Friends, a few months back, there was a change in my personal life which has meant that I'm not road-trippin' for good bbq anywhere like I used to. This page has truly suffered from neglect and some of the entries are out of date. If you're interested in anything listed here, do yourself a favor and Google the name of the restaurant and the town and make sure they're still open. Normal service will be resumed one day. - grant, 8/17/03
If it's noon on a Saturday, then somewhere in this state, I can be found with a plate of chopped pork in front of me...
To be perfectly honest, I am not the pre-eminent critic of barbecue that I like to pretend that I am. Georgia is full of men older and wiser than myself who've eaten a lot more pork than me, and their learned opinions are probably worth a lot more than mine. But I know HTML and they don't, so you'll just have to deal with me. Here are some places I've tried that don't belong to some mega-processed chain like Sonny's. I invite comments on what I have to say, and, hey, if your shack isn't up here, drop me a line and let me know where you are.
If you're searching for a shack in a specific area, you might want to hit CTRL+F and enter your city.
but first...some tips to ensure your barbecue restaurant is a success.
Some pitmasters out there might well have learned how to smoke a perfect pig and they've brewed up a great sauce, but there are miles between nailing your product and presenting it in a way which will ensure repeat business and persuade webmasters to recommend you to their friends. Here are some important keys which you should not overlook, and, if you have, think about correcting.
On the other hand, Paul's Barbecue in Lexington does damn near everything wrong on this list and they somehow get mad praise from me, but they benefit from serving some of the best food on the planet. Unless you believe yours is the best food on the planet, pay attention.
1. Serve "chopped" pork, not shredded. Some joints cut their meat so finely that I'm tempted to swirl it on my fork like spaghetti, and that's no fun. Chopped pork should have bite-sized chunks. See Mike & Ed's in Columbus or Athens for great looking meat.
2. Serve a variety of fresh sides. See Williamson Bros. in Marietta and Canton for the best-looking menu around. Certain sides are a requirement: stew (or hash), potato salad, cole slaw, french fries and baked beans. Beyond that, why not offer fried green tomatoes or mac & cheese or roasted corn on the cob? But please take the time to cook them yourself. I can buy a tub of Jolly Green Giant brand green beans at Kroger, so why should I get them from you?
If this was not apparent in the above, 3. Brunswick stew should be served as a side. There is no excuse for charging customers twice as much if they want a bowl of what should be a standard side. If I see stew as an "appetizer" or you think you can charge me extra for ordering it, I'll note it and I'll seriously question a return visit. Most of the restaurants who pull this stunt are crummy corporate entries from other states; in Georgia, we have stew with our pork. Unless we're doing the Carolina thing and we have hash.
Speaking of Carolina, 4. A variety of sauces should be available. We appreciate experimentation. Very, very few restaurants can get away with a single sauce. Danielsville's Zeb Dean learned his recipe at the knee of the Almighty. Unless you lay similar claim to divine inspiration, give your customers choices.
5. Mix your own damn hot sauce. A bottle of Red Rooster smacks of laziness and implies that you are not confident in your regular sauce.
6. Remember your customers. Even if you don't, act like it.
7. Hire competent staff. This may not mean your family.
8. Pork should be moist, but not too moist. We generally do not dine at my father's favorite shack, Old South, because the mean is too dry. Meat should be pink and moist. But when the only moisture on your meat is not the pork's natural flavor and juices but actual Rolaids-killin' grease, you're making a terrible mistake somewhere in the kitchen. Yes, Col. Oscar Poole, I'm talking to you.
9. Price accordingly. Eight bucks is the ceiling for a chopped pork plate, and even that makes me pause. Higher than that and I can tell I'm paying for a corporate payroll, and I don't care about the home office in Saginaw, I care about my meal.
10. I came here to eat pigs, not look at them. You know that Old McDonald's, the best barbecue in Georgia, has to be pretty damn good for me to overlook all the cute piggie cartoons on the walls. Still, I wouldn't mind one corner where I don't have to look at it.
A and J Tasty Pig, Snellville GA
It's worth a trip, provided you can make it during their customer-unfriendly hours, to try the excellent Brunswick stew, which would be among the best I've had if I ranked that sort of thing. This is a cafeteria-style shop in a mostly dead strip mall and the meat is not very inspiring, but the sauce is OK. The potato salad needs salt and the tea is not good at all. One recommendation would be for A and J to get their bread from a new supplier or bake their own: the buns are too thin and crumbly. This place closes for dinner on Friday nights at the unusually early hour of 8:30 p.m. It's located on US 78 in the Snellville city limits.
Alston Trading Company, Parrott GA
So Ceccato and I were driving down "Corridor Z," a blacktop that connects Columbus and Albany, since neither of us had been to Albany in eons (in his case) or ever (in mine), and were curious to see what hell spawned Frank Bishop. Seeing a sign advertising this establishment's sauce, made from an old family recipe, we pulled in for lunch. Heh. The sauce in question is sold by the bottle; what you get when you order a pork sandwich is pure cafeteria slop, acceptable for a truck stop and not totally unpleasant, but absolutely not worth your time. In Albany, we saw at least four other shacks, and if we had a lick of sense (and if Albany had shittola in it that would make it worth another visit), then I'd be telling you about some of those almost certainly superior restaurants instead.
Armstrong's Restaurant, Summerville GA
Armstrong's is a Summerville fixture, located on US 27, the main drag through town. They've been there for a while, they're not going anywhere, and they'd love to meet y'all. Armstrong's gets the award for providing the least expensive meal on this page: $3.75 gets you a chopped pork platter, with extremely good meat, and very nice slaw. Unfortunately, your humble editor is going to plead stupidity because I can't remember whether they didn't have stew, or if it just wasn't very good. A fantastic pork plate must be accompanied by fantastic stew, and, I can confirm this, mine was not. I must blame the stress of blowing my tire mounting the curb pulling in. Don't hold this against Armstrong's, for I do not. The sauce was unusually thin tomato-based with pepper, and was quite tasty.
