As we put together this list of the most famous BBQ Pitmasters we included the obvious culinary legends, but we also wanted to introduce the world to several talented BBQ Pitmasters that you may not have seen (yet!)
There aren’t many things more American than barbecue, and patience, tenacity and love are at the center of being a top BBQ Pitmaster. It is a craft unlike any other and those that have honed their skills to reach the top of the game stand out above the rest.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 BBQ Pitmasters in the USA.
If you know anything about barbecue, chances are you have heard of Aaron Franklin. From humble beginnings at a simple stand on the side of an interstate in Austin Texas in 2009, to teaching a Master Class on the topic of barbecue, Aaron and his wife Stacy have become the epitome of Pitmaster perfection.
They have won almost every major barbecue award from Texas Monthly’s Best Barbecue Joint in Texas to the James Beard Foundation Award For Best Chef: Southwest. Despite growing exponentially since 2009, Franklin Barbecue continues to sell out every day it is open.
Lines begin to form hours before the doors even open. People putting up with the sometimes +100F Texas heat and the long wait just to get a taste of the Franklin brisket.
Aaron even appeared as himself in the hit movie Chef. He is now a star in his own right, having become the featured guest on many television shows and cooking magazines. Aaron still has the original barbecue trailer that started it all, keeping it out behind his brick and mortar restaurant.
In 2015 Elliott Moss opened Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, North Carolina. Elliott grew up on his grandparent’s farm where he learned the way of the land at a young age, pitching in with the hogs on the farm and gaining the knowledge he would need later in life.
Moss’s early life experience has passed through to his barbecue methodology- cooking whole, cage free hogs, which would turn out to be his calling card. Much of the spices that made up those meals as a kid, Elliott would use later in life in his own restaurant. He also makes sure to use a variety of sauces depending on the type of barbecue he is cooking.
While Elliott is mostly traditional in the way that he prepares his barbecue, he does take liberties when he believes he needs a change of pace. Elliott garnered praise through Southern Living Magazine’s Best Restaurants of 2016 among others. He is ever mindful of bringing the best, pasture raised meats to his tables with no middleman and as natural as possible. This mentality has carried Elliott into barbecue stardom amongst his fans.
Rodney Scott grew up in a family that barbecued whole pigs on a regular basis, cooking his first hog at the young age of eleven. The family began selling their barbecue and it soon became a booming family business, increasing from just one day a week to as many as four with the meat always selling out.
As the business grew Rodney struck out on his own and opened Rodney Scott Barbecue in 2017. Located in Charleston, South Carolina, Rodney has brought with him his family’s passion for cooking and love for those working with him and eating his barbecue.
In 2018 Rodney was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef Southeast. His zeal for life and those that he serves makes him just as big as the meals he makes.
Not only does Elizabeth Karmel (who is affectionately known as Grill Girl) cook amazing barbecue, she is also an author and television personality. Her website, girlsatthegrill.com aims to empower women to get out and barbecue on the grill instead of just cooking in the kitchen.
She also writes a syndicated food column for the Associated Press which has earned her much praise along with writing for top magazines which also occasionally feature her cooking. Elizabeth has been a trailblazer for women and the love of barbeque since she began her journey and she has not thought of slowing down any time soon.
Myron Mixon has won over 200 barbecue grand championships including four world titles. These wins have garnered him the title of “the winningest man in barbecue”.
He is a New York Times best-selling author, hosts two hit TV shows and has his products in stores across the country. Myron started his rise to the top as a contestant on the TV show BBQ Pitmasters for which he was later brought back as a judge.
He has also penned multiple cookbooks all about his passion for smoking and barbecuing including Smokin’ with Myron Mixon and Everyday Barbecue. Myron’s foray into the business side of the barbecue world has made him a very popular household name.
John Lewis, founder of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston South Carolina, grew up in El Paso, Texas. After his parents gave him his first smoker for his 18th birthday, he began experimenting in the world of backyard barbecue.
This soon became more than a hobby; it became a passion. John started making his own smokers to perfect the cooking process because there weren’t any that were made to his high expectations.
He spent some time competing in barbecue events in Colorado and then made his way back to Austin to help another Pitmaster on this list, his friend Aaron Franklin, open Franklin Barbecue.
He eventually opened La Barbecue with partner LeAnn Mueller to much success. The restaurant was named Best Barbeque In Austin by Texas Monthly shortly thereafter. John has since moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he and his dubbed “Bar-B-Crew” crank out some of the best barbecue in the southeast.
Chris Lilly is the Pitmaster at the renowned Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur Alabama, a restaurant that was founded in 1925. Ever since he went to his first barbecue shack as a kid with his dad, Chris has had the barbecue bug.
He has won fifteen World BBQ Championships along with a long list of other awards and accolades. Chris has also been on Food Network for a number of years as a guest chef and is a celebrity judge at many events.
In 2016 he was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. His barbecue acumen is well known around the community that he has come to be a part of, and his success is a direct result of it. Chris has also used his barbecue knowledge to publish two cookbooks which have been wildly successful.
Melissa Cookston is owner of Memphis Barbecue Co in Mississippi and Georgia, is the author of two cookbooks and has made many television appearances including being on the Food Network. Her barbeque is dubbed as the best on the planet and she has a right to make such a claim as she is a seven-time world barbecue champion.
Melissa began her barbecue journey in 1996 with her husband Pete. They entered into local competitions before quitting their jobs and opening their first restaurant in 2011. Melissa is also the only female World BBQ Champion, an honor that she holds very highly.
Robert Austin Cho
Robert Austin Cho is the Pitmaster at Kimchi Smoke, a joint that has a wild mix of Texas and Korean barbecue in Westwood, New Jersey. Robert has won numerous awards for his eclectic barbecue including Critic’s Choice Best Barbecue from NJ Monthly.
Like many others on this list, Robert began small. After seeing an episode of Throwdown! With Bobby Flay he bought his first smoker and began his journey. After he began winning competitions Robert honed his craft into the amazingly authentic flavors that he brings to his tables today. His mix of heat and unique flavors have garnered him many accolades and prestigious reviews from top talent.
At Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington, Texas, you will find an 85 year old Tootsie shoveling hot coals, basting different slabs of meat and perfecting the art of the Pitmaster.
Tootsie has been sweating over the fires for over fifty years now, and with the hectic bustle of daily life, Tootsie takes solace in her craft and how it brings folks back together.
Tootsie has a day job at a local high school as a custodian, yet she gets up at 2am every Saturday to make the short drive down to Snow’s and start the fires that will bring hoards of folks waiting in line long before the 8am opening of the shop.
The traffic coming to Snow’s has been non-stop since it was named best in Texas in Texas Monthly back in 2008. Despite her age, Tootsie has no desire to slow down, she loves the process, the heat, and the camaraderie that being a Pitmaster brings her.
She is an icon in the small town of Lexington, and somewhat of a celebrity. Her love for barbecue and the frenetic pace at which she is able to work every Saturday morning garnered her a cult like following. She has even been featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table: BBQ.
Who are your favorite BBQ Pitmasters?
It’s not easy to choose a favorite BBQ Pitmaster, especially with new names and faces entering this popular speciality every year. In the end the consumer is the ultimate judge. Have you tried any of the BBQ joints in this list? If so let us know by sharing and tagging us on Facebook.
Check more profiles of famous chefs.