Barbecue with a story

For 25 years, Chef Jim Noble chased his dream of making barbecue all over the South, crisscrossing the Carolinas, traveling to Texas twice, and sampling ribs and pork sandwiches everywhere in between. Off the road, he'd get lost in books and cookbooks, reading up on a tradition that is nothing short of personal to pitmasters and diners alike.

The opening of Noble Smoke marks the end of this long journey. It's a tribute to the legendary pitmasters that made (and sometimes broke) the rules. It's a heartfelt demonstration of Noble's longtime love for smoked meats. Most of all, it's a place to relax Southern-style and enjoy some great barbecue with friends.

Noble

We wouldn’t be here making barbecue without the legends who inspired us.

Get to know them.

NO.1
No1 Honeymonkfamily

Lexington BBQ / Lexington, NC

In a town filled with barbecue restaurants, Wayne Monk’s reigns supreme.

Wayne started out as a carhop for a barbecue place at age 16, a time when he cared more for hamburgers and hot dogs than smoked meats. He fell in love with barbecue as he came to understand it better, learning a lot about the craft from another Lexington legend, Warner Stamey.

At just 26, Wayne purchased a roadside parcel of land and opened Lexington Barbecue #1, where it’s been ever since. They’ve served world leaders from long-time UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to President Bill Clinton, but Wayne will tell you that he takes greater pride in doing the barbecue right every day, for everyone.

These days, it’s Ricky and Nathan running things at the restaurant, but little else has changed. They stick to the shoulder here, smoking it over hickory or oak coals for 10 hours out back. The barbecue is tender, succulent and most delicious when ordered coarse chopped. A barely-there vinegar sauce (“the dip”) adds flavor and moisture without stealing the show. A limited selection of sides are available, as is smoked turkey and some cobbler to finish, but at “the Honeymonk,” it’s all about the pork.

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NO.2
No2 Jonesfamily

Skylight Inn BBQ / Ayden, NC

While other kids dreamed of being an astronaut or a movie star—whatever might get them out of the tiny town of Ayden, North Carolina—Pete Jones dreamed about having his own barbecue place.

At just 17, he turned that boyhood dream into a reality, opening Skylight Inn on the family farm. Despite his utter lack of interest in fame or celebrity, Skylight grew to become emblematic of Eastern Carolina barbecue: whole hog cooked over wood, then chopped finely with vinegar, salt, pepper, and that crispy pig skin you’ll find yourself chasing with your fork.

While the food has spoken for itself since 1947, it doesn’t hurt that the Jones family is full of skillful storytellers that have figured out how to make barbecue a form of entertainment. After Pete’s passing in 2006, his son Bruce, nephew Jeff, and grandson Sam stepped in to continue the legacy. (Sam has since gone on to open his own restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ.) Save for the now-iconic replica of the Capitol dome that sits on the roof, this no-frills establishment has steadily held its focus on making barbecue the slow, old-fashioned way and has been rewarded with countless accolades and awards for its efforts.

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NO.3
No3 Warner No3 Warnerstamey

Stamey's BBQ / Greensboro, NC

In the fifties, Warner Stamey took a page from Carolina fish camps to bring the humble hush puppy into the world of barbecue, one of the many contributions made by this wandering legend.

Before that, barbecue was typically served with white bread or rolls. Warner constantly sought ways to innovate, frequently refining the design of his pits and creating a drive-in so that people could enjoy barbecue in their cars.

An understudy of fellow legends Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver, Warner began making barbecue as a high schooler in Lexington. He moved to Shelby and opened his own place in 1930, teaching his brother-in-law, Alston Bridges, and Red Bridges (no relation) the Lexington way of things. His mark endures today through Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge and Alston Bridges Barbecue.

Warner returned to Lexington and took over Swicegood’s operation, along with several more. During this time, he also discipled Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue #1 fame. He later moved to Greensboro and opened yet another place on what was then High Point Road. Now run by his grandson Chip, Stamey’s is considered by many to have the best barbecue sandwich around. For all these reasons and more, it could be argued that no one is more responsible for the popularity of Lexington barbecue than Warner Stamey.

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NO.4
No4 Sid No4 Sidweaver

Lexington, NC

Weaver is credited for being the first to sell what we now know as Lexington style (or Piedmont style) barbecue, one flavored by a “dip” of vinegar, water, salt, and pepper (and sometimes ketchup and sugar).

