Where to Find Good Barbecue Near You

A look at the country's most popular barbecue varieties and some of the best places to try them in the Northeast.
good barbecue near you

Of all the food experiences of my life, there are perhaps no fonder memories than those of hot summer nights, eating in the backyard with my sleeves rolled up to my elbows, fingers coated in sweet and sticky barbecue sauce, my teeth picking the tender meat from a rib bone.

Finding good barbecue near you is not always easy in the Northeast, but lucky for us, plenty of Southern expats have migrated here, bringing along their regional barbecue traditions.

These are some of the most popular barbecue styles in the country and my picks for the best local barbecue restaurants in the Northeast to try them.

Barbecue Pride and Prejudice

The roots of barbecue run deep into human history. The act of cooking meat over an open flame has existed for at least 700,000 years. Its most modern form, of which American barbecue fans are most familiar, is cooking over a pit or grill, which was adapted from the cooking methods of the indigenous Taino in the Caribbean.

Barbecue continues to feature heavily in practically every culture, from Brazil to Afghanistan to Korea. Whether it’s simply the delicious flavors of smoked and grilled meats or some primordial remembrance of humankind’s past hard-wired into our genetics, Americans are particularly crazy about barbecue. We’re also territorial about our favorite regional barbecue varieties.

In the United States, local barbecue is something to be proud of and something to argue over, like the athletic prowess of your hometown sports teams. “The Big Four” of barbecue styles are Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis and Texas. But despite the prevalence of these places in our collective knowledge of barbecue, many others have incredibly delicious variations, such as Kentucky, Alabama, California and Hawaii.

What you are unlikely to hear about is barbecue that originated in the Northeast, as barbecue has been heavily influenced by West African and Caribbean cultures that were uprooted and taken to the Southern states from the time of colonization onward.

Where to Find Good Barbecue Near You

Alabama-Style Barbecue

Alabama is not often thought of as one of the core barbecue states in the union, but it has been steadily growing among the ranks of food journalists, road-trippers and barbecue lovers.

Alabama barbecue is best-known for its white barbecue sauce, composed of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and black pepper. The creation of white barbecue sauce is attributed to pitmaster Bob Gibson of Decatur, Ala., who smoked pork and chicken in hickory barbecue pits for hungry restaurant goers.

Where to Try It in the Northeast

Perhaps blasphemous to natives of Buffalo, N.Y., white sauce barbecue chicken wings are tangy, slightly sweet, smokey and delicious. To sample, head to Blue Smoke on the southern end of Manhattan. Executive Chef and Pitmaster Eric Lunsford moved between Georgia, Texas and Mississippi in his younger years – four states with formidable barbecue cultures – and his culinary repertoire displays a diverse knowledge of regional flavors and ingredients.

Pig Beach, with locations in Long Island City, Queens and Gowanus, Brooklyn, N.Y., offers an equally delicious rendition of Alabama wings for barbecue lovers in the outer boroughs. And for those traveling far north of New York, Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington, Vt., has slow-smoked, quick-fried chicken wings with Alabama white sauce.

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Carolina-Style Barbecue

My first taste of Carolina barbecue floored me. I sat at an outdoor picnic table at Buxton Hall Bar-B-Cue in Asheville, N.C., in a blissed-out state from a whole-hog pulled-pork meal. The unique, tangy flavor of vinegar-based barbecue sauce added a flavorful kick to the meal, which came with coleslaw and hush puppies – fried balls of cornmeal that are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Nick Barr, Buxton Hall’s culinary director, explained to me that Carolina barbecue is mostly recognized by Eastern Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue. Early Carolina settlers kept pigs as a necessity and the animals have remained the backbone of Eastern Carolina ever since.

Whole hogs are cooked in block pits using only coal from hardwoods, which are shoveled from the bottom of a burn barrel loaded with oak or hickory wood. The hog is mopped with a pepper vinegar sauce while it cooks, imparting the distinct flavor that helps to characterize Eastern Carolina-style barbecue.

