Official Nebraska Barbecue Rankings

The way barbecue has grown across America in recent years has been a true pleasure to watch. Sure, the cream-of-the-crop restaurants still reside in traditional hubs like Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and North Carolina. But as more and more chefs have opened up to experimenting with barbecue, delicious joints have started showing up in areas of the country not normally recognized for serving up amazing ‘que.

Luckily for us Nebraskans, that includes two of our fine cities.

Nebraska is known for beef and corn, but on the down low some tremendous barbecue joints have established themselves in Lincoln and Omaha over the years. As someone who’s long professed my love of barbecue (I’d literally eat it for every meal if I could), I’m commonly asked for my opinions on certain spots or which restaurants are the best. This post should help answer those questions.

As always, I want to iterate that these are the opinions of one man and should not be taken as gospel. People have different opinions, and I completely acknowledge that. But as someone who’s eaten a lot of barbecue and visited some of America’s top spots, I do feel I’ve developed a good palette for the genre and feel comfortable with my recommendations.

Without further ado, let’s rank Nebraska’s best barbecue.

1. Lippy’s BBQ (Malcolm)—temporarily closed

C_jUtJmVoAIvBlX

Lippy’s ribs and cornbread

Not only is Lippy’s my favorite barbecue joint in the state, it’s my favorite restaurant overall. I’d estimate I’ve visited Lippy’s more than 40 times in the past few years, and each trip seems to be better than the last.

Lippy’s started as a classic hole-in-the-wall joint run by a man who loves barbecue and his family. Located in a building the size of an RV, it had an irresistible charm. It was so off the beaten path, eating there carried an air of exclusivity, like you’d stumbled upon this hidden gold mine.

In 2017, it moved across the street to a much larger location. I love seeing smaller restaurants succeed and expand, but they tend to inevitably lose some of the appeal that lured you in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, the new location is much nicer. It now features TVs and a bar. There are friendly servers rather than counter service. The move is absolutely an upgrade.

There was just a certain comfort factor of visiting the old Lippy’s, knowing I would not only be greeted by a member of the Streeter family, but that they would know my order and ask about my life.

lippysribs.jpg

Onto the meat. The standout is the ribs, which I’d want on my plate for my hypothetical last meal. These spare ribs are enormous and meaty and are cooked to perfection each time. The meat gently tugs off the bone and has a brilliant smoke ring. What really makes these sing is the standout rub that owner Kelly Streeter applies. This brown sugar-based rub brings an awesome sweetness that encourages patrons to, as the restaurant recommends, “eat naked” – that is, enjoy the awesome flavor of the meat without adding sauce. And while a little sauce never hurts, these ribs are fantastic on their own.

Lippy’s cornbread is far and away the best in the state. It’s airy and fluffy, taking on an almost cake-like texture. The cornbread is very sweet and needs no butter or honey to amp up its flavor. Many people have asked for their wedding cakes to be made from this. It’s that good.

lippysmeal.jpg

From left to right: pulled pork, chicken, brisket

Lippy’s other meats are solid. The brisket is among the better options in Nebraska and the pulled pork is delicious on a sandwich. The barbecue nachos are tremendous, as are the bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers and brisket-infused baked beans.

In summation, every experience I’ve had at Lippy’s has been tremendous, and there’s a reason for that. Kelly puts some serious love into his craft, and that shows in the final product. The ribs alone are worth a visit, but everything else Lippy’s is serving stands up to the best in the state. That’s why this restaurant wears the barbecue crown.

*Lippy’s is currently closed due to the owner’s health complications.

Overall: A

  • Ribs: A+
  • Brisket: B+
  • Pork: B+
  • Sides: A
  • Atmosphere: B-
  • Service: A-

2. Tired Texan BBQ (Omaha)

ttmeal-e1504227113680.jpg

Great as Lippy’s is, Tired Texan is nipping right on its heels. Omaha was dying for a legit barbecue spot, and owner/smoker Chip Holland swooped in in the summer of 2017 and stole the city’s championship belt. His love for the craft comes through in every bite.

TTBrisket

Brisket

The brisket is arguably the best in Nebraska. Smoked at around 225 for up to 18 hours, this brisket is perfectly tender and locks in that fatty flavor with a standout bark. The ribs are absolutely fantastic as well. These spares are unique in that they dole out some heat – the rub carries a pleasant kick that pairs nicely with a hint of sweet, making these a standout option.