The Barbecue Shack, Athens GA
This joint is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and the Friday lunch crowd is enormous, making this easily one of the most popular restaurants in Athens on Fridays. Frankly, I'm not as taken with the meat (and the prices) as most of Athens, but the service is really wonderful and it's worth a visit to sample their six or more different sauces, including a unique hot & sour. They make a banana pudding which is just out of this world, so make sure you save room for it. To get there, take US 29 (Lexington Hwy) south of the city, about a mile past the last strip mall at the intersection with Gaines School.
Benny's Barbecue, Atlanta GA
Billed as serving the best Brunswick stew in the south, Benny's is in a small strip mall at the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Ashford-Dunwoody, inside thick walls that traps the wonderful smell inside the building so you're hit with the powerful aroma as soon as you open the door. In truth, the stew is merely okay, but the meat is very moist and flavorful, with a really thick and incredibly hot sauce available. The potato salad was not to my liking; being too paste-like for real enjoyment. The service here could be a little friendlier.
Bill's Barbecue, south of Danielsville GA
Bill's has a long history among the Danielsville locals, and the place, which is quite big, is usually packed on Saturdays. They have a full menu of other items, including highly regarded catfish. I've only been to Bill's once and quite liked the meat, although the sauce was very thin and disappointing. It's real Carolina-style sauce, almost pure vinegar. The slaw was pretty good, and not too sweet and the waitresses were incredibly friendly. Take US 29 north of Athens.
Blackstock's Bar-B-Que Barn, Lawrenceville GA
Blackstock's has been in the same location, and pulling in many of the same customers, since 1957. Now that's impressive. It's a long little building on S.R. 20 between Lawrenceville and Loganville in central Gwinnett County, and they serve some truly awesome pork -- very moist, cooked just perfectly. Folks, this is some of the best meat around. But. The sauce just didn't do it for me. It's all right sauce, just thin enough for the meat to soak it up perfectly, and it's very sweet. But it's missing kick, and it needs kick. A hickory tang, a hidden pepper, something, anything. It's not here. The slaw was fantastic, absolutely wonderful, but the stew was quite disappointing. Very thin, and watery tomato flavor made for a reasonably good meal, but, again, no bite. This is quite a good restaurant, and the staff is amazing, but it lacks the punch necessary to bring me back.
Briar Patch Barbecue, Hiram GA
visited on a reader recommendation!
Reader Will Payne clued me in to this big ole barn in Hiram, on Hwy 120 en route to Dallas in Paulding County. The original site apparently burned down a few years ago, prompting construction of this huge building, with a dining room for a small army underneath murals on the upper walls depicting everything from Civil War battles to Br'er Rabbit. The meat here is very good indeed, tasty, pink and moist. They give you a decent portion of very good, hickory-flavored ketchup-based sauce with it, and you can also add a mustard-based sauce. Now, the mustard wasn't mixed very well when I tried it: I tasted "mustard" and then I tasted "hot." Nevertheless, stirred in with the reg'lar sauce, it was damn good pork indeed. Sadly, Briar Patch has to lose points on the quality of their sides. The baked beans were quite good, with a heavy onion flavor to them, but the stew and slaw were horrible! My stew wasn't even heated evenly, and the cole slaw was, without argument, insitutional. I ate this same stuff in the high school cafeteria. There's no excuse for a classy looking restaurant like this to cook such good meat and scrimp on the sides.
Bucky's Bar-B-Q, Marietta GA
Buck's closed within a month of my moving to Marietta. Blast!
Bulluck's Eastern North Carolina Style Barbecue, Norcross GA
Hit-and-miss, this place, but when they hit, they nail it. Despite the name, Bulluck's uses a tomato-based sauce instead of the expected Carolina vinegar, but they cook up some awesome Carolina hash and occasionally have fried green tomatoes on the menu. Sometimes the service can be quite slow. They're on Spalding Drive near the intersection with Peachtree Parkway.
Bunk-House Barbecue, Crawford GA
Bunk House closed in 2002.
Carither's Barbecue, Athens GA
Carither's is an absolute treat. You get some of the friendliest service possible, healthy portions, and some of the best sides around. I have had a couple of disappointments with the pork, where there was a bit of gristle, but usually it's mouth watering and the sauce is very tasty. The extra hot is kind of varying though. Some days, it's merely hot, others it's more like rocket fuel, but it's always really good. Carither's offers a thick and yummy hash in place of Brunswick stew, their potato salad is stupendous, and they brew the best tea in the world, bar none. Carither's is located equidistant between my old house and job, so I used to be there about twice a month. I miss this place a lot! Located on Milledge Avenue in the red brick building across from the Bi-Lo shopping center near the 10 Loop exit.
Carlyle's Masters Cafe at Ravinia, Dunwoody GA
Yeah, I know, every cafeteria serves some slop they call barbecue. Carlyle's, located in Three Ravinia Drive, goes an interesting step beyond with their irregularly-offered barbecue pork burritos, which are really good, especially with corn and rice on the side and covered with black bean salsa. The shredded pork sandwich, which is available daily, is reasonably good, and you get an astonishing amount on your bun; so much that you can't really eat it without a fork.
Champ's Barbecue, Marietta GA
Very much acceptable, if a little uninspired, Memphis-style eating. Champ's sliced pork is delicious, but the sides didn't do much for me. The decor is very country music-oriented, with CMT playing loud on the house televisions. You won't find much to be disappointed with at Champ's, I just find it disappointing that there is so little barbecue selection in the area. It's on South Cobb Drive a little north of Windy Hill.
Corky's Barbecue, Duluth GA
Even Sonny's is preferable to this expensive corporate slop.
Country's Barbecue, Columbus GA
Country's, with its three locations, owns Columbus in a way that the Old Hickory House once attempted to rule Atlanta. Even Sonny's has had to think long and hard about even trying to get a foothold here. This is damn fine meat, available from a varied and eclectic menu. Three sauces are available, the hottest being a mustard-base. Lots of different sides available, including a local barbecue-pickled-onion dish, which isn't surprising, as Columbus seems to thrive with unusual food specialties, and tourists like me could probably eat all day on meals you can't get in Atlanta. The service was simply excellent and the meal priced right. I certainly want to visit Columbus again soon and try some of the other shacks, but the overall impression given by many of the locals is that there isn't much point, as Country's is by some length the best in the region.
