Despite a seldom spoken of boom in the mystical healing crystal industry, Asheville’s economy relies firmly upon tourism. As a local, there are ups and downs to this fact.
On one hand, half the drivers around here have no idea where they’re going. On the other, restaurants of every shape, size, stripe, and specialty sprout out of Asheville’s streets like mushrooms after an invigorating rain—each one presenting splendid opportunities to the hungry tourist.
We have curry. We have Iberian tapas. We have Indian, Nepalese, and eclectic Caribbean. Today I write of none of these genres, instead favoring the absolute pinnacle of cuisine itself: barbecue. Or maybe barbeque. Some say bar-b-que, others say bar-b-q or bbq. I suppose that’s what comes of appropriating words from the Spanish. Regardless, with a restaurant scene like Asheville’s, there’s plenty of barbecue to choose from. So if I may, I invite you to read on, and familiarize yourself with the five best places to procure barbecue in Asheville.
1: Luella’s Bar-B-Que
To start off, I’d like to introduce what I consider the standard for barbecue in Asheville. Diehard fans of 12 Bones may vigorously disagree on this point, but fret not you saucy rib-lovers, 12 Bones is also on this list.
Luella’s menu is a course on variety, offering wings, loaded potatoes, salads, ribs, and of course their proper barbecue plates. Ranging from turkey to brisket, this category includes the startling addition of tempeh. That’s right, the stuff that’s not tofu, but isn’t meat either. I take this unexpected dish not as a slap in the face of meat, but as a demonstration of the restaurant’s flexibility.
While staying committed to the twin pillars of barbecue (sauce and meat), a rotating slew of special entrees and sides ensures that repeat visitors will find Luella’s to be one of the most consistently surprising barbecue restaurants in Asheville. Sporting two locations, a meal at Luella’s is attainable both on the north and south sides of town.
While the northern location lies in proximity to Weaver Park—an excellent place to cut the children loose for an hour—its sister location lies in Biltmore Park, the heart of south Asheville. When I say heart, I mean everything that makes that organ pump—shopping, eating, a hotel, the YMCA where I scream in Japanese, and a Regal Cinema, not to mention a grand host of parking spots.
Both north and south locations are busiest from Friday to Sunday, although a visit on Friday may concur with a spot of live music.
The Taste-Cost Analysis: Not everyone here in Asheville is of purely practical leaning—myself included—but I shall do my best to illustrate where one can find the best barbecue in Asheville, dollar per pound. With most dishes sitting at the ten-dollar mark or just above, I’d say Luella’s delivers at a 1:1 ratio. Of course, these things are subjective. The only way to know for certain would be to visit all the barbecue restaurants in Asheville.
2: Doc Brown’s BBQ
When I tell my fellow locals that I write pieces about Asheville, both of us acknowledge that “Asheville” also includes several places that are not Asheville, but are pretty close.
That’s how I justify writing about a barbecue restaurant in Asheville which is actually found in Candler, about twenty minutes west of downtown. Who knows, you might find yourself there. If not, Doc Brown’s food truck may find you.
Notwithstanding how exactly you find yourselves in the grip of the Doctor, I must advise you that 1) barbecue is not doctor endorsed, and 2) diners are advised to call ahead of their visit—the most popular menu items run out fast. Among these lie the old Doc’s ribs, obtainable dressed in your choice of three different preparations.
Although Doc Brown’s offers tempeh in line with Luella’s, the former is a measure less experimental, instead favoring barbecue as it was originally conceived; this of course means coleslaw. Actually, it means four separate varieties of coleslaw, which must be exciting for all you coleslaw enthusiasts out there.
With their busiest hours lying on Fridays and Saturdays, a visit during some other day would certainly round out one’s experience sampling barbecue in Asheville, even if that barbecue is from Candler.
The Taste-Cost Analysis: With prices just a tad lower than the standard, and a more focused approach to their menu, Doc Brown’s has a slight edge in its taste-cost ratio over the more expensive barbecue restaurants in Asheville.