What started as the occasional public cookout soon turned into a business for Weaver and his partner, George Ridenhour. In 1919, they set up a tent across from the Davidson county courthouse to sell barbecue. Their preparation was rooted in German cooking traditions, where pork shoulders were roasted over hardwood and then served with a sweet and sour vinegar sauce.

The overwhelming popularity of Weaver’s barbecue soon made his tent a permanent fixture and, later, a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Along with Jess Swicegood, Weaver was critical to putting Lexington on the map as one of two epicenters for Carolina barbecue. So entrenched in the town’s history is barbecue that a recent renovation effort uncovered pits hiding in the brick walls of city hall. In the mid-century, these pits belonged to Beck’s Barbecue, but long before that, they were used by Weaver for his sandwiches.

Read More
NO.5
No5 Jess
No5 Jessswicegood

Lexington, NC

Along with fellow legend Sid Weaver, Jess Swicegood can be credited for starting the tradition of Lexington-style barbecue.

Seeing an opportunity in the growing popularity of Sid Weaver’s barbecue, Swicegood boldly set up shop right next to Weaver in downtown Lexington to sell hot dogs and his own slow-cooked barbecue. Also borrowing a page from his German ancestors, he roasted his pork shoulders over hickory and oak coals for around 10 hours, adding a light, tangy sauce to moisten the meat just before serving it.

Like Weaver, Swicegood eventually replaced his pop-up tent with a permanent structure. In the late 1920s, he hired a high schooler, C. Warner Stamey, teaching him everything he knew. Stamey, a fellow legend, would go on to make and teach others about barbecue across the state.

Read More
NO.6
No6 Adamscott

Scott's BBQ / Goldsboro, NC

While less community cited in the telling of Southern barbecue history, Adam Scott's place as a legend is nonetheless well deserved.

Somewhere around 1915, Scott began making barbecue on the side. For years, he’d take the occasional catering gig here and there, making what some professed to be the best barbecue around. This slowly evolved into Scott making and selling it in his backyard every weekend. In 1933, he converted his back porch into a dining room and thus created one of the first sit-down barbecue restaurants in Eastern North Carolina (and one of the first owned by an African American).

In the 1940s, Scott, who by this time had also become a preacher, turned the restaurant over to his son, A. Martel Scott, Sr., in part so he could also serve as the personal barbecue chef for R.J. Reynolds, Jr. Scott’s Famous Barbecue restaurant is no longer open, but his legacy can still be enjoyed through his award-winning barbecue sauce, the recipe for which he says came to him in a dream.

Read More
NO.7
No7 Gerri Stephen Grady

Grady's BBQ / Dudley, NC

For decades, husband-and-wife team Stephen and Gerri Grady have quietly been making some of the best Carolina barbecue around.

Were it not for the cars in the parking lot and the iconic Pepsi sign swinging out front, you might whiz right past the unassuming building sitting in the crook of a crossroads just outside Dudley, North Carolina.

Grady’s (pronounced Graddy’s) was started by Stephen’s brother, who couldn’t stand the smoke and got out of the kitchen less than a day after opening. Stephen, who used to tend his own hogs and work at a local sawmill, makes barbecue the way he watched his grandfather do it for the neighborhood: whole hog, pit cooked, over hickory and oak.

In the kitchen, Gerri’s recipe for sides are inspired by three generations of family cooking. Think butter beans, steamed cabbage, boiled potatoes, black-eyed peas, collards. All the classics. Everything is served on or in styrofoam at this cash-only restaurant, including the luscious banana pudding. But folks aren’t coming here time and again for the decor. It’s a toss-up, though, if it’s because the food is just that good or the Gradys are just that nice.

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NO.8
No8 Scottfamily And Arrows

Scotts's BBQ / Hemingway, SC

An hour away from the coastal hotspot of Myrtle Beach sits the rural town of Hemingway, SC. This is where you’ll find Scott’s BBQ.

Adjacent to the family’s country convenience store, the pit house is the original cooking home of Rodney Scott, a James Beard Award winner who has since moved on to open popular barbecue joints in Charleston and Birmingham. Rodney started making barbecue at age 11, learning the craft from this father, Rosie. Like many other Carolina pitmasters, Rosie’s barbecue business began as a side venture but then grew to be much more.

For the last three decades, Scott’s has made whole hog barbecue and chicken over wood-fired pits, reserving the crispy pork skins for those who request it. They started out smoking hogs two days a week, moving to three and then four because of the demand. Many locals and travelers call it the best barbecue they’ve ever had, and the South Carolina Barbecue Association called it “100-mile barbecue,” i.e., barbecue worth driving a hundred miles for.