David's Bar-B-Q, Oglethorpe County GA
This different David's (the one in Winder is gone) is located in the middle of nowhere, a trailer alone among old farm houses and trees. They make some fantastic slaw, very sweet and tasty. On a plate, you get a huge serving of pork for a nice price, and the meat is similar to what they serve at the Barbecue Shack, which is pretty good. The sauce is very tasty, with a nice, sharp tang to the hot stuff. The hash, however, is kind of watery...I doubt any Carolina natives will approve. Also on the menu, seafood and burgers, with steak on Friday nights. David's is located between Athens and Crawford, but not on any road that directly connects the two towns. Ask for directions in Crawford.
Dreamland Barbecue, Roswell GA
The original Dreamland is located near the University of Alabama campus in an incredibly esoteric, run-down shack and is as much part of the Tuscaloosa folklore as Bear Bryant. Two sister shacks followed in that state before they opened a fourth location in Roswell, which, with its corporate-looking T-shirts and ball caps, sadly lacks the charm and character of the original. It's also eyebrow-curlingly expensive, and Brunswick stew is not considered a side, but a separate item twice as pricy. In its defense, the slaw is very sweet and tasty, heavy on the vinegar side, and the sauce is a real interesting, head-scratching mix of what could be mustard, tomatoes, vinegar and... maybe olive oil? It may be worth another visit to try to figure out what it is, but at $6 a sandwich, I'm in no rush. (update: I've since been reliably informed it's turnip greens. I would never have guessed.)
Dusty's Barbecue, Atlanta GA
A little slice of North Carolina in the Emory neighborhood. I first had Dusty's catered at a friend's birthday party a couple of years back, but never got around to trying the restaurant until recently. The pork is a little greasy, and you don't get very much of it for the price. The stew's not at all bad, but just a little too watery for my liking. I appreciate that they add lima beans in their recipe. The potato salad is too pasty. There are four sauces available, and they threaten that the "sizzlin" is lethally hot, but it is really tame and flavorless. I had the best luck mixing the regular (ketchup base) with the hot (vinegar base). There's better stuff out there. Located on Briarcliff Road across from the WGCL 46 studios.
Ed's Mesquite Barbecue, Alpharetta GA
Ed's threatened to open down the road from us (State Bridge near Jones Bridge, in the strip mall with Wild Times) for the better part of a year. I can't claim it was worth a ten month wait, but it was really good. The meat is really tasty and so moist that it barely holds together, served with a piping hot bowl of tangy sauce. The slaw is made with brown mustard and the potato salad has a honey tint to it somewhere. A very interesting meal. The downside is the price. Ten bucks for a platter must be a record, although they give you an astonishing pile of food. The owner, Eddie, is an Iraqi who's lived in the US for the last three decades, and he is incredibly friendly, asking everyone's name and remembering when it comes time for refills. He truly wants to make his restaurant a success by being part of the community and I wish him all the luck in the world, especially when the pork's this yummy. (A follow-up note: A subsequent trip with Dave and Shain had us confronting a dingbat high schooler server, who could barely be bothered to mumble about where the condiments were, rather than just bringing us some ketchup. That don't bode well.)
Famous Dave's, Augusta, Alpharetta, Stone Mountain and Sandy Springs GA
Hereís a restaurant that completely defies expectations. Itís a corporate chain (rarely good) based in Minneapolis (barbecue in Minnesota?) with a tacky interior theme incorporating lumberjacks, trout fishing and moose, scurrying into the Atlanta market to compete with Smokey Bones, and yet this is mighty fine food!
Basically, Famous Daveís somehow succeeds in doing right all of the many things Smokey Bones does wrong, providing larger portions of better food at the same price (a standard $10 a plate). The meat is properly chopped, and itís very moist and full of hickory flavor. They have five sauces: the most popular, and best, is a "Rich & Sassy,Ē which goes very well mixed with ďDevilís Spit." They also have a mustard sauce, a sweet sauce and ďTexas Pit." A chopped pork plate comes served on Texas toast with corn on the cob and a muffin and two sides. I didnít much care for the pasty potato salad, but it was, strikingly, made with fresh celery. The fries were very good, as were the beans and slaw. There is no stew on the menu, although they do offer it. From the serverís description, it sounded too much like vegetable soup to bother. Thereís nothing too exciting about the full menu, which ranges from burgers and chicken sandwiches to allegedly award-winning ribs, although I am intrigued by the hot link sausage and might try that sometime.
Famous Daveís has locations in 19 states, most of them only in a single city, but they have multiple sites in Minnesota and Illinois. Apparently their first Georgia location was in Augusta, and they have opened two in the metro area in early 2003: at Powers Ferry near I-285, and the location we tried on North Point Parkway in Alpharetta, about a mile north of the inferior Smokey Bones. Another location is set to open in Stone Mountain soon.
Farmer's Market Cafe, Helen GA
There's not much in the way of couteure cuisine in Georgia's tackiest city. There is a proper shack on the north side of town, but the local we asked about BBQ didn't know about it and we'd already had lunch here. Farmer's Market has very nice ambience and good, albeit damn expensive food. Their pork plate is only available at dinner, but they will serve you a $6.50 shredded pork sandwich with fries and a tablespoon or so of tangy, sweet slaw. The meat is moist but without a hint of smoke flavor. The sauce is a homemade, thick tomato-based style that tastes an awful lot like something you can find in the store. This was all right, but next time, I'm trying the shack.
Fresh Air Barbecue, Athens, Jackson and Macon GA
I understand Fresh Air started in Jackson before expanding to other towns, with two Athens locations. They give you a hearty serving with a delicious extra hot sauce, which is nice as the meat is a little dry. Wonderful stew and beans, although the slaw has that pre-made Chic-Fil-A feel to it. Wonderful french fries, too. Deborah preferred Fresh Air to Carither's, so we ate there several times, but frankly, Carither's is the king of Athens and I can't see myself eating at Fresh Air without her. In Athens, you can either take 29 North just beyond Athens Tech and turn right at the big intersection with the Burger King, or take Atlanta Highway from the mall towards Bogart and it will be on your right shortly after the Pepsi plant.
