The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America

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Percy Street Barbecue in Philly is another example of a modern, hip barbecue restaurant run by a Chef with a background in fine dining.  From The Granary to Sweet Rack Rib Shack to Freedmen’s, I have found that a lot of the best barbecue in America today is coming from these converted-to-smoke Chefs.  I will not devalue the knowledge or skill of the old school pitmasters who have perfected their craft by spending every day over a pit for 25 years, but formally trained Chefs also have a deep understanding of flavors, spices and cuts while usually complimenting the meats with excellent sides, drinks and desserts.

Percy Street prides itself in serving authentic Texas style barbecue and brisket.  I actually enjoyed the pulled pork the most and thought it could stand up to just about any pulled pork you will find.  The other major draw for me at Percy Street is the beer selection.  Percy Street boasts one of, if not the, largest canned beer collections in the US.  That, in and of itself, is enough reason to stop in for a visit.

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Jimmy’s BBQ

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My first stop in the greater Philly area was Jimmy’s BBQ in Malvern.  The brisket, pork, cornbread, etc. at Jimmy’s were all pretty good…but those were just teasers compared to this…

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The smoked bacon at Jimmy’s is unbelievable.  This is everything a carnivore could ask for: thick cut, smokey, blackened cubes of meat candy.  It. Is. Phenomenal.

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Although I didn’t really know what to expect from Florida barbecue, I found a number of places that I really enjoyed such as 4 Rivers, Sweet Rack Rib Shack and Yellow Dog Eats.  

I also ventured all the way south to the edge of the Everglades to visit The Pit BBQ.  The lawmakers in South Florida have put strict regulations on the smoking of meats (those enemies of happiness…), but The Pit was grandfathered into many of the newer regulations.

The Pit BBQ was an interesting stop on the Barbecue Rankings Tour for a number of reasons.  First, I enjoyed the comfortable outdoor tiki bar type atmosphere and the menu blends other local flavors with barbecue.  I started the meal with fried gator and frog legs - something you don’t find in Memphis or Kansas City. Rather than baked beans or mac n cheese, I had yuca and fried plantain next to my half rack of spare ribs.  My favorite items probably came at the end of the meal as I had a hard time deciding if I liked the key lime pie or flan more.

The Pit BBQ exemplifies one of the things that makes barbecue great.  There are endless combinations of rubs, cuts of meat, techniques, sauces, wood, smokers, etc. that allow each restaurant to create a style distinctly it’s own.

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The Pit

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I visited The Pit a few weeks ago on Father’s Day.  I had arranged to meet with owner Greg Hatem at 11AM when the restaurant opened and there were about 40 people waiting outside in line when I arrived.  I heard someone say that they had called a day or two before and the only two reservation slots left were at 11AM and 8:30PM for the day.  The Pit does save tables for walk up customers, hence the line, and it was Father’s Day, but I have only seen a handful of places (Oklahoma Joe’s, Franklin, La Barbecue, etc.) with lines like that.

Located in an old, open, brick building that once served as a packing plant, The Pit helped revitalize a neighborhood near downtown Raleigh.  While The Pit offers a full service restaurant experience with quality drinks and desserts, their focus with barbecue is remaining true to the old North Carolina traditions.  They are not cooking in a hole in the ground, but the principles, woods and techniques remain the same.

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The thing, of course, to try at The Pit is the chopped whole hog.  It’s excellent.  I was also impressed with both the baby back and spare ribs.  The mac n cheese was my favorite side, but The Pit also takes great pride in it’s heirloom collards.

The Pit a place often recognized as one of the top in the business and I thought it delivered.

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Throw Back Thursday

Since the President recently visited Franklin, I thought it would be appropriate to bring back my Franklin BBQ post for TBT..

Franklin Barbecue is today’s Mecca of barbecue.  It was designated the best in the Lone Star State by Texas Monthly, has been featured in everything from the New York Times to Bon Appetite to Men’s Fitness, and you might recognize the place from this current Chase Sapphire commercial.

Anticipation for my visit to Franklin was conceived in November.  On the eve of my visit to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, which Anthony Bourdain named as one of his “13 Places to Eat Before You Die”, I tweeted at Bourdain asking him to name his favorite barbecue restaurant in America.  Expecting the answer to be Oklahoma Joe’s, this was going to lead into my write up.  Instead, this answer only made me look forward to my visit to Austin.imageWhen Franklin Barbecue is brought up in Austin conversations, the only thing discussed more than the brisket is the wait.  I met one Texas barbecue restaurant owner who claimed to have waited in line multiple times, but had yet to try the brisket as it was sold out by the time he made it to the butcher block each time.

Here’s the timeline of my morning at Franklin Barbecue:

8:45AM: Leave south Austin (Austin has so many great things, the traffic grid is not one)

9:15AM: Arrive at Franklin Barbecue.  I’m the 20th person in line and those in front of me are already having a beer.  This was a “slow” day since it was a Wednesday in January.  9:15 might not be early enough on a summer Saturday or UT football gameday.image

9:17AM: Back to the car for an extra layer.  Eat a banana…lunch is still 2 hours away.

