A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Barbecue wars still rage among the factions of North Carolina’s smoked-meat devotees: tomato vs. vinegar; whole-hog vs. shoulder only. But in Charlotte, the geographical ideology falls away. Among the restaurants

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Barbecue wars still rage among the factions of North Carolina’s smoked-meat devotees: tomato vs. vinegar; whole-hog vs. shoulder only. But in Charlotte, the geographical ideology falls away. Among the restaurants

7 Stand-Out Barbecue Spots in Charlotte

Barbecue wars still rage among the factions of North Carolina’s smoked-meat devotees: tomato vs. vinegar; whole-hog vs. shoulder only. But in Charlotte, the geographical ideology falls away.

Among the restaurants that make Charlotte an emerging barbecue destination, you’ll find eastern and western styles alongside smoky Texas brisket and mustardy South Carolina-style pork — sometimes all on the same menu.

The Queen City’s ever-expanding food scene is home to chefs and restaurateurs focused on raising barbecue’s beloved profile, not relitigating old debates. Read on for seven can’t-miss places to find pulled pork, barbecue chicken, smoked brisket, and the smell of woodsmoke in and around Charlotte.


From its colorful, airy location on Belmont Avenue, Sweet Lew’s specializes in serving up Lexington-style barbecue alongside other smoked delights. Photography courtesy of Sweet Lew’s Barbecue

Sweet Lew’s Barbecue

Meat may be the star of the show at Sweet Lew’s, but make sure to save room for mac ‘n’ cheese, hash, baked beans, and potato salad.  photograph by Ryan Cooper

Lewis Donald took an unlikely path to barbecue. After years of building experience in fine dining, the Cleveland-born chef opened Sweet Lew’s in 2018. He designed this simple concept to fill a very specific gap in Charlotte’s restaurant scene: “I just wanted to be the blue collar, common man, go-to barbecue shop — because we didn’t have one.”

The city’s other barbecue restaurants at the time were sit-down spots with menus featuring plenty of other cuisine, too. In conceiving Sweet Lew’s, Donald drew inspiration from the iconic Lexington Barbecue, the leading purveyor of pulled pork shoulder dressed in a red, vinegar-based sauce. The service is counter style, and the signature meat is pork shoulder (although you can get brisket, chicken, sausage, and fried fish, too).

“All barbecue is delicious,” Donald says. “We want people to taste the meat. And we want them to taste our hard work and smoke.”

This spring, pitmasters from across the state gathered in Charlotte to show off their skills for a good cause at the Carolina BBQ Festival. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

In order to make the hard work of other pitmasters accessible to barbecue fans, Donald and a group of peers started the Carolina BBQ Festival three years ago. Held every spring, this annual event celebrates the collaborative spirit of Charlotte’s barbecue scene. It also raises money for three charities that service soldiers and first responders. “We’re trying to put Charlotte on the map as a real barbecue city,” he says. “And we’re doing it in a way that raises money for some worthy causes.”


McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon

A south Charlotte fixture for nearly 20 years, McKoy’s offers everything from award-winning smoked ribs to homemade coconut pie in a convivial, sports bar setting where smell of woodsmoke wafts around the exterior.

This establishment’s story began with brothers Ryan and Jim Register collaborating with their dad, Namon, to collect their family’s best recipes. They hoped that with a collection large enough (and delicious enough), they could open a restaurant of their own one day. In 2006, they opened McKoy’s and put these family-favorite dishes to the test.

Signature flavors shine in fixin’s like porky pinto bean and potato salad all the way through dessert (the coconut pie recipe remains a family secret). But as the “Smokehouse” in the name implies, house- smoked meat stars on the menu. Start with a round of wings for the table — they’re smoked over pecan wood until crispy and juicy, and then tossed in your choice of sauce. Next, take your pick between barbecue classics, like pulled pork or pulled chicken, saucy St. Louis-style ribs, spicy sausage links, and barbecue chicken. There are also smokehouse spins on classic comfort foods, including pot roast (made using tender, pit-smoked beef) and tenderloin tips. Can’t pick just one? Go for the LTD (Living the Dream) plate, loaded with ribs, barbecue pork, pot roast, and barbecue chicken.


Mac’s Speed Shop

Nineteen years after its founding, Mac’s Speed Shop is an elder statesman of Charlotte’s barbecue scene. But it’s still a place that bucks ‘cue customs.

Burnt ends and pulled pork are on the menu alongside kale salads and shrimp tacos. Inside, the smell of smoking meat mingles with the sound of bands jamming on stage and sports playing on televisions.

It’s a barbecue place, but it’s not just a barbecue place.

“We stick true to our roots when it comes to our smoking techniques,” says Tony Salerno, president of Mac’s Hospitality. “But we also allow ourselves the freedom to have some culinary flex. We have that sports bar vibe and live entertainment that makes us a little bit outside the traditional barbecue joint.”

The first Mac’s Speed Shop opened in a former motor shop in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood in 2005. Founders Wynn Davis and Hall Johnston wanted to build something they couldn’t find anywhere else in town: a place for people who love barbecue, beer, and motorcycles.

Now, you can visit any of Mac’s Speed Shop’s 10 locations found in Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Greenville, South Carolina.


4 More Can’t-Miss Barbecue Spots in the Queen City and Beyond

Bar-B-Q King

The original Charlotte barbecue joint, this drive-in has been serving its signature barbecue fried chicken and pork in west Charlotte since 1959. Food Network’s Guy Fieri crowned it king in 2007 when it was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Come hungry! The combo platters at Midwood Smokehouse let you pick up to four proteins from the menu. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Midwood Smokehouse

In 2011, restaurateur Frank Scibelli opened Midwood Smokehouse to merge Texas and North Carolina barbecue experiences. Five more locations followed, stretching from Charlotte to Raleigh to Columbia, South Carolina.

Q Shack

“Barbecue, tender as a mother’s love.” That’s what the original Q Shack in Durham promised, and it’s what the south Charlotte location still serves up. The slow-smoked pork shines, but don’t skip a side of hush puppies and mac ‘n’ cheese.

With brisket, pulled pork, spareribs, smoked turkey, and links all made in-house at Jon G’s, we wouldn’t blame you for picking more than one. photograph by Andrew Colacchio

Jon G’s Barbecue

Down the road in Peachland, nuclear medicine technologist-turned-pitmaster Garren Kirkman’s smoked brisket draws a loyal following from miles around. While primarily a catering business, Jon G’s offers full- service dining on Saturdays (so mark your calendar), and the Texas-style brisket and homemade sides, like jalapeño cheese grits and Mexican street corn salad is beloved throughout metro area.

Ready to sample the array of styles and flavors shaping the Queen City’s ‘cue scene? Grab your appetite and click here to start planning the ultimate barbecue crawl.

This story was published on Apr 26, 2024

Jimmy Ryals

Jimmy Ryals is a writer and editor based in Raleigh. A Kinston native, his work has appeared in Slate, The Assembly, several eastern North Carolina newspapers, and little notes in his kids’ lunchboxes.