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NO.9
No9 Bobmelton

Bob Melton's BBQ / Rocky Mount, NC

A former horse trader known for always having a cigar in his mouth while he worked, Melton was named “the king of Southern barbecue" by Life magazine in 1958.

Melton, who was also a farmer and a merchant, opened his barbecue restaurant in the town of Rocky Mount in 1924. He sold sandwiches for 15 cents, and plates of barbecue for 40 (45 if you added boiled potatoes). Operating near the flood-prone Tar River, Melton sometimes found himself serving patrons who would venture out by boat to enjoy his barbecue and Brunswick stew.

Melton cooked his pork over beds of oak and hickory coals, covering it with sheets of tin so that he could shovel the coals on top as well. His was only of several barbecue restaurant to operate in eastern North Carolina for at least a decade. In the following decade and in large part because of his influence, more would eventually spring up in this corner of the state. An ongoing rivalry over which town had the best barbecue formed between Rocky Mount and nearby Goldsboro, one led by Melton and fellow legend Adam Scott.

In 1999, Melton’s restaurant finally fell victim to the rising waters, when Hurricane Floyd swept it away. A commemorative park erected in 2014 celebrates his contributions and those of other Rocky Mount barbecue icons stands testament, however, to the ongoing influence of the king of Southern barbecue.

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NO.10
No10 Walterjetton

King of BBQ / Fort Worth, TX

Often seen sporting a cowboy hat and a tie, the self-proclaimed “King of Barbecue” cooked for presidents and dignitaries when he wasn’t cooking for large crowds.

At age 13, Jetton dropped out of school to earn money, taking a job at a local meat market as a butcher’s apprentice. At 31, he took over the market’s operations. At 38, he bought it. He went on to establish an enormous catering business, building a fleet of what he called “chuckwagons,” vans that could be deployed to feed thousands of people at a time. In 1955 alone, his company cooked half a million pounds of beef and a 100,000 pounds each of ribs and chicken. Business was so strong that he had African American pitmaster Ethan Boyer take over the pits the following year.

Jetton became President Lyndon B. Johnson’s favorite pitmaster, often making barbecue at his ranch for visiting heads of state. Besides helping to share the gospel of Texas barbecue to people from around the globe, he was also known for being an early adopter of smoked brisket, a dish that is virtually synonymous with Texas barbecue today.

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NO.11
No11 Aaronfranklin

Franklin's BBQ / Austin, TX

One of the most lauded pitmasters of our time, Aaron Franklin’s influence on the world of barbecue can be seen in many forms.

Franklin’s work now extends well beyond the pit to include radio and television spots, a cookbook, an annual food and music festival, and an online store, where you can order your very own Franklin barbecue pit.

The origins of this barbecue empire are quite humble: casual backyard cookouts for friends with his wife and business partner, Stacy. Over the years, Franklin has fine-tuned his craft, making brisket, ribs, pulled pork, turkey and sausages that puts people on planes and racks up accolades. Franklin has won just about every major barbecue award out there and is also the recipient of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Southwest. Texas Monthly once declared Franklin’s to have “the best barbecue in the known universe.” It’s no wonder, then, that the restaurant sells out daily, six days a week.

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NO.12
No12 Tootsie

Snow's BBQ / Lexington, TX

Tootsie Tomanetz has been in charge of Snow’s pits since it opened in 2003, but she was making barbecue long before that.

Every Saturday, she and owner Kerry Bexley feed the throngs of barbecue lovers who line up at Snow’s well before sunrise to get a taste of her barbecue. Tomanetz, now in her 80s, fell into barbecue years ago by pure chance. In the sixties, she filled in at a butcher shop where her husband was working one day; it was here that she learned to smoke meat.

Tomanetz and another pitmaster, Orange Holloway, made barbecue together for two decades before she hung up her hat. Bexley, who had grown up eating her barbecue, spent a few years talking her back into it, and Snow’s was born.

No stranger to hard work, Tomanetz can still be found shoveling coals and working the pits every weekend. The list of accolades she has earned for her barbecue is quite lengthy; like fellow Texas legend Aaron Franklin, it includes Texas Monthly’s recognition as “Texas’s Best Barbecue,” being a James Beard semifinalist, and more than one bucket list.

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NO.13
No13 Smitty

Smitty's Market / Lockhart, TX

Edgar A. “Smitty” Schmidt’s market is one of several landmarks that helped make Lockhart the official “Barbecue Capital of Texas.”

