The Labor Day BBQ is an iconic transition from the end of summer vacation and back to school and work. This year we thought we’d help you celebrate Labor Day by taking you on a virtual journey to some of the best barbecue joints across the country. Some are in cities well-known for their barbecue and while others are in less-expected locations like Front Range Barbeque in Colorado Springs, which uses Southern-style family recipes, and Hartland Bar-B-Que in Omaha, which cooks and smokes its meat pit-style. We’ll look at different geographic regions across the U.S. and delve into their unique styles and flavors while we explore the tangy and sweet flavor of Kansas City barbecue and the dry-rubbed flavor-packed style of Memphis. No matter your preference, we’re here to make sure you know where to find the best of the best!
Best BBQ Joints In Bigger Cities
Q39 – Kansas City, Missouri
When you have a barbecue restaurant located in a city that’s widely known for its delicious, slowly smoked, sauce-mothered barbecue style, the stakes are high! But Q39 doesn’t disappoint and offers the best of Kansas City-style barbecue. The restaurant’s original location was founded by Chef Rob Magee who spent “a lifetime of passion and 15 years in the barbeque competition circuit” cultivating a kind of “chef-driven barbeque.” Magee and his wife, Kelly, opened the restaurant’s first location in 2014, and the joint has since become a Kansas City barbecue staple. Q39’s large menu includes its Best Wings On The Planet appetizer which are jumbo chicken wings with a chipotle barbecue sauce. If you are feeling adventurous, you can try the Judge’s Plate from the dinner menu which gives guests the option to choose three of the following: q pork spare ribs, sliced brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, or chipotle sausage. Q39 has two locations described on its site as being relaxing and family-friendly–one in Kansas City’s Midtown and the other in Overland Park. That means you have two excuses to visit!
Jones Bar-B-Q – Kansas City, Kansas
You can count on Jones Bar-B-Q for mouth-watering Kansas City barbecue. This family-owned restaurant had people hooked on its meals for decades. It is currently run by the Jones sisters–Deborah “Shorty” and Mary “Little” Jones. Their father, Leavy B. Jones Sr., opened the first Bar-B-Q restaurant and the sisters have carried on his legacy by continuing to smoke meats and craft up the family’s secret, beloved barbecue sauce daily. Items on the menu at this roadside joint include the Full Slab of ribs and the Combo Plate, which allows customers to choose two types of meat including beef, ham, turkey, pork, burnt ends, ribs, sausage, or rib tips, and offers on sides like Jones Baked Beans, coleslaw or potato salad. Visitors may also want to try Jones’ famous sausage link with a “special blend” of seasonings and spices.”
Central BBQ – Memphis, Tennessee
On its website, Central BBQ in Memphis says that “Smoke is our sauce,” and to anyone familiar with Memphis-style barbecue this is likely no surprise considering it’s a city known for its smoked preparation style. Central BBQ has offered irresistible smoked goodness to customers since 2002 and currently operates four locations across Memphis. The company says on its About page that the secret to its success and high rankings can be attributed to three factors: its fall-off-the-bone meat, southern hospitality, and good times. Central BBQ uses hickory and pecan woods, and intricate dry rub and “a whole lot of patience, to craft the most tender, delicious piece of meat you’ve ever eaten,” and sauce is optional, its site says. On Central BBQ’s menu, you can find appetizers like Pork or Chicken BBQ Nachos, and No Meat BBQ Nachos, for those looking for barbecue flavor but without the meat. Plates include pulled pork and pulled chicken, and come with two small sides or a side salad. They also offer the BBQ Bologna sandwich which is a “4 oz slab of slow-smoked, grilled bologna” topped with the customer’s choice of sauce.
Ray’s BBQ Shack – Houston, Texas
If you’re seeking some of the best barbecue in Texas, look no further than Ray’s BBQ Shack. This family-owned and operated Houston favorite is well-known for its texas barbecue-style “hickory-smoked meats served with homemade sides and desserts all made fresh daily.” Ray’s first opened its doors in 2011 in South Houston and has since moved to a new location just blocks away. The restaurant’s original co-owners are Official Pitmaster Rayford S. Busch and his “longtime high school friend,” Maxine Davis,” who joined together to “pursue Busch’s dream of opening a brick and mortar location of Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack.” Davis’ son joined the team as a co-owner and marketing director in 2013. The joint’s menu includes different sections like ‘Meat Dinners,’ ‘Fish & Shrimp Dinners,’ and ‘Build-A-Burger,’ among many. One of Ray’s BBQ Shack’s ‘Meat Dinners’ is a mouth-watering Sliced Brisket Plate that Ray’s says is slow-smoked for 14 hours and served with a choice of two sides like Smoked Mac and Cheese and Spicy Rice. Customers looking for something a little lighter can try the flavor-packed Grilled Chicken Burger.
