The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America

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Jersey…

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Despite it’s location in the Northeast and the recent closing of a couple of the major casinos, Atlantic City might not be a bad place to open a barbecue restaurant.  Why?  It’s full of tourists and I couldn’t find a real barbecue option.  Kelsey and Kim’s was the closest I could find, and, while it’s a nice little restaurant, it’s really a Southern Cafe with a couple of barbecue items on the menu.

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After failing to find a true barbecue restaurant in Atlantic City and donating a few bucks to Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal, I ventured back inland looking for barbecue.  I found a couple of spots including Carolina Blue and Henri’s “Hotts” Barbeque.  Carolina is a great place to go for a beer. I would avoid Henri’s.

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Filed under new jersey barbecue bbq henri's carolina blue kelsey and kim's

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The Rest of Philly

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I wrote about three of my Philly stops (Sweet Lucy’s, Percy Street and Jimmy’s) in more detail over the last few days, but it’s time to move on from Philly so I’ll sum up three more Philly stops at once.  Zachary’s (the two pictures above) was far and away the best of these three.

Despite the “Philly’s Best” blazing sign at Rib Rack…I suggest a cheesesteak at Geno’s or Pat’s instead (and I’m not picking sides in the great cheesesteak debate!).

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I was really quite disappointed with the brisket, mac ‘n cheese and yams from Phoebe’s.  Phoebe’s makes all of the local lists of best barbecue spots (probably because it is the only one more than about 10 years old), but it was one of the least enjoyable stops on the Barbecue Rankings Tour so far.  Nothing bad happened…except for bad food.

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Filed under philly philadelphia bbq barbecue phoebes zacharys ribrack

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Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse

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The GPS is usually my trusted sidekick as I visit new places across the country.  Unfortunately, from time to time, I’m steered off course and find myself on a closed road, at an abandoned building or on the wrong street.  As I approached Sweet Lucy’s, I was confident that I was on the wrong trail again since I was surrounded by nothing but fenced-in warehouses next to a railroad.  When I arrived at 7500 State Road, however, I realized that I had given up too easily and found Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse tucked into the corner of an industrial warehouse.

Sweet Lucy’s has received a lot of local press over the years and it started with being named the best food truck in Philly (a town teeming with food trucks).  The food truck evolved into the warehouse restaurant and now barbecue fans from all over the Philly area make the trip to take in some of, if not the, best barbecue in town.

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Brook and Jim Higgins have varied culinary backgrounds that includes Brook’s time at the Culinary Institute of America and fine dining experience.  The two met in a kitchen and have been cooking together ever since.  Jim attributed much of their success to a “fussing over everything” attitude and they keep a close watch over everything at Sweet Lucy’s.

I found the pork, chicken, wings to all be very, very good, but the ribs stood above the rest.  There is nothing particularly different about them, but with great flavor, char, consistency and spice, they were excellent.  Sweet Lucy’s also puts a lot of effort into their sides and the sweet potatoes and beans were both great.  

Filed under bbq barbecue sweet lucy's philly philadelphia

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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.

Filed under barbecue bbq thepit raleigh northcarolina