Holcomb's Barbecue, Greensboro and White Plains GA
I haven't had the pleasure of stopping in the Greensboro location, but the huge shack in White Plains is a real dining experience. Not outstanding, but perfectly fine pork with a nice tang to the sauce. On one occasion, I took a sandwich to go on the way to Savannah, realizing on the way out the door that BBQ sandwiches tend to fall completely apart, but Holcomb's uses good enough bread that I didn't drop a morsel of yummy meat in my lap.
Hot Thomas Barbecue and Peach Orchard, Watkinsville GA
#4...Best Barbecue in Georgia
Wow. There are no words to express how nifty Hot Thomas is. Set up in an old store in front of a peach orchard, which still sells plenty of local peach-based delicacies, Hot Thomas gives you tasty meat with six different sauces (three temperatures each of either vinegar- or ketchup-based sauce), along with a respectable stew and some of the best fries I've ever had. Sadly, no baked beans on the menu, but the BBQ's so good you won't miss them. While there, make certain you buy some of the salad dressings, preserves and hot sauces they bottle there; you will not be disappointed.
J.B.'s Ribs & BBQ, Athens GA
Occupying the former location of the legendary Walter's BBQ (really, R.E.M. wrote a song about them), J.B. stepped into some mighty shoes and seems to fill them well. Unusually, the hot sauce seems spiked with buffalo sauce for extra kick. The meat is very moist, and they do chicken and, on Friday, ox tails as well. There's a huge assortment of sides, including hash, a fabulous potato salad, collards, fried corn, mac & cheese and cole slaw. Some of it's apparently fresh, some of it, like the green beans, are del Monte. They also seem to do a roaring trade in pork skins and have a regular clientele pleased with the friendly service. On the down side, this is the only shack I've seen that charges for tea refills. With sauce as hot as this, novices may need more than one cup! Stay long enough and you may see the strange spectacle of regulars rushing in for a bag of skins, the cost apparently added to a running tab! Located on Broad Street near the intersection with Alps and Hawthorne.
J.R.'s BBQ, Norcross GA
I've been here twice, and I'm just not satisfied with it. You get a pile of food, but the sauce and the meat are strictly ordinary, and the stew uninspired. The slaw and fries are pretty good. Great big menu though... saltines to nibble on while you wait forever for your food... It's close to the Jimmy Carter/Peachtree-Industrial intersection.
John's Bar-B-Q, Eton GA
Good eatin' in Eton! John's is a neat little few-frills restaurant in north Georgia, with some very tasty meat and mildly spiced sauce. The slaw is really good and made fresh with mayo, and the stew is served piping hot. The staff were exceptional and the locals very friendly. This was a decent meal, not outstanding and perhaps not worth an expedition, but if you're in the region, you'd do well to stop in. John's is on US 411, north of Chatsworth and about ten miles from Tennessee.
John's Bar-B-Q House, Hoschton GA
It's like this. You take I-85 north of Atlanta to Hwy 53 and go east through Braselton. Hoschton is just a hair further on and John's is about five miles beyond. And if you just keep driving, you'll find edible barbecue in Winder.
Johnny's BBQ, Gainesville GA
The prices are very nice at this perfectly good shack in Gainesville with an eclectic crowd of regulars. The pork is very moist, although mine had some burnt edges, and the cole slaw and stew are quite good. The sauce is good and thick, although I couldn't tell much difference between the regular and hot varieties.
Jomax Bar-B-Que, Metter GA
#3...Best Barbecue in Georgia
Frankly, I was convinced that nothing could touch the mighty Paul's as far as the best pork around until we stopped in tiny Metter (about 50 minutes this side of Savannah up I-16) in 1999. My pork had an unacceptable amount of gristle, so I can't in good conscience let it replace Paul's (Deborah's, however, had none). The potato salad and beans were quite good, and stone me if they don't make the best stew ever. It's a real tasty, thick blend of meat, potatoes and corn. The meat is tender and moist and they make a daring sauce that blends mustard and vinegar with tomato, the result too good for words. Tragically, this place is 190 damn miles from home, but thanks for a great meal, guys!
Kennesaw Bar-B-Que House, Kennesaw GA
This place is in a great location, on US 41 north of Barrett Pkwy en route to Alatoona Lake near McCollum Airfield, and it gets a huge lunch rush from all the factories and shipping depots in the area. If you feel like braving the lunch crowd, you'll find a smiling staff serving up tasty, if slightly dry pork, beef, chicken, ribs, and "Yellow Jacket Hot Dogs." I'm not sure what those are, but the Tech connotation is enough to make me shy from them. The brown sauce is pretty thin, but a perfect match for the meat. The stew is outstanding (perfect for my sore throat) and the fries were good. The mayonnaise could use a little more cole slaw, however.
Mike & Ed's Bar-B-Q of Phenix City, Columbus and Athens GA
Mike & Ed are threatening to become a major fixture in the southeast. They started in Phenix City before expanding westward, challenging Dreamland both in the neutral turf of Auburn and in Dreamland's home of Tuscaloosa. Handling the veteran with some success, they've since opened two shacks in Columbus and one in Athens. Ric and I visited the Phenix City location and were blown away by the awesome stew and the thickly-chopped pork. I quite like the mustard sauce, but would prefer it to be a bit thicker. Mike & Ed also serve up their own version of the legendary Columbus scrambled dog. Definitely worth a visit.
Proving this chain will be just as loyal as they will need to be, the Athens location is Bulldog heaven, with ample red and black memorabilia. The menu and recipes are the same as the original Phenix City site, and here I learned that the pork is even yummier if you mix the tomato-based sauce with the hot mustard. The stew is fantastic. Also, the Athens store is one of the few places outside of Columbus to serve scrambled dogs. The scrambled dog -- sort of an extreme chili dog, if you will -- is too damn good to be missed, so while this may not be the best pork in Athens -- that'd be Carithers's -- stop on in.
The Old Brick Pit, Atlanta GA
The Pit's been around a while, and you can see the big brick monster behind the counter, smoking some very personal-feeling pork. This restaurant has been in its Chamblee location for ages, long enough for Jack Davis to caricature the owner, and for the walls to be adorned with old menus from the time you could get chicken livers for a small handful of loose change. The sauce is vinegar-based, making this one of the few restaurants in the Atlanta area to offer this. The Old Brick Pit is on Peachtree Street north of Oglethorpe University, between Ashford-Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry.
