Tier 1: (alphabetical order)
High grade sourcing, strong rub and smoke levels, high probability of wow factor. Drawbacks are speed and sauces.
You can really taste the wood and the pepper-heavy rub. Brisket (both the lean and moist) and sausage are musts here even if not your usual order.
Burnt ends are the star here, but everything's good, often great. More strong rub and smoke. Sides and pulled pork underrated.
Tier 2: (alphabetical order)
Arguably the best pork rib (wet or dry) and chili in the city. Beef rib good but expensive; boneless meats not so good.
Ribs and creative sandwiches are the way to go here. Sides outstanding.
Southeast Asian take on BBQ might not be for everybody, but the flavors are scintillating.
Rack & Soul
Rare soulfood joint with real smoked 'cue. Saucy but it works, and the sauce is no crutch.
Upscale restaurant with another best ribs candidate, both beef and pork. Fantastic wings. Skip the sides.
Tier 3: (alphabetical order)
Very creative, sort a modern take on old school 'cue. Good sauced ribs, innovative sides.
John Brown Smokehouse
Kansas City joint with excellent burnt ends and pulled pork the way to go. Frequent specials.
Sort of a poor man's Daisy May's with much better brisket. Good add-on to Brookly Brewery.
Virgil's Real BBQ
Oft-maligned tourist trap turns out surprisingly respectable if expensive 'cue. Good pork sammy.
Tier 4: (alphabetical order)
Outstanding beef ribs and piggy pulled pork, with pork ribs and brisket less reliable.
Surprisingly good ribs after a recent smoker upgrade. Jury (read: me) still out on the rest of the menu. Friendly staff, generous pours.
Decent to good with some of the best sides in the city.
Waterfront Ale House
More of a bar than a barbecue joint. Creative sandwiches, solid chili.
Tier 5: (alphabetical order)
Back 40 West
Boutique eatery with smoked fare. Sides better than the entrees. Don't miss the pig face nuggets.
Bone Lick Park
Decent joint with no real shining strengths or glaring weaknesses.
Sourcing pride yes, Southern Pride no. Some fragrant flavors with only a hint of a barbecue profile. High prices, free apple pie.
Todd English's Asian/BBQ fusion has some hits and misses. Chocolate ribs, anyone?
Georgia's Eastside BBQ
The best of the BBQ restaurants that have no smoker. Saucy.
Little Mexican tastes on potato rolls or tacos have just a hint of barbecue flavor, less than a hint of smoke.
Neely's BBQ Parlor
Disaster that involves Pat and Gina Neely in name only. Atmosphere is its major strength.
Pies n Thighs
As a hipster sandwich and donut joint, it works. As barbecue, not so much.
Tier 6: (alphabetical order)
The worst of the "real" BBQ joints smoking over wood. Hot servers, good sauces, mediocre 'cue.
Fast food BBQ joint might be cheaper than nearby RUB and Hill Country, but not nearly cheap enough.
Nicky's Beer & BBQ
Much more emphasis on the Beer than the BBQ, and it shows. Mechanical bull. 'Nuff said.
If the 'cue is smoked (it might be), it doesn't taste it, but better than most of the fake ones.
Tier 7: (alphabetical order)
1980s time warp faux BBQ. Cheaper than BBQ's Smokeshack, but a further step down in quality.
Fun place, emphasis on drinks, barbecue an afterthought.
Golden Chicken & Ribs
The only thing BBQ about this place is the sauce. Meats taste boiled. At least they have a fryer.
Dallas might be bad, but Live Bait's bad and expensive.