18 Popular BBQ Chains, Ranked

Rubbed, smoked, sauced, and always low and slow, BBQ is a crowd pleaser. Originally a method to cook tough cuts of meat like brisket, and to cook large quantities of meat for social gatherings, BBQ restaurants are now a $4 billion restaurant industry in the United States (per BNG Payments). The best BBQ is thought to hail from Texas, Kansas City, the Carolinas, or Memphis. In Texas, it's all about giant slabs of brisket dry-rubbed with spices. Both Kansas City and the Carolinas are, well, saucy about their sauces, and Memphis loves their pork ribs wet or dry.

While the debate rages on to decide the best BBQ establishment, its history in the U.S. is equally heated. Initially known as barbacoa, Caribbean people slow cooked whole sheep or goats in deep pits. Pit cooking was adopted by Spanish explorers and shared throughout their travels. During American slavery, plantation slaves pit smoked entire pigs. With Western expansion, the techniques and flavors spread as colonists used pit cooking across the growing nation.

Is it the sauce or dry-rub that makes the meat — and which type of meat is best? You get to decide, but what if you aren't near those BBQ meccas? You're in luck! Delicious BBQ can be found at chain restaurants across the nation. Slathered in sauce or coated in a tasty dry rub, we have a list of the top most popular BBQ chain restaurants for all that smoked goodness!

Tapping our own taste buds, as well as the go-to recommendations of loyal fans (more on this below), we dug deep into all the pulled pork we could possibly find.

18. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? For Bill Miller, it's the egg. Using a $500 loan from his father, Miller sold eggs door to door before expanding into a small fried chicken restaurant. Miller later added hamburgers and finally barbecue. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q has 77 locations throughout the San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi areas focusing on family friendly food, reasonable prices and speedy service.

Bill Miller is a solid option for a quick family dinner or combo meal. The small chain's menu ranges from Miller's original fried chicken recipe to brisket and pies. All of their barbecued meat is slow cooked over Texas Hill Country wood. Bill Miller restaurants base their cooking on a centralized kitchen. While the centralized kitchen creates consistency and speed, this is also partially why they are at the bottom of our list. Because these conveniences are at the cost of flavor. And you definitely don't want to sacrifice flavor when it comes to barbecue. The brisket was dry when we visited — and that's brisket blasphemy! We also thought the barbecue sauce was nondescript and underwhelming. And honestly, the tomato based sauce in their green bean side was thin and watery.

17. Famous Dave's BBQ Restaurant

Meet Dave Anderson — "A Native American kid at the bottom half of his high school class, he didn't have a whole lot of opportunities, but he had dreams and perseverance. His goal: create the best barbecue America ever tasted." He and his father loved eating ribs smoked by their local street vendors. The vendors used massive 55 gallon smokers to slow smoke their ribs. In keeping with that tradition, Dave started his own brand of restaurants smoking ribs in 1994 in Hayward, Wisconsin. Dave quickly gained loyal customers.

Using hickory wood, Famous Dave's BBQ restaurants hand rub (then slow smoke) their meats. Their menu offers much of what you would expect from a large chain restaurant with extensive options. At Famous Dave's BBQ, their focus is their "award-winning ribs." Also, according to Dave, the restaurants focus on creating the "most enjoyable and authentic BBQ experience possible."

Sadly, in our experience, Famous Dave's BBQ Restaurant is not the most authentic barbecue experience. We feel Famous Dave's sauces taste like what you would expect from a chain restaurant. We also thought the pulled pork was dry. The sauce flavors taste too similar to corporate brands. We think Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant feels too much like several other similar chain restaurants, which doesn't make it stand out. The restaurant currently has 180 locations throughout the United States. The chain also sells their bottled sauces throughout the nation in grocery stores.

16. Red Hot & Blue

Started in Arlington, VA in 1988 by Tennessee Congressman (later Governor), Don Sundquist, and several others, Red Hot & Blue was born, combining the founders' love of blues music and BBQ. The restaurant became a bi-partisan hotspot to eat while enjoying music. Blues music is not only the chain's inspiration, but the soul of the restaurant's history. The small chain continues their blue's inspired theme throughout their remaining five locations after multiple closures. In 2018, the company was bought by AJB Capital.