Old Hickory House, Doraville GA
When I was a kid, this small chain was everywhere, and they had TV ads. Seems Sonny's has killed it, though. Even the hearty central site on Cobb Parkway where I grew up has gone, replaced by a Chinese place. For some time, the only Old Hickory House I was aware of was in the ignoble position of being a damn lobby restaurant in a friggin' Days Inn on Roswell Road. That site has since closed as well, but three remain, in the northern suburbs nowhere even close to any place I might visit or drive by. The loss of this dynasty is a shame, as the food is really something else. They have a full restaurant menu with some of the best french fries in the world, and offer sliced and chopped beef and pork with a thick ketchup-base sauce. The Brunswick stew is wonderful and the potato salad is just sweet enough, without any paste. And to provide a real taste of olde Georgia, they put a pickle slice on the dinner salad. One sour point on the menu is the "dressed dog," which is the worst hot dog you ever had in your life with either chili or Brunswick stew poured atop it, but bonus points for effort, anyway.
Old McDonald's Barbecue, Buford GA
#1...Best Barbecue in Georgia
Regular readers have long known of my proud championing of Paul's as the best barbecue in the nation. So it was with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye when I placed the fork down on the plate after a single bite of Old McDonald's pork in December 2001 and said "Oh my God, this is better than Paul's."
Old McDonald's trick is in the wood it cooks its meat over. Rather than a straight hickory pile, theirs is 70% hickory and 30% apple. The result is moist, to-die-for meat exploding with a smoke flavor with a hint of apple within it. Mouth and eye watering. There's nothing like it. The slaw is sweet enough to shock you. The onion rings are big enough to shoot baskets with. And the stew -- the Lord himself cooks it. There's no other explanation.
Old McDonald's is kind of pricy, and the prices on the kids' menu are criminal, but you get an enormous pile of food and you will not have room for dessert. A standard plate comes with meat and stew and then your choice of sides. To get there: take Peachtree Industrial north of the city and keep going, long past the point you thought this road ended. Go through Buford and keep going. It's a long way. Turn left on Holiday Road. Do this Saturday. Bring a hankerchief; this food is gonna make you cry.
Old South BBQ, Smyrna GA
My dad, who's had much more pork than me, swears this is the best barbecue around. I do not agree, but it is reasonably good stuff. Old South smokes up some of the best-tasting meat you can get, and the smell off their pit will start your mouth watering in the parking lot. Their sliced pork is pretty good, although the chopped is better, and they make wonderful stew. The down side is a far too-tame sauce and a perfectly dreadful potato salad, but, unusually, they serve onion rings here, and gigantic, tasty monsters they are, too. Old South is perfectly good eating once in a while, but don't make a habit out of it because it's really easy to get very tired of. On Windy Hill Road just east of South Cobb Drive.
One Star Cafe, Alpharetta GA
This used to be called Texas Something-or-other but was bought out by the Rib Ranch (detailed below) and it's not too bad. Beef is the specialty. Service was pretty poor on our visit in March of 2002 but there was also a "Servers Wanted" sign in the window. Worth another trip.
Papa's Barbecue, Savannah GA
I wish I could give you specifics about Papa's, a fine little conventional restaurant in a strip mall in Thunderbolt, but unfortunately, my son was being the most terrible of twos at the time, so my critical palate was a wee bit distracted. I left having enjoyed the food quite a lot, but I couldn't tell you why... :(
Pappy Red's Barbecue, Cumming GA
This is definitely worth the drive up 400! There's a mock airplane wreck atop the building to get you smiling, even as you smell the delicious aroma from the pit. The pork is very moist and light, the sauce wonderful. I loved the stew, which was thick and very tasty. I sat in Pappy Red's for over an hour writing and sipping tea after I finished my meal, and I felt incredibly comfortable and relaxed. Nobody was in a hurry to get rid of me. If there's better pork around Lake Lanier, I'm not familiar with it. It's east on State Rd. 20, exit 14 from GA 400.
Paul's Barbecue, Lexington GA
#2...Best Barbecue in Georgia
Paul's is only open on Saturdays and the 4th of July (unless the 4th is on a Sunday, in which case you drive 20-odd miles for nothin'...), giving you a tragically small 53 days a year to sample the most mouth-watering meat on the planet. Literally, the pork melts in your mouth. It's that flavorful and moist. The stew is fantastic and the vinegar-based sauce is by many leagues the best example of that style. Make sure you save room for the desserts, provided to raise money for a local church. An ultra-friendly staff and the constantly smiling clientele of Lexington (apparently the happiest town in Georgia) make this one of the best restaurants on the planet. Don't miss it. Paul's is a shining example of how to run a restaurant and serve your community, getting on a first-name basis with your regulars.
Update: Paul's downgrade to #2 has nothing to do with anything these fine folks have done. It remains astonishing, though I did realize last time that the mild sauce does not bring out nearly as much as the hot sauce does, and the hot sauce isn't lethal, so by all means take the risk!
Pavlov's Pit, Tybee Island GA
This is a fantastic little joint tucked away in an easily-missed site just as you drive onto Tybee. Pavlov's makes the most interesting stew I've ever seen, which is less like traditional stew and more like a thick, hearty, vegetable soup. They have two sauces: a tame ketchup base and a "spicy" mustard-based one. The mustard is not as spicy as it should be, but it is really wonderful. Criminally, they don't have big bottles of it on the table. If Pavlov's wasn't 300 miles away, I'd be there a lot more often. As it stands, it is the lunchtime meal of choice whenever I go to the beach.
Pig-N-Chik, Sandy Springs GA
WORST BARBECUE IN GEORGIA!
I had noticed this place on Roswell a month or so before, but reading John Kessler's rave review in the AJC the previous weekend prompted us to visit. With no disrespect to Mr. Kessler, who no doubt eats and writes better than me, the poor man's children must drag him to Sonny's pretty damn frequently for him to consider meat as horrible as this to be good. The sauces were tame and uninspired, and the sides, while freshly prepared, mediocre and bland. Well, I exaggerate. To call the Brunswick stew mediocre is to provide undue compliment.