With a meat market up front and smoking pits in the back, Smitty’s exemplifies the German and Czech traditions running at the core of Central Texas barbecue. For decades, their wood-fired pits have been feeding hungry diners regional standards like beef brisket, shoulder clod, and jalapeño sausages—served on butcher paper with no plate, no fork, no sauce.

The building’s long history with barbecue can be found on its smoke-stained walls. Charles Kreuz opened a meat market at this location way back in 1900, when smoking meat was more than just a matter of taste. He’d barbecue the cuts of fresh meat that didn’t sell, taking the lesser cuts and grinding them into sausages first.

In 1948, Schmidt purchased and renamed Kreuz Market after working there since the age of 13. Today, his descendants continue his legacy at both Smitty’s and at the new Kreuz Market just outside of Lockhart.

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NO.14
No14 Muellers

Louie Muller BBQ / Taylor, TX

Wayne is the third generation of Muellers to run the pits at Louie Mueller BBQ, dubbed the “cathedral of smoke.”

Louie Mueller started selling barbecue in 1949 behind his grocery store, serving hungry cotton pickers passing through town at harvest time. He made his pits from the scrap metal of old Navy ships. Like Smitty Schmidt, smoking meat was a means of extending the life of fresh meat before the age of refrigeration.

With the help of stock boy-turned-pitmaster Fred Fountaine, the barbecue operation soon outpaced the grocery, so much so that Mueller moved his outfit across the street to an empty gymnasium in 1959.

In 1974, Louie’s son Bobby took over, running the pits until 2007, when his son Wayne took over. All three of Bobby’s kids worked at the restaurant from an early age, witnessing first hand Bobby’s immaculate attention to detail—particularly when it came to his brisket. In 2006, Bobby’s high standards would be recognized with a James Beard Award. His other son John would also open his own barbecue restaurant in Austin, where legend Aaron Franklin would make his start chopping onions.

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NO.15
No15 Johncallaway

The BBQ Sheriff of Wilkes County, GA

Known as the barbecuing sheriff of Wilkes County, Callaway was known for throwing huge outdoor barbecue feasts in the late 1800s, right when the press had begun to pay attention to barbecue.

Callaway oversaw dozens of barbecues each year. His pits produced a wide range of smoked meats of—pork, lamb, beef, chicken—along with hash, a thick meat gravy often served as a side. With an impressive, 300-pound frame and a colorful personality, he regularly found his way into magazines and newspapers.

Callaway also created a specialty stew that came to be known locally as Brunswick stew, though there’s debate about its actual origin and credit for it is sometimes also given to fellow legend Gus Jaubert. Despite being called “the patron saint of barbecue” and “the presiding genius at the pits,” he was less hands-on and more of a manager. African Americans such as Henry Pettus, called “his right-hand man” typically manned the pits. Nonetheless, thousands of people would line up at the Georgia State Fair to try Callaway’s barbecue, and invitations to cook all over the country clearly demonstrate his influence on the spreading of Southern barbecue traditions.

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NO.16
No17 Desiree

Cozy Corner / Memphis, TN

Raymond’s knack as a backyard barbecuer turned into something much more in 1977, when he and his wife Desiree opened the Cozy Corner.

Over forty years later, a line still forms regularly at this Memphis institution, whose name accurately represents the look and the feel of the place. People come for the dry-rub ribs and the wings, but also for some more surprising dishes, like the signature Cornish hen or the thick-slab BBQ bologna sandwich. Despite Raymond’s passing, the ribs are still made the same way he wanted: tender enough to be gently pulled from the bone but not fall from it effortlessly.

Four generations of the Robinson family work at the restaurant, including Desiree, who is now in her eighties. They make barbecue with no expectation of fanfare, just an earnest wish to feed people well. As Desiree quotes her late husband: “My desire is to serve a few people the best they ever had."

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NO.17
No18 Charlievergos

Rendezvous / Memphis, TN

Take the steps down South Second Street in downtown Memphis and you’ll discover the basement where the Vergos family has been cooking up their famous dry-rub ribs for over 70 years.

The basement started out as a snack joint, before Charlie Vergos made two fateful decisions. First, he converted an old coal chute into a smoker so he could punch up the flavor of his meats. Second, he took a backyard barbecue staple not common to restaurants and added it to the menu: ribs. After rubbing them with a special blend of spices, he’d cook them 18 inches over the fire, applying a light vinegar wash to keep them moist. Dignitaries and celebrities alike still flock to Rendezvous to eat ribs and other barbecue fare.

