When you think of traditional Down South cookin’, we’re pretty sure barbecue comes to mind. Although there are a handful of different styles, South Carolina has mastered its barbecue technique, leaving locals and visitors full and satisfied no matter what joint they choose to frequent.
When you visit historic Charleston, SC, you’ll find yourself immersed in a barbecue haven. You’ll discover some of the best barbecue in Charleston, which is also known for its eclectic, world-class culinary scene. A trip to the Holy City wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the many outstanding barbecue restaurants. We’ve rounded up a few of the top choices, so you can pick which one you’d like to try, or, if you’re hungry and in the mood, visit them all!
Your Guide to the Best Barbecue in Charleston
Opened in 2016, Lewis Barbecue was the creation of Texas pitmaster John Lewis, who relocated from Austin, TX to Charleston, SC in 2015. Since the age of 18, Lewis has been completely infatuated by barbecue, learning how to use a New Braunfels smoker he received as a birthday gift from his parents.
Since then, Lewis has truly perfected his craft, bringing his brisket brilliance to the Lowcountry. Broken down by “meats,” “sandwiches,” and “sides,” the menu at Lewis Barbecue is surely one to be drooled over, making it some of the best barbecue in Charleston.
Take your pick between sliced or chopped prime beef brisket, pulled pork, turkey breast, pork spare ribs, or the unique Texas hot guts—a traditional homemade sausage. Pair your meats with one of the equally incredible ideas, from potato salad and coleslaw to pinto beans and collard greens. Don’t worry! Mac and cheese made the menu, too.
Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ
Charlestonians long-awaited the arrival of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ to the Holy City. For years, people would eagerly make the two-hour drive up to Hemingway, SC for a taste of the Scott family’s famous barbecue. Since the time he was in middle school, Scott was helping out at his family’s joint, learning the art of smoking and roasting a whole hog—something that has died out as a method of cooking in the world of barbecue. In 2017, after 25 years of working at his family’s restaurant in Hemingway, Rodney Scott decided to pack up and head to Charleston.
He teamed up with friend and restaurant group CEO Nick Pihakis to open what is now one of the most popular and top-rated barbecue restaurants in the city. Although we always recommend taking the time to visit the restaurant and sit down to enjoy your meal, if you just can’t get enough of this barbecue, you can swing through their drive-thru and get a pulled pork sandwich to go.
Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ
At Home Team BBQ, the food is delicious and the party is always going on. A popular destination for day drinking, the downtown location offers a large outdoor patio, so patrons can dig into their ribs or meat platter while enjoying the beautiful Charleston weather.
If you’re looking for a good time during your trip to historic Charleston, SC, Home Team is the place to go for tasty, down-South barbecue and a good time. Indulge in the Game Changer for a frozen drink experience like no other. Seriously, we can’t even drink more than one of these babies, but it’s the perfect cocktail to sip during the heat of a Charleston summer.
Although Home Team’s downtown location is close to everything you’ll want to see during your visit, you can also check out the location in West Ashley or Sullivan’s Island if you’re headed to the beach for the day.
The sister restaurant to Poogan’s Porch, this establishment focuses solely on South-Carolina-style barbecue offering hickory- and cherry-smoked meats that have been cooked to perfection. One of our favorite items on the menu is the smoked wings, but you can’t go wrong with any of the meat platters, from racks of St. Louis ribs to pulled pork and chicken.
The menu also features dozens of other great traditional Southern dishes like boiled peanuts—a must-try if you’ve never had them before, fried pickled okra, and pimento cheese fritters, to name a few.
Swig & Swine
With four different locations throughout the Lowcountry, Swig & Swine is a funky barbecue spot that cooks their food low and slow to encourage the meats to soak up all the juices and truly infuse each piece with that smoky taste their customers love. Owner Anthony Dibernardo had decades-worth of culinary experience prior to opening his barbecue joint in 2013, working in kitchens at the Kiawah Island Resort, Mustard Seed and Rita’s, among others.
When you decide to dine with Swig & Swine, you’ll also be able to choose from a selection of local craft beers that pair perfectly with their barbecue dishes. Get a taste of the local breweries, and then maybe consider making a visit to your favorite during your stay in Charleston.
A staple in the barbecue world of Charleston, Melvin’s is a no-frills establishment that brings customers dozens of delicious options on their menu. Though the food is outstanding, this location is more unassuming than some of its fellow BBQ joints in the area. But, Melvin’s history in the Lowcountry is rich.
When the original owner of the restaurant, Melvin Bessinger, was just a ten-year-old boy, he learned the recipe for his father’s secret mustard-based barbecue sauce that would eventually lead him on a journey to start his own cafe and help his father with a separate barbecue joint in Holly Hill, SC. Eventually, in 1955, Melvin and his brother moved to Charleston to open Bessinger’s BBQ in the Piggy Park Drive-In on Savannah Highway.
After working together for a while, the brothers decided to split ways, and Melvin took his own cooking to the other side of the city to open Melvin’s. Decades later, the business still remains in the family, with Melvin’s son David taking a more prominent role by creating new recipes and integrating different smoking and barbecue techniques to retain their title as one of the best places for authentic South Carolina barbecue.