As for the pork, it seems to have been boiled extensively in a pot of grease and fat before sixty seconds on a Hibachi before serving. There was no flavor of any type, and a limp, noodle-like character which made a mockery of the "Smoke House" sign above the kitchen.
Even worse still was the service. Two separate waiters cocked up incredibly basic restaurant rules, such as "provide the buck-thirty cans of soda when ordered," or "provide eating utensils along with the meal." The kitchen staff further bungled things by mixing our sides onto the wrong plates. As Debi and I share sides in a new restaurant, this wasn't too bad, but it should never have happened.
In fairness, the restaurant does serve RC Cola, which I like better than Coke. Because I give directions to restaurants reviewed, I am bound by code to tell you it's on Roswell Road about three miles inside the perimeter on the right if you're going south, in a shopping center with a Kroger. If Kroger sells any food worse than the cuisine in this restaurant, it would be a crime against nature.
Poole's BBQ, Ellijay GA
Everyone in the northwest corner of Georgia knows about Col. Oscar Poole and his pig hill, a small slope of a mountain covered with colored plywood pigs, and the amusing stories of a restaurateur doing battle with stupid city and county ordinances to advertize his business. And every Republican in Georgia knows Poole, a regular delegate to state conventions who proudly champions conservative values, frequently wearing a garish yellow coat and Uncle Sam hat. In the summer of 2000, he was supporting Pat Buchanan, after other Republicans such as Guy Millner and Bob Barr made sure to stop into his shack. Shame therefore that such an amusing and colorful business serves up the greasiest pork I've ever had in Georgia. Definite Maalox moment here. The slaw, however, is sweet and tasty. Definitely stop in on your way through Ellijay for the spectacle, have a Pepsi and some slaw and keep moving.
Raleigh's BBQ and Blues, Decatur GA
visited on a staff recommendation!
Determined to be a contender for the best barbecue inside the perimeter -- I'm torn between about three possibilities here -- Raleigh's stakes its claim by way of a cute "Okefenokee" affectation to the menu which belies the awesome quality of the food. This is a bit of a drive for me unless I'm record shopping at Wuxtry, but two things will ensure a return visit: the corn on the cob, roasted and served buttered and spiced with cayenne, was the best damn corn I've ever eaten, and they serve Royal Crown Cola. The pork is moist and very tasty, although there was a small amount of fat in my serving. The slaw was very tasty and its ingredients have us baffled. The best we can figure is that they add orange to it. The stew is really good, too, although both it and the sauce are a shade more watery than I prefer. Prices are towards the high end of the scale (which is understandable given the location), so get the chopped pork plate over the sandwich plate; for fifty cents more, you get considerably more meat. And the slaw's free! (No joke!) Raleigh's also serves some apparently legendary hot tamales from Mississippi, but were sadly out when we stopped in. They're located on E. Court Square across from the Dekalb County Courthouse in downtown Decatur. If you can find Eddie's Attic, they're just a short zig-zag walk away, and Raleigh's features live blues in the evenings, so once you get tired of singer-songwriters emoting acoustically, go hear some better music over a groovy meal.
Red's Backwoods BBQ, Duluth GA
A small chain with teeny footholds in the suburbs of Atlanta, the Duluth Red's is very popular among the locals, with lengthy dinner waits. The staff is outstandingly friendly, and the meat is pretty good. I was not taken with the stew, but Deborah got one of those meat-and-slaw sandwiches she got hooked on at Pavlov's and was impressed. Red's resembles an IHOP actually, with six sauces in custom-made bottles: "Southern" (a mustard base), "N. Carolina," "Memphis," "Texas," "Red's Hot" and the awesome "Betcha Can't Eat It." As it happens, I could eat it, but decades of habaneros and salsa have burned away the top few layers of my tongue. Your mouth may hate you. Red's, with its uniform T-shirts and customized logos, lacks the simple, downhome ambience of a good shack but avoids the faceless hell that is Sonny's.
The Rib Ranch, Marietta GA
This is another small suburban chain, purporting to provide authentic Texas flavored meat. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but I certainly enjoyed it. The sauce is rather tame, but the pork was really fabulous. They also offer barbecue beef, chicken, turkey and sausage. Deborah had the turkey, which was interesting. The stew is mighty thick: you won't need a spoon for this stuff. Pretty good potato salad and fries and we were pleased with the exceptional service and fun decor.
Rockin' Hog, Alpharetta GA
Rockin' Hog has closed down after a run of only about six months.
Rockin' Rob's BBQ, Decatur, GA
One of the city's most interesting secrets, Rockin' Rob's is a meeting place for the Atlanta music scene, owned and staffed as it is by local scenesters. The decor is old Rolling Stone covers and 45s. The best thing on the menu is the stew, though that shouldn't be taken to mean anything else is less than great. It's not breathtaking, but it's probably equal first with US Bar-B-Q and Grill among barbecue restaurants inside I-285. They're on Scott Blvd., easily accessible from either Clairmont or Ponce de Leon, and after your meal, you better ask your server if they've got any CDs on sale at the counter and support the local music scene, otherwise I'll kick your butt.
Slope's BBQ, Alpharetta and Roswell, GA
Strangely, I've visited the Slope's in north Alpharetta twice, once in the spring of 2000 and once in early December. On each occasion, Full House was on TV and someone was behind the counter very loudly proclaiming his staunch Republican views. I'll give a restaurant once with crap TV and loudmouthed conservatism; twice equals ambience I don't ever plan to repeat, particularly with a sauce as average as this was. (To update: Slope's continues to expand, with two further restaurants on Hwy 92 -- one in Roswell near Hardscrabble, and one in Woodstock near I-575. Good to see local boys make good, even if they are loudmouths.)
Smokey Bones BBQ and Sports Bar, Alpharetta, Dunwoody and Duluth, GA
If you're the sort of person who thinks you get good seafood from Red Lobster, you might well enjoy this, as it is owned by the same corporation. There are apparently several Smokey Bones locations in the midwest; three opened in the suburbs north of Atlanta in late 2002. This isn't really bad food, and the spectacular staff does their best to make sure you have a great time, but the portions are small and the prices high and the meat cooked without the individual care and attention that good barbecue requires. The interesting speaker system at each table ensures that if you just need to get together with friends to watch a game, then this would be a decent choice.
