In its list of The South’s Best BBQ Joints In Every State 2019, Southern Living magazine, on behalf of its readers, said a Nashville barbecue spot was the very best in Tennessee. (A few months later, Southern Living’s writers reiterated the praise, too, naming Nashville barbecue spot Peg Leg Porker among the Top 50 Barbecue Joints in the South.)
Unsurprisingly, quite a few internet arguments kicked up in the wake of a Nashville barbecue No. 1 slot. (Memphians don’t take their barbecue prominence lightly.) For our part, we don’t take Southern Living readers’ opinions as an invite to argue about which Tennessee city delivers the best barbecue, so much as support of one of our tightly held local-food beliefs: Nashville barbecue has gotten so, so much better.
Aside of a few outliers, Nashville barbecue wasn’t all that much to brag about, even a decade ago. In 2019, we’re working with grade-A barbecue that stretches across Nashville and across the low-and-slow spectrum, from Texas-inspired ’cue to pork that nods to our neighbors in Memphis.
Since we love barbecue, and we eat a lot of it on our food tours, we’re thankful for the improvement. If you’re new to Nashville, visiting Nashville, or just out of Nashville barbecue practice, here are a few of our local favorites — spots that are all praise-worthy, and that we go to for different specialties when we’re having different cravings.
Some of the best Nashville barbecue
410 Fourth Avenue South, 3108 Belmont Blvd., 2400 Elliston Place
A Nashville barbecue name that’s spread across the city (Downtown, Belmont, and Midtown, plus spots in neighboring cities and states), Martin's is a go-to for West Tennessee-style whole-hog smoking. The sprawling downtown location has four whole hog pits on site (we regularly take our food tour guests to see them and meet a pitmaster), putting out pounds and pounds of perfectly prepared pork, day in and day out. Martin’s has earned press praise from Bon Appétit and Conde Nast Traveler to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and most Nashville food journalists would back up those plaudits. Should you opt to peer beyond the pork, consider the super-thick and youth-evoking bologna sandwich, eaten in their beautiful backyard beer garden downtown, preferably with a cold local brew.
908 Main Street, 2706 12th Avenue South, 4500 Murphy Road
Another local brand with locations across the city (East Nashville, 12 South and Sylvan Park) and easy take-out options, Edley’s is among Nashville barbecue’s most convenient purveyors. But that’s just an added plus. The Edley’s menu is also arguably Nashville’s most well-rounded — from the pulled pork to the house-made sides to the Mason-jar Bushwackers, the restaurant’s offerings scarcely disappoint. Edley’s is a particularly worthwhile option if you have pescatarians (or even a vegetarian) in your mix, since their catfish tacos, shrimp tacos, fried okra and cornbread are good enough to make your forget about smoked pork, and the four-cheese mac ’n’ cheese is worth the trip alone. But back to the barbecue: the pork is excellent, the brisket is too, each tender and with admirable smoke rings imbued by oak and cherry wood. Something that might surprise Nashville barbecue vets, though: Edley’s’ turkey is a must-try. Not everyone gets turkey right in a barbecue application, but not only does Edley steer clear of dry-turkey pitfalls, they craft a bird that might actually be even more crave-worthy than their pork.
903 Gleaves Street in the Gulch
It’d be strange to leave out Peg Leg Porker, given their Southern Living nods and the fact that the Nashville Scene’s 2017 Best of Nashville threw down about pitmaster Carey Bringle’s ribs: They don’t just top Memphis, said the weekly, but are “some of the best anywhere.” High praise indeed. Yes, when you’re feeling ribs, you’d do well to look Peg Leg Porker’s way — though their menu goes well beyond ribs, and is solid throughout. (The “Soul Potato,” essentially nachos made with fries, is a seriously rib-sticking ribs accompaniment.) The restaurant’s upstairs dining area has a spectacular view of downtown Nashville, too, offering an inspiring perch from which to ponder Nashville’s barbecue growth.
Nashville’s had an off/on standing when it comes to Texas-style brisket barbecue, but one of our most “on” periods was the brief window when the Shotgun Willie’s food trailer was out and about, around 2016-2017, slinging slow-smoked Central Texas-style brisket that was tender and flavorful, just like it was meant to be. The mobile business stopped serving in May of 2017, and many Nashville barbecue lovers wept at the loss. But in spring 2019, owner Bill Laviolette announced plans to reopen as a brick-and-mortar business, planting a Shotgun Willie's smokehouse in East Nashville (Inglewood, to be specific). The new spot is expected to open in Fall 2019; while you wait for the brisket bounce-back, keep an eye on the Shotgun Willie’s Instagram feed for updates.
Looking for a way to explore the best food in Nashville? Walk Eat Nashville walking food tours make it easy — covering East Nashville, Midtown and SoBro/Downtown, each tour includes tastings at multiple restaurants/shops and behind-the-scenes interactions with chefs and owners. Learn more about Walk Eat Nashville food tours.