Pitmasters who stoke the fires at area barbecue joints represent diverse regions, cultures and styles. But, they all agree cooking slowly at a low temperature is the way to go, and their stories are as compelling as their smoked meats.
Porter Jarvis, Old Brick Pit BBQ
The L-shaped brick pit at Old Brick Pit BBQ was designed over 40 years ago for optimal airflow, to smoke pork slow and low. “Traditional, indirect wood-burning smokers is the way barbecue started, and the only way it should be done,” said pitmaster Porter Jarvis. The menu intentionally is kept small and simple. Jarvis cooks fresh meats daily with a dry rub, and mops them with a vinegar sauce. He left California to return to the family business he someday will run. “Tradition is everything to us,” he said. “I like people to step back in time when they pull into Old Brick Pit BBQ.”
Old Brick Pit BBQ, 4805 Peachtree Road, Chamblee. 770-986-7727, oldbrickpitbbq.com.
Bill Wrench, The Greater Good BBQ
They describe their style as “BBQ Southern” at Greater Good. “We incorporate aspects of Memphis, North and South Carolina, and Texas,” said pitmaster-owner Bill Wrench. Brisket is his favorite, but the standouts here are the tender, caramelized baby back ribs. “Every sauce, rub and side is made from scratch from family recipes, as well as new ones we created,” Wrench said. Tradition plays into his food, with the rule: “keep it simple and familiar.”
The Greater Good BBQ, 4421 Hugh Howell Road, Tucker. 770-908-8164; 4441 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta. 404-303-8525; and 2358 Hosea Williams Drive, Atlanta. 404-377-0044, greatergoodbbq.com.
> Read more about Atlanta barbecue in the AJC Atlanta Barbecue Restaurants guide
Wade and Tracy McSwain, Pit Boss BBQ
Wade McSwain’s favorite meat to smoke over hickory and oak in his Southern-style brick pit is beef. One bite of Pit Boss’ Best Bet Brisket Sandwich — with a rough chop mix of fatty, lean and burnt ends of Certified Angus beef on a buttered and toasted bun — and you get it. “Our parents taught us how to barbecue,” he said. For more than 10 years, the Alabama native and his Michigan-born wife, Tracy, have served long lines awaiting that brisket, as well as chopped chicken sandwiches, lemon pepper wings and all the traditional sides. “There is almost nothing that brings me more joy than seeing people enjoy our barbecue,” he said.
Pit Boss BBQ, 856 Virginia Ave., Hapeville. 404-768-0036; and 6107 Highway 155 N., Stockbridge. 770-389-5125, pitboss-bbq.com.
Brian Keenan, Wood’s Chapel BBQ
Formerly of Roswell’s popular Meating Street Barbecue, Brian Keenan, pitmaster for soon-to-open Wood’s Chapel BBQ, said barbecue is “not a recipe or style of smoking meat. … It’s in your heart.” He is combining his traditional “when it’s done, it’s done” style of cooking with the knowledge of food and creativity of chef Todd Ginsberg (The General Muir) and Wilson Gourley (8Arm) at Wood’s Chapel. He described his barbecue as all-American and multi-regional, with a focus on Texas-style brisket and eastern North Carolina whole hog, smoked over Georgia oak. “There’s a feeling you get when you sit and watch a fire for 12-16 hours cooking meat that you can’t get anywhere else,” he said.
Wood’s Chapel BBQ, 85 Georgia Ave. SE, Summerhill. (Wood’s Chapel is slated to open in late spring.) woodschapelbbq.com.
Lakesia Phelps, Anna’s BBQ
They do things old-school at Anna’s BBQ in Kirkwood. Pork is cooked slowly for 13 hours, “so it will be good and tender and ready to slap on a bun,” said owner Lakesia Phelps, aka Anna. Anna’s Favorite fills a bun with pulled pork, slathered in their signature sauce, and with a small heap of cole slaw. The meat is imbued with hickory smoke, and is moist and tangy from an overnight marinade. “Barbecue was something that my family always did,” Phelps said. It’s still a family affair: She inherited the basting recipe from her grandfather; her uncle, Brady Floyd, makes the barbecue sauce; the pound cake recipe is her mother Lola’s, and her daughter Destiney makes the strawberry lemonade.
Anna’s BBQ. 1976 Hosea Williams Drive, Atlanta. 404-963-6976, annasbbqrestaurantatlanta.com.
