Que fried chicken
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: The sauce
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: More Cowbell beef brisket sandwich
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: Texas-style brisket
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: Pulled pork and chicken (and the popular cheese biscuits)
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, more than 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: Dry-rubbed beef brisket
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: St. Louis-style ribs
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: Brisket and burnt ends
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: Smoked wings with Alabama white sauce
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: Chopped Cheshire pork with western or eastern slaw
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: Barbecue sundaes
“You name it, we smoke it” is the motto of one of Charlotte’s favorite food trucks, OooWee BBQ. With sandwiches, meat plates, barbecue egg rolls, and sundaes loaded with macaroni and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, barbecue sauce, and your choice of meat, OooWee BBQ has a little bit of something for everyone.
Claim to fame: A homemade vinegar-based sauce
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: Hickory-smoked pork
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: Eastern-Carolina style, vinegar-based barbecue
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: Lexington-style smoked pork
Since 2010, Sauceman’s has been serving authentic Lexington-style barbecue in Wilmore. In 2020, they moved into the same building as Sugar Creek Brewing Company in LoSo (Lower South End). Sauceman’s smokes its pork for hours over a mix of hickory and oak wood to infuse it with an oh-so-recognizable regional flavor. Order your pork plain or “on the bun” with a side of red or white slaw and crispy hush puppies.
Claim to fame: The sampler plate
This barbecue mecca originally hails from Gainesville, Florida, but it’s been serving its signature oak-smoked meats in the Queen City since 1978. With three restaurants in the Charlotte area, one is never far from 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 sandwich combo
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: 15 hour beef brisket
This 450-square-foot service station turned smoke shake 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: Vegetarian options
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: The pulled pork sandwich
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: Deviled egg potato salad
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.