2010 Barbecue Guide

58 barbecue joints reviewed

Please note: This list comes directly from our July 2010 issue. Information has not been updated and may be out of date.


Bucc’s Barbecue
The earnest staffers at Bucc’s, which opened earlier this year, will give you the rundown straightaway: They don’t serve pork. They offer four sauces: mild, medium, hot (with a true lingering heat), and sweet peach (which stays just shy of cloying). Order collards—robust with smoked turkey—and complexly seasoned potato salad with your strapping beef ribs. This is mainly a drive-thru operation; two tables on the patio are the only seating available. 313 Boulevard, 404-736-6197

’Cue Barbecue
Those incredulous that a midscale rendition of a barbecue joint can produce soul-satisfying meats should shovel their forks into a pile of ’Cue’s supple smoked pork. The restaurant covers all the barbecue basics (choose pork over beef) but adds in a few creative options that complement the essentials. An appetizer of sliced homemade sausages comes with amazing jalapeño pickles that somehow don’t make your mouth feel like a firestorm. And it was here that I discovered how well Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale pairs with barbecue. Expect a short wait on weekend evenings: ’Cue’s middle-of-the-road approach makes it a popular family dining spot. 13700 Highway 9, Milton, 770-667-0089, cuebarbecue.com

D.B.A. Barbecue
D.B.A. (which stands for “Doing Business As,” typically a placeholder moniker) opened last year serving tepid, smokeless barbecue. Owner Matt Coggin quickly wised up, made some crucial changes in the kitchen, and began earning fans in the Virginia-Highland community. The food is much improved. The baby back ribs can have an almost bitter char, but the spareribs are crusty and chewy in all the right ways. Pulled pork also included some barky pieces that enhanced the texture. Vegetarians should make a meal of well-executed sides rather than the undersmoked tofu. Great patio. 1190 North Highland Avenue, 404-249-5000, dbabarbecue.com

Daddy D’z
Chicago native Ron Newman’s Grant Park dive is one of the most polarizing rib shacks in town. Some swear by the meats smoked over hickory and oak. I’ve eaten here several times over the years, and although the dim, funky digs and the ever-changing crowd have classic barbecue joint appeal, I find the food frustratingly inconsistent. You never know which of the meats will be freshest and which will taste over the hill, though ribs and pulled pork are typically the most prudent choices. Likewise, the signature “que wraps” can come across either as fun, pork-stuffed bread sticks or—on an off day—as greasy, over-the-hill wontons. 264 Memorial Drive, 404-222-0206, daddydz.com

Dreamland Bar-B-Que
Having visited the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, years ago, I can attest that the ribs at this outpost aren’t made with the same craft. That said, the ribs are shot through with hickory smoke and have the correct pink tinge. The chicken tastes more grilled than smoked, but a heavy hand with the spices gives the skin some frisky flavor. Any health benefits from ordering green beans are subverted by the liberal inclusion of chopped sausage link. 10730 Alpharetta Highway, Roswell, 678-352-7999, dreamlandbbq.com

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack
Few locals must have shown surprise when George Clooney answered “Fat Matt’s” after Vera Farmiga asked his character for Atlanta barbecue guidance in Up in the Air. The uncitified atmosphere (with blues playing nightly) and the straightforward menu with zero gourmet trappings have earned this twenty-year-old institution national attention—and all the debate that accompanies such notice. I’ll come here if I want nothing more than a plate of ribs, which arrive blackened, moderately caramelized, modestly smoky, and altogether satisfying. The rest of the menu doesn’t much impress, least of all the oversauced pulled pork sandwich. 1811 Piedmont Avenue, 404-607-1622, fatmattsribshack.com