Where to Try It in the Northeast

You can recreate my Buxton Hall meal at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, Vt., when you order the whole hog from the smoked meats portion of the menu. It is a half-pound of Eastern North Carolina-style smoked pork. Get it with hush puppies and you will arrive at the pearly gates of barbecue heaven.

South Carolina has its own style of barbecue sauce. While a vinegar and pepper barbecue sauce is also popular in the region, it is the mustard-based barbecue sauce that makes South Carolina barbecue stand out. For a taste, I recommend trying the Carolina mustard sauce chicken wings at Theodore’s Booze, Blues and BBQ in Springfield, Mass.  

good barbecue near you
John Brown BBQ (Photo: Tim Vetter)

Kansas City-Style Barbecue

Choice cuts for Kansas City barbecue are brisket and ribs, dry rubbed and slow cooked, usually with hickory wood chips to give its signature smoky flavor. It’s also identified by having a thicker, sweeter, tomato or molasses-based barbecue sauce.

Henry Perry is lovingly remembered as the father of Kansas City barbecue. Originally from Memphis, Tenn., Perry moved to Kansas City, Mo., creating his own blend of flavors for his barbecued meats that borrowed from the Memphis style but created something new. He began his career as a pitmaster in 1908 and became especially well-known for feeding over 1,000 city residents for free on July 3, 1920, now officially “Henry Perry Day” in Kansas City.  

Where to Try It in the Northeast

For some of the best Kansas City barbecue in the Northeast, head to John Brown BBQ in Long Island City, Queens. For a true experience, order the ribs and brisket, but also seriously consider getting the smoked pastrami, which rivals some of New York’s best delicatessens. John Brown’s burnt ends are also among the best I’ve ever tasted, crispy and charred on the outside with a moist, tender center.

St. Louis-Style Barbecue

Missouri is famous for two types of barbecue, and in St. Louis it’s all about the ribs. Both the cut of meat and the flavor of the sauce are particular to St. Louis-style ribs. The ribs come from the belly of the hog after the belly has been removed; the breastbone is removed, and the ribs are stripped of cartilage and connective tissue, leaving a fattier, meatier rib than other variations.

St. Louis barbecue sauce is thinner than Kansas City’s, and it is sweet and tangy with the inclusion of vinegar. The ribs are grilled before adding sauce.

Where to Try It in the Northeast

For the good stuff, head to Zach and Lou’s Barbeque in Torrington, Conn.. They close for the winter but open their doors again in March. For those headed toward Maine, try Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill for a full rack of St. Louis-style smoked and grilled ribs.

Memphis-Style Barbecue

My first Memphis barbecue experience was at Central BBQ’s Poplar Avenue location in the Home of the Blues. Like a kid in a candy shop, I was insatiable as I attempted to eat everything in sight: ribs, pulled pork, greens, homemade pork rinds, slaw … nothing on the menu was safe from my hunger.

The distinctive flavor of Memphis barbecue comes from the spice rub, which can either be a dry rub that coats the meat prior to cooking or a wet rub that is brushed on the meat before, during and after cooking. Memphis rubs start with salt, pepper and brown sugar, and can include upward of 30 additional spices and flavors, depending on the pitmaster cooking the meat. Even fans of dry-rubbed ribs and pulled pork are known to keep a cup of Memphis barbecue sauce nearby. The thin, tomato and vinegar-based sauce is delicious whether you’re adding it to chicken, pork or beef.

Where to Try It in the Northeast

Often, Memphis-style barbecue is found in the form of pork ribs in the North. Smokin’ J’s Memphis BBQ is Marlboro, Vt., is your go-to for Memphis ribs, smoked slowly over hickory fire.

For the grill masters looking to try their hand at cooking Memphis barbecue at home, Memphis King in Schenectady, N.Y., sells its own dry rubs. You can try each rub by ordering their addictive dry-rubbed french fries. Don’t come just for the rub though, the pulled pork, cooked low and slow in the Memphis tradition, shouldn’t be missed. Go early, as they’re likely to sell out daily.