Besides being known for his contributions to Memphis barbecue, Vergos is also credited with helping to revitalize the downtown area after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. While other businesses moved to the suburbs, Vergos held fast, refusing to abandon the city he felt had supported his business over the years.

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No2 NC Flag
No5 Wing
No6 Stars
No6 Flag
No9 Stars
No10 Platter
No12 Flag
No14 Hand
No15 Head
No18 Pig Cuts
NO. 1

HONEYMONK FAMILY

Lexington BBQ / Lexington, NC

In a town filled with barbecue restaurants, Wayne Monk’s reigns supreme.

Wayne started out as a carhop for a barbecue place at age 16, a time when he cared more for hamburgers and hot dogs than smoked meats. He fell in love with barbecue as he came to understand it better, learning a lot about the craft from another Lexington legend, Warner Stamey.

At just 26, Wayne purchased a roadside parcel of land and opened Lexington Barbecue #1, where it’s been ever since. They’ve served world leaders from long-time UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to President Bill Clinton, but Wayne will tell you that he takes greater pride in doing the barbecue right every day, for everyone.

These days, it’s Ricky and Nathan running things at the restaurant, but little else has changed. They stick to the shoulder here, smoking it over hickory or oak coals for 10 hours out back. The barbecue is tender, succulent and most delicious when ordered coarse chopped. A barely-there vinegar sauce (“the dip”) adds flavor and moisture without stealing the show. A limited selection of sides are available, as is smoked turkey and some cobbler to finish, but at “the Honeymonk,” it’s all about the pork.

NO. 2

JONES FAMILY

Skylight Inn BBQ / Ayden, NC

While other kids dreamed of being an astronaut or a movie star—whatever might get them out of the tiny town of Ayden, North Carolina—Pete Jones dreamed about having his own barbecue place.

At just 17, he turned that boyhood dream into a reality, opening Skylight Inn on the family farm. Despite his utter lack of interest in fame or celebrity, Skylight grew to become emblematic of Eastern Carolina barbecue: whole hog cooked over wood, then chopped finely with vinegar, salt, pepper, and that crispy pig skin you’ll find yourself chasing with your fork.

While the food has spoken for itself since 1947, it doesn’t hurt that the Jones family is full of skillful storytellers that have figured out how to make barbecue a form of entertainment. After Pete’s passing in 2006, his son Bruce, nephew Jeff, and grandson Sam stepped in to continue the legacy. (Sam has since gone on to open his own restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ.) Save for the now-iconic replica of the Capitol dome that sits on the roof, this no-frills establishment has steadily held its focus on making barbecue the slow, old-fashioned way and has been rewarded with countless accolades and awards for its efforts.

NO. 3

WARNER STAMEY

Rendezvous / Memphis, TN

In the fifties, Warner Stamey took a page from Carolina fish camps to bring the humble hush puppy into the world of barbecue, one of the many contributions made by this wandering legend.

Before that, barbecue was typically served with white bread or rolls. Warner constantly sought ways to innovate, frequently refining the design of his pits and creating a drive-in so that people could enjoy barbecue in their cars.

An understudy of fellow legends Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver, Warner began making barbecue as a high schooler in Lexington. He moved to Shelby and opened his own place in 1930, teaching his brother-in-law, Alston Bridges, and Red Bridges (no relation) the Lexington way of things. His mark endures today through Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge and Alston Bridges Barbecue.

Warner returned to Lexington and took over Swicegood’s operation, along with several more. During this time, he also discipled Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue #1 fame. He later moved to Greensboro and opened yet another place on what was then High Point Road. Now run by his grandson Chip, Stamey’s is considered by many to have the best barbecue sandwich around. For all these reasons and more, it could be argued that no one is more responsible for the popularity of Lexington barbecue than Warner Stamey.

NO. 4

SID WEAVER

Lexington, NC

Weaver is credited for being the first to sell what we now know as Lexington style (or Piedmont style) barbecue, one flavored by a “dip” of vinegar, water, salt, and pepper (and sometimes ketchup and sugar).

What started as the occasional public cookout soon turned into a business for Weaver and his partner, George Ridenhour. In 1919, they set up a tent across from the Davidson county courthouse to sell barbecue. Their preparation was rooted in German cooking traditions, where pork shoulders were roasted over hardwood and then served with a sweet and sour vinegar sauce.