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
Among the more recently opened barbecue contenders, none has gained more wild popularity than Fox Bros. Jonathan and Justin Fox took over the former location of Asada in the summer of 2007, and the restaurant’s parking lot has been one continuous logjam since. Being Texas natives, the brothers naturally excel at beef: Their sliced brisket has the proper nubbly texture achieved from slow cooking, and their tender on-the-bone short rib, sold Thursdays and Saturdays as a special, is the best iteration of that Flintstonian indulgence in the city. I’m not as fond of the pork, which is often lifeless and overcooked, but I do like their wackier creations such as the “Tomminator” (Tater Tots pummeled with Brunswick stew and melted cheese) and the gloppy “burger” with beef brisket and pimento cheese. 1238 DeKalb Avenue, 404-577-4030, foxbrosbbq.com

Hambones BBQ
Hambones’ dining room is vast for an independent barbecue restaurant—and at lunch it fills to capacity with a bustling, racially diverse crowd. It’s easy to see why: Astutely cooked barbecue comes whizzing out of the kitchen shortly after you order at the counter. Hunky spareribs don’t possess much char, but the meat is pink and hickory-scented to the bone. Satisfying bits of ebony bark add extra smoky dimension to the chopped pork. Golden fries may arrive after the rest of the food, but their crisp texture and pure potato flavor reward your patience. 811 Virginia Avenue, Hapeville, 404-767-0888, hambones-bbq.com

Harold’s Barbecue
Harold’s has been a revered name in Atlanta barbecue circles since 1947. The dry, bland pork I encountered on a recent visit did not live up to the restaurant’s status, however. It stays on the radar nonetheless for the speedy service and the two things it does incredibly well: zesty Brunswick stew and its famous cracklin’ cornbread. 171 McDonough Boulevard, 404-627-9268

The Kansas City–style barbecue (dry-rubbed meats with thick, tangy sauce) I hoped to find, given the restaurant’s name, didn’t appear at a Sunday lunch. Pulled pork had a cottony texture, and the pork ribs tasted reheated. A $17 combo plate was one of the most expensive I encountered on this search. Lamb ribs, a unique offering, proved the one highlight. This is a swankier take on a barbecue joint, featuring live jazz four nights a week in a room the size of a modest auditorium. 6317 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 404-459-6497, kcpitbbq.com

This advice applies to most barbecue restaurants but especially to Pig-n-Chik: Go early. It can mean the difference between meats that look and taste vibrant versus barbecue that’s obviously losing its mojo. (Few foods demand more immediate consumption than barbecue.) Ribs here are a tad too fatty for my taste; I prefer the pulled pork, preferably in a sandwich piled—upon request—with coleslaw. Props for the mustard and vinegar sauces, which both avoid the too-sweet trap. Staffers show major hustle when the lunch crowds descend. 4920 Roswell Road, 404-255-6368, and other locations, pignchik.net

Pit Boss BBQ
This concrete block and plywood shack must surely suffer some tough competition from always-busy Hambones, which previously occupied this building and relocated just up the street. But Pit Boss holds its own with juicy, vinegar-laced pulled pork; decent mac and cheese; and pleasantly dusky collard greens. The friendly counter staff would make a regular of me if I lived in Hapeville, but I’d quickly learn to skip the outsourced cakes. 856 Virginia Avenue, Hapeville, 404-768-0036

Rolling Bones
Rolling Bones surprised Downtown office workers and residents when it opened in 2003. Its toothpaste-white exterior, renovated from a modernist gas station, belied the soulfulness of the barbecue cooked on a streamlined system inside. But the quality waned, and last year the Lush Life Group—a collective of hospitality professionals who also run the higher-end One Flew South in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport—acquired the restaurant. The new owners spiked the smokiness of the meats using hickory and pecan woods, and they added novel proteins such as duck and trout. In the year since the changeover, I’ve had meals of varying quality: The pulled pork and beef brisket can be vital and moist or listless and dry. Pink, lacquered ribs deliver more consistency, and the barbecued duck meat has a wondrously creamy texture. Ask for the sauce (hot or mild) on the side, and choose mustard greens or potato salad as accompaniments. 377 Edgewood Avenue, 404-222-2324, rollingbonesbbq.com

