Kentucky Barbecue is having a moment, y'all.
Time Magazine just named Louisville one of America's best cities for barbecue. Southern Living named two Owensboro restaurants to their list of The South's Top 50 Barbecue Joints. If that's not enough, a Louisville chef and barbecue restaurant owner was named to Eater's Summer 2015 Young Guns list. Of course, any conversation about Kentucky barbecue isn't complete without the longstanding debate on mutton -- folks around Owensboro love it, and the rest of us will never fully get it. (The story goes that there were a whole lot of sheep in the Daviess County area after the Civil War, providing a ready food supply. The tradition was carried on by a popular circuit of Catholic Church picnics, and the rest was history.)
The HerKentucky writers have discussed, and sampled, and sampled some more to arrive at our list of the Five Best Barbecue Joints in Kentucky. We'd love to hear if y'all agree with us!
5. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, Owensboro. Moonlite is arguably Kentucky's most famous barbecue joint, cooking traditional Western Kentucky-style mutton barbecue (along with brisket, chicken, and pork) in an open pit with hickory chips. Did we mention that they offer a barbecue buffet?
4. Lyle's BBQ Company, Lexington/ Nicholasville. Lyle's started out as a Lexington-area food truck and, as our friend, owner Chandler Lyle will tell you, "figured out a way to watch UK games while working" by becoming vendors at Rupp Arena. Their restaurant opened last week in Nicholasville; the perfectly smoked, juicy brisket and pork shoulder are perfect every time, and the smoked chicken wings are a must-try!
3. Leigh's BBQ, Kevil. If you're not familiar with the Purchase Area of Kentucky, you may want to take a native with you to find this Western Kentucky jewel, located west of Paducah. If you ask her nicely enough, HerKentucky contributor Sarah Stewart Holland may even offer to be your tour guide. The pit at Leigh's has been going since the late 1940s, and the pork isn't pulled off the shoulder until the moment you order it.
2. Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, Owensboro. If pressed to offer an opinion about their local delicacies of barbecue and burgoo, most Owensboro natives will quietly confess that "Moonlite gets all the publicity, but Old Hickory is where it's at." Members of the Foreman family have been barbecuing mutton since 1918; the sixth generation continues the tradition at Old Hickory.
1. Feast BBQ, Louisville. The cocktails (bourbon slushies, y'all!) and sides (collard greens with a healthy dab of pulled pork; oh, and tater tots!) are amazing. The menu is unique -- they even offer smoked tofu! -- but when we rank barbecue, we're talking meat, and the meat at Feast is amazing! Perfectly smoked and moist, it's hard to choose among the velvety brisket, the classic pork, or the smoky chicken. I can tell you there are no bad choices. (Well, I've never tried the tofu...)