One of the fastest growing segments of the food industry is good old-fashioned barbecue: the art of slowly cooking meats on a grill or in a smoker or traditional barbecue pit. Most barbecue enthusiasts favor using aged hard woods, which give the cooked meats their distinctive flavors. Many communities now sponsor barbecue competitions for both amateur and professional cooks, with regional eliminations and a chance at national titles for the winners.
At stake are far more than bragging rights, as the best barbecue cooks often go on to open their own restaurants. Their recipes for rubs, sauces, and sides make each barbecue experience a unique taste treat. While many areas of the United States boast good barbecue, this distinctive style of food preparation is most appreciated in the Southern states and several Western states including Kansas. Like most of the South, Georgia has a long and storied tradition of barbeque cooking.
1. The Heirloom Market BBQ
The best of the best, according to Atlanta Magazine, has to be the Heirloom Market BBQ. The Heirloom is a perfect example of East meets West cuisine, offering traditional barbecued meats as well as something new in the food world: cross cultural barbecue. The signature dish at Heirloom Market is the Korean-style pork barbecue.
To create this new world wonder, Heirloom marinates its pork ribs in gochujang, a fermented and sweet chili paste that is spicy but not scorching hot. The ribs are then cooked over seasoned oak and hickory in a custom-built red Pitmaker smoker grill. The Heirloom’s beef, chicken, and turkey are prepared in a blue smoker right next door.
The pork barbecue sandwich is built on a fresh potato bun, topped with spicy Korean kimchi, and finished with sliced scallion and a few black sesame seeds. The taste is familiar yet unlike any other barbecue pork sandwich. Among the many traditional sides such as collard greens, Heirloom’s owners have created other unique dishes like glazed Korean sweet potatoes, fried tofu, and a crisp radish and cucumber salad.
2. Grand Champion BBQ
Just two years old, the Grand Champion puts out especially good smoked meats, including exceptional pulled pork and brisket. So popular was the original Roswell location that a second Grand Champion outlet opened last year in Milton. According to fans, the best dish at Grand Champion is the barbecued ribs with a side of owner Rob Owens’ famous Mac ‘n Cheese spiked with creamy Gouda.
3. Sam’s BBQ
Robert Owens, now the proud owner of Grand Champion, honed his barbeque skills during the five years he spent as general manager for this popular Marietta restaurant. In fact, many of Atlanta’s top barbecue chefs got their start in what was originally know as Sam & Dave’s BBQ. When owners Sam Huff and Dave Poe split up, each took responsibility for one of their former jointly owned restaurants.
Initially just a take-out rib joint, Sam’s has recently expanded to include a full-service dining room. The best dishes on the menu are the ribs, pulled pork, and ex-manager Rob’s famous Mac ‘n Cheese.
4. Dave Poe’s BBQ
It wouldn’t be fair to mention Sam’s place without noting the other great barbecue restaurant in Marietta that came out of the Sam and Dave partnership, Dave Poe’s solo place in Marietta. Frequent visitors say that, while the name might have changed, Dave Poe’s still puts out the same high-quality barbecued meats and sides that were featured at Sam and Dave’s.
5. Community Q
Another Sam & Dave alumnus was Dave Roberts, who left that restaurant to open his own place, Community Q in Decatur. Many believe that the Q is a notch above the other barbecue restaurants on this list, citing perfectly cooked ribs, beef, and pork, along with succulent side dishes. Roberts serves giant fork-tender beef ribs along with his grandmother’s recipe for macaroni and cheese, first featured at Sam & Dave’s.
6. Fox Brother’s BBQ
Many believe that Fox Brother’s is among the best, if not the best, barbecue restaurant in Atlanta. Jonathan and Justin Fox, originally from Ft. Worth, Texas, left their jobs as computer geeks with EarthLink to follow their real passion, Texas-style barbecue. The brothers do just about everything right: ribs, meats, and sides, including a terrific Brunswick stew and several tater tot variations.
7. Swallow at the Hollow
One of the oldest barbecue joints still in operation in Atlanta is Swallow at the Hollow, a collaboration of two successful Atlanta restaurateurs. Swallow still makes most top ten lists in Atlanta; not only for its delicious ribs but also for its homemade Texas Toast.
Serving much the same menu as the Swallow, ‘Cue was founded by another breakaway chef/owner, Paul Doster. Paul’s sauces are a bit different, using a little more mustard, but his barbecue is top notch.
9. Ziegler’s BBQ
Ziegler’s ribs are so good they don’t need any sauce, according to Atlanta Magazine. Barbecued chicken is another standout at Ziegler’s, as is their famous apple coleslaw.
10. Ms Betty’s House of Ribs
Not to be outdone by her male counterparts, Betty Hamilton puts out some of the best barbecued ribs in Atlanta from a single-wide trailer and a picturesque hand-built smokehouse.