The pork is fine, and the sides are very hit or miss. The cornbread muffin tops and Texas Tumbleweeds (a deep-fried combo of bacon, cheese and hashbrowns) are both excellent, but the mac and cheese, baked beans and creamed corn are fairly standard.

TTRib

Beef rib

The real treat is the beef rib, a delicacy not offered by many barbecue spots. This enormous hunk of tender beefy is decadent, fatty and seasoned perfectly. It’s a must-try for any barbecue lover.

Tired Texan refuses to skimp on quality, as it serves all its meats fresh from the smoker. And because the smoking process requires long hours, Tired Texan at times runs out of specific meats. This is common at most great barbecue restaurants, but it can still be frustrating to arrive and not be able to order what you anticipated.

Fortunately, Tired Texan offers a simple solution – just call ahead. You can place orders to go or be eaten in the restaurant. It’s the tiniest bit of extra effort, and Tired Texan is absolutely worth it.

Overall: A

  • Ribs: A
  • Brisket: A
  • Pork: B
  • Sides: B-
  • Atmosphere: B
  • Service: A-

3. Smokin Barrel BBQ (Omaha)

SmokinPlate

Pulled pork (left) and brisket

After years of thriving as a food truck, the owner/pitmaster took the leap and moved Smokin Barrel into a brick-and-mortar establishment late in 2018. The truck still sits outside and serves as the meat preparation hub, but diners now have a place to sit and know where to consistently find this barbecue.

And that’s a win for all involved, because it’s the margin between these top three spots is razor thin. On the right day, I could be persuaded to rank Smokin Barrel first. The moment you step out of your car, the smell of smoke washes over you like a soft wave that warms your soul. Wayne, the aforementioned owner/pitmaster, also mans the counter at this humble joint. He’s unfailingly friendly, and is more than willing to offer samples of the restaurant’s five meats (ribs, brisket, sausage, pork, and turkey) if you’re having trouble deciding.

SmokinPork

Pulled pork

The beautiful thing is, you really can’t go wrong. There are two common themes that run throughout Smokin Barrel’s offerings: 1) a delightful smoky flavor that comes as no surprise considering the immediate tickling of one’s nostrils upon arrival, and 2) a brilliant park that traps the smoke and infuses it into every bite.

SmokinBrisket

Brisket

All the meats feature this brilliant bark. The pulled pork is my favorite in Nebraska. It’s tender enough to pull apart with the slightest pull of a fork, and it’s far more succulent than most pork options. The brisket can get a bit dry in places, but for the most part its fat transfers flavor throughout each cut. The ribs, St. Louis spares, are plenty meaty and feature a beautiful smoke ring.

SmokinSausage

Sausage

The quiet hero is a meat not offered at many Nebraska barbecue establishments: the sausage. Smokin Barrel’s casings produce a nice snap upon biting, and the interior is filled with fennel, pepper, and other spices that marry perfectly with the pork. This is truly an amazing sausage.

Smokin Barrel gets dinged a bit for its availability. It’s open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. every day but Monday, and its meats evaporate quickly. If you want to ensure your preferred order, I suggest arriving as close to opening time as possible. This may be a bit of an inconvenience, but trust me, it’s worth it.

Overall: A-

  • Ribs: A-
  • Brisket: A
  • Pork: A
  • Sausage: A+
  • Sides: C
  • Atmosphere: B+
  • Service: A+

4. Phat Jack’s BBQ (Lincoln)

pjburntends

Had I done this list five years ago, Phat Jack’s probably would’ve been at the top. It’s still delicious, but I feel it’s slipped a bit since moving into its new location in 2017. Everything is still good, but the magic Phat Jack’s discovered as a hole-in-the-wall gem no longer exists.

The highlight are the burnt ends, which I’d stack up against just about any I’ve ever had, even including the mighty Joe’s KC. These succulent flavor bombs are perfectly tender, preserving the fat of the brisket while keeping their integrity. They’re served in larger chunks than commonly seen in burnt ends, but that’s not a problem. If you can get to the restaurant before they sell out, these will make your day.