Slope’s BBQ
Slope’s original Roswell location (the one I visited) kicked off a small chain of franchised branches around the northern metro area. Come in a carnivorous mood: Chewy-tender ribs, chopped individually and brushed with the typical tomato-based sauce, are soundly enjoyable. Not much else enthused, though. Desserts—porridgelike blackberry cobbler and a banana pudding whose ingredients hadn’t yet coalesced—particularly flopped. 34 East Crossville Road, Roswell, 770-518-7000, and other locations, slopesbbq.com

Smokejack Southern Grill & BBQ
This is the barbecue joint reenvisioned as a date-night restaurant. The exposed, faded brick of the 1800s building, the professional staff gliding through the dining room’s dim lighting, and the well-stocked bar (lots of tempting bourbons and Scotches!) all lend an air of romance to smoked meat. Baby back ribs, with flavors that careen intriguingly between smoky and grilled, stand out among the many meat options. And kudos that the menu offers the ribs either presauced (wet) or unsauced (dry): To my taste, they’re tender enough to forgo a slathering in the kitchen. Salads, sandwiches, and entrees such as meatloaf and grilled salmon are available if your paramour wants to avoid sticky fingers. 29 South Main Street, Alpharetta, 770-410-7611, smokejackbbq.com

Wyatt’s Diner
There’s zero seating and even less ambience in this rickety shack on Memorial Drive. These guys can cook, though. Quiz them about what’s hottest from the oven and stove before making final decisions. My ideal meal from Wyatt’s: a few weighty, chomp-worthy ribs without sauce, accompanied by turnip greens and cheddary, featherweight mac and cheese. 1674 Memorial Drive, 404-371-0311


Community Q BBQ
David Roberts, once part of the now-dispersed Sam & Dave’s BBQ1 dream team, and his partners opened Community Q last year to immediate success. Decaturites have obviously been craving new barbecue options. The ribs rank among the best in the city—tender, dark with complex spices, and with a righteous waft of smokiness. A couple of downsides, though: Pulled pork consistently leans to the dry side, and meats run out more frequently than most barbecue restaurants (call ahead to be sure your favorite cuts are still available that day). But the kitchen compensates with some cheffy specials that miraculously don’t detract from the barbecue joint vibe. In the spring I started my meal with velvety Jerusalem artichoke soup and ended it with a lovely variation on strawberry shortcake made with lemon cake. They only made those ribs—and the city’s most decadent mac and cheese—even more memorable. 1361 Clairmont Road, Decatur, 404-633-2080, communityqbbq.com

Garden Produce and Country Store
Don’t let the name mislead: Yes, this small roadside business in an idyllic corner of Stone Mountain occasionally sells in-season produce from its garden out back, but its primary focus is cooking. Co-owner and pitmaster Wayne Germon smokes some of the most eloquent ribs in the region—a harmony of meat and melting fat mellowed by time spent over cherrywood. Though barbecued meats grab the most attention, the menu also extends into fried catfish and quesadillas stuffed with beef brisket. Grab a fudgy brownie with nuts for a treat on the ride home. 567 Stephenson Road, Stone Mountain, 770-413-0338, neighborhoodbarbeque.com

Ms. Betty’s House of Ribs
The name says it all: You can order grilled chicken at this converted single-wide trailer, but Betty Hamilton and her pitmaster, Ken Glanton, truly dazzle with their ribs. These are plump suckers, lacking char but with rich meat that practically tumbles into your mouth. Two sauces—the sweet, teriyaki-based “boss sauce” and a mustard concoction—are actually ideal when stirred together. Fans of rib tips will adore Ms. Betty’s, and the $8.99 portion serves at least two. Custardy mac and cheese, velvety collards, and smooth-textured potato salad complete the takeout feast. 1281 Bouldercrest Drive, 404-243-8484

