We talk about it often- North Carolina BBQ. You probably have a favorite- Eastern or Western style. But regardless of which you prefer the state takes great pride in our smoked pork and other meats. So when Southern Living Magazine releases its yearly top 50 Barbecue Joints, we’ve come to expect a certain amount of representation. This year, that means 8 local institutions. Yes 8 North Carolina BBQ restaurants were included on Southern Living’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints for 2023.

Eastern vs. Western North Carolina BBQ

Your preference for Eastern or Western will probably influence whether you think their top choice in NC is THE best BBQ restaurant in the state. If you’re new here eastern-style NC BBQ features a vinegar base which makes it lighter, and uses pepper giving it a little spice. On the other end of the state, Western-style or “Lexington” style is made with a sweeter sauce. The sauce is usually made with butter, sugar, and ketchup.

So how exactly where these BBQ joints ranked? Southern Living’s Contributing BBQ Editor Robert Moss, traveled across the South trying as many restaurants as possible. So each of the top 50 restaurants is personally tested and approved by a certified expert. He took into consideration factors such as overall experience, setting, food presentation, sauces, and regional authenticity. Some recognized restaurants are repeats from previous years (if you’re good you’re good!). However, there are also some new additions to the rankings.

It may come as a surprise that North Carolina’s 8 restaurants on the list aren’t the most. That honor goes to Texas who had 14 spots included on this list. I guess everything is bigger in Texas (and they probably have more to choose from!) So take a look below at each of the North Carolina restaurants recognized as the best of the best. Interested in the full list? You can find that here. Thanks to Southern Living for sharing this information with us!

  • 50. Prime BBQ (Knightdale)

    Location:  403 Knightdale Station Run Knightdale, NC 27545


    Prime BBQ believes that “good barbeque speaks for itself”. They pride themselves bring together the best of all great BBQ techniques resulting in something uniquely its own. They use only the best meats, seasoned with perfect spice blends, and then smoked to create that perfect flavor.

  • 48. Bar-B-Q Center (Lexington)

    Location: 900 N. Main St Lexington, NC 27292


    Of course, some Lexington BBQ was going to make this list, how could it not? Bar-B-Q Center is the “oldest barbecue establishment in downtown Lexington that still cooks on pits.” They are a Lexington institution and have received countless accolades throughout their history.

  • 36. Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge (Shelby)

    Location: 2000 East Dixon Blvd. Shelby, NC 28152


    The history of Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge dates back  78 years and 4 generations. Pork is slow cooked all night long giving it that signature “old fashioned flavor.”

  • 27. Sam Jones BBQ (Winterville)

    Location: 715 W Fire Tower Rd, Winterville, NC (Winterville); 502 W Lenoir St, Raleigh, NC 27601 (Raleigh)


    Southern Living highlights the Winterville location on this list but I’m sure the Raleigh one is fantastic as well. Sam Jones BBQ has a rich history tied to another spot also included on this list. It was opened by the grandson of Pete Jones who opened the legendary Skylight Inn. Sam Jones BBQ describes itself as “rooted in the tradition of Eastern North Carolina whole hog technique that Sam has known his entire life.” The menu also offers a variety of new spins on smoked meats.

  • 18. Stamey's Barbeque (Greensboro)

    Location: 2812 Battleground Ave. Greensboro, NC 27408; 2206 W Gate City Blvd. Greensboro, NC 27403


    Stamey’s has been around for 93 years and they are “still smokin'”. They are known for traditional Lexington-style BBQ. The smoking process begins each morning before dawn to create that perfect flavor.

  • 12. Grady's Barbecue (Dudley)

    Location: 3096 Arrington Bridge Rd., Dudley, NC


    Just as the above photos states, Grady’s BBQ is “old school perfection”. The history of Grady’s dates back 37 years and they are still serving up delicious BBQ today.

  • 7. Lexington BBQ (Lexington)

    Location: 100 Smokehouse Ln, Lexington, NC 27295


    Is anyone surprised the iconic Lexington BBQ was mentioned in the top 10 of these rankings? This nationally known barbecue joint serves up authentic Western-style Carolina BBQ.

  • 6. Skylight Inn (Ayden)

    And you knew this was coming since the secret was spoiled earlier. The Skylight Inn prides itself on being the “standard in eastern NC barbecue”. The restaurant boasts a rich family history as evidenced its connections to Sam Jones BBQ. And since 1947 its stayed true to its roots.


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