If you’re a fan of baby back ribs (I prefer spare, which are larger and have more meat. But if we’re being honest, they’re both amazing), these are your top choice in Nebraska. They’re not quite as tender or as flavorful as the above entries, but the rub shines through nicely, and they still have plenty of meat.

pjpsycho

Psycho sandwich: pulled pork and brisket

The brisket is quite good and the pulled pork above average, though both can be a bit dry on the wrong day. What helps Phat Jack’s stand out is its massive portions. The sandwiches are loaded with meat to the point where you honestly have to scrape some off to the side to eat them, giving you a side of brisket/pork (and that’s never a bad thing). The sides are pretty good, with the beans and mac & cheese leading the charge. The cornbread used to be incredible, but a change in the formula leaves it disappointing now.

Everything at Phat Jack’s is very good, and the burnt ends are truly transcendent. But the quality slipped just a bit over the past few years, and when you’re dealing with legit competition from Lippy’s, Tired Texan, and Smokin Barrel, that’ll drop you a few spots. That’s no shame, though – Phat Jack’s is legit in every sense of the word.

Overall: B+

  • Ribs: B+
  • Brisket: B
  • Pork: B
  • Sides: B-
  • Atmosphere: C+
  • Service: B
  • Burnt ends: A+

5. Swine Dining (Omaha & Bellevue)

swineribs

Ribs

Before Tired Texan’s arrival, Swine Dining had, in my mind, the crown for Omaha’s best barbecue. The ribs are large and meaty and have a decent smoke ring. They’re perfectly tender and are typically Swine Dining’s best option.

swineburntends

Burnt ends

That is, unless, the burnt ends are available. They’re not a menu staple and are only available on certain days, but they’re absolutely tremendous. While they’re not quite on the level of Phat Jack’s, they’re fatty and delicious, tender but not falling apart.

The pork is above average and comes in large, delicate chunks, but the brisket is a major disappointment. It’s dry and kind of rubbery. For sides, the baked beans and french fries are OK, but the cornbread is low on flavor, even when topped with honey.

Swine Dining isn’t going to have you rushing out to get back, but it’s a solid option for Omaha diners.

Overall: B-

  • Ribs: B+
  • Brisket: D
  • Pork: B+
  • Burnt ends: A-
  • Sides: C
  • Atmosphere: C+
  • Service: B

6. Big Luvs BBQ and Catering (Lincoln)

Meal

Pulled pork (left) and brisket

I fully accept the skepticism that great barbecue can come from a food truck. The meat requires such care over long periods of time, and most kitchens fail to do even decent barbecue justice. How can one be expected to serve up quality ‘que out of a trailer?

I don’t know Big Luv’s secret, but this truck knows what it’s doing. The brisket was surprisingly brilliant, with a gorgeous crust that trapped in that smoky flavor. The pork is tender to the point of nearly falling apart and is nearly as delicious. Topping it all off is Big Luv’s delicious sauce, which is crafted with Zipline Brewery’s Oatmeal Porter.

Rib

Rib

Ribs aren’t always on the menu, but when they are, it’s a nice treat. These spares are quite meaty, though they are cooked a bit unevenly. While a solid addition, they don’t stand up to the standard the pork and brisket set.

Unfortunately, Big Luv’s doesn’t offer any sides and, as a food truck, moves around and isn’t always easy to find. It’s worth a visit if you can find it, however.

Overall: B-

  • Ribs: C+
  • Brisket: B+
  • Pork: B+
  • Sides: N/A
  • Atmosphere: N/A
  • Service: A

7. 402 BBQ Food Truck

BBQBurntEnds

Burnt ends

Burnt ends are, in my opinion, one of the trickiest meats to master. They require a great deal of time, patience, and experimentation. They’re average at many barbecue joints, so when you find really good ones, it’s nirvana.

I don’t know what kind of black magic 402 BBQ uses to not only create awesome burnt ends, but somehow transport and keep them fresh on a truck. But I’m not complaining.

These tender flavor hunks are the standout offering from the truck. They nearly fall apart at the touch. While they’re a bit on the fatty side, they’re not greasy, and the fat soaks into every morsel.

BBQSandwich

B-Rad sandwich (brisket, turkey, pulled pork)

The other meats are fine, but not nearly as exciting. Ribs aren’t offered and, on their own, the brisket, pulled pork, and turkey are all rather dