Southern Barbecue Chains You Need To Try At Least Once

While it may evoke leisurely pastimes and a laidback culinary experience, barbecue is a very serious matter. That's especially true across the South, where regional styles have developed with delicate finesse and deep-rooted pride dating back generations to the very discovery of this country (via Smithsonian). 

Nowadays, the authentic stuff doesn't just have to come from a run-down shack with a wood pit in the ground. You can find decent barbecue all over the South – in mom and pop shops, fancy fork-and-knife steakhouses, fast-casual joints, food trucks, even drive-thrus. There is an endless supply of potential pitmasters out there, looking to show off their smoking skills and spread the gospel that is barbecue far and wide across the southern states and beyond. The age of the barbecue chain is arguably upon us. 

That's good news for the rest of us, who have a nearly unlimited spread of options when we need to satisfy our primal cravings for smoked meat drenched in spicy sauce. And if you don't know where to start, let Mashed be your guide. These are the southern barbecue chains you need to try at least once.

Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q

To the outsider, Rudy's "Country Store" and Bar-B-Q may not look like much. It's a barbecue restaurant hidden inside of a gas station. But if you can put aside your initial reservations, you won't regret it. Rudy's serves up true Texas barbecue as good as the rest of them, along with family-sized tubs of mouthwatering side dishes. 

The chain started out as a convenience store in a little town outside San Antonio dating back to the 1800s. It eventually evolved into a full-on barbecue restaurant, which can now be found in nearly 50 locations across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Florida. And the locals have a soft spot for it, whether they admit it or not. Think of it as a one-stop-shop of wonder. Fill up your tank, get in line for a butcher paper bundle full of moist (or lean) brisket, juicy sausage links, and tons of white bread, of course, and be sure to grab a bottle of their signature barbecue sauce (or the "sissy" version if you can't take the heat) on the way out.

4 Rivers Smokehouse

Florida may not be top of mind among southern barbecue standouts, but 4 Rivers Smokehouse may be on its way to changing that reputation. Founder John Rivers started out serving up barbecue out of his garage for schools, churches, and community organizations. After seeing that people loved his barbecue, Rivers opened his first restaurant in 2009. 

Since then, 4 Rivers has grown to 13 locations across Florida, garnering some serious attention along the way – Southern Living named it the South's best barbecue joint in 2020. Maybe it's because there is something for everyone to love here. They're smoking up every type of meat you might crave, from brisket to pork, sausage, chicken, turkey, and ribs. Beyond a classic barbecue platter with homestyle sides, there's also a menu of decadent signature creations. Things like the Six Shooter, "baked cheese grits piled high with pulled pork, Southern Coleslaw, pickles, jalapeños, and 4R Signature Sauce," or the Longhorn, "Chopped brisket, Texas sausage served on a toasted roll over smokehouse relish, topped with onion rings and melted provolone."

Sonny's BBQ

In today's world of ever-evolving food trends and Instagram-worthy menus, sometimes some simplicity can be welcome – the nostalgic comforts that stand the test of time, because it's always been done that way and it just works. 

That's the spirit of Sonny's BBQ. The chain was opened by a husband and wife duo in Gainesville, Florida in 1968, and more than 50 years and 100 restaurants later, Sonny's boasts that they're still honoring the recipes and traditions that got them started. They call it the "Art of BBQ" – premium cuts of pork and beef, slow-smoked to perfection, always over oak, and paired with Sonny's signature sauces. It's a time-perfected practice, one that Sonny's takes very seriously. So you know that you're getting top quality barbecue, crafted by a certified pitmaster, at each of Sonny's locations, which you'll find all over Florida, as well as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and the Carolinas.

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q

Once upon a time, a father and son from Birmingham, Alabama named Jim and Nick figured out that they could whip up mouthwatering barbecue together, and the pulled pork, rib, and brisket lovers in the South received yet another culinary gift. More than 35 years later, Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q has grown to nearly 40 locations in 7 states across the South, from Colorado to Tennessee to Florida. And the chain has reportedly announced plans to open up to 30 new restaurants over the next three years (via the Birmingham Business Journal).

