The 14 Absolute Best Barbecue Restaurants In Nashville, Ranked

Considering the variety of regional barbecue styles in America, the word can mean a whole lot of different things depending on where you come from. For instance, if you're from Texas, you probably think of brisket and sausage. But in Tennessee, barbecue usually means smoky pulled pork drenched in sweet and spicy sauce, most often sandwiched between two fluffy buns.

Tennessee has a rich history in the art of smoking meat and slathering it with sauce. On one end of the state, in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, they have their own pork barbecue traditions that often include more vinegar-based sauces that are sweet and tangy (similar to Carolina barbecue sauce). But really, it's West Tennessee that created the style of barbecue associated with the state–dry rub ribs and pulled pork with tomato-based sauces. Memphis is not only home to the blues, Graceland, and the Grizzlies, but also home to some of the most famous and best barbecue in the world.

That being said, Nashville is catching up in the Tennessee barbecue race and there is an overload of barbecue joints in Music City, many of which rival what you find in Memphis. Let's take a closer look at some of the absolute best barbecue restaurants in Nashville.

14. Whitt's Barbecue

Whitt's is an establishment that has lasted in Nashville through a lot of changes over the years and that counts for something. Its first location opened in 1978 on Antioch Pike and it's been family-run ever since. The local chain now has locations all over Middle Tennessee from Tullahoma to Springfield. The hickory-smoked pulled pork with a side of baked beans is a great affordable option for those wanting to sample a simple, standard Southern barbecue meal on the go. The barbecue is good, but the fact that Whitt's is more of a fast-food/drive-thru experience than other options on this list is keeping it at a lower spot.

The locations are also a bit off the beaten path and in more residential areas. But if you find yourself in Belle Meade in West Nashville or on Nolensville Pike in South Nashville near the zoo with a hankering for fast-food barbecue, then you can't go wrong with the 45-year-old Nashville staple that is Whitt's.

13. Smokin' Thighs

While in Tennessee barbecue is usually associated with pork, it would be unfair to leave out the glory that is a barbecue chicken sandwich. Especially in Nashville, where the chicken is as famous worldwide as the music. While there are plenty of spots to get hot chicken in Nashville, what sets Smokin' Thighs apart is that the chicken here is smoked low and slow as opposed to the usual fried chicken found around town. However, you can order a Nashville Hot Chicken dry rub and satisfy your hot chicken and barbecue craving in one stop.

What began as a food truck and expanded into two full restaurants, Smokin' Thighs offers a variety of smoked chicken options with a choice of dry rubs or barbecue sauces from sweet and mild to Make U Sweat. The barbecue chicken sandwich is composed of chopped applewood-smoked chicken and Smokin' BBQ sauce topped with slaw and pickles . The restaurant also boasts one of the largest moonshine collections in Nashville and offers a variety of moonshine cocktails to make that Southern experience even more poignant. Both locations are conveniently located close to popular areas of town in Wedgewood-Houston and The Nations. However, because the menu does lack classic barbecue pork options, we feel obliged to keep it at a lower slot.

12. Bar-B-Cutie Smokehouse

What started in 1950 in Nashville, Bar-B-Cutie Smokehouse has now become highly-rated franchise that has expanded into many other U.S. states. Though it has more of a chain restaurant vibe than some of the other spots on this list, there is a certain comfort food charm to it, especially for those who grew up here. Nostalgia, along with good old-fashioned barbecue and plenty of Southern sides, is certainly among the things that Bar-B-Cutie is serving up for folks.

At all the Tennessee locations, the meats are only ever smoked with locally sourced Hickory Wood. Though there are several locations throughout town, the most convenient one for tourists would likely be the Donelson location near the airport. Or, if you find yourself wanting barbecue right after getting off the plane, look for the Bar-B-Cutie inside BNA. But Bar-B-Cutie Smokehouse isn't just for tourists, locals obviously love this place, too.

11. Central BBQ

If you want to sample authentic Memphis barbecue without traveling 200 miles southwest, Central BBQ in Nashville is the place to go. Central started in the West Tennessee city in 2002 and has been earning a reputation as one of the best barbecue spots in Memphis ever since. So much so that the owners decided to expand the business east and opened a location in Nashville in 2019 near downtown Capitol View. A second location in the popular Hillsboro Village near Belmont University followed.

The pitmasters at Central use hickory and pecan woods to slowly smoke their meats and season them with a secret combination of dry rub spices. The result is a tender, melt-in-your-mouth experience. And it's not just pork on the menu. The popular BBQ Nachos can be made with pork, chicken, turkey, or beef. Sandwiches here range from a classic pulled pork to brisket, and smoked turkey or pulled chicken. You can even get a barbecue portobello sandwich if you're a vegetarian.