While Red Hot & Blue's founders were making the nation's laws, their first pit master, Sonny McKnight was busy staying one step ahead of the law. In the restaurant's early days in Virginia, the Alexandria County Health Department didn't allow outdoor smokers. Staying ahead of the long arm (or nose we should say) of the health department shutting down the smokers, McKnight drove around town with a portable smoker until the meat was cooked. McKnight's hickory smoked fare drew crowds often waiting two hours for his Memphis-style deliciousness.

While the company has undergone several updates to their locations like their "BBQ Theater," Red Hot & Blue remains true to Sonny's original influences. One of the reasons they rank low on our list though is because their ribs fall off the bone. According to Barbecue Champion Melissa Cookston, ribs falling off the bone can indicate overcooking. For us, Red Hot & Blue's ribs don't have the mouth feel we want, instead being overdone.

15. Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Truly a Texas institution, Dickey's Barbecue Pit by founder Travis Dickey. Originated in Dallas, Texas in 1941 Dickey had a love for slow smoked barbecue. Sharing that love with the public was the inspiration to open Dickey's Barbecue Pit restaurant.

In keeping with Texas barbecue tradition, Dickey's Barbecue Pit slow smokes their humanely raised meats on site over hickory wood. With prices ranging from combos starting at $10.99 to catering offers of a buffet style option for $165 serving up to 10 people, Dickey's Barbecue can be counted on for value. The chain offers high quality, no hormones added meats. They also offer plenty of tasty sides to choose from. Barbecue is all about the meat but you can't have good barbecue without the sides. No good barbecue meal is complete without creamed corn, green beans with bacon, and squishy white bread to hold all your brisket. Dickey's Barbecue understands this and doesn't skimp on their offerings.

Dickey's Barbeque Pit is all about family, offering complimentary ice cream and rolls. With 550 locations across 44 states, Dickey's Barbecue Pit is a force of barbecue that's hard to miss.

14. Woody's Bar-B-Q

Grace Mills, a passionate home cook, is the inspiration for Woody's Bar-B-Q. Woody opened his first restaurant, working alongside his mother — Grace was in the kitchen. She developed many of the restaurant's recipes for sides such as crowd-pleasing coleslaw, squash, onion rings, and banana pudding. For more than 40 years, the growing chain has continued using Grace's delicious recipes.

With locations throughout Florida, and one coming soon in Huntington, PA (as of the time of this publishing) Woody's is a tasty stop if you find yourself traveling the Sunshine State. While each location has its own "hometown atmosphere," every venue strives to make their customers feel welcome. Southern hospitality is at the heart of every Woody's Bar-B-Q locale.

With their ample menu of comfort foods, most everyone will find something to enjoy. Their menu includes various types of Bar-B-Q including Texas beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork, and even a Hawaiian burger. However, their large menu is also partly why Woody's is placed where they are on our list. Instead of doing one thing well, Woody's has a plethora of decent barbecue — but none of the items are outstanding. The main reason we've placed Woody's Bar-B-Q lower on our list is because when it comes to their ribs, they deliver a "signature fall-off-the-bone tenderness." For us, however, that means overcooked meat and mushy texture.

13. Soulman's Bar-B-Que

Originally opened in 1974 in Dallas, TX, Soulman's now has 19 locations throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With their motto, "We're not stingy with our meat!" you know you're in Texas. In Texas everything is bigger, including Soulman's portion sizes.

While Soulman's believes everything should be bigger when it comes to food, they also believe in giving their customers great value. Soulman's menu ranges from $7 sandwiches piled high with their hickory smoked, low and slow meats to "Memer's Buttermilk Pie." Their menu has just enough choices to assure everyone will find something tasty to enjoy. And their self-serve veggie sides like fried okra, and ranch house beans ensures every customer has as big a serving as their stomach desires. Soulman's also has a fish fry Friday nights at participating locations. 

Soulman's truly stands behind their belief that customers will "keep coming back for great BBQ at a good value." This is one of the things we love about Soulman's! BBQ can be pricey. Soulman's keeps their prices reasonable while focusing on quality and flavor in everything they do.

12. City Barbeque

One of the larger franchises on our list, City Barbeque has locations throughout Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Every location has three on-site hickory burning smokers that never go out. This allows their small batch brisket to cook up to 18 hours low and slow, creating that perfect crust and pink smoke ring.

