10 Restaurant Chains That Serve the Best Ribs
What makes a great rack of ribs? Is it the sauce? The rub? How long the rack was smoked? The answer is probably a combination of all three, with a few other variables. It's important to know what the different styles are before ordering a rack, so that you can enjoy the ribs that most appeal to your palate.
Most ribs in the U.S. are cooked using two techniques, explains ButcherBox Meat Expert, and former Butcher, Nathan Burk. "The style of ribs is very important when it comes to cooking techniques. The two main cuts are St. Louis Ribs and baby back ribs. St. Louis ribs are rich in flavor and have a juicy texture as they are cut from the lower half of the rib section. Using a cooking method that incorporates steam is key to achieving the best, most tender result for this specific cut."
On the other hand, says Burk, "Baby Back Ribs, which get their moniker from being one of the shorter cuts of pork ribs, are a leaner cut. Therefore, the slow and low cooking process (cooking them over a long period of time) is essential to getting the best finished result."
And while we're always big fans of hitting up a local hole in the wall to get great ribs, chains can be a great ambassador for trying different styles for the first time. With that in mind, we scoured reviews, tallied up awards, and talked to real BBQ fans to find the top chain restaurant ribs around the country. Both big chains and smaller operations are cooking up award-worthy ribs, and these nine picks are excellent spots to start sampling them.
Our pick for some of the best chain restaurant ribs, Texas Roadhouse cooks its ribs with a unique blend of seasonings over the course of three days, and features a signature BBQ sauce. The St. Louis-style pork ribs are especially tender and covered in a dark and shiny sauce, and they're perfectly seasoned. Add in the price for a half-rack (about $18) and the over 650 locations, and these are probably the best and most accessible restaurant chain ribs. The chain has such faith in its ribs, it isn't afraid to show you how to cook them at home.
Smokey Bones Fire & Grill
With over 60 locations nationwide, this medium-sized chain's tagline is "Meat is what we do." That's apparent in its meat-heavy menu. With regards to ribs, Smokey Bones offers baby back (these are upper ribs, that are shorter than spare ribs) and St. Louis-style (meatier ribs cut from the belly) ribs. Both types are available as a full rack or as a platter with ⅓ of a rack, two sides, and garlic bread for around $18 at the time of publication.
Early in the chain's history, the baby back ribs were named best ribs at the Ham Jam Festival in Florida, and they've continued with their award-winning recipe: Seasoned and hand-rubbed, house-smoked for four hours and flavored with a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce.
Founded in Florida in 1987, Outback has spread across the U.S.—and world—with over 1,000 restaurants. While they may be your go-to for a casual, well-priced steak dinner, don't overlook the chain's ribs. They're served with a "deep mahogany-colored shiny sauce that permeated every nook and cranny." Plus, the ribs are "charred without being burned and the sauce clung to the ribs as though it was caramelized." Served as a half rack or whole, Outback's ribs are smoked, brushed, and grilled with a tangy BBQ sauce, and come with two sides.
New York-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has been in business since 1983, beginning as a mobile concession with a 55-gallon drum cut in half, and opening a brick-and-mortar location in Syracuse in 1988. Since then, owner John Stage has opened locations around New York state, including Harlem, Brooklyn, and beyond. The chain's sauces have been profiled by ABC News and the chain was named Best BBQ in America by Good Morning America.
The chain's ribs, which are so sought after you can have them delivered anywhere in the country via Goldbelly, come down to a two-step technique and slow-and-low cooking style. First, the ribs get a dry rub that's heavy on paprika, brown sugar, and cumin. Then, they're smoked slow and low on the grill, and doused with several applications of Dinosaur's famous mop sauce.
With locations in 30 states, as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Famous Dave's ribs are available almost everywhere. The chain claims to have won over 700 awards for its BBQ, and serves baby back and St. Louis-style ribs at all of its locations.
The baby back ribs are covered in rib rub, slow-smoked, and slathered in Sweet & Zesty sauce, while the St. Louis-style are hand-rubbed with a housemade blend of spices, then pit-smoked for three to four hours over a hickory fire, and finally covered with the restaurant's Rich & Sassy sauce over an open flame to seal in flavor and create crispy caramelization.
The Smoke Shop
The Smoke Shop is based in Massachusetts and you can get great ribs at their five New England locations. The chain is the result of founder, chef, and IQUE BBQ Team-member Andy Husbands' 20-plus years on the competitive BBQ circuit. With multiple locations in and around Boston, Smoke Shop is the go-to for Harvard students, hungry locals craving 'cue, and visitors to the Bay State.
The restaurant serves "gorgeously crusted" St. Louis-style pork ribs in half- and full-rack portions. Available as an appetizer, the smaller portion Sticky Fried Pork Ribs are another flavor slam dunk, tossed with Szechuan sauce, with a jasmine rice salad. If you can take the heat, try The Smoke Shop BBQ's Hot Wings with a fermented habanero and brown butter sauce.
Opening in Ohio back in 1999, this primarily Midwest chain operates over 50 locations and serves a mishmash of crowd-pleasing BBQ styles such as pulled chicken with 'bama sauce and Texas-style smoked sausage. In 2017, the Daily Meal named City the number two BBQ chain in the US, based on their 18-hour meat smoking process and high-quality products.
Ribs are a big part of the menu. They offer traditional St. Louis-style ribs, hand-rubbed and painted with house-made sauce, or crispy fried ribs that are hickory-smoked, deep fried, and tossed in a sweet and savory rub, with a drizzle of house-made white BBQ sauce. Decadent.
Bono's Pit Bar-B-Q
With 20 locations around Florida—and one in Denver—Bono's has been smoking meats Southern-style since 1949, when pitmaster Lou Bono first fired things up. Like many BBQ spots, they do a bit of everything, and each location has its own pit and pitmaster taking care of slow cooking their St. Louis-style ribs.
The ribs are made in-house and cut to order, and you can order them as a platter with two sides and bread, or by the pound if you have a lot of mouths to feed. Bono's also gets high marks from their employees, who described the job as "fun and productive." And no, they have nothing to do with the U2 frontman with the same name.
L&L Hawaiian BBQ
If you've never tried Hawaiian BBQ, there are 200 L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants in Hawaii, California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and even Japan, waiting for you. Open since the 1970s, the chain specializes in plate lunches like slow-cooked kalua pork, BBQ chicken, and the star of the show: Bone-in short ribs that are smokey and so juicy. Don't go expecting typical Southern BBQ, but look for well-prepared ribs (and other meats) with Asian-inflected flavors and lots of sweet and tangy sauces.
Corky's Ribs and BBQ
This small chain, with eight locations in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, does many things well, but its Memphis-style ribs—served wet, dry, or muddy—really shine and are worth the trip. In 1984, "Captain" Don Pelts opened the first location in East Memphis, with an eye on the restaurant being for sit-down dining and takeaway. Since then, their award-winning ribs have been shipped across the country and Corky's BBQ ribs feature regularly on QVC, so you can try them at home even if you can't get down South.