Old Brick Pit Barbeque
Nostalgia runs high at Old Brick Pit, which has been in operation since 1976 and does brisk business with a mature clientele. And yes, the restaurant’s namesake—a square, red-bricked crater covered with daunting metal doors—sits just beyond the counter where you order. Pork ribs, speckled from plenty of black pepper in the sauce, are moist to the point of floppiness. Better options are the gently smoky chicken and the Brunswick stew with a balanced, meaty depth. 4805 Peachtree Road, Chamblee, 770-986-7727


Big Shanty Smokehouse
Lucky Kennesaw: Chic Dillard, a restaurant veteran, opened Big Shanty in February 2008 and is giving the barbecue maestros in nearby Marietta some formidable competition. His dry-rubbed ribs develop an intense bark that brings a zigzag of flavors to the pink meat underneath, and his lightly sauced pulled pork stays moist without turning to pap. This is one of the few barbecue joints where you should save room for dessert. Beyond the standout banana pudding made by Dillard’s wife, Sissy, look for seasonal pies baked by the couple’s daughter, Shannon. 3393 Cherokee Street, Kennesaw, 770-499-7444, bigshantybbq.com

Dave Poe’s
This used to be Sam & Dave’s BBQ2, and though Sam Huff and Dave Poe are no longer in business together, the menus at Sam’s BBQ1 and Dave Poe’s share a similar forthrightness. Goofy signs around the restaurant play on the big guy’s name (“Somewhere over the Dave Poe skies are blue”), but the barbecue reveals serious diligence. Campfire-scented meat pulled away from spareribs at a slight touch, and the ribs came barely moistened with a bit of piquant sauce, heightening the flavors rather than masking them. Brisket and pulled pork tasted slightly less smoky but displayed attractive, rosy rings. Impressed as I was, I could also tell that the night I visited I didn’t get the meats at their absolute height, which is why Poe’s barely missed a spot in our Top Five. At its freshest, this barbecue is surely some of the finest available in the metro area. 660 Whitlock Avenue, Marietta, 770-792-2272, davepoes.com

Jim ’N Nick’s
The preciously staged, old-timey quality to Jim ’N Nick’s interior clues you in that this is a chain—one of more than twenty-five franchises in seven states. Meats were uniformly moist but unbalanced in flavor. Pulled pork, beef brisket, and turkey lacked character, while eating the baby backs felt like directly inhaling wood smoke. And sweet notes ran through too much of the food (sugary cheese biscuits?). At least my server was honest: She said a side of creamed spinach more closely resembled spinach dip, and she was right. 4574 South Cobb Drive, Smyrna, 678-556-0011, and other area locations, jimnnicks.com

Old South Bar-B-Q
In an alternate universe, the staff of Old South would have their own sitcom set in this retro, wood-paneled converted house. Eating here feels like you’re eavesdropping on family members, where they chide each other casually and sit down at tables themselves for meals. I suspect lunch is the ideal time to take in the domestic milieu. At dinner one recent night, the pulled pork, beef brisket, and ribs were all past their pinnacle of freshness. 601 Burbank Circle, Smyrna, 770-435-4215, oldsouthbbq.com

The Rib Ranch
Amid offerings such as a chicken fingers salad and a Tex-Mex burger, the Rib Ranch’s actual barbecue needs more careful attention. Beef ribs aren’t properly rendered of their fat, and a sweet sauce overwhelms pulled pork and brisket. But wait! Just as I was ready to leave disappointed, my server all but insisted I try the banana pudding. It arrived in a glass bowl looking like a sundae, piled with whipped cream that yielded to extra-creamy, vanilla-scented pudding and lots of banana slices. If I were to organize a progressive barbecue joint dinner in Marietta, the night would definitely end here. 2063 Canton Road, Marietta, 770-422-5755, theribranch.com