3: 12 Bones Smokehouse
It is a sad fact that not every restaurant in Asheville makes it. I have seen more good eateries fizzle out of existence than I care to remember—that’s the dark side of such a competitive environment. But some restaurants do grow and prosper, they swell into institutions, staples of the Asheville food scene—12 Bones is one of those staples, perhaps the staple of barbecue in Asheville. You might be wondering how I can call 12 Bones the “staple,” while calling Luella’s the “standard.” I would note that a “staple” is quite different from a “standard.” 12 Bone’s success has forced their southerly location into restricted business hours, with its full menu only available from 11-4 on Tuesdays through Saturdays, and as their website frequently cites: “lunch only, no reservations.” Still, if one can find their way through these crowded hours—or alternatively, visit 12 Bone’s location in the River Arts District—one will be pleasantly treated with exactly what makes this restaurant one of the most popular places for locals to get barbecue in Asheville. In short: its solid. The meat is solid, the sauces and sides, solid. Their menu also includes an assortment of specialty sandwiches, capitalizing on the quality of their meats, as well as ways to diversify one’s meal across several meats, dispelling the woes of indecision. If Luella’s is consistently surprising, 12 Bones is consistently good.
The Taste-Cost Analysis: Above average quality paired with above average cost—and of course, the time-cost of standing in line—makes 12 Bones deliver on its prices on equivalent terms.
Note: The above image pictures 12 Bone’s now defunct location but is included for sentimental reasons.
4: Black Bear BBQ
I became acquainted with Black Bear BBQ on a particularly memorable day this past June.
I had come out to Lake Julian to watch the dragon boat races and was met with a sky most unwelcoming to such outdoor activities. It rained. It rained a lot. The ground melted into mud, the lake swelled, and your clothes stuck to your back like you had fallen into a pool, and had only recently extradited yourself from that unpleasantly moist scenario.
The event was supposed to have been catered by a pair of food trucks, but one had been forced to depart due to logistical issues. Luckily, the one that remained was associated with Black Bear BBQ.
One taste of their pulled pork, and I was committed to traveling up the metaphorical beanstalk. One month later, and I can report that I’ve found the goose that lays the golden brisket, and the golden ribs too. Black Bear follows up on their impressive performance in terms of meat with an amicable relationship to the spirit of Asheville—their décor and environmentally mindful straws make Black Bear the most Ashevillian place to get barbecue in Asheville that I have yet to encounter.
Along this same line, Black Bear offers specialty, cane-sweetened sodas. One may not regard soda as terribly important to one’s barbecue-experience, but I should counter with the fact that among these sodas lies a blueberry soda, which tastes something like blueberry cobbler.
On the flipside, my fellow gastronomes inform me that Black Bear’s sides are somewhat too creative for their own good. I find them just fine, but these are matters of taste, and so vary from person to person.
The Taste-Cost Analysis: They’ve got an advantage, although capitalizing thereupon may first require you to discern what of Black Bear’s offerings you find delicious, and which you find lackluster.
5: Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que
As an Asheville local, I am ensconced in the indie scene—if its not made by three guys and their pet goat, as a principle, I’m not interested. This goes for movies, music, tea, television, and above all else, restaurants.
Moe’s barbecue beats this principle. Despite being a national chain, Moe’s brings to the table everything that makes a local restaurant good, and that’s a simple as having good food.
Moe’s menu includes the badges of barbecue: chicken, turkey, and pork. These are the dishes wherein to show off one’s credentials, and Moe’s does just that. If their fundamentals are strong, Moe’s goes the next mile with some items unconvential for the standard barbecue joint, such as catfish, and a rotating cast of sides and specials counting meatloaf and hash brown casserole among their number.
Moe’s is a local favorite, its gravel lot swelling from the hours of 11-1 daily, although even during these times eating at Moe’s is worth the wait. Located nearby to upscale shopping in Biltmore Village, and upscale touring at the Biltmore Estate itself, if you’ve got to get barbecue in Ashville, go to Moe’s.
The Taste-Cost Analysis: I’d say Moe’s has the best flavor per cent in town.
Luella’s Bar-B-Que, North Asheville
501 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
Luella’s Bar-B-Que, South Asheville
33 Town Square Blvd, Asheville, NC 28803
Doc Brown’s BBQ
1320 Smokey Park Highway, Candler, NC 28715
12 Bone’s Smokehouse RIVER
5 Foundy Street Suite 10 Suite 10, Asheville, NC 28801
12 Bone’s Smokehouse SOUTH
2350 Hendersonville Rd, Arden, NC 28704
Black Bear BBQ
800 Fairview Rd, Suite C8, Asheville, NC 28803
Moe’s Original Bar B Que
4 Sweeten Creek Rd, Asheville, NC 28803