Fans love their slow-smoked pulled pork, slathered in sauce, of course, and the barbecue chicken, which the pitmaster recommends with white barbecue sauce. And don't overlook the famous barbecue pork mac and cheese, or their famous house-made chili loaded with smoked brisket. Either way, you'll come for the meat, but chances are you'll stay for the absolutely crave-inducing so-called "world famous" cheese biscuits, which come with every meal at Jim 'N Nick's, and which the chain might be most famous for above all else (via The Alabama Tourism Department even named the biscuits as one of the 100 dishes you need to eat before you die (via

Central BBQ

Among the staple barbecue destinations around the country, Memphis is high on the list. The city is known for its tender, dry-rubbed, slow smoked ribs, pork shoulder (via Taste). And there's arguably no better place to sample it than Central BBQ

At Central BBQ, all the meat is marinated for 24 hours and rubbed with a secret, signature dry rub before dry-smoking to perfection. The sauce is added later. Load up on a full plate of smoked meats and sides, or try out Central's famous specialty, barbecue nachos. They come loaded up with barbecue pork or chicken, beef brisket, or smoked turkey, and smothered in cheese, barbecue sauce, and jalapeños. Central BBQ is a local favorite in Memphis (via Thrillist) and has several locations there and in Nashville. 

Oh, and if the name sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because you've seen the restaurant featured on shows like "Pitmasters," "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," and "BBQ with Bobby Flay."

Corky's Ribs & BBQ

Another surefire staple if you're looking to try a taste of Memphis-style barbecue is Corky's Ribs & BBQ. You can find Corky's restaurants scattered all throughout Tennessee, as well as in Arkansas and Mississippi. The chain has been perfecting its hickory and charcoal-smoked ribs for more than 30 years, and they're serving up full slabs of them, family-style, plus a full menu of other barbecue favorites and sides. And Corky's claims that locals love this place so much, it's been voted the top BBQ joint in Memphis 22 times. 

While Corky's did have some expansion plans that didn't quite pan out a few years ago, the company did recently name a new CEO (via Commercial Appeal), so there's no telling what's in store for Corky's future. And if you don't live anywhere near a Corky's, but still want to get your Memphis barbecue fix, then you're in luck. Corky's sells and ships its baby back ribs via shopping network QVC.

Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ

If you call yourself a big barbecue lover, there's a good chance you've heard of Rodney Scott. The South Carolina pitmaster only broke out on his own in the last five years or so, but he's got barbecue in his bones, and you can taste it in every bite at his Charleston restaurant, Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ

Since then, Scott and his award-winning skills have been featured on Netflix, Food Network, the TODAY Show, Bon Appétit, and more. He was also recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2018, and inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2021. He's also grown his restaurant business to three more locations in Alabama and Georgia. 

With a resume like that, there's no doubt Scott is serving up some seriously good barbecue. Expect lines out the door (via Eater) for the huge plates of spare ribs and pork sandwiches, along with a full array of homemade southern staples.

Smokey Bones

If you haven't heard of Florida-based Smokey Bones yet, chances are you will soon. The chain is known for serving up cold drinks and good times in an atmosphere that's as comforting as the food. Smokey Bones currently has more than 60 locations across 16 states, and the company is moving forward with all kinds of expansion plans. 

But we don't just mean new restaurants. Smokey Bones opened its first ghost kitchen in 2021 (via FSR News). And it's also serving customers through its two exclusively virtual brands, the Wing Experience and Burger Experience (via Nation's Restaurant News). There's also talk of opening drive-thru locations. And Smokey Bones is even planning to expand its menu – which already features different prominent regional barbecue styles in America – to include new barbecue flavors inspired by international cuisines, like Thailand, China, Japan, and India (via FSR News). And while you're there, make sure not to miss out on Smokey Bones' happy hour specials and signature cocktails.

Gates Bar-B-Q

You could say Gates Bar-B-Q is a Kansas City institution. It was founded by George W. Gates back in 1946, and while it moved around locations a few times over the years, it's never stopped cooking up barbecue. Today there are several locations in Kansas and Missouri where customers can chow down on ribs, chicken, mutton, and piled high barbecue sandwiches – barbecue so good it got Ollie Gates, son of the founder, inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame (via NPR). Though the place has grown, Gates is still family-owned. And Kansas City Magazine calls this place one of the best barbecue joints in the city, both for the food, and the uniquely comforting atmosphere.