Not only does City Barbeque make great brisket, but they also make excellent ribs. In the world of competitive barbecue, ribs should have a little "pull" when bitten, then come clean from the bone with a little pull. City Barbeque knows this and cooks all of their ribs accordingly. Instead, they describe their St. Louis–cut pork ribs as "bite off the bone."

According to City Barbeque, "We don't limit ourselves to any particular region or style, but instead try to showcase the breadth and depth of barbecue found across the country" (via Forbes). It is also one of the reasons they rank at this spot on our list. Their flavors don't stand out, having a more franchise or corporate feel instead of smaller, craft-style barbecue. You'll get good quality, but not the best flavors.

11. Corky's Ribs & BBQ

In Memphis, pork reigns supreme. That means pork shoulder, pulled pork, and of course, pork ribs. With locations in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, Corky's Ribs & BBQ has been operating since 1984 and they have "been voted the #1 BBQ joint in Memphis 22 times."

In 2021, Corky's Ribs & BBQ was purchased by BBQVC Food Group, LLC, led by previous Corky's employee, Jimmy Stovall. The BBQVC Food Group, LLC has expanded the restaurant's availability further than just their brick and mortar locations. If you can't get to one of Corky's locations, they also offer shipping for many of their menu items.

Corky's has more than just their food available for shipping. The bbq chain also works with QVC where they appear regularly, offering items like meat shredders, pork rinds, dry rubs and bottled sauces. Several of the chain's food items can also be found prepackaged in grocery stores. If you're more the "do it yourself" type, you can try some of their recipes! We admit the large line of products is one of the reasons the chain ranks nine on our list. They have spread themselves a little too thin with a focus on production and profit instead of their original flavors. Corky's does have a tasty sauce you can order and try on your own ribs. Or save yourself the effort and order ribs precooked.

10. Calhoun's

After opening their original location in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1983, the Calhoun's team loaded a refrigerated semi-truck full of ribs and a trailer with smokers. They headed to the National Rib Cook-Off in Cleveland, Ohio with high hopes. Those hopes were founded by a huge win! Soon after their triumph, business doubled at Calhoun's original location. Now a small chain with nine locations throughout Tennessee, they haven't looked back. While Calhoun's main claim to fame is their award-winning ribs, it's worth the effort to indulge in their self-proclaimed "best BBQ, ribs, steak, sandwiches & more."

While other restaurants have changed their recipes or menus, Calhoun's knows when something works, and they don't mess with it. The bbq chain still use the same award winning methods to smoke and sauce their ribs. Calhoun's also makes all their sides from scratch. No premade or pre-packaged grub here! Their food isn't fussy, sticking to simple classic Southern flavors. Southern hospitality and delicious food is king at Calhoun's.

However, Calhoun's isn't afraid to embrace change. While their ribs still taste as delicious as their original award-winning recipe, Calhoun's strives to reduce their carbon footprint. Using energy efficient appliances and lighting, solar panels, and electric car chargers are all part of Calhoun's mission to serve the best experience for their customers.

9. Smokey Bones

Smokey Bones is another restaurant that understands great pulled pork comes with time and patience. The chain slow cooks their pulled pork overnight for 11 hours and several times a day, everyday. All their meat is smoked over hickory logs.

Smokey Bones believes in three key ideals: "good food, good drinks, and good times." Nichole Robillard, chief marketing officer, says, "'Meat is What We Do', and we do it so well." With their large menu including pasta dishes, soups and salads, and full bar, odds are good everyone will find something to enjoy. We admit we're not a fan of large menus, but this is one of those rare situations — which is why Smokey Bones has earned this ranking. 

With 62 locations throughout the Eastern United States, Smokey Bones is about creating not only good food, but also a place to relax, listen to loud music, and enjoy yourself. 

What to order: The Brisket Grilled Cheese is piled high with juicy beef brisket, then smothered in gooey cheese. That's the good stuff!

8. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Who says good barbecue can only be found in Kansas City or the Southern United States? Fuhgeddaboudit! Dinosaur Bar-B-Que argues otherwise. If you don't believe us, Good Morning America named the small chain the "Number One BBQ December, 2022." The small New York chain has a host of accolades from other sources too!

Originally serving barbecue to bikers at motorcycle shows, festivals or fairs across the Northeastern United States, founder John Stage grew tired of life on the road. First starting in Syracuse in 1988, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que now has seven locations throughout the New York area.