Smokin J’s BBQ
Jeff Rittman, an accomplished veteran of national barbecue competitions, opened this family-friendly spot with friend Anthony Stevens last year. At a lunch visit, glossy St. Louis–style cut ribs and heavily smoked beef brisket outshone slightly dry pulled pork and characterless pulled chicken. Tomato-based sauce has a tang akin to Worcestershire sauce. “Pineapple Express”—pineapple bread pudding soufflé offered as a side—doubles as dessert. A barbecue joint novelty: The restaurant also offers pizza with all the traditional toppings. 2145 Roswell Road, Marietta, 770-973-1003, smokinjbbq.com

Staqs BBQ
Most of the food at this humble business on a lonely stretch of South Cobb Drive is serviceable. But there’s one unique specialty that could blossom into the next soul food craze. The menu labels it “A Mess.” A made-to-order waffle is piled first with pulled pork, then raisin-studded slaw, and finally a drizzle of syrup. Like chicken and waffles, the combination sounds untenable, but the sweet-and-savory playfulness ends up being downright pleasurable. 2599 South Cobb Drive, Smyrna, 770-438-4301, staqsbbq.com

Thompson Brothers BBQ
The five Thompson siblings hail from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the barbecue style is similar to Georgia’s—a hodgepodge of influences in which beef and pork are equally welcome on the plate. The smoky, aggressively seasoned ribs win top marks at this no-frills storefront, with the more delicately smoked chopped pork coming in at a respectable second. The kitchen could pull back on the meaty wallop in the collards. I sampled many a slice of lemon pound cake on this quest; Thompson’s was by far the most moist and lemony. 2445 Cobb Parkway, Smyrna, 770-818-9098, thompsonbbq.com

Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q
Twenty years ago, Danny and Larry Williamson moved to Georgia from Alabama to begin what would evolve into a local barbecue corporation, with three folksy, high-volume restaurants; a separate catering division; and a line of barbecue sauces (including my favorite bottled version of the South Carolina mustard style). For the amount of food these operations churn through, the barbecue is admirably solid. Spareribs and baby backs have a fair amount of chew, and though they arrive mopped with sauce, the meat’s plucky smokiness still prevails. Sides, sadly, can often taste like afterthoughts. Marietta houses the original location, but since that area has risen as a hotbed for some of the most distinguished pitmasters in the metro area, the newer Canton and Douglasville outposts are more of a boon to their communities. 1425 Roswell Road, Marietta, 770-971-3201; 1600 Marietta Highway, Canton, 770-345-9067; 7040 Concourse Parkway, Douglasville, 770-949-5058, williamsonbros.com

Zeigler’s BBQ and Catering
I visited this strip mall spot near the end of my hunt, when my appetite for smoked protein was waning fast. When I tasted Al and Mary Ann Zeigler’s spareribs, I was suddenly ravenous again. They must have pulled those fragrant brutes straight from the smoker—they were almost too hot to hold, with crusty, handsomely blackened exteriors and coral-colored meat that pulled cleanly from the bone. The chicken, also marvelously charred, had a spicy-sweet nip. Beef brisket was unashamedly fatty and reminded me of my years in Texas. These meats deserve to be sampled unadorned, so ask for sauces on the side. Side dishes tasted uniformly standard; if they’d been more exceptional, Zeigler’s would have competed mightily for a spot in the Top Five. Regardless, I’m still daydreaming about those ribs. 3451 Cobb Parkway, Acworth, 770-529-5227, zeiglersbbq.com


Holy Smokes
This low-key strip mall storefront with football-themed decor would satiate a hankering for ’cue if you live in the area, but it isn’t worth a trek. Ask for ribs dry so you can splash on the jazzier hot-n-spicy sauce, far more interesting than the sweeter version. Presauced pulled pork had smoky heft but a mushy texture. Exceptionally creamy mac and cheese. 1944 Braselton Highway, Buford, 770-963-0994, holysmokes-bbq.com

