Charlotte has made leaps in the barbecue game in the past few years.
With spots like Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s, you don’t have to leave town to smell the hickory smoke anymore — although we’d still recommend a trip east to Wilber’s or north to Stamey’s at least once.
Barbecue bummers: Two local favorites closed for good last year. Bill Spoon’s closed after 57 years on South Boulevard and Uptown’s Queen City Q shuttered last summer. As longtime food writer Kathleen Purvis said when Spoon’s closed, “Those places don’t last, can’t last, if we don’t make sure of it.”
Let’s make sure to keep these best barbecue spots around, yeah? Here’s our top four picks — plus four more worth the drive.
Editor’s note: This guide was first published in August 2019 and last updated on February 24, 2021.
Homegrown favorite with five locations — Plaza Midwood (OG), Park Road Shopping Center, Ballantyne, Birkdale Village and Columbia, SC
Pork analysis: The meat is smoky and crispy with pork skin cracklins worked in. The burnt ends are also a must-try.
Appetizers: Order the pimento cheese fries with your choice of chopped pork or beef brisket and the rich BBQ queso. And please don’t leave without an order of jalapeño cornbread.
Takeout margs: Midwood is offering takeout margaritas (at least as long as the state allows them) in the style of its popular sister restaurant, Paco’s. They’re only $7 on Tuesday.
Flagship barbecue concept by Jim Noble (Rooster’s, King’s Kitchen) with a 10,000-square-foot campus on Freedom Drive
Quote: “I fell in love with barbecue when I was a child, traveling with my father and stopping at the storied barbecue smokehouses around the state,” Jim said. “My hope with Noble Smoke is to carry on the tradition of classic wood-smoked Carolina barbecue and honor all of the barbecue legends who came before me.”
Go big: If you’ve got a group (or just really hungry for meat), go with the Miss Mary’s Platter ($80) – pound of pork, pound of brisket, pound of turkey, pork short rib rack with slaw (Easter and Western) and picked veggies.
Low-key barbecue joint from Lewis Donald known for its old-school North Carolina barbecue, cooked over hickory and pecan wood in Belmont.
Menu: The menu includes Texas-style beef brisket, Lexington-style chopped and pulled pork, dry rubbed spare ribs, fried fish, homemade sausage, hushpuppies and more.
Why it matters: “It’s all cooked with wood. It’s simple,” says Donald. “We don’t try and get too kitchy with it. We just know what works.”
Community hub: Sweet Lew’s has become a go-to spot in the Belmont neighborhood, often selling out by dinnertime. If you arrive after 6 or 7pm, you’re risking it, Donald says. The barbecue is so popular, he plans to add on a trailer in April that’ll travel around Charlotte a few days a week.
Barbecue spot famous for its biker bar atmosphere across eight locations in North and South Carolina.
The rub: Mac’s dry rub gives the meat remarkable flavor and if you’re looking for a different type of sauce, give their South Carolina-style mustard sauce a shot.
Brisket time: Order their Carolina Beef Brisket — 9 ounces of lean, fatty or both, dry rubbed and slow smoked for 12 hours and then finished on the grill with Mac’s Western N.C. barbecue sauce served with caramelized onions. Oh, and their hushpuppies are terrific.