The small chain prides themselves on blending traditional southern barbecue flavors in their rub and sauces. While staying true to some barbecue traditions, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que adds their own influences to their flavors. This blending of modern and traditional makes their sauces and rubs uniquely their own. The chain offers live music, full bar, and full-service dining. And with prices starting at $5 for starters like sliders to "family style" dining serving four to six people for $92, Dinosaur Bar-B-Q has something for almost everyone's taste and budget. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que flavors are unique and well worth a visit.

7. Black's Barbecue

Drive southeast from Austin, Texas and you'll find the small town of Lockhart. For those who know good barbecue, Lockhart is considered home to not only some of Texas' best barbecue, but also the nation's. That's a tall order, y'all! 

With five generations of pit masters, Black's Barbecue knows a thing or two about barbecue. Originally starting as a meat market in 1932 before expanding into a full service restaurant, Black's Barbecue is considered Texas' oldest barbecue. Since their humble beginnings, Black's Barbecue has grown to four locations between Austin and New Braunfels, TX. If the amount of cars in their parking lots is any indicator of their popularity, Black's is one of the best places to grab some tasty barbecue.

The primary reason Black's Barbecue does not place higher on our list is because of the crust on their brisket. The times we've visited, we ordered the fatty brisket — while it did have a delicious sheen, the crust was chewy and toothsome. We also found the sausage to be grainy and dry on the inside. However, there were audible "yum" noises when eating Black's creamed corn. Their chicken leg quarters were moist and had the perfect blend of spices and smoky flavor.

6. Terry Black's BBQ

No, you are not seeing double! There are two "Black's" barbecue chains. After a family fallout and numerous threats of lawsuits from an attorney uncle, Terry Black opened his own location in Austin. Terry and his twin sons now operate three locations in Austin and Dallas — and have returned to Lockhart.

Terry Black has worked to continue cooking the same way his grandfather taught him; simple, delicious and always made from scratch. While basing their practice on his grandfather's high standards, Terry and his family also continually work to perfect their craft. Terry Black's was designated as one of Texas Monthly's 2017 Top 50 BBQ joints in Texas. This accolade is no small feat! While Black's Barbecue may be the original, they are not the best between the two. That designation belongs to Terry Black's BBQ.

Terry Black's knows how to tempt your taste buds. Customers order meat-market style, meaning you get to watch as your food is generously piled on parchment paper. Everyone lines up across the counter to choose desserts and sides then over to the butcher block. This is where the fun really begins! You watch your meat being cut and piled on your tray. 

Don't blame us if you "accidentally" order an extra sausage (or three) — and we won't tell if an extra half-pound of perfectly crusted brisket shows up on your parchment paper!

5. Rudy's Bar-B-Q

Their sign says "the worst Bar-B-Q in Texas," but at Rudy's Real Texas Bar-B-Q, the food is anything but the worst. Part gas station, country store and restaurant, Rudy's always delivers quality, lip-smacking slow smoked meats with a pile of soft white bread and drool-worthy sides. Rudy's dry rubs their meats with their own blend. In keeping with the barbecue tradition of making the flavors uniquely one's own, Rudy's Bar-B-Q does not use mesquite wood, considered a more traditional wood. Instead the chain uses 100% oak due to its longer burning time. This allows for a longer, slower cooking time and the "oaky" smoky flavors to infuse into every bite.

Founder Max Aue started Rudy's as a gas station, grocery store, and garage in Leon Springs, Texas in the 1800s. The chain added Bar-B-Q in 1989 and never looked back. The combination gas station, convenience store, and restaurant is still one of the awesome things about Rudy's. One stop gets you gas, snacks, and some of the best brisket you've ever had!

We love Rudy's fattier brisket or their baked potato with brisket as an indulgent meal. You have not lived until you eat Rudy's creamed corn (no, seriously). We also love to ship their bottles of "sause" and dry rub as gifts. Be warned, we love Rudy's "Original Bar-B-Q Sause" but it has a little kick. Don't shy away from their "Sissy Sause," it's delicious too (it's one of our favorites). 

4. Mission BBQ

Launched on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack, Mission BBQ is serious about its support of the heroes who protect our country, having donated more than $20 million to various service organizations. Plus, at any one of its nearly 150 locations in the United States, active service members and veterans can pick up a free sandwich during Armed Forces Week. Hooah!