Hometown Barbeque
I remember how revelatory Hometown’s rosy, glossy ribs were when I first tried them from the catering trailer out of which George Richbourg and Martha Kelly initially sold their barbecue. If settling into a permanent location pulled some of the magic from those ribs, they remain sound—as does the chicken with agreeably smirched skin. Vie for a spot on the restaurant’s tranquil porch. 1173 Lawrenceville Highway, Lawrenceville, 770-963-5383

JR’s Log House
With the film industry booming in Georgia, location scouts seeking 1970s authenticity should take note of JR’s: The inside is awash in the shades of brown ubiquitous to restaurants from the Welcome Back, Kotter era. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner run the gamut of Southern specialties, from biscuits with streak o’ lean to fried catfish. But barbecue dominates the lunch and dinner menus. Opt for the smoky spareribs over the chewier “meaty loin ribs” (JR’s version of baby backs). In keeping with the Southern mind-set, choose meat-and-three-style sides such as sweet potato casserole alongside the more typical Brunswick stew. 6601 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Norcross, 770-449-6426, jrsloghouse.com

Spiced Right
Three words: pulled pork sandwich. These pitmasters know how to push the limits of piggy goodness. The ambrosial meat verges on salty and greasy but never crosses into excess. Dab on one of three sauces—vinegar-and-tomato-based mild, peppery hot, or “smooth,” the sweet option. Dry-rubbed ribs are big and marbled. Hash brown casserole could be a brilliant addition to the lexicon of barbecue sides, but the recipe needs to be a touch creamier or cheesier. Instead choose the fried okra, flecked with crunchy salt. On days when the heat isn’t intense enough to melt hairspray or foundation, the business crowd flocks to the covered deck at the original Lilburn location. 5364 Lawrenceville Highway, Lilburn, 770-564-0355; 635 Atlanta Street, Roswell, 678-352-9633, spicedright.com


Dean’s Barbecue
Away from the carbon monoxide congestion of Jonesboro’s Tara Boulevard, down a patch of country road that sets a verdant preamble, Dean’s has been serving barbecue since 1947. It is obviously adored by locals, who cram the front counter area of the low, wood-sided building and order from the short menu. Chopped pork sandwich, Brunswick stew, coleslaw, chips, tea: That’s about it. Dean’s stew is pureed thick and registers much smokier than the meat on the sandwich, which comes dressed in tangy vinegar sauce and topped with pickle slices. Honestly, Dean’s might not serve the most transcendent barbecue, but the palpable sense of tradition makes it worth a visit. 9480 South Main Street, Jonesboro, 770-471-0138


Owner William Latimer consistently wins titles at professional barbecue competitions, but what’s even more impressive is how capably he’s trained his cooks to execute his vision. Warm spices rubbed into lacquered ribs tickle the palate. Chopped pork has a frizzled texture that looks as though it might be dry, but each bite was sumptuously moist. “Burnt ends” feature saucy beef brisket nuggets I would gladly substitute for popcorn while watching a movie. Four sauces—mustard, vinegar, hot and spicy, and sweet—have all been succinctly calibrated. The nondescript dining room (red walls, concrete floors, a display of towering cakes from Alpine Bakery in one corner) doesn’t prepare you for the food’s marvelous attention to detail. This one merits a drive. 10020 Highway 92, Woodstock, 678-402-1662; 1976 Highway 53 West, Jasper, 706-692-7929, bub-ba-q.com

J.D.’s Bar-B-Que
J.D.’s does have tables, but most customers swoop in to pick up their to-go orders from the counter. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and chicken come doused with tomato-based sauce, but its mild nature doesn’t tamp down the nuances of the hickory- and oak-smoked meats. Go low-carb here and gorge on proteins; unexciting sides and soggy cobbler don’t add much to the meal. Between the impressive meat cooking I found both at Bub-Ba-Q and J.D.’s, I’d say Woodstock is an emerging barbecue hotbed. 6577 Bells Ferry Road, Woodstock, 678-445-7730, jdsbbq.net