The sister restaurant to Melvin’s BBQ, Bessinger’s also has a long family history. Much like his brother Melvin, Thomas Bessinger began learning the art of barbecue at the age of 14 in his dad’s restaurant, Eat at Joe’s. When he relocated to Charleston with his brother, Bessinger’s was born. Now, Thomas works with two of his three sons to keep the restaurant operating and re-inventing what good barbecue means.
If you’re a true lover of the meats, you may want to plan a trip to Bessinger’s and Melvin’s and experience the unique taste of this family’s barbecue style.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
Although Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is one of the newer places to get some authentic barbecue in Charleston, the restaurant also has several locations in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, combining multiple styles of barbecue to give their customers a unique experience. The Charleston location can be found on James Island on the way to Folly Beach, making it the perfect pre-beach lunch spot.
Each morning, the restaurant cooks are up and at ‘em by 5 a.m. when they begin smoking an entire hog for 20 hours. While their classic offerings are delicious, we highly recommend branching out to try some of their smoked wings or BBQ baked potato.
Different Styles of Barbecue
If you’re not native to the South, you probably didn’t realize that there are many different regional techniques to cooking great barbecue and that each region is passionate about their style and pretty sure they do it the best—but you can be the judge.
When seeking out good barbecue in Charleston, you’ll obviously find many examples of traditional South Carolina barbecue, but, with so many new people moving to the area, many establishments use a combination of techniques, depending on where the owners and cooks learned to chef it up. Here’s a brief rundown on the differences between each style.
When it comes to North Carolina barbecue, this state is known for mastering and popularizing vinegar-based barbecue sauce, which gives the dressing an extra acidic flavor that meshes beautiful with the smoked taste of pork, chicken, and brisket. The original North Carolina recipe for barbecue sauce focused on spices like cayenne and red pepper mixed with vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar, and hot sauce, but today many people add tomato to the recipe for an extra kick.
South Carolina barbecue’s claim to fame was born out of their unique sauce with a mustard base, much like Melvin’s Bessginer’s father’s original recipe. This type of barbecue sauce has a similar acidity to the North Carolina style, but the mustard base brings more of a tang than a vinegar-y acidity.
In the western area of the state, this mustard barbecue sauce is often used almost as a marinade on pork shoulders, infusing the meat itself with that tangy, spicy, sweet concoction. Both South and North Carolina have also been known for their whole-hog barbecue, which involves, as the name suggests, smoking an entire hog and pulling the meat directly from the source.
Being one of the largest states in the country, Texas has several different barbecue styles, based on the region you live in. More central areas of Texas tend to skip the sauce altogether, creating a delicious flavor just in the meat itself by smoking it over oak wood. Southern Texas has a reputation for using mesquite wood to smoke their meat.
While Texas believes in maintaining the integrity of the meat by avoiding sauces on top of the meat itself, this style uses something known as a “mop sauce,” a combination of Worcestershire, vinegar, and spices, among other ingredients, which is brushed on the meat prior to cooking.
This Missouri city is credited with creating a unique style of barbecue that welcomes a variety of sauces, from spicy, tomato-based options to tangy, vinegary sauces. Kansas City barbeque is usually defined by its rubs that include a variety of spices and a Worcestershire-based sauce. Kansas City barbecue is notoriously slow-smoked to get the greatest depth of flavor out of the meat.
Even if you don’t know much about barbecue, you’ve probably heard of Alabama White Sauce, which is the shining star of this regional style. What stands out most about Alabama white sauce is the color and creamy texture, which is achieved by mixing spices, vinegar, and mayonnaise. Although it’s often paired with chicken or barbecue sides, it’s not unusual for people to add it to their pork dishes as well.
Kentucky has come to be known for a style of barbecue completely unique to the area, with mutton being one of the main offerings, though the standard meats like pork and chicken are also used. When it comes to saucing up your meal in Kentucky, you’ll find options that include unusual ingredients, from ketchup and molasses to liquid smoke.
In this Tennessee city, you’ll find barbecue with an emphasis on pulled pork and a variety of pork ribs. Whether you prefer dry ribs that have been smoked with a dry rub or wet ribs that have been slathered in a delicious, traditional Memphis-style sauce, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds.
Everything’s Better with Barbecue
If you’re looking for a place to get away and interested in browsing some of the Charleston home rentals, you’ll find plenty of beautiful properties and even more local activities. Between sunbathing at the beach and exploring historic sites, you absolutely need to make time to eat your way through the city’s top restaurants.
And, when in the South, you definitely can’t skip out on the best barbecue in Charleston. With so many great places to choose from, it can be hard to pick just one place to test out, but, anywhere you go in the Lowcountry, you’ll find a delicious selection of barbecue options cooked and smoked in the South Carolina style, as well as other regional traditions. If your mouth is watering already, we understand. Plan your trip today to experience the magic of the Holy City.