And, about that barbecue ... We tasted the menu at the Towson, Maryland location, and walked out the door fully ready to launch our own franchise. (Where do we sign?) Give us the Mission BBQ-branded armored truck with the billowing U.S. flag parked outside, and fill it with Texas-style oak smoked brisket, Maggie's mac-and-cheese, and all the cornbread you can find. Everything — including the 10 signature sauces (ranging from hot honey to vinegar, but definitely get the Smoky Mountain) — is well-seasoned without tipping into overly-salty or spicy hot territory.

There's even a smoked cheeseburger up for grabs, as well as a kids' menu with junior ribs, and catering options for up to 50,000 people (not even kidding). This is one BBQ joint that looks like it's just heating up. 

3. Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

After attending a BBQ competition, Joy and Jeff Stehney, owners of Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Jeff says, "I loved everything about it. The smoke. The smell of it ... The passion. And, of course, the food." After creating their own barbecue team, "The Slaughterhouse Five," they went on to win numerous competitions. Eventually Joy and Jeff opened their own restaurant in a corner gas station and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

According to local, regular diners, The Z-Man Sandwich is the thing to order. With your choice of either smoked brisket, chicken, pork, or Portobello mushrooms, topped with smoked provolone cheese, two crispy onion rings on a large Kaiser roll are all what makes this sandwich a fan favorite. Just the Z-Man is worth the trip to Kansas City. If you can't get to one of their three locations, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que offers shipping. You can order a Z-Man kit and make your own sandwiches as well as other menu items like their "Rocket Pig" kit or "Contest in a Box."

The Stehneys currently own and operate three locations in Kansas as well as shipping menu item kits, sauces, and rubs. By keeping only a few locations in operation, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que tops this list because of their tender, delicious, quality smoked meat — and always smoked with passion.

2. L&L Hawaiian BBQ

For beginning as a humble outpost in Honolulu, L&L Hawaiian BBQ features a booming worldwide presence with locations all over the globe, from California to Japan. Now, you can sink your teeth into the flavors of the classic Hawaiian barbecue plate lunch — aka, "the state food of Hawaii" — from just about anywhere.

Featuring a patchwork of East Asian influences, the lunch plate leaves no hungry belly behind, with two scoops of rice, creamy macaroni salad, fresh fish, chicken, and a bonus protein like fried shrimp. You could also go for the fried chicken katsu, or the kalua pork with cabbage, but we've got our eyes on the SPAM musubi.

A prized favorite of islanders and former locals, the dish features grilled SPAM as art; a savory pork slice positioned atop a serving of rice, and wrapped with dried seaweed. There is no more perfect food. (Covering our ears — la, la, la, la, la.) The chain even celebrates SPAM Musubi Day on August 8, where fans can cash in on a free handheld snack at any local store. (Uh, marking the calendar.)

1. 4 Rivers Smokehouse

Another stunner straight out of the Sunshine State, 4 Rivers Smokehouse has BBQ-loving Floridians covered from the Panhandle to the Keys. Kick it, key lime pie, we'll take the Messy Pig pulled pork sando with Six Shooter cheese grits any day of the week.

Having gotten its start as a garage-based "Barbecue Ministry" with just a single smoker and a dream of helping a local family in need, founder John Rivers went on to launch 4 Rivers Smokehouse in 2009. It was an immediate hit. (Hello, have you seen the angus brisket?)

From the St. Louis style pork ribs, to the smoked chicken, and pulled pork, you'll find the brand's signature 4R all purpose seasoning blend providing a well-rounded flavor, finished with 4R signature sauce. Don't live in Florida? You can get these salty treasures — including the meat — shipped straight to your door. 4 Rivers Smokehouse proudly stands by its mission, "4 The Greater Good," and by all accounts, that goodness tastes divine.

How we ranked the best BBQ chains in the U.S.

We've loved barbecue since way back. And with that kind of personal experience — slathering the sauce on those ribs, and ordering one of every side (give or take) — we put our chops to the test when it came to ranking the best BBQ chains in the country.

Of course, we couldn't have done it without a few hot tips from loyal customers (that's you), who hit up the internet reviews that were positively smokin'. It turns out, BBQ fans are serious about meat — and the clout that goes with the perfect seasoning.

Got a few ribs in the fridge from last night? A little extra smoked chicken? Check out our Test Kitchen for the leftover meat porn of your tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone dreams.