Texas-Style Barbecue

Restaurants offering up Texas barbecue are usually serving Central Texas fare. Central Texas barbecue features low-and-slow-cooked meats that spend many hours in the pit, with few sauce options. Beef is favored over pork, and meats are cooked over a hardwood fire.

Brisket is king in Central Texas, with many barbecue joints serving two options: leaner or fattier and more moist options. The seasoning for Central Texas brisket is surprisingly simple, often just a salt and pepper rub, with any sauces and condiments served as a side option.

Due to its massive size and blending of cultures, it should come as no surprise that Texas has different regional varieties. Eastern Texas barbecue features more sauces, pork options and side dishes, while Southern Texas barbecue has a heavy Mexican influence, with barbacoa serving as a common beef option. 

Where to Try It in the Northeast

Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Ridgefield, Conn., offers both Central and Eastern Texas options. The restaurant’s owner, Cody Sperry, found inspiration on a trip to Austin, Texas, and brought his newfound barbecue knowledge back to Connecticut to the benefit of all in the Nutmeg State. Find the Holy Texas Trinity on the menu for a sampling of Texas staples: brisket, pork ribs and a variety of sausages.

Pulled Fork BBQ in Long Valley, N.J., makes its Texas-style barbecue in an outdoor smoker where the meat cooks for 10 hours. When the day’s supply runs out, that’s it, no more. Pulled Fork’s dry-rubbed, chopped beef brisket is the star here. Many of the meat options can be ordered as a sandwich, allowing customers to customize their meal with sauces and condiments.

New York City barbecue joints like Fette Sau in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, make no qualms about blending Southern barbecue flavors and techniques with local ingredients and menu items that reflect the demographics of their patrons. Self-described as one part Central Texas and one part New York Deli, Fette Sau has offered up traditional Texas smoked beef brisket, light on sauce offerings, alongside beef tongue pastrami, an item more likely to be found in an old-school New York Jewish delicatessen.

Another favorite of New Yorkers is Hometown Bar B Que located in both Red Hook and Industry City, Brooklyn. Here you’ll find a hybrid menu that features Texas-style barbecue, alongside Vietnamese hot wings and Korean barbecue ribs.

Northeast cuisine has its stars: chowders, fresh oysters, lobsters, steamed clams and a host of other seafood dishes. But when the craving strikes, you want to know where to find good barbecue near you. Fortunately, we have chefs, cooks, and grill masters who have brought their knowledge of Southern barbecue to our neighborhoods.

If you love barbecue, check out this recipe for a classic side dish from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Featured image: A sampling of barbecue offerings at Fette Sau in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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9 Thoughts on “Where to Find Good Barbecue Near You

  1. Re BBQ….”near you” must mean on planet Earth.
    Nothing in New England which is no surprise but don’t topic an article with “near you” if you don’t mean it.
    Near you “in BBQ country” would have been a proper title.

    1. Hi Paul, we organized the story by the country’s most popular regional barbecue styles (Alabama, Carolina, Texas, etc.), followed by where to find them in the Northeast. We’ve included establishments in Massachusetts’s, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and more. Thanks for reading!

  2. I think you’re missing the mark in the Northeast. Blue Smoke in NYC is certainly very good. There is also Hill Country and about a dozen others that will knock your sox off (including Dinosaur in Harlem). My new fave is in Easton, MD. Go check out RudeBBQ. Their brisket (the litmus test to which I measure the merits of one’s BBQ) is consistently off the charts. Anyone can make ribs and pulled pork. However Brisket is an artform. It can go from great to real bad real fast if you’re not careful. However it take a ton of time to make properly. RudeBBQ’s is always tender, juicy and flavorful. I recommend the OldBay fries with their house made Smoked Ketchup….holy smokes!

  3. HooDoo’s (Ridgefield, CT) is good, though the ribs can be “hit or miss”. The “jar of pork belly” is a consistant winner. A few miles north on Padanaram Rd. in Danbury CT is the real deal – The Cue. Absolutely authentic and absolutely consistant. I’ve been a patron of both since they opened years ago and choose The Cue first, especially if I’m lookin’ for ribs, but one really can’t go wrong either way.

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