Sonny's BBQ, everywhere and Hell too
When you want a really good cheeseburger, do you go to McDonald's? If you answered "yes," try this shit.
Spiced Right BBQ, Lilburn GA
visited on a reader recommendation!
Saturday, we took a little road trip and we took a wrong turn, and we had some rotten barbecue in the town of Lilburn.
Reader Sean Wood recommended we try Spiced Right in the heart of Gwinnett County. Located in what used to be a house, now painted garishly pink, Spiced Right is notable for two things: a plethora of different sauces, and the only barbecue buffet I think Iíve ever seen. The restaurant apparently has up to nine varieties of sauce available. We only found six: Hot and Mild are standard to each table. I also sampled a decent Vinegar, a Hot Mustard which tastes like the stuff in those little single-serve packs at Chinese restaurants, a gooey Thick and Smoky which tastes like molasses with extra tomato, and the amazingly hot Lilburner. Sadly, this sauce is just a mess: hot for hotís sake, it doesnít seem to have any flavor whatsoever. It did, however, burn the roof of my mouth, a feeling with which Iím not at all familiar.
The all-you-can-eat buffet is very nicely priced: $6.60 for adults at lunch and $3.50 for kids. Dinner prices are a little higher. Unfortunately, the principal problem with Spiced Right becomes painfully apparent at the buffet: this food is no better than Sonnyís. I swear itís the same recipe for stew. The meat is stringy, and in unusual ďlongĒ strings which must be cut repeatedly before eating. Thereís cornbread and baked beans and potato salad and green beans, all of which taste like they come from big institutional cans. The slaw was perhaps best on the menu; perhaps it came from a good can. Thereís also chocolate pudding, which the kids enjoyed. I donít recommend this place at all, but you can find it on US 29 (Lawrenceville Highway) about a half-mile north of Rockbridge Road. And my reader likes it, and he seems an okay sort.
Sprayberry's Barbecue, Newnan GA
#5...Best Barbecue in Georgia
It was a pleasure to finally visit Sprayberry's, which I've heard so much about. The late columnist and humorist Lewis Grizzard would routinely drive to Newnan twice a month, and praised it constantly in his newspaper column, even eulogizing its founder -- the restaurant was founded in 1926 and his still family owned -- and in return, Sprayberry's bundled Grizzard's usual meal (sliced pork sandwich, stew and onion rings) together on their menu as the Lewis Grizzard Special. The other thing that contributed to Sprayberry's legend has been its location. Newnan is almost halfway between Atlanta and Columbus, and soldiers moving from Fort Stewart to Fort Benning or back would stop in and spread the word.
The food is expensive -- $8.25 for a plate of chopped pork, stew, pickles and bread -- but this meat is outstanding. It's moist and carries more flavor than damn near anything. The sauce is very rich and tomato-based, and perfectly complements the meat without overpowering it. Very simply, some of the best pork I've ever had. The stew was merely decent. From a cream corn base, like Zeb's, it isn't easy to taste any other ingredients beyond tomatoes. It's very thick, and edible with a fork. The slaw is a tasty shocker: pungent and heavy with vinegar, and made with pickles and caraway seeds, it's more like kraut than slaw. The onion rings were simple and unspiced, but made from very tasty onions. The tea was weak and watery. I finished with a slice of Grizzard's recommended lemon icebox pie, which was good enough to make me exclaim "oh my God!" aloud. That came from one good icebox.
Springhouse BBQ, Winder GA
Springhouse has apparently moved out of Winder and back home to Athens.
Sticky Fingers, Chattanooga TN
I'm including this even though there aren't any Georgia locations because: 1) it's located alphabetically behind Smokey Bones and Sonny's and yet provides proof that there is such a thing as good corporate barbecue, 2) it will inevitably make its way to Georgia eventually, and 3) it's really good! Sticky Fingers has locations in South Carolina, Florida and two stores in Chattanooga. They make a really big deal about their ribs, but I've stuck with the chopped pork so far, and it's great. It's chopped a little finer than I like it, but it has so much flavor. They offer about six different sauces, with the thick "Memphis Original" and stunning "Tennessee Whiskey" the best in show. There's a variety of very good sides, served in agreeably large portions for a corporate-standard $9 a plate. It's the same price as Smokey Bones, but you get considerably more food and it's better. The easiest one to get to is on Exit 4-A off I-75. You'll follow what's like an access road for a good while and Sticky Fingers will be ahead of you on the left. If you feel like washing it down with a Double Cola afterwards, drop me a line and I'll send you some directions to a Gas-n-Go in Chattanooga which sells it.
The Swallow at the Hollow, Roswell GA
The Swallow at the Hollow is a family BBQ joint that enjoys some sort of symbiotic / parasitic relationship with the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, and they host country music regulars from that club in Roswell on Friday and Saturday nights. It's in a very rustic, open shack in central Roswell on a teeny road called Green Street which barely has one and a half lanes and an awfully tight gravel parking lot. Autographed photos of lower-rung Nashville celebrities line the wooden walls and there is a beat-up, dirty old piano on the front porch.
The Swallow is worth a visit for the sauces, which are outstanding. They have tomato, mustard and vinegar-based varieties on the table, and they are all truly super. The meat isn't bad, but quite dry. Considering the speed with which they got our order to the table, it's very likely this is prepared in advance, which is cause for concern. Among the sides, the slaw was the standout. The stew was very interesting, apparently using corn meal as the chief ingredient. Sadly, the fried green tomatoes were the worst I've ever had. The menu is quite limited, with few options for the picky in your party, although they do a gigantic grilled cheese sandwich on Texas toast for kids. The Swallow's pretty difficult to find and there's no sign out front, so look for the big ole shack and keep a nose open for the smell. If you're travelling Alpharetta Hwy (Hwys 9 & 120 merged) south from Holcomb Bridge Road, you will turn right onto Green Street. If you get to the fire station, you blinked at the wrong time and missed the turn. They're closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Good luck finding the place!
Texas Bar-B-Que, Marietta GA
Texas has closed down. They were in a nice location about a half-mile east of I-75 on Delk Road.