The overwhelming popularity of Weaver’s barbecue soon made his tent a permanent fixture and, later, a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Along with Jess Swicegood, Weaver was critical to putting Lexington on the map as one of two epicenters for Carolina barbecue. So entrenched in the town’s history is barbecue that a recent renovation effort uncovered pits hiding in the brick walls of city hall. In the mid-century, these pits belonged to Beck’s Barbecue, but long before that, they were used by Weaver for his sandwiches.

NO. 5

JESS SWICEGOOD

Lexington, NC

Along with fellow legend Sid Weaver, Jess Swicegood can be credited for starting the tradition of Lexington-style barbecue.

Seeing an opportunity in the growing popularity of Sid Weaver’s barbecue, Swicegood boldly set up shop right next to Weaver in downtown Lexington to sell hot dogs and his own slow-cooked barbecue. Also borrowing a page from his German ancestors, he roasted his pork shoulders over hickory and oak coals for around 10 hours, adding a light, tangy sauce to moisten the meat just before serving it.

Like Weaver, Swicegood eventually replaced his pop-up tent with a permanent structure. In the late 1920s, he hired a high schooler, C. Warner Stamey, teaching him everything he knew. Stamey, a fellow legend, would go on to make and teach others about barbecue across the state.

NO. 6

ADAM SCOTT

Scott's BBQ / Goldsboro, NC

While less community cited in the telling of Southern barbecue history, Adam Scott's place as a legend is nonetheless well deserved.

Somewhere around 1915, Scott began making barbecue on the side. For years, he’d take the occasional catering gig here and there, making what some professed to be the best barbecue around. This slowly evolved into Scott making and selling it in his backyard every weekend. In 1933, he converted his back porch into a dining room and thus created one of the first sit-down barbecue restaurants in Eastern North Carolina (and one of the first owned by an African American).

In the 1940s, Scott, who by this time had also become a preacher, turned the restaurant over to his son, A. Martel Scott, Sr., in part so he could also serve as the personal barbecue chef for R.J. Reynolds, Jr. Scott’s Famous Barbecue restaurant is no longer open, but his legacy can still be enjoyed through his award-winning barbecue sauce, the recipe for which he says came to him in a dream.

NO. 7

STEPHEN AND GERRI GRADY

Grady's BBQ / Dudley, NC

For decades, husband-and-wife team Stephen and Gerri Grady have quietly been making some of the best Carolina barbecue around.

Were it not for the cars in the parking lot and the iconic Pepsi sign swinging out front, you might whiz right past the unassuming building sitting in the crook of a crossroads just outside Dudley, North Carolina.

Grady’s (pronounced Graddy’s) was started by Stephen’s brother, who couldn’t stand the smoke and got out of the kitchen less than a day after opening. Stephen, who used to tend his own hogs and work at a local sawmill, makes barbecue the way he watched his grandfather do it for the neighborhood: whole hog, pit cooked, over hickory and oak.

In the kitchen, Gerri’s recipe for sides are inspired by three generations of family cooking. Think butter beans, steamed cabbage, boiled potatoes, black-eyed peas, collards. All the classics. Everything is served on or in styrofoam at this cash-only restaurant, including the luscious banana pudding. But folks aren’t coming here time and again for the decor. It’s a toss-up, though, if it’s because the food is just that good or the Gradys are just that nice.

NO. 8

SCOTT FAMILY

Scotts's BBQ / Hemingway, SC

An hour away from the coastal hotspot of Myrtle Beach sits the rural town of Hemingway, SC. This is where you’ll find Scott’s BBQ.

Adjacent to the family’s country convenience store, the pit house is the original cooking home of Rodney Scott, a James Beard Award winner who has since moved on to open popular barbecue joints in Charleston and Birmingham. Rodney started making barbecue at age 11, learning the craft from this father, Rosie. Like many other Carolina pitmasters, Rosie’s barbecue business began as a side venture but then grew to be much more.

For the last three decades, Scott’s has made whole hog barbecue and chicken over wood-fired pits, reserving the crispy pork skins for those who request it. They started out smoking hogs two days a week, moving to three and then four because of the demand. Many locals and travelers call it the best barbecue they’ve ever had, and the South Carolina Barbecue Association called it “100-mile barbecue,” i.e., barbecue worth driving a hundred miles for.

NO. 9

BOB MELTON

Bob Melton's BBQ / Rocky Mount, NC

A former horse trader known for always having a cigar in his mouth while he worked, Melton was named “the king of Southern barbecue" by Life magazine in 1958.