The Pit Authentic Barbecue – Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina is another state known for its barbecue, and The Pit Authentic Barbecue reminds us why. The Our Story section of the restaurant’s site explains that it continues “the tradition of legendary North Carolina barbecue “by serving authentic whole-hog, pit-cooked barbecue at The Pit in downtown Raleigh’s warehouse district.” There are two main styles of barbecue in North Carolina–Lexington Style, which tends only to use pork shoulder or ribs, and Eastern-style which uses the whole pig. The joint’s famous selection of barbecue has earned it lots of media attention and led it to compete and win a rib challenge on the show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” on Food Network. Located in a gorgeously restored meatpacking warehouse from the 1930s, the restaurant’s aesthetic is just as satisfying as its delicious meals. There’s a lot on the menu at The Pit like its ‘Famous Plates’ section which includes the Carolina Classic Combo: “Chopped BBQ and two pieces of fried chicken,” and its famous baby back ribs.
Best BBQ Joints In Unexpected Places
Smokey D’s BBQ – Des Moines, Iowa
Iowa may not be the first state that comes to mind when you think of barbecue, but Des Moines-based Smokey D’s BBQ proves otherwise. Founded in 2006 by Darren and Sherry Warth, the duo’s journey to opening Smokey D’s began as a “hobby” in their backyard. In just years it evolved into their opening several locations around the city. They have also competed in and won several BBQ championships, including the American Royal Open Championship. On the menu at Smokey D’s main Des Moines location are barbecue ribs, platters, and tasty barbecue sandwiches like chopped pork and pulled chicken, among many other options. Smokey D’s even has a food truck that delivers barbecue goodness to different locations in the greater Des Moines area.
Front Range Barbeque – Colorado Springs, Colorado
Front Range Barbeque is the perfect place for barbecue lovers and anyone looking for a good time. Situated in Colorado Springs, this barbecue joint was started by two brothers from Alabama. They arrived in Colorado “with home recipes for scratch-cooked meals and Southern-Style BBQ” that they say came “directly from mom’s kitchen and dad’s smoker.” Front Range visitors will find a patio stage featuring live music from local bands and artists, as well as draft beer sampling. You’ll get your barbecue fix too with an expansive menu of ribs, barbecue plates, and bowls like the Front Range Smoked Meat Bowl. This savory dish includes a choice of mashed potatoes or steamed rice, smoked pulled pork, pulled chicken, or kielbasa sausage, or smoked sliced brisket or brisket burnt ends. Bowls come with green beans, cheddar cornbread muffins, and brown gravy
The SugarHouse Barbeque Company – Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City-based SugarHouse Barbeque Company has been bringing the dry, flavorful style of Memphis barbecue to Utah since 1996. This family-owned and operated restaurant informs customers on its site that if they are “expecting ribs laden with sauce that masks the true, delicious flavors of the meat itself, you’re in the wrong place.” And visitors are in for a treat because SugarHouse uses a dry rub blend of spices on its meat which is then slow-smoked for hours, infusing it with delicious flavor. For those who love sauce, don’t worry–SugarHouse has plenty. Sauce options include the restaurant’s Signature Barbecue Sauce, hot sauce, mustard sauce, and its Carolina Pig Sauce that it describes as a traditional Carolina sauce “made with cider vinegar and an array of delicious spices.” Appetizers on the menu include SugarHouse’s Tennessee Tango which is described as “Pork rib ends, dry-rubbed and smoked, sliced into bite-sized pieces.” SugarHouse’s Memphis Barbecue section includes its Dixie Chicken–”Dry-rubbed chicken served on the bone. Fruit wood smoked, served golden brown and sweet & juicy on the inside.”
Hartland Bar-B-Que – Omaha, Nebraska
On its website, Hartland Bar-B-Que describes itself as a restaurant “where you can taste the smoke.” Clearly customers love the taste because locally-owned Hartland has established itself as a barbecue staple in the Benson neighborhood of Omaha. Hartland’s website says its “meat is cooked and smoked the old fashioned pit style. Everything on our Bar-B-Que menu is made from scratch, using time-honored family recipes.” Hartland has a “family-friendly atmosphere,” which doubles as a good location for a “lunch with business associates, its site says. Hartland Bar-B-Que’s menu includes mouth-watering sandwiches with a choice of pork, chicken, or brisket. Customers can also try the baby back ribs that come seasoned with a secret rub and “slow-smoked with real hardwood.” The menu describes them as “the meatiest ribs in Omaha.”
17th Street Barbecue – Murphysboro, Illinois
Our last stop is in Murphysboro, Illinois, where 17th Street Barbecue is owned and led by champion pitmaster Mike Mills. Known as “The Legend,” Mike Mills has won countless barbecue competitions and is the “four-time World Champion and three-time Grand World Champion at Memphis in May, otherwise known as the Super Bowl of Swine.” In 2010, he was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. Mills owns two 17th Street locations in Southern Illinois–a flagship in Murphysboro and a second location in Marion. On the menu at 17th Street includes flavorful pulled chicken, barbecue pork shoulder, and the joint’s famous baby back ribs which are “the 3-time “Grand World Champion” winners at Memphis in May.” The menu describes the ribs as the “filet mignon of barbecue” and says they are “slowly cooked in our pit with a combination of apple & cherry woods for about six hours.”