Peg Leg Porker - Nashville, TN
Photo: Sean Davis under a CC 2.0 license.
In an ever-growing city, it’s hard to decipher what’s Nashville-grown and what’s just riding a trend. While chain barbecue places are great, there’s only one Peg Leg Porker, and you know it the second you step foot in the door. “We treat you like part of our family. You’re welcome to our table,” says owner and born-and-bred Nashvillian, Carey Bringle. “It’s not just great, authentic, Tennessee barbecue, it’s a whole feeling. Everything in the restaurant belongs to us. We didn’t go out and find stuff that looked cool or old, we are literally welcoming customers into our home.”
Cozy Corner BBQ - Memphis, TN
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Coldiron
Cozy Corner was born out of smoky flames on the corner of North Parkway and Manassas by Raymond Robinson. Simple and sweet, Cozy Corner serves up some of the best of Memphis barbecue. According to cozycornerbbq.com, owner Desiree Robinson says of her late husband: "He used to say, 'My desire is to serve a few people the best they ever had.'"
Dead End - Knoxville, TN
Photo: Courtesy of Courtney
You’ve arrived at the end of your search for great barbecue in Tennessee,” boasts DeadEndBBQ.com. Conceived at in the back of a dead-end street, Dead End has perfected the backyard barbecue for more than 10 years. www.deadendbbq.com
Martin’s - Nashville, TN
Martin’s claim to Tennessee fame is “spreading the gospel of whole hog barbecue.” But it doesn’t stop there: from wings to ribs to whole shoulders, Tennessee locals can’t get enough. According to martinsbbqjoint.com, owner Pat Martin says he was raised to never, ever cut corners. “I take a lot of pride in my roots,” he says. “Which is my food and where I learned to cook it.”
Central BBQ - Memphis, TN
Consistently ranks as the No. 1 barbecue in Memphis according to cbqmemphis.com, if you can’t visit Memphis without tasting some of Central BBQ’s slow cooked masterpieces. Their meats are “rubbed with a secret combination of dry spices, marinated for 24 hours, then are smoked low and slow in the pit over a combination of hickory and pecan woods.”
Sweet P’s BBQ & Soulhouse - Knoxville, TN
“We are all-in with our town, from what’s on the walls to what’s in the recipes,” says Chris Ford, owner of Sweet P’s. Ten years ago, barbecue wasn’t huge in Knoxville, and Sweet P’s was one of the first. Using local farmers, scratch sides, and focusing on the soul food aspect of their cuisine, Sweet P’s has succeeded in putting Knoxville on the map for barbecue. “We’re a museum to residents, we have all the world’s fair items,” says Ford. “We rep our town more than anything.”
Puckett’s - Franklin, TN (Lieper’s Fork)
Photo: Courtesy of Horse & Hare
“Real food, real people, real atmosphere.” Puckettsofleipersfork.com sums up the decades of charm provided by this Tennessee barbecue favorite. As part of the National Historic Registry, you can’t say you’ve visited Middle Tennessee if you haven’t sat in the mis-matched furniture, listened to live music, shopped in the rustic country store and, above all, eaten a meat-and-three in Puckett’s of Lieper’s Fork.
Sugar’s Ribs - Chattanooga, TN
You can grab barbecue just about anywhere in the state, but Sugar’s Ribs is one of the only spots where you can get ‘cue with a view. Not only is this “big time BBQ” located in one of the most attractive parts of the state, you get the delicious food and southern hospitality to go along with it. “We are serious about quality,” says co-owner Lawton Haygood. “This starts with good procedure, supervision and great long-term workers who care about every plate.”
JJ’s Barbecue - Columbia, TN
As quite possibly the smallest, most authentic hole-in-the-wall spot on this list, JJ’s Barbecue is simple, sweet and smokey. Get your home-grown fill with a taste of this authentic, no-frills pulled pork when you stop by Columbia, Tenn.
Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que - Gatlinburg, TN
Between Bennett’s own special sauce and the on-site smouldering hickory wood, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que is the best family dining in the Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are some of the most visited spots in the state, and you can’t go to Dollywood without grabbing a bite at Bennett’s, too.
The Firehouse - Johnson City, TN
Photo: Courtesy of The Firehouse
What started with just thin-sliced pork and beef 37 years ago evolved into the best barbecue in Johnson City. Everything is smoked on-site with old hickory wood, and “that’s what’s brought us this far,” says Tom Seaton, owner of The Firehouse. But it’s not just that meats that make The Firehouse a staple of Johnson City. “Our staff is second to none,” says Seaton. “Other than uniqueness of the building and setting and great food, our hospitality really stands out. Call it famous southern hospitality.”