Melton, who was also a farmer and a merchant, opened his barbecue restaurant in the town of Rocky Mount in 1924. He sold sandwiches for 15 cents, and plates of barbecue for 40 (45 if you added boiled potatoes). Operating near the flood-prone Tar River, Melton sometimes found himself serving patrons who would venture out by boat to enjoy his barbecue and Brunswick stew.

Melton cooked his pork over beds of oak and hickory coals, covering it with sheets of tin so that he could shovel the coals on top as well. His was only of several barbecue restaurant to operate in eastern North Carolina for at least a decade. In the following decade and in large part because of his influence, more would eventually spring up in this corner of the state. An ongoing rivalry over which town had the best barbecue formed between Rocky Mount and nearby Goldsboro, one led by Melton and fellow legend Adam Scott.

In 1999, Melton’s restaurant finally fell victim to the rising waters, when Hurricane Floyd swept it away. A commemorative park erected in 2014 celebrates his contributions and those of other Rocky Mount barbecue icons stands testament, however, to the ongoing influence of the king of Southern barbecue.

NO. 10

WALTER JETTON

King of BBQ / Fort Worth, TX

Often seen sporting a cowboy hat and a tie, the self-proclaimed “King of Barbecue” cooked for presidents and dignitaries when he wasn’t cooking for large crowds.

At age 13, Jetton dropped out of school to earn money, taking a job at a local meat market as a butcher’s apprentice. At 31, he took over the market’s operations. At 38, he bought it. He went on to establish an enormous catering business, building a fleet of what he called “chuckwagons,” vans that could be deployed to feed thousands of people at a time. In 1955 alone, his company cooked half a million pounds of beef and a 100,000 pounds each of ribs and chicken. Business was so strong that he had African American pitmaster Ethan Boyer take over the pits the following year.

Jetton became President Lyndon B. Johnson’s favorite pitmaster, often making barbecue at his ranch for visiting heads of state. Besides helping to share the gospel of Texas barbecue to people from around the globe, he was also known for being an early adopter of smoked brisket, a dish that is virtually synonymous with Texas barbecue today.

NO. 11

AARON FRANKLIN

Franklin's BBQ / Austin, TX

One of the most lauded pitmasters of our time, Aaron Franklin’s influence on the world of barbecue can be seen in many forms.

Franklin’s work now extends well beyond the pit to include radio and television spots, a cookbook, an annual food and music festival, and an online store, where you can order your very own Franklin barbecue pit.

The origins of this barbecue empire are quite humble: casual backyard cookouts for friends with his wife and business partner, Stacy. Over the years, Franklin has fine-tuned his craft, making brisket, ribs, pulled pork, turkey and sausages that puts people on planes and racks up accolades. Franklin has won just about every major barbecue award out there and is also the recipient of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Southwest. Texas Monthly once declared Franklin’s to have “the best barbecue in the known universe.” It’s no wonder, then, that the restaurant sells out daily, six days a week.

NO. 12

TOOTSIE TOMANETZ

Snow's BBQ / Lexington, TX

Tootsie Tomanetz has been in charge of Snow’s pits since it opened in 2003, but she was making barbecue long before that.

Every Saturday, she and owner Kerry Bexley feed the throngs of barbecue lovers who line up at Snow’s well before sunrise to get a taste of her barbecue. Tomanetz, now in her 80s, fell into barbecue years ago by pure chance. In the sixties, she filled in at a butcher shop where her husband was working one day; it was here that she learned to smoke meat.

Tomanetz and another pitmaster, Orange Holloway, made barbecue together for two decades before she hung up her hat. Bexley, who had grown up eating her barbecue, spent a few years talking her back into it, and Snow’s was born.

No stranger to hard work, Tomanetz can still be found shoveling coals and working the pits every weekend. The list of accolades she has earned for her barbecue is quite lengthy; like fellow Texas legend Aaron Franklin, it includes Texas Monthly’s recognition as “Texas’s Best Barbecue,” being a James Beard semifinalist, and more than one bucket list.

NO. 13

EDGAR A. "SMITTY" SCHMIDT

Smitty's Market / Lockhart, TX

Edgar A. “Smitty” Schmidt’s market is one of several landmarks that helped make Lockhart the official “Barbecue Capital of Texas.”

With a meat market up front and smoking pits in the back, Smitty’s exemplifies the German and Czech traditions running at the core of Central Texas barbecue. For decades, their wood-fired pits have been feeding hungry diners regional standards like beef brisket, shoulder clod, and jalapeño sausages—served on butcher paper with no plate, no fork, no sauce.