10. Mary's Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Que

Black-owned in the historic Jefferson Street Music District since 1962, Mary's Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Que is more than just a barbecue joint; it's a slice of history. The neighborhood was once one of the most popular jazz and blues districts in America and the area is home to the historic Fisk University and the Jefferson Street Sound Museum. After learning about some of the neighborhood's history, stop for a bite to eat at Mary's to experience some truly classic barbecue that is far from the tourist traps of town.

Regular customers of this family-owned establishment gravitate towards the barbecue pork shoulder and slaw on corn cakes or the famous rib sandwich which contains tender ribs and pickles between two pieces of old-school white bread (though calling it a sandwich is a stretch considering it must be taken apart to actually devour). Fans rave about the house barbecue sauce but be warned: It's a level of spicy that is not for the faint of heart.

9. Ooh Wee! Bar-B-Q

Speaking of Jefferson Street, Mary's Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Que isn't the only barbecue stop on that street worth mentioning. While not as old or famous, Ooh Wee! Bar-B-Que is a highly-rated hidden gem. According to The Tennessean, it's not unusual for owner Freddie Waller to hand people their food while saying, "I hope this brings you an ooh wee moment." Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, this tiny trailer serves up tasty smoked meats at a friendly price. You can, of course, find classic pulled pork shoulder on a corn cake, but it's the smoked chicken leg quarter that is Ooh Wee's specialty .

The other barbecued meat options include sausages, wings, and turkey legs. And because smoked meat is best enjoyed with Southern sides, customers can choose from an array of options like collard greens, fried okra, baked beans, or potato salad. And to drink: The special Ooh Wee fruit tea stands as a customer favorite.

8. Drifters Tennessee Barbeque Joint

Visitors of Nashville often end up in Five Points in one way or another. The trendy East Nashville neighborhood is home to loads of popular bars, restaurants, and shops. After a brutal tornado ripped through the neighborhood in 2020 and the pandemic saw business wane, Five Points is now back and busier than ever. Standing out amid many of the newer developments, you'll find Drifter's Tennessee Barbeque Joint. The spot has been around since 2009 and has outlived a lot of changes in the neighborhood partly because locals still enjoy the classic barbecue, the patio that patrons with pups can enjoy, and frequent live music.

The hickory-smoked pulled barbecue can be enjoyed as a plate or a sandwich with the options of pork, chicken, or brisket. A side of baked beans and french fries come with the plates and the sandwiches are served on a toasted brioche bun spread with garlic butter. The BBQ Nachos are also a solid choice, especially after settling into the patio with a beer and listening to some tunes on a summer's day.

7. Loveless Cafe

Though predominantly known for world-famous biscuits, Loveless Cafe added a smokehouse in 2004. Since then, its pulled pork has gained a reputation for being some of the best you can find in Music City. The pitmaster arrives on-site at 3 a.m. in the morning to begin the process of cooking the pork butts slowly at a low temperature with local hickory wood. The meat is coated in a special dry rub that contains over 16 spices and gets smoked for over nine hours before getting wrapped in foil and cooking for the rest of the day–a process that takes about 21 hours.

The barbecue sauce is entirely made from scratch and the chefs make about six gallons a day. Pulled pork is used in several different dishes on the menu. If you happen to end up there for breakfast (as many out-of-towners do) then you can sample the barbecue on one of the famous biscuits or get it with eggs or in an omelet. For lunch or dinner, it's hard to go wrong with a classic pulled pork sandwich. Any way you have it, rest assured it will be drenched in a generous amount of that homemade sauce.

6. Bringle's Smoking Oasis

Chef and Pitmaster Carey Bringle is known more for his first restaurant Peg Leg Porker (which we'll get to later in the list) but Bringle's Smoking Oasis is his newer creation that focuses more on Southwestern flavors. Whereas Peg Leg Porker focuses predominantly on Tennessee-style pork barbecue, Bringle's is the place to go for Texas-style barbecue brisket and beef ribs as well as other Southwestern favorites like street corn, cowboy beans, and tortilla chips with queso.

Located in The Nations neighborhood, the space has one of the largest patios in Nashville . The outdoor area includes a bar, lawn chairs, picnic tables, corn hole, and T.V.s. The space is both pet-friendly and kid-friendly, making this a great pit stop for families visiting, and looking to get out of the bustle of the more congested areas of town. In short, it's the perfect place to enjoy quality smoked meats with a Texan flare on days when Tennessee weather is at its finest.

5. Shotgun Willie's BBQ

Tennesseans may be proud of their own type of barbecue, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate what Texas has to offer as well. At Shotgun Willie's, you can find the best of both worlds. Owner and pitmaster Bill LaViolette is from the Lone Star State and arguably makes the most authentic Texas brisket in Nashville. But he makes sure his Tennessee pulled pork shoulder is just as good. "I'm not here to say Texas is better than Southeastern style barbecue or Texas is better than Memphis-style barbecue," he told Tennessee Crossroads. The restaurant's popularity in combination with its equally delicious offerings of both Texas and Tennessee-style barbecue, lands this barbecue joint in the number five spot on this list.

