The “Best of Southern BBQ” Awards (Part 1)

September 1, 2015 | By | Comments (9)

One thing you quickly discover as you travel around the South eating pulled pork and brisket is how much diversity and variety there is in the region’s flourishing barbecue culture. That variety goes far beyond how the meat is cooked or the sauce that it’s dressed with. From the signs and slogans that adorn the walls to the beverages served alongside, there’s much to celebrate in Southern barbecue.

Here’s our first round of the “Best of Southern BBQ” awards recognizing the outstanding people, places, and flavors that make Southern barbecue such a delight.

Best Barbecue in a Bar
Freedmen’s Bar, Austin TX

Plenty of watering holes have pulled pork sliders on the menu these days, but in too many places the pork arrives fully-cooked in shrink wrapped packages to be reheated in the kitchen. At Freedmen’s Bar in downtown Austin, they’ve got a big barrel smoker right out back, and they use it to turn out mouth-watering brisket, ribs, and house-made sausage. They’re serious about their bar offering, too, with a slate of classic cocktails and a wall of over a hundred different whiskeys.

Freedmans Pit Freedmans brisket

Best Counter Greeting
“Hi, May I Help You”, Gates Bar-B-Q, Kansas City, MO

First-timers at Gates Bar-B-Q can be a little taken aback by the insistent refrain of “Hi, may I help you?” that greets patrons as they line up to order. (One reviewer aptly termed it “aggressive hospitality.”) You might still be a couple of people back from the counter, but that’s OK. Just shout out your order over the head of the guest in front of you. The counter-person will relay it back to the kitchen, and a big platter of classic Kansas City-style barbecue will soon be heading your way.

gates sign The Best of Southern BBQ Awards (Part 1)

“Gates BBQ: Hi May I Help You?” courtesy Paul Sabelman/Flickr under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)

Most Stylish Pigs
(Tie) Hill’s Lexington Barbecue, Winston-Salem, NC and Leonard’s Pit Barbecue, Memphis TN

Countless barbecue joints have signs featuring cartoon pigs doing all sorts un-piglike things, like wearing a straw hat and overalls, plucking a banjo, or twirling a lasso. At Hill’s Lexington Barbecue in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Leonard’s Pit Barbecue in Memphis the mascots are downright genteel. Each is decked out in a top hat and tails and sports a walking cane for good measure. That’s taking the pig uptown.


Best Barbecue-Inspired Beer
Hogwash Hickory-Smoked Brown Porter, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham NC

At Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, North Carolina, founder Sean Lilly Wilson and his team created a beer specifically to pair with North Carolina-style barbecue. It’s made from a variety of grains including six-row barley that’s been smoked over hickory wood on a double-barrel smoker. The result is a crisp brown porter that’s slightly sweet with a pleasing dose of rich smokiness. It’s a fine accompaniment for a chopped pork sandwich. And that’s no hogwash.

fullsteam The Best of Southern BBQ Awards (Part 1)

Best Regional Break-Out
Northern Alabama White Sauce

There was a time when mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce was a regional curiosity found only in northern Alabama. Invented at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, the tangy white concoction has long struck barbecue fans in other parts as downright weird—provided they had heard of it at all. Over time, white sauce made its way southward to Birmingham, where restaurants like Miss Myra’s and Saw’s added it to their repertoires. Now it’s going nationwide. You can slather white sauce on the smoked chicken wings at Home Team BBQ in Charleston, SC, and on the smoked turkey at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, TN. You can even get it in Chicago at Sweet Baby Ray’s or in New York City at Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue. White sauce’s moment to shine has arrived.

Big Bob GibsonSaws

A bottle of white sauce at Big Bob Gibson (left) and pulled chicken with white sauce at Saw’s.

This is the first installment in our “Best of Southern BBQ” Awards. We’ll be announcing another round of winners next week. Got a favorite joint, side dish, or slogan that deserves recognition? Let us know about it!


  1. The Best of Southern BBQ Awards (Part 2) | Southern Living Blog

    […] the outstanding people, places, and flavors that make Southern barbecue such a delight. (You can find Round 1 here). These awards go a little further than just declaring the best briskest or most life-affirming […]

    September 10, 2015 at 8:51 am
  2. Fullsteam Brewery (@fullsteam)


    To clarify: Fullsteam Brewery isn’t a barbecue joint. We make beer inspired by Southern traditions, using local ingredients in the brewing process — all part of Robert’s story that barbecue traditions go “beyond how the meat is cooked or the sauce that it’s dressed with.”

    As you can probably tell, we’re proud of the recognition of “Best Barbecue-Inspired Beer” for our Hogwash hickory-smoked porter, which we house-smoke using North Carolina barley and local hickory. Come try it sometime!

    While you’re here, check out The Pit barbecue restaurant next door. Real wood, pig, and (brace yourself) a solid beer selection. 🙂


    Chief Executive Optimist, Fullsteam Brewery
    Durham, NC

    September 4, 2015 at 12:04 pm
  3. BBQ News: 08/28 – 09/03 : TMBBQ

    […] Robert Moss uses some unique categories for a new list of best barbecue joints for Southern […]

    September 3, 2015 at 8:01 am
  4. Linkdown: 9/2/15 | Barbecue Bros

    […] -Moss also has the first part in a series for the “Best of Southern BBQ” Awards […]

    September 2, 2015 at 10:32 am
  5. Kathleen

    Steve Marsh,
    True. I don’t recall any real BBQ joint that sells beer, either.

    September 2, 2015 at 9:38 am
  6. karen s

    White barbecue sauce..don’t know about that one. Maybe.

    September 1, 2015 at 10:11 pm
  7. Steve Marsh

    You people have totally lost your hickory-smoked minds. Five Q joints and only one from NC and it’s a place I’ve never heard of whose clam to fame is they have a beer that goes with the Q. I know hardly any legitimate BBQ joint that sells beer but they sell a hellofalot of sweet tea and hush puppies. I suggest you head right up I-85 as soon as you can and find out what real Q is. Enough of that beef brisket BS. Get you some real Q. Some pig!!!!

    September 1, 2015 at 4:06 pm
  8. Kathleen

    Oh my! It all looks good.
    Thank you so much for these articles. It’s just a bit painful to read when you live where there’s no real BBQ within 50 miles.

    September 1, 2015 at 2:28 pm
  9. rl reeves jr

    Clark Rountree of Rountree’s Hickory Pit (Now Miss Myra’s, same family) brought white sauce to Birmingham back in ’85 when he opened is eponymous restaurant. He moved to Birmingham from Decatur. Here’s his recipe, it’s still the finest I ever ate

    September 1, 2015 at 11:46 am

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