The building’s long history with barbecue can be found on its smoke-stained walls. Charles Kreuz opened a meat market at this location way back in 1900, when smoking meat was more than just a matter of taste. He’d barbecue the cuts of fresh meat that didn’t sell, taking the lesser cuts and grinding them into sausages first.

In 1948, Schmidt purchased and renamed Kreuz Market after working there since the age of 13. Today, his descendants continue his legacy at both Smitty’s and at the new Kreuz Market just outside of Lockhart.

NO. 14

MUELLERS

Louie Muller BBQ / Taylor, TX

Wayne is the third generation of Muellers to run the pits at Louie Mueller BBQ, dubbed the “cathedral of smoke.”

Louie Mueller started selling barbecue in 1949 behind his grocery store, serving hungry cotton pickers passing through town at harvest time. He made his pits from the scrap metal of old Navy ships. Like Smitty Schmidt, smoking meat was a means of extending the life of fresh meat before the age of refrigeration.

With the help of stock boy-turned-pitmaster Fred Fountaine, the barbecue operation soon outpaced the grocery, so much so that Mueller moved his outfit across the street to an empty gymnasium in 1959.

In 1974, Louie’s son Bobby took over, running the pits until 2007, when his son Wayne took over. All three of Bobby’s kids worked at the restaurant from an early age, witnessing first hand Bobby’s immaculate attention to detail—particularly when it came to his brisket. In 2006, Bobby’s high standards would be recognized with a James Beard Award. His other son John would also open his own barbecue restaurant in Austin, where legend Aaron Franklin would make his start chopping onions.

NO. 15

JOHN CALLAWAY

The BBQ Sheriff of Wilkes County, GA

Known as the barbecuing sheriff of Wilkes County, Callaway was known for throwing huge outdoor barbecue feasts in the late 1800s, right when the press had begun to pay attention to barbecue.

Callaway oversaw dozens of barbecues each year. His pits produced a wide range of smoked meats of—pork, lamb, beef, chicken—along with hash, a thick meat gravy often served as a side. With an impressive, 300-pound frame and a colorful personality, he regularly found his way into magazines and newspapers.

Callaway also created a specialty stew that came to be known locally as Brunswick stew, though there’s debate about its actual origin and credit for it is sometimes also given to fellow legend Gus Jaubert. Despite being called “the patron saint of barbecue” and “the presiding genius at the pits,” he was less hands-on and more of a manager. African Americans such as Henry Pettus, called “his right-hand man” typically manned the pits. Nonetheless, thousands of people would line up at the Georgia State Fair to try Callaway’s barbecue, and invitations to cook all over the country clearly demonstrate his influence on the spreading of Southern barbecue traditions.

NO. 16

DESIREE ROBINSON

Cozy Corner / Memphis, TN

Raymond’s knack as a backyard barbecuer turned into something much more in 1977, when he and his wife Desiree opened the Cozy Corner.

Over forty years later, a line still forms regularly at this Memphis institution, whose name accurately represents the look and the feel of the place. People come for the dry-rub ribs and the wings, but also for some more surprising dishes, like the signature Cornish hen or the thick-slab BBQ bologna sandwich. Despite Raymond’s passing, the ribs are still made the same way he wanted: tender enough to be gently pulled from the bone but not fall from it effortlessly.

Four generations of the Robinson family work at the restaurant, including Desiree, who is now in her eighties. They make barbecue with no expectation of fanfare, just an earnest wish to feed people well. As Desiree quotes her late husband: “My desire is to serve a few people the best they ever had."

NO. 17

CHARLIE VERGOS

Rendezvous / Memphis, TN

Take the steps down South Second Street in downtown Memphis and you’ll discover the basement where the Vergos family has been cooking up their famous dry-rub ribs for over 70 years.

The basement started out as a snack joint, before Charlie Vergos made two fateful decisions. First, he converted an old coal chute into a smoker so he could punch up the flavor of his meats. Second, he took a backyard barbecue staple not common to restaurants and added it to the menu: ribs. After rubbing them with a special blend of spices, he’d cook them 18 inches over the fire, applying a light vinegar wash to keep them moist. Dignitaries and celebrities alike still flock to Rendezvous to eat ribs and other barbecue fare.

Besides being known for his contributions to Memphis barbecue, Vergos is also credited with helping to revitalize the downtown area after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. While other businesses moved to the suburbs, Vergos held fast, refusing to abandon the city he felt had supported his business over the years.