Howard Hsu, Sweet Auburn Barbecue
Howard Hsu finds common ground between barbecue traditions of the South and his Chinese-Malaysian heritage in dishes like Korean short ribs and pimento cheese wontons. Hsu’s brisket is slow-cooked over local hickory. Its outermost edge has the hallmark pink ring of prized barbecue. “I love serving barbecue fresh off the smoker,” Hsu said. “Get it into a hungry mouth as soon as you can.”
Sweet Auburn Barbecue. 656 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 678-515-3550, sweetauburnbbq.com.
Stephen Franklin, DAS BBQ
DAS BBQ honors the central Texas roots of pitmasters Stephen Franklin and Justus Jones. They stoke their barrel smokers — named Lefty and Pancho — with seasoned hickory and pecan wood to achieve super tender meat, in both the leaner flat and the fatty deckle, with a thick layer of smoky, peppery bark surrounding their brisket. For them, it’s all about practicing the craft of barbecue. “Learn to dance with your fires,” Franklin said. “The rest will follow.”
DAS BBQ. 1203 Collier Road, Atlanta. 404-281-4855, dasbbq.com.
Jermon Brooker, Daddy D’z the BBQ Joynt
Grant Park’s Daddy D’z specializes in ribs. They have been cooking them the same way for more than 25 years, ever since Chicagoan Ron Newman opened the joint. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said pitmaster Jermon Brooker. To get those sought-after rib tips, he said, “you have to get the pit hot early in order to open for lunchtime, and then have to have just the right twist to ensure greatness.” The graffiti-covered juke joint has the allure of roadside barbecue shacks, with signature items like the chimichanga-like Que Wraps, fried and filled with smoked pork.
Daddy D’z the BBQ Joynt. 264 Memorial Drive, Atlanta. 404-222-0206, daddydz.com.
Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee, Heirloom Market BBQ
Combine the Texas-Tennessee upbringing of a pitmaster with the fire and spice of a South Korean pop star, and you get the long-on-flavor gochujang-rubbed ribs at Heirloom. Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee’s tiny but mighty outpost in Smyrna is pitch perfect when it comes to barbecue. “We really wanted to create a style that is representative of two cooks with completely opposite backgrounds merging to become classically different,” Taylor said. As a result, you can enjoy eating smoke-blasted Texas brisket with Korean sweet potatoes or kimchi slaw, among the rotating seasonal sides.
Heirloom Market BBQ. 2243 Akers Mill Road, Smyrna. 770-612-2502, heirloommarketbbq.com.
Sam Huff, Sam’s BBQ-1
Sam Huff calls his cooking, which has won barbecue competitions, “Georgia-style,” which he said means “to copy everyone else’s, and build on it. Keep the old traditions alive with high-quality techniques, and improve upon them.” After more than 40 years of smoking over hickory, he has built a legacy. “I have probably trained more of my competitors than anyone,” he said.
Sam’s BBQ-1. 4958 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-977-3005, bbq1.net.
Bryan Furman, B’s Cracklin BBQ
In March, Bryan Furman suffered a setback when he watched his Atlanta restaurant succumb to flames. With rebuilding efforts underway, Furman paused to consider his place in the 2019 barbecue scene. He said it’s all about the passion and tradition carried on by black pitmasters and business owners in the South. He learned to raise his heritage pigs from his South Carolina grandfather, to fire-control from his dad, and to cook from his mother and grandmother. “There are no secrets. How can you pass down tradition if you don’t tell secrets?” he said. Furman smokes his pork ribs low and slow over a mixture of pecan and oak, and serves them glistening and fork-tender with his tangy, vinegary peach-mustard sauce. “People try to make barbecue hard, but barbecue is simple,” he said.
B’s Cracklin BBQ. 2061 Main St. NW, Atlanta (reopening date not yet announced). 678-949-9912, bscracklinbbq.com.
Jason Martin, Moonie’s Texas Barbecue
Moonie’s is the quintessential Texas barbecue spot: a rustic shanty sporting the fragrance of smoldering wood. Except, it’s in Georgia. Pitmaster-owner Jason Martin stokes the fire with post oak and red oak. “My passion comes from growing up in central Texas and eating some of the best barbecue in the world,” he said. Martin keeps the brisket simple, using only sea salt and black pepper for a rub, and smoking it slow and low. A slice of thickly cut lean is smoky and moist, with a layer of pink beneath the crisp bark.
Moonie’s Texas Barbecue. 5545 Atlanta Highway, Flowery Branch. 678-828-8366; and 250 John W. Morrow Drive, Gainesville. 678-496-3546, mooniesbbq.com.