Two Brothers Bar-B-Q
Antique guns on the wall? This venerable joint has been around since 1974, and it’s no Disney version of a barbecue destination. Shelves around the edges of the room contain all manner of rural curios, from a dull, rusted saw to collections of old glass milk bottles. Unfortunately, my eyes indulged more than my taste buds did on my visit to Two Brothers: It was peak dinner hour, but the ribs tasted past their prime, the pulled pork was dry, and the Brunswick stew could have doubled for spaghetti meat sauce. Just an off night, perhaps? 1695 Old Canton Road, Ball Ground, 770-735-2900


Wallace Barbecue
There’s midcentury modern, and then there’s the design aesthetic to which Wallace, opened in 1966, adheres: midcentury barbecue. A pig-themed weathervane atop the building. An old Coca-Cola vending machine and other red and white Coke souvenirs spread around the rambling restaurant. Plastic pitchers of sweet tea left on the table by waitresses who would fit right in at Mel’s Diner. The menu also offers plenty of Americana (cheeseburgers, chili dogs, chopped steak plate), but when it comes to the actual barbecue, opt for the ribs. Ask for the sauce on the side: The mustardy hot sauce on the table beats the thinner stuff they use in the kitchen. When the fries arrive at their freshest, they have the droopy-crisp appeal of Boardwalk-style spuds. 3035 Veterans Memorial Highway, Austell, 770-739-1686, wallacebarbecue.com


Sprayberry’s Barbecue
In operation since 1926 and still very popular with locals, the Sprayberry’s of today radiates a cafeteria quality. Honest baby back ribs (coated with a thin wash akin to diluted steak sauce), respectable Brunswick stew, and the fried peach pie (choose it over the banal apple version) were the meal’s highlights. 229 Jackson Street, Newnan, 770-253-4421; 1060 Highway 34 East, Newnan, 770-253-5080, sprayberrysbbq.com


Fresh Air Bar-B-Que
After the hour-plus drive from Atlanta, the perfumed air from Fresh Air’s billowing chimneys made me feel like a Looney Tunes character drifting on an aromatic cloud. This standard-bearer opened in 1929: It’s no stranger to barbecue’s cheering effects during challenging economic times. The customer line winds among the tables in the building’s main, cabinlike room. At the original location (there’s also an outpost in Macon), chopped pork headlines solo: no ribs or chicken. The Deluxe Plate includes chopped pork, Brunswick stew, a drink, and a cup of slaw. This is the quintessential Georgia pork sandwich, the meat minced and mixed with just enough sauce for a vinegary tingle. The real epicurean grail, though, is the stew: meaty, smoky, sweet, and tangy. I looked up after my first spoonful and said, “Ah. Now I understand what this dish is supposed to taste like.” 1164 Highway 42 South, Flovilla, 770-775-3182, freshairbarbecue.com


Pippin’s Barbecue
Given the restaurant’s unassuming corner in a small strip mall, you’d never suspect to find the powerful-looking Southern Pride barbecue oven built into the back wall of Pippin’s diminutive dining room. The owners hung antlers around the oven to complete the red-blooded lodge homage. Swing by at lunch for the fetchingly charred baby back ribs, Pippin’s best offering. 40 Sims Street, McDonough, 770-957-2539, pippinsbarbecue.com


Scott’s Walk-Up Bar-B-Q
If you’re driving to Chattanooga for the day, Scott Panter’s unassuming restaurant is worth the short detour from I-75. Among all his well-prepared meats, the pulled pork won my highest praises—particularly when anointed with Panter’s peppery mustard sauce. (He also sells his sauces by the bottle.) Accompany the barbecue with Brunswick stew that possesses an unusually meaty depth, and finish the meal with peach cobbler (the finest I found on this search) topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Despite the name, this isn’t just takeout: There’s plenty of seating both inside and on the covered patio. 206 North Tennessee Street, Cartersville, 770-382-1600, scottswalkupbbq.com