I approach today’s topic with what I consider to be a healthy amount of fear and trepidation. Trying to name the “best” barbecue is like trying to tell someone why orange is the best color when their favorite is green. It all comes down to personal taste. And when it comes to barbecue, Virginians don’t mess around. Like many of our neighbors to the west and south, we take our smoked meats quite seriously.
When discussing this most sacred of topics, there are many factors to consider. Sauces can be sweet, smoky, spicy, vinegar-based or maybe start with mustard…unless, of course, you prefer a dry rub. Then there’s the meat – pork, beef or chicken? Pulled, brisket or ribs?
Regardless of your favorite combination, Virginia has more than enough options when it comes to getting a great plate of barbecue. The following places have been recognized by national publications, as well as readers’ preferences. So, while your favorite may not be on the list, at least you’ll walk away with a few new places to try.
1. Alamo BBQ, Richmond
Alamo is quickly becoming a Richmond staple, taking over old favorites like Buzz and Ned’s. In fact, Fox News' The Daily Meal named Alamo #8 out of the 10 Best Spots for Ribs in the Country. Featuring Texas-style barbecue, the cooked-to-perfection meats are served with exciting sides like Texas Caviar (a spicy black bean mix) , jalapeno mac & cheese, potato salad, collard greens, Cowboy Beans and candied yams.
2. Saucy's Walk-up Bar.B.Q., Petersburg
In a field dominated by North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Saucy’s holds their own, earning the only Virginia recognition on Southern Living’s list of “The South’s Best Butt.” The folks at Saucy’s Walk Up Bar.B.Q. began serving their divine creations from a reclaimed shipping container on East Bank Street, but the simple setting did nothing to take away from the slow-smoked goodness of their meats and signature sauces like mustard-jalapeño. Now a local favorite, Saucy’s just opened a sit down location at 5th and Bolingbrook Avenue in Petersburg, as well.
3. Wolfe’s BBQ Restaurant and Catering, Marion
A 5-star rating on Yelp is not an easy thing to come by – no matter who you are. But with meats that melt in your mouth and sides as good as your grandmother’s, Wolfe’s earns every one of those stars. Try the brisket combo platter and you can thank me later.
4. Pierce’s Pit Barbecue, Williamsburg
Named one of the 10 Best BBQ places in the nation by National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog and named to USA Today’s list of 10 Best Southern Barbecue spots, Pierce’s has been serving up some of Virginia’s favorite barbecue since 1961. Known for their slow-cooked meats and simply delicious sides, Pierce’s is must-visit in Williamsburg.
5. Hog’s Head Café, Henrico
This popular spot in the west end of Richmond earned its spot in the Top Ten BBQ Joints in the United States from Trip Advisor with delicious meats, out-of-this world dry rubs and unique creations like their best-selling “hot dog,” featuring a deep-fried, bacon wrapped jumbo beef hot dog topped with hand-pulled pork, barbecue sauce and slaw.
6. King’s BBQ Restaurant, Petersburg
When it comes to old school favorites, there are those that would argue that King’s BBQ could take anyone in a head-to-head battle. Another Virginia favorite, King’s has been serving up hand-cut, slow-smoked pork for more than 75 years. Don’t let the humble outside fool you, King’s is fit for royalty.
7. County Grill and Smokehouse, Hampton and Yorktown
Known for their fantastic pulled pork (one reviewer called it “so good it will make you slap the ones you love.” I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds pretty serious.), ribs, brisket, homemade sausages and chicken, this is one place you won’t regret trying. Be sure to check out the corn muffins and honey butter –they get as many rave reviews as the meats.
8. Checkered Pig in Martinsville and Danville
This small town favorite has been serving up mouth-watering barbecue, sauces and sides since owner Tommy Houston started his first catering business in the early 80s. Now, 30 years later, the food has only gotten better and business has only gotten bigger with a Danville location opening in 2009.
9. Aces Biscuit and Barbecue, Charlottesville
Barbecue and soul food may be the greatest combination since peanut butter and jelly. At Ace’s Biscuits and Barbecue you’ll find fantastically delicious traditional barbecue items, as well as biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, stewed apples, chicken and waffles and so much more.
10. The Blue Ridge Pig, Nellysford
It’s true that if you’re driving too fast, you might miss this little hole-in-the-wall, but slow down and you’ll be glad you did. The meats are all hickory smoked and the sauces tend more towards the Carolina vinegar style, so it may not be for everyone. But this spot gets rave reviews time and again.
11. Bean's Barbecue, Edinburg
Bean’s doesn’t do fancy. And as they are not open every day, they don’t always do convenient. What they do, however, is delicious. Their authentic southern BBQ, pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork by the pound and baby back ribs are what dreams are made of – but I will warn you know, call ahead for the ribs, they sell out fast. All in all, nevermind the old garage exterior, just come inside and try some of the best BBQ Virginia has to offer.
12. Sooner BBQ, Stuarts Draft
With a menu featuring pork barbecue, beef brisket, ribs, whole chickens, homemade sides and more, this little spot in Stuart’s Draft is making a name for itself. Relatively new to the scene, Sooner’s welcomed a new owner, Brad Theado, in January. Since then, the reviews keep coming in with top marks for excellent service, fall-off-the-bone barbecue and authentic smoked flavor.
13. BBQ Exchange, Gordonsville
Located in downtown Gordonsville, the BBQ Exchange is all about hometown goodness with hickory-smoked pork shoulders and spareribs that are first dry rubbed with a secret ingredient, then cooked to perfection using a specialized wood-burning cooker. Served with homemade sides like cornbread, pickles, salads and slaws, Brunswick Stew, baked beans, hushpuppies, macaroni and cheese and collard greens, this barbecue is worth the trip.
14. Due South Pit Cooked BBQ, Christiansburg
Due South prides themselves on slow-roasted pork, and by that I mean 12-14 hours, as well as chicken, ribs, briskets and homemade sides. The owners, South Carolina natives, claim to have brought secret recipes with them, so this is one place you’ll want to check out – dine in, take out or order for a catered event.
15. Dixie Bones, Woodbridge and Fredericksburg
I could tell you this is some of the best barbecue in the area, but Washingtonian Magazine has already done it for me when they named Dixie Bones one of the best restaurants in the DC Metropolitan Area. Whether you choose dine in, take out or catering, you’re guaranteed delicious pork shoulders, beef briskets, chicken, sausage and pork ribs. Add some homemade sides and baked goods to top it off and the only thing you’ll want is more. (Fredericksburg “Post” location pictured above.)
Don’t worry, I know there are hundreds more we could add to the list, but this will at least help you plan your next hunt for Virginia’s best kept secrets. Let us know about some of your favorites (and why you like them so much), in the comments below!