9:20AM: Meet some of my neighbors.  The gentleman in front of me is a competition barbecue guy.  The guys behind me are from the Mexican border and drove to Austin just for lunch at Franklin.  Most people in line were from out of town and it was nearly everyone’s first visit.

9:30AM: Girl Scout and her grandfather solicit the line to sell Girl Scout Cookies.  Threatening to go get the girl’s crutch out of the car, they sell 6 boxes and leave promising to be back shortly for the rest of us.

9:39AM: Staff come outside to work their way down the line and ask people what meats they plan to order.  Many people order about a pound of meat for lunch and then another few pounds for takeaway.  This enables them to tell people further down the line that they might be sold out of certain meats by the time they reach the counter.

10:00AM: 45 people in line.  The music is turned on and I appreciate Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your Man”.

10:18AM: Staff come back through line to sell beer, water and soda to those who did not bring their own coolers.

10:20AM: I wonder how this line affects the experience of eating at Franklin’s.  Do people enjoy it more because they are simply really hungry by the time they get to eat?  Do people enjoy it more because they are a few beers in?  Do people enjoy it more because they already have the idea planted in their heads that this is the best of the best?  Since it has been built up so much, can it ever live up to such lofty expectations?

10:40AM: Estimated 100 people in line.

11:00AM: 125 people in line - another estimation.  The doors open and we start to move.  

11:02AM: I realize my wait was not finished.  We seem to be moving very slowly, but I read the articles framed and hung on the walls, warm up and take in the experience.

11:20AM: Getting close…

11:30AM: Place my order of fatty brisket and ribs…image

And this is where the story ends for today.  Is this brisket really all there is in life?  Will barbecue ever be the same for me after this first bite?  You are going to have to read The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America to find out!

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The World Cup of Barbecue Finals

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It was greater than Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, Superman vs. Lex Luthor or East Carolina vs. West Carolina BBQ.  This was USA vs. Mexico in the World Cup of Barbecue Finals.

The Mexican squad left a number of quality teams in their smoldering path to the Finals and the US team absolutely smoked their opponents on their path to the Holy Grill of barbecue.  

Coached by Mike “The Legend” Mills, the American starting 11 included a Who’s Who of Barbecue:

  • "Bigfooted" Bob Gibson
  • Aaron “Freakin” Franklin
  • John “Rambunctious” Rivers
  • "Burnin" Barry Sorkin
  • Lee Ann “Whip it good” Whippen
  • John “The Voracious” Vergos
  • "Magic" Mike Emerson
  • Melissa “Smokestacks” Cookston
  • Craig “Call me maybe” Blondis
  • "Slammin" Sammie Jones
  • John “Meaty” Mueller

The Mexican team consisted of a nice blend of veterans and rising stars:

  • Carne “The Meat” Asada
  • Barry “The Bear” Barbacoa
  • Manny “Roasted” Maize
  • Rico “Don’t rub me the wrong way” Recado
  • Carlos “The Hottie” Chili
  • Martino “Burns” Mesquite
  • Juan “Tex Mex” Beque
  • Pablo “Poppin’ Pigs” Perez
  • Raul “The Ribs King” Rivera
  • Christiano “Great Balls of Fire” Garza
  • Carlos “Cool as a Cucumber” Cruz

The tables were set and it was time to dig into the world’s greatest competition - not everyone plays soccer, but everyone eats!

Both sides came out a little cautious.  No barbecue squad likes to get the fire burning too hot right out of the gate, but likes to play low and slow.  The Americans struck first in the 36th minute as “Magic” Mike Emerson found “Burnin” Barry Sorkin for a header to the back post off of a corner kick.  The Americans celebrated with their now famous, “Puttin’ a rub on a pork butt” celebration dance.

It didn’t take long for the Mexican squad to strike back.  The combination of Martino “Burns” Mesquite, Carlos “The Hottie” Chili and Barry “The Bear” Barbacoa came together to create a little barbecue magic that tied us up at 1-1.

Things were knotted up at halftime and we were privileged to have Coach Mills miked up for the halftime talk.  He went over a few tactics, including making the proper cuts, before spicing things up with a few Herb Brooks one liners.

In the second half, the US demonstrated why they were the favorites in the tournament.  Lee Ann “Whip it good” Whippen put one in the back of the net on a breakaway in the 51st minute.  After coming in off the bench, Bill “The Beautiful” Kerlin put a crackin’ ball into the box in the 82nd minute for Craig “Call me maybe” Blondis finish and make it 3-1.  

After 90 minutes, the US squad lifted the Golden Calf trophy to reign victorious for another four years.

USA! USA! USA!

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I won’t even sell someone a barbecue unless they get coleslaw. If they want a barbecue and they don’t want coleslaw, there’s something wrong with that person. It all goes together.

Wilber Shirley, owner of Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro (source)

In honor of Barbecue Rankings stop by Wilber’s, I figured this was as good a time for this quote as any.

(via barbecuebros)

Awesome…yup, I can certainly believe those words came from Wilber!