For our July cover story, dining critic Bill Addison went on an exhaustive journey to find the best ribs, pork, and Brunswick stew in the metro area—and by "metro area" we mean any distance worth driving for a spectacular plate of 'cue. Here, he details the fifty-eight restaurants he sampled—and narrows them down to a top five.
Click here to get the digital edition for just 99 cents. (The preview is free!)
> Jim Auchmutey ponders Georgia's place in the Southern barbecue spectrum
> Pitmaster Sam Huff imparts the secrets of a barbecue guru
> A look at two smokin' hot hometown grills, the Primo and the Big Green Egg
> Who's got the top barbecue sides?
> A gallery of pitmasters
> A roadmap to our fifty-eight
> Watch Jamey Guy's mouth-watering video short
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Atlanta is an inferior barbecue town.
Or so the story went, at least in my food-obsessed circles. Was this reputation actually warranted? I’d been to several barbecue joints around town over the years and found they ranged from disappointing to reliable, and occasionally inspired. As a champion of Southern food, I’m always looking for the ways in which regional cooking proudly blazes in the Atlanta area. Granted, it’s not always easy to find. But knowing that I didn’t honestly grasp the breadth of the metro area’s barbecue riches—or deficiencies—was the motivation behind what blossomed into the twenty-page package in the July 2010 issue. It’s also what kept me motivated to eat through fifty-eight barbecue restaurants, even when my appetite lagged and my cholesterol level rocketed. (That’s not a food writer witticism. My bad cholesterol leaped over ten digits. My doctor is not amused.)
I asked readers on our Covered Dish blog to recommend barbecue favorites. Jim Auchmutey—who wrote the wonderful, articulate essay contemplating Georgia’s place in the Southern barbecue spectrum—geeked out on research and put together a spreadsheet of the hundreds of barbecue restaurants in the metro area, and he shared it with me. My goal was to reach as wide a swath in Atlanta and the surrounding counties as I could. Because of the sheer numbers I aimed to hit, I visited each restaurant once at either prime lunch or dinner hours. I knew I couldn’t show up at a joint in a suburban strip mall at 9:15 on a Tuesday night and expect transcendent barbecue. I only stopped at fifty-eight because of deadlines.
Here was the biggest revelation I had on this ’cue quest: Enthusiasts cook the best barbecue in the metro area. And by this I mean that the most righteous ribs and the most tender, complexly seasoned pulled pork came from those who got into the business out of love of barbecue. That includes competition barbecuers such as Sam Huff of Sam’s BBQ1 in Marietta, Al and Mary Ann Zeigler of Zeigler’s in Acworth, William Latimer of Bub-Ba-Q in Woodstock and Jasper, and Ron Brown of the Blind Pig in Jackson. I also mean pedigreed chefs who’ve been possessed of barbecue fever; Bill Greenwood of Roswell’s Swallow at the Hollow and Dave Roberts of Decatur’s Community Q BBQ are two examples. Smoking meat is painstaking work. Books such as Lolis Eric Elie’s Smokestack Lightning illustrate the ways the old guard of Southern barbecue is dying off. The enthusiasts are the ones keeping the tradition most vibrantly alive locally.
Also, as you see from the names above, the biggest concentration of excellent barbecue joints—to my palate, anyway—resides in the northern and northwest suburbs, particularly around Marietta and its neighboring towns. There is some impressive barbecue to be found in Atlanta proper, though. (Where? You’ll have to read the issue.)
I’ve been asked over and over again: Do you still like barbecue after all this? Absolutely. I may be on barbecue hiatus right at the moment, but by the end of the summer I’ll be ready to disappear into a combo plate of ribs, chopped pork, and beef brisket (with a side of Rolling Bones’ mustard greens and Fresh Air’s Brunswick stew, please). And in three or four years, I may just be ready to do this search all over again. —B.A.
Got a secret sauce
? A winning way with brisket
Share your most delicious BBQ recipe (sides welcome) and you could win a $925
—including one of those famous smoker grills—from Big Green Egg!
Did we hit your favorite on a bad day or enjoy a joint that has disappointed you? Or did we miss your cherished barbecue pit stop altogether? Let us know!