And talk about the ultimate endorsement – President Biden himself paid a visit to Gates during a trip to Kansas City (via FOX 4 Kansas City). He reportedly feasted on none other than the restaurant's famous Presidential Tray, of course, which features sliced beef, ham, and turkey, barbecue chicken, a slab of ribs, and house-made sausage, along with Gate's signature barbecue beans and potato salad on the side.

Moe's Original BBQ

Sometimes great things can happen when you just give it the good old college try. Just look at Moe's Original BBQ. It was founded two decades ago by three friends who met at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and bonded over their shared love of more than just college football. The journey took the three founders to the mountains of Colorado after graduating, where the dream for Moe's really took shape, first as a catering company, then as a restaurant. The boys started out smoking their meat in the back of a double-wide trailer on the side of a river around 2001 – in a pit they built by hand with junkyard scraps. 

By 2005, they opened their first restaurant in Eagle, Colorado. And today Moe's has more than 50 locations in 14 states, catching the attention of not only fans around the country, but even landing a mention on "The Simpsons" back in 2015 (via Moe's keeps the menu simple – serving up pulled pork, smoked chicken and turkey, and fried fish, plus a rotation of sides to choose from – but don't forget to check out their daily food and drink specials as well.

Full Moon Bar-B-Que

You could say that Full Moon Bar-B-Que is more than just a restaurant. The "best little pork house" is an Alabama tradition. Full Moon has been serving up hickory-smoked barbecue since it was founded by famous football coach Pat James and his wife in 1986 (via Birmingham News). 

While the ownership changed hands in the '90s, pretty much everything else is the same as its always been: Same low and slow tradition for barbecue that fans keep coming back for, especially the turkey sandwich, which has become a signature staple at Full Moon (via; Same down home southern-inspired sides like authentic chow chow and fried green tomatoes using recipes straight from the founders (via Madison County Journal); Same award-winning sweet and tangy barbecue sauce perfect for slathering all over a pulled pork sandwich – and don't forget to take a bottle home with you. 

There are now 17 Full Moon locations across Alabama and Mississippi.

Billy Sims BBQ

At this point, we're starting to see a clear connection between barbecue and football. The culinary custom goes hand in hand with tailgating traditions, and there are a growing number of barbecue restaurants tied to big names on the field: Pat James, Andy Nelson, Isaiah McKenzie, and of course, Billy Sims. 

Billy Sims BBQ may be one of the most famous athlete-owned restaurants brands. It was founded in 2004 by Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims, who rose to fame during a football career with the University of Oklahoma and then the NFL's Detroit Lions before retiring from the game and turning to his second passion, barbecue, into a career. Nearly 20 years later, there are more than 50 locations (mostly franchised) across six states. There's something for everyone on Billy Sims' wide-ranging menu of platters, sandwiches, and sides, but we recommend checking out the famous signature sandwiches – The Heisman, loaded up with bologna, hot links, and pulled pork or brisket, and The Triple 20, piled with pulled pork, secret sauce, melted cheese, and a heap of coleslaw.

Bono's Pit Bar-B-Q

The folks at Bono's Pit Bar-B-Q, based in Jacksonville, Florida, know a thing or two about barbecue tradition. They've been smoking up live pit barbecue since 1949, and still do things the old-fashioned way (via The Jaxon), striving above all else to serve customers an "authentic Southern Pit barbecue experience." 

Everything at Bono's is prepared in-house every day, and meats are cut to order, so you're always getting the juiciest, most flavorful bite. The menu is full of all the classic fare you'd expect at a barbecue restaurant worth its snuff, plus a few surprises as well, like sweet corn nuggets, and heaping Smokehouse Stackers, which require a big appetite and an even bigger stack of napkins. There are nearly 20 Bono's locations scattered across Florida, as well as a location way out in Denver, Colorado. Time will tell if new Bono's locations pop up in between.