There are two kinds of Carolina-style barbecue: Eastern North Carolina style uses "every part of the hog except the squeal". It is usually rubbed with a spice mixture, smoked over a hardwood such as oak or hickory, and mopped with a vinegar-based sauce—no ketchup. Lexington style focuses on the pork shoulder only and is typically served with vinegar, ketchup, and pepper sauce. We’ve rounded up the best of both worlds, most of which are family-owned, all of which are award-winning. Read on to discover the best BBQ restaurants in Charlotte.
This West Charlotte drive-in is a blast from the past. The family-run BBQ joint has been around since 1959. When you pull up to order curbside, you’ll see fried chicken and po' boys on the menu, but you’re here for the ‘que. Get it minced or sliced, topped with house sauce and pickles. Round out your meal with onion rings and a cherry lemon SunDrop. Although it’s at the top of our alphabetical list, Bar-B-Q King isn’t the best BBQ in town. It did, however, make it on to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives back in 2009, and the throw-back feel adds to the experience.
The Spoon family has been serving up award-winning Eastern NC-style BBQ since 1963. Now run by Bill’s grandson Steve, the restaurant sticks to the family recipes that has kept it around for so long. The coleslaw is mustard-based, the hush puppies are made-from-scratch, the banana pudding is homemade, and the sweet tea is touted as the best around. Patrons are also big fans of the hearty Brunswick stew. For those unfamiliar, the classic southern dish consists of smoked pork, combined with a savory barbecue sauce broth and veggies.
This local chain combines beer, BBQ, and bikes. Mac’s Speed Shop has hundreds of brews on tap and a huge menu of elevated comfort-food favorites, but you don’t have to ride a Harley to enjoy. Our faves include the hickory-smoked pulled pork, the “Mexicue” tacos, the brisket (which is dry-rubbed, smoked, then grilled), and the jumbo chicken wings, which are also dry-rubbed then hickory smoked (never fried), then tossed in one of their nine sauces. For sides, you can’t go wrong with the mac ‘n’ cheese and baked beans. Enjoy your beer and ‘que on Mac’s lively outdoor patio.
Brothers Ryan and Jim, and their dad, Namon opened this rustic-casual family-friendly restaurant in 2006. McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon is known for its pecan-smoked pork, beef, and chicken (all prepared in-house of course), its fresh, local veggies, and award-winning wings and ribs. Standouts on the menu include the BBQ pork platter, the St. Louis style ribs, and the Living The Dream platter, which has a little bit of everything: ribs, smoked pot roast, and BBQ pork, and chicken. Its patio, lively bar scene, and daily drink specials don’t hurt either. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1am! In the summer, they host bike night with live music on Friday nights.
Mmmmmm...Midwood Smokehouse! Three of this local chain’s five Carolina locations are in Charlotte, so you’re never far from some of the best BBQ in town. This local go-to is usually pretty crowded at peak times, and for good reason. Popular dishes include the bacon-wrapped jalapenos, beef brisket, and combo platters, all of which are smoked with NC hickory hardwood. You can choose whether you want fatty or lean beef, or a combination of both, on your Carolina-style chopped pork or Texas-style sliced brisket. The caramelized pork burnt ends, which are tossed in Cheerwine BBQ sauce, are also a huge hit. Carb it up with hush puppies and mac n' cheese.
Charlotte’s newest BBQ emporium, at the corner of Freedom Drive and Berryhill Road, might also be its best yet. The 11,000 square foot barbecue concept is restaurateur Jim Noble’s fifth and latest restaurant. Chef Noble is the mastermind behind Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen and The King's Kitchen. Noble Smoke’s Carolina and Texas-style pork is smoked low and slow over hickory coals in their giant in-house smokehouse. They have eight wood-fired smokers: six made of steel (Texas-style) and two traditional North Carolina masonry barbecue pits (which consist of 20,000 bricks). Inside there’s a long, 43-foot bar with 36 rotating taps, half of which are Suffolk Punch’s wild and sour ales, which are brewed onsite. Fun fact: the bar is made from the same wood as the smokers! Even though the restaurant is so popular, you’ll never have to wait for a table—there are seats for 200 indoors and a super spacious patio/Biergarten out back. You’ll have to try the food for yourself, but the menu has a choice of meats:
chopped pork, beef brisket, chicken, smoked turkey breast, wings, and pork ribs. They also offer shareable sides, including Eastern and Western slaw and pan-fried corn. All of the buns, bread, and desserts are provided by Chef Noble’s SouthPark bakery and market, Copain. Look out for the restauranteur’s next venture, a fried chicken concept called Bossy Beulah’s Chicken Shack, next door to Noble Smoke.
Sauceman’s closed its location at 228 West Blvd in August 2019, but don’t worry, you can still get their award-winning, consistently tasty, Lexington-style BBQ at their new Southend digs in Sugar Creek Brewery. Saucemen’s menu of authentic Queen City BBQ consists of high-quality meats that are smoked fresh daily, including BBQ pork, brisket, ribs, chicken, and sausage. The Pig plate has chopped or coarsely cut hickory smoked pork, your choice of delicious side item, hushpuppies, and traditional white slaw or Lexington-style red slaw. (Ketchup gives red slaw its hue, in case you didn’t know). Or try a little bit of everything with the Pitmaster Experience. Made for two, the $55 platter is served with four meats, four sides, and four hushpuppies. Sauceman’s Brunswick stew is only available occasionally, but when it is, it sells out quickly.
Sweet, Sweet Lew’s offers authentic, wood-smoked BBQ in an old service station located in the Belmont neighborhood, just outside of Uptown. Their Lexington-style chopped barbecue is made from all-natural NC pork shoulder. All their meats, including pulled pork, dry-rubbed ribs, brisket, and smoked chicken, are all cooked low and slow in their smoke shack using a blend of hickory, pecan, and peach woods. Alongside more traditional offerings, they offer a couple of interesting sides, including boiled peanuts and Carolina boiled potatoes. These spuds are made for taste buds: cubed Idaho potatoes are simmered in a delicious BBQ flavored stock. And...groundbreaking we know...their lemonade made from lemons. They also have a small drink menu of beer, wine, and cocktails. Whatever you order, don’t go home without trying the banana pudding. PS, Sweet Lew’s is now serving BBQ brunch on the weekends.