This is It!, Atlanta GA
Don't get me wrong: I wanted to like this place. Deb, Ivy and I visited the This is It! in Smyrna; apparently there are at least four others in the suburbs, mainly on the east side of town. With Bible verses on a blackboard and The 700 Club on TV, it seemed a pleasant enough place, until we read all the massively negative signs around us. Apparently, the management frowns upon sharing at the buffet. A host of poorly-worded messages informing customers how there will be no refills, and no carry-out completely overshadows anything positive in the store, and if you didn't think ambience can affect a lunch meal, you're dead wrong. The food was fair at best. To their credit, This is It! offers a list of about 40 sides. Unfortunately, only eight are available at any given time, and I do not like being offered meat without Brunswick stew. Bill Grabbe noted on his Gentleman's Guide that, on his visit, that the fries tasted fishy. I had the same feeling at a different location, and I'll wager they fry the potatoes and the fish in the same grease. The meat - I had chicken - was perfectly fine, and the sauce tasty and spicy, but there is simply no impetus for me to return.
Turn Around BBQ, Talapoosa GA
Bonus points for most accurate name; I drove right past this easily-missed place on the way back from Alabama and, indeed, turned around to go back. Turn Around is a pretty good restaurant, albeit one which desperately hopes no big fast food chain tries setting up stakes on the strip. They do biscuits, grits and the like for breakfast, and have a full lunch and (early) dinner menu of barbecue (pork only), chicken livers, burgers, chili and steak. This pork is really amazingly tasty, with a thick, sop-me-up-with-yer-bread red sauce. The small clientele seen in evidence on my visit seemed loyal, but, like the staff, not the most friendly of folk. Their Pepsi machine needed recalibrating. I warned Deb without tasting it, "This will be the worst Diet Pepsi you have ever drank," and I was right. The fries were really good, though. Turn Around is on US 78 in downtown Talapoosa, about four miles from the 'bama border. They aren't open Sundays and they close at 8 p.m., so no late dinners here.
Two Brothers BBQ, Ball Ground GA
Hey, wow! Great pork in that strange and undeveloped corridor between Canton and Jasper. This sawdust-filled shack draws a huge crowd and with good reason. Excellent pork and stew, though the staff was perhaps a little distant. They also wouldn't sell me one of the old bottles on the wall I wanted, but no matter! We were very taken with the meal and the prices and I look forward to another visit next time I'm driving up I-575. Take the Ball Ground exit and turn right, and follow the big signs about four miles.
U.S. Bar-B-Q & Grill, Atlanta GA
If location is everything, this place should be in good shape. It's right off I-75 at Howell Mill Road, inside the perimeter and north of downtown. Occupying a former Copper Kettle, they serve some awesomely tasty Brunswick stew and a variety of different sandwiches, including the unique double decker, featuring two layers of pork and slaw in a package you may dislocate your jaw eating. They have three sauces: honey mustard, spicy, and smokey. The spicy doesn't have too lethal a kick, but the smokey is wonderful. The pork is flavorful and pink, moist but not greasy. Scott had the half-chicken, which he said was fantastic. Most of the plates come with beans and some reasonably good slaw, but they will substitute the stew in its place. They brew some wonderful tea as well.
Wallace Barbecue, Austell GA
Given a hearty thumbs-up from Creative Loafing, Wallace sounded good enough for a Saturday expedition and we were not disappointed. They've been around for a quarter-century in this big ole restaurant between Austell and Powder Springs on US 78 about eight miles west of 285 (on what's alternately called Bankhead or Veterans Memorial Highway). The locals are loyal and they come early for Saturday socializing and some excellent cue -- by noon, the barn of a dining room was nearly full. The lobby is full of nostalgic bric-a-brac (old gas pumps, barber poles) and a big counter for the register. The staff is pretty friendly, if a little distant. The food is remarkable, and nicely priced. Pork is served with a tangy ketchup-based sauce, with a wondrous mustard-based hot sauce on the table. The stew is served in huge, thick portions. The staff advises you add the hot sauce to the stew and the result is amazing. The french fries and slaw were also very tasty. Wallace is quite out of the way for regular visits, but travellers in south Cobb, Paulding and Douglas Counties should stop in regularly.
Williamson Brothers Barbecue, Marietta GA
When Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, he used to arrange for Williamson Brothers to cater some Washington functions. Unsurprisingly then, this is the most conservative barbecue I've ever had, and the enormous restaurant on Hwy 120/Roswell Road (about a mile east of Highway 41 and the Big Chicken) has become a meeting place for Cobb County movers and shakers. The best things on the menu here are the fried red tomatoes, which make a spectacular appetizer, but be sure to avoid the crummy ranch dressing with which they serve it. The beans are great, but the meat and stew strictly average, and the sauce, which is bafflingly bottled and sold in Georgia Kroger stores, might as well just be ketchup. As my folks are friends and political allies with the Williamsons, I've had quite a lot of this meat, and never found it more than average until I followed my brother's example and added pepper to it. The Williamsons have bottled fresh peppercorn on the table; not powdered pepper but gigantic bits you can crunch between your teeth. Small dashes of this pepper bring out a remarkable flavor in the meat not previously evident. It's always been worth a visit for the political spectacle, but now that I know the secret of the pepper, I'm sold on the food, too.
Zeb Dean's Barbecue, north of Danielsville GA
#6...Best Barbecue in Georgia
The barbecue gurus of north Georgia, among them local beer legend Ort., swear by Zeb Dean's, which, a good 25 miles north of Athens on US 29, was just outside my travel radius for regular visits. Zeb has the most interesting sauce around...it's a vinegar base brought to you in a crystal decanter with very heavy, hot pepper on the bottom. If you want it mild, you just pour it, and if you want it spicy, you shake and pour! A word of caution: if you do not shake at least a little, you will get pure vinegar, which you might only enjoy if you actually live in North Carolina. Zeb's loads you down with huge portions of a cream corn-based stew which I like a lot, but Deborah hated, which also kept me from going as often as I wanted. The meat is really good and the staff are too friendly for words.
Looking for a contrary, and more comprehensive, opinion? Bill Grabbe's