Back in 2004, I posed a single question to an online forum of Atlanta foodies. That question was basically this, where the heck can I find good barbecue in Atlanta?
After reading the heated thread of responses, I finally came to the conclusion I feared most when posting the ominous question. There really wasn’t much in the way of worthy barbecue to be had, not back then anyway.
Living in Atlanta since the 70s, I could never understand how a self respecting southern city such as Atlanta could look the rest of the south in the eye without even sporting a single decent barbecue joint.
But recently, a flurry of killer barbecue joints have opened. And, when taking a closer look at who is doing it right, I can’t help but notice a family theme — mostly figuratively speaking — among the top players.
Anyway, and without further ado, here’s my list of Atlanta’s best barbecue joints — in no specific order.
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
1238 Dekalb Ave, Inman Park
It’s quite easy to pick out the family relation here, and as you can clearly see I am speaking in the literal sense with my family reference regarding this one. Most believe these rock ‘n’ roll twins (Jonathan and Justin Fox) from Forth Worth, Texas — once Earthlink computer geeks who honeymooned as barbecue caterers — put out the best barbecue in the city. And, for good reason. They pretty much do everything right, from brisket to ribs to pulled pork and crispy capped mac ‘n’ cheese, even their hearty version of Brunswick stew will make you stop and take notice of Texas. The brothers also have a creative side, which they flaunt on the specials board. Expect anything and everything — depending on the day — to be lifted from that smoker, including meatloaf, bologna and even pork belly.
Sam’s BBQ 1
4944 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta
This hot barbecue joint was originally named Sam and Dave’s BBQ1. Owners Sam Huff and Dave Poe landed on the scene with sparks a flying, and a glowing AJC review sitting fresh and pretty on the wall. But years later, the marriage of these two barbecue geeks dissolved. They each took a restaurant. Sam took #1 leaving Dave with #2 over on whitlock, which he now appropriately calls Dave Poe’s BBQ (next on my list here). Pulled pork and ribs are real standouts along with that super creamy, insanely delicious mac ‘n cheese introduced by partner Dave Roberts. Recent expansion (two doors down) now allows for comfortable indoor dine-in visits. Keep reading to see more offspring of this killer barbecue joint. This one is like the tall sturdy branch of a whose who of barbecue family tree.
Dave Poe’s BBQ
660 Whitlock Avenue SW, Marietta
This one was originally called Sam & Dave’s BBQ2, but a separation of partners gave this restaurant to the Dave (officially known as Dave Poe) in Sam & Dave’s. Try to keep the names straight, it gets rather difficult for me as another Dave and different offspring have slipped out from behind the smoke of this hot concept to set in motion their own careers in barbecue — helping to create a recent flurry of world-class barbecue around town. More on that later. As for this one, nothing really changed but the name. All the wholesome goodness you’ve grown to love at Sam & Dave’s, including that ridiculously tasty mac ‘n’ cheese they’ve become so famous for, is still to be had at Dave Poe’s BBQ. And, that’s a good thing.
1361 Clairmont Road, Decatur
Here’s where all those other Daves I mentioned start coming into play. After spending many years Sam & Dave’s, Dave Roberts set out on his own by opening Community Q near Emory in Decatur. And, he quickly built himself a nice little reputation among the slow smoked meat aficionados. Many, myself included, believe that Community Q and Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q are a head above the others. Perfectly cooked brisket, succulent ribs and pulled pork at this joint are all as good as you’ll find anywhere in the city, and that giant fork tender beef rib just melts in your mouth. It’s as if he took everything he learned under Sam & Dave and took it to a whole new level, with the exception of that crazy delicious mac ‘n’ cheese, which Roberts didn’t change a thing. It was Roberts’ mother’s recipe after all. Really love the use of some local ingredients in menu items like soups of the day.
Grand Champion BBQ
4401 Shallowford Rd #168, Roswell
Co-owner Robert Owens is another product of the Sam & Dave’s marriage. A partnership that has resulted in four of our city’s current top seven barbecue joints, according to my taste. That being said, I believe this newbie of the four has the most tweaking still to do, but in defense of Owens and Grand Champion BBQ, they are the newest player in town. Ribs have been the best and most consistent menu item in the house thus far — and, Owens wisely seems to be serving that same Dave Roberts’ highly addictive mac ‘n’ cheese, but with the addition of smoked gouda. This place is good — sometimes even very good — but has yet to find that stride all the great ones seem to have found.
Swallow at The Hollow
1072 Green Street, Roswell
Before Sam & Dave’s BBQ1. Long before Community Q. And, even Before Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q was a bluesy barbecue barn in Roswell called Swallow at The Hollow. A quirky guy by the name of Bill Greenwood of Greenwood’s restaurant teamed up with Paul Doster (who acted as chef and managing partner) to open this bbq joint directly across the beautiful, oak-shaded street from Greenwood’s. It was by far the best of the best our city had to offer before heavy hitters such as Fox Bros. and Sam & Dave’s BBQ1. I’d still confidently put this one in my Top 5 Atlanta BBQ spots. Ever notice how certain items separates the great ‘cue joints from the good ones. Those items here are succulent sweet ribs with perfect bark and seriously amazing homemade Texas toast. Oh my, the Texas toast. Sides are all made from scratch daily, nothing from a can. Pulled pork arrives chopped or sliced (not pulled) — and, as good as it is by itself, anything wearing that Texas toast is certain to be a hit. No joke, this stuff is that good.
13700 Highway 9 North, Alpharetta
Co-owner Paul Doster (that chef looking guy from Swallow at The Hollow) broke away from his partnership with Bill Greenwood to start ‘Cue in Alpharetta. It was an instant hit with the locals — no surprise there. Though some things are different than Swallow at The Hollow, Doster brings the same philosophy to his new gig along with those little nuances that made Swallow at The Hollow so great, touches like homemade breads and killer ribs, that same mac ‘n’ cheese and fresh veggies. And, of course, all sides are made from scratch. The major difference I detect here at ‘Cue from Swallow at The Hollow is that everything tastes a little sweeter and the barbecue sauce is a tad mustardy. Basically, if you like Swallow at The Hollow you’ll like this one.
I know what many of you are thinking. “He forgot to add Heirloom Market BBQ (2243 Akers Mill Rd. Atlanta, Tel:770.612.2502) to his list.”
No, I didn’t have a brain fart this time. It’s not listed because my two meals at this popular little joint along the Chattahoochie River were anything but spectacular. In fact, one meal was inexcusably inedible.
BBQ blog sites worth following:
The purist of all local barbecue sites. You will find nothing but barbecue reviews and things that pertain to cured and smoked meats. My biggest complaint here is that his postings seem to have suddenly stopped since fall of last year. Still, this site is a great source for those seeking killer ‘cue in the Atlanta metro and the entire southeast.
Marie, Let’s Eat
The author is a self proclaimed barbecue fanatic and
has more barbecue reviews than I’ve ever seen on any of the local sites. Reader beware, this guy for reasons unknown branches out into more than just barbecue. Do yourself a favor and skip the many ramblings about chain restaurants and flashy media dinner excursions.