If you do plan to make this your barbecue stop in town, know that it is a lunch spot. It's only open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and the earlier the better because it will close before 3 p.m. if the barbecue sells out early. The current location is in Inglewood, deep in East Nashville, far from tourist spots. However, LaViolette is planning on opening a larger location a little further outside of town in Madison. The new location will have room for a 1,000-gallon smoker to make more meat to meet the local demand.

4. Butchertown Hall

While not exclusively a barbecue restaurant, Butchertown Hall's menu is heavy on smoked meats. Not only is the spot known for Texas-style barbecue but the craft tacos and margaritas are fan favorites as well. Located in Germantown, you'll find this is a more upscale environment than your usual barbecue joint, and for good reason. When you order the brisket, Carolina pulled pork, Texas hot links, or loin back ribs, expect some of the highest quality meats in town, all smoked in the finest Tennessee oak. Almost everything on the menu contains elements of Southwestern flavors so if tacos are more your thing, the barbecue pulled pork tacos or the oak-smoked brisket tacos are the way to go.

Butchertown Hall's ribs are particularly a foodie favorite. Rubbed in Southwestern spices and smoked to perfection, the ribs are extremely flavorful and unbelievably tender. It's no wonder The Tennessean named them the best barbecue ribs in Nashville in 2019. The reputation of its ribs plus the more upscale environment are the reasons we're naming Butchertown Hall the fourth best place to get barbecue in Music City.

3. Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint has been a Nashville staple since 2006. Owner and pitmaster Pat Martin's specialty is West Tennessee-style whole hog barbecue where the entire hog gets slowly smoked with hickory at a low temperature. The result is delectably tender and smoky pork. While you can certainly order all the classic barbecue joint staples at Martin's, you'll also find options that are a little more out of the ordinary like the Brisket Burger or The Notorious Redneck Taco which is your choice of pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken, smoked turkey, or catfish, topped with jack cheese and wrapped in a cornbread hoecake in lieu of a tortilla.

Without a doubt, Martin's is one of the most popular places to get barbecue in Music City and there are several locations throughout town. There's one right downtown that also has a beer garden, one on Belmont Boulevard near the University, one in Midtown, and one inside the Nissan Stadium where the Tennessee Titans play. For all these reasons, plus the reviews full of high praise and Pat Martin's reputation as one of the leaders of Tennessee barbecue, Martin's comes in at the number three spot on this list. 

2. Edley's Bar-B-Que

Edley's Bar-B-Que is a tried and true spot, to say the least. Nearly every Nashvillian has dined at an Edley's at some point. The barbecue establishment has multiple locations in some of the most hopping spots in town, each one of them almost always slammed. The original location opened in 2011 in the popular 12 South Neighborhood, but there's also a Five Points location in East Nashville and one in Sylvan Park. The popularity of Edley's isn't overrated and it's won local polls for the best barbecue multiple times to prove it, which is why it gets the number two spot on this list.

Served in a rustic, laid-back environment, you'll find delicious pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and classic Southern sides. The menu is quite expansive, going beyond just pork and brisket and including things like smoked turkey, tacos, and Nashville-style hot chicken. And if you're feeling adventurous, The Tuck Special is a local favorite. It's a sliced brisket sandwich with an over-easy egg, pickles, and spicy pimento cheese, all drenched in both red and white barbecue sauces. You'll definitely need a napkin (or five) but it's a sandwich worth getting messy for.

1. Peg Leg Porker

One of the most beloved barbecue spots in Nashville, Peg Leg Porker is a family-owned business that serves award-winning barbecue. It takes the number one spot because of its high ratings, its popularity amongst locals and tourists alike, and the national recognition the barbecue has received. Located in The Gulch only a stone's throw away from downtown, this Music City staple was named The Best Barbecue Joint in the entire state of Tennessee by Southern Living in 2023. Peg Leg only serves true Tennessee-style pork barbecue and chicken. The West Tennessee dry rub ribs are infused with the perfect amount of smoke and the pulled pork sandwiches covered with a tomato-based sauce and topped with slaw are just like you'd find in Memphis. Other dishes on the menu like fried peach pies and Kool-Aid pickles will have you saying "Only in the South."

Not only is Peg Leg Porker known for some of the best barbecue in town, but it's also famous for its friendly staff and fun atmosphere. The name is a nod to the owner and pitmaster, Carey Bringle, who lost his leg in a battle with bone cancer as a teenager. Bringle's goal is to inspire others and never take himself too seriously. But that doesn't mean the barbecue isn't seriously delicious, because it definitely is the best in town.