Mike LeSage, Bone Lick BBQ
Mike LeSage likes to incorporate many different barbecue techniques. “I tend to play around with what I find (from) the best of them, and create something that is unique to the Southern food scene,” he said. He doesn’t feel tethered to tradition. “Food should always be evolving … for the flavor of good meat, do your best to enhance it, highlight it, showcase it, but don’t cover it up.”
Bone Lick BBQ. 327 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-343-4404, bonelickfoods.com.
John Rivers, 4 Rivers Smokehouse
“With brisket,” John Rivers said, “the old saying of ‘lid it and forget it’ couldn’t ring more true. Maintaining a consistent temperature between 215 degrees to 225 degrees is essential in creating the balance between the hard, outside crust and the moist, tender inside.” His brisket is aged 30 days and smoked for 18 hours. It’s all about “taking the time to get it right,” he said. His menu pays homage to many regions: Texas brisket, Alabama pulled pork, Carolina ribs, Kansas City burnt ends, California tri-tip and Georgia chicken.
4 Rivers Smokehouse. 822 Marietta St., Atlanta. 844-474-8377, 4rsmokehouse.com.
Dave Poe, Dave Poe’s BBQ
Dave Poe is a barbecue legend in this area. He was hooked after winning the Georgia barbecue championship known as the Big Pig Jig in 1982. Since then, legions of fans have eaten his smoked meats. “I guess you could say pork brought us to the party, and learning to master brisket and ribs helped keep us there,” he said of his self-described “North Carolina-Memphis style with a touch of Texas.” A slew of Atlanta pitmasters got their start with Poe. He continues to cheer them on as he eats their barbecue. “It’s like having your children be successful,” he said.
Dave Poe’s BBQ. 660 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. 770-792-2272, davepoes.com.
Dave Roberts, Community Q BBQ
To most people, barbecue appears primal and basic. The process is anything but. Dave Roberts calls his style simple. “We just cook the meats fresh,” he said. When the behemoth ribs and tender chicken run out, you’ll see a sign on the door saying they’re out of meat — resulting in sad faces on those who pine not just for his meaty mains, but also for side dishes like his three-cheese mac and cheese.
Community Q BBQ. 1361 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 404-633-2080, communityqbbq.com.
Christopher Blobaum, Twin Smokers BBQ
Before you set eyes on the wood stacks at downtown’s Twin Smokers, you’ll notice the restaurant’s namesakes — Matthew and Elizabeth, two J&R Oyler smokers named for owner-founder David Marvin’s twins. Local white oak and hickory stoke the fire for Southern-style pork and chicken, while assertive mesquite and post oak flavor beef and sausage. “Wood is important and attended to 24/7,” said Twin Smokers food and beverage Vice President Christopher Blobaum. It’s a collaborative effort here, with a sauce to match each style, be it from Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina or South Carolina.
Twin Smokers BBQ. 300 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-698-4707, twinsmokersbbq.com.
Danny and Larry Williamson, Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q
“We came from a family of Southern cooks in a part of the South where barbecuing was our No. 1 hobby,” said Danny Williamson, half the duo that shapes Williamson Bros BBQ. “We enjoy using barbecue as a way of bringing people together and making them smile.” What makes most people smile is the smoky essence of their finely chopped and expertly sauced pork, with tiny bits of crispy skin mixed in. If you attend a festival in the South, you are bound to run into the Williamsons, who enjoy being a part of the barbecue community.
Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q. 1425 Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-971-3201, williamsonbros.com.
Robert Owens and Gregory Vivier, Grand Champion BBQ
Robert Owens is a Georgia native with fond memories of summers spent with his grandparents, where everything was always fresh, and he had the best barbecue sandwiches on white bread. “I think of those summers often, and try to bring freshness to our guests every day,” he said. The smoked pork is hand-pulled, the moist shreds gently mixed with flavorful bark.
Grand Champion BBQ Various locations. 770-998-2800, gcbbq.com.
Jonathan and Justin Fox, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
“We love our Texas roots, and our new home in the South,” Jonathan Fox said, “so we take those roots of Texas barbecue tradition and sprinkle in flavors of other Southern traditions.” Fox and his twin brother, Justin, produce a brisket that is legendary, as is their Frito pie side dish. What Jonathan is most proud of is their house-made sausage, a staple in central Texas. Justin said he tends to go for brisket, “but when it comes down to it, there isn’t anything better than our beef short rib — so tender and juicy.” The heady aroma and flavor of a wood fire comes through in every bite of their hickory-smoked wings, too.
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. 1238 DeKalb Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-577-4030, foxbrosbbq.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.