If you ever find yourself in Atlanta, GA, I suggest you go “hog wild” on some BBQ ASAP. Being the unofficial capital of The South, Atlanta is one of the great BBQ cities in the U.S. But what exactly is “Southern BBQ” and how did it become so popular across the country (and world, for that matter)? Let’s take a look.
All BBQ Is Southern BBQ
To an extent, when we talk about any BBQ in the United States, we are talking about Southern BBQ. True, this country is home to many styles of BBQ, including regional styles from outside the South. Kansas City, for instance, is a mecca for sauce-heavy BBQ, while California is doing amazing things with the beef tri-tip. That said, BBQ as we know and love it has its origins in the Southeastern United States, with unique variations spreading outward from there.
What Is BBQ?
Before we delve deeper into Southern BBQ and what makes it so delicious, let’s back up for a second. “Barbecue” – the process of slowly smoking seasoned meat – derives from the Spanish word “barbacoa,” which also lends its name to that iconic Mexican shredded beef dish. This style of cooking originated in the Caribbean with the Taino people, who seasoned meats with native herbs and spices before slow-cooking them over a fire pit (a method that extended the meat’s “shelf life” long before refrigeration). Spanish conquistadors in the West Indies quickly, ahem, “borrowed” this method of cooking and used it during their forays into what is now the United States.
BBQ In The South
This style of cooking meat quickly caught on in the American South. For many Southerners, pork was king (as still it still is today). Pork became the meat of choice for primarily economic reasons: hogs were much easier to house and feed than cows, because they could be let loose to forage for food in the wild when feed was running low. Unfortunately, this roving method of eating led to leaner, tougher hog meat, which is where the barbecue technique really comes in handy: cooking the meat “low and slow” and basting it with sauce made the meat much more tender.
Regional Southern Styles
As anyone who has eaten extensively in The South knows, “Southern BBQ” encompasses several regional styles. The Carolinas, for example, are famous for pulled pork and whole hog barbecue with a piquant mustard sauce (it is believed that German and French immigrants introduced the mustard-based sauce). Memphis BBQ, on the other hand, relies on a thicker, sweeter sauce. Since Memphis was a busy trading center on the Mississippi River, molasses – something of a delicacy in the 19th century – was relatively easy to come by.
As one of the largest metropolitan areas in the South, Atlanta is home to just about every type of BBQ you can think of—Southern or otherwise. If you are looking to dig in to some of the best BBQ that The South has to offer, these 5 spots are not to be missed.
One of the most popular BBQ spots in Atlanta specializes in…Texas style BBQ? That’s right: the two brothers hail from Texas and decided to bring a slice of their home state to Atlanta’s hip Little Five Points neighborhood back in 2007. Georgians have been lining up for it ever since. Naturally, brisket (one of the staples of Texas BBQ) is big here. The Fox Brothers make their brisket from certified Angus beef and sell it sliced or chopped. They even sell brisket chili (t doesn’t get any more Texas than that). It’s not all brisket though: Fox Bros.’ extensive menu also features smoked chicken wings, spare ribs by the half- or whole-rack, and even “veggie plates” for plant lovers like me.
2. Ohio Hog
If delicious Texas-style BBQ in Atlanta came as a shock, this one will really blow your mind. At Ohio Hog, husband and wife Gary and Vivian Williams are bringing the BBQ stylings of their native Cleveland, OH to suburban Tyrone, GA. These self-taught cooks have already made a big splash in their new hometown. The menu features most of the BBQ classics, from pulled pork to ribs. But for a true taste of Cleveland order the Polish Boy: a smoked kielbasa topped with fries, coleslaw and BBQ sauce. This Cleveland classic has quickly become a big hit down south.
What is it about Atlanta BBQ and brothers? Like the Fox Brothers, the five Thompson Brothers have become a game-changer for Atlanta-area BBQ. Thompson Brothers is best known for its ribs, which can be ordered as a sandwich or by the pound. If a plate full of red meat isn’t your thing, head there on Tuesday or Thursday to get the barbecued salmon. You should definitely check out some of their decadent Southern desserts, like peach cobbler or banana pudding. Located in Smyrna near Truist Park (home to the Atlanta Braves), this is a great pre- or post-game meal.
While most of the places on this list are relatively recent arrivals to the Atlanta BBQ scene, Wallace is a bona fide classic. Located in the western suburb of Austell, GA, Wallace Barbecue has been slinging ribs, chicken, burgers, and steaks since 1966. And the prices will make you feel like you’ve gone back to the 60s: $8.00 for a pork sandwich with fries and slaw? Yes please. Wallace Barbecue also serves that Georgia classic, Brunswick stew—a tomato-based stew with lots of beans, vegetables, and meat.
We’ve established that the Atlanta BBQ scene brings in delicious flavors from many different places. Heirloom Market brings them all the way in from Korea. Run by Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee, this fusion BBQ spot serves such creative dishes as chile paste-marinated chopped rib meat and kimchi slaw. Happily, Heirloom also serves several tasty vegetarian options, like “Sweet & Spicy Tofu.” Heirloom’s unique blend of flavors makes it an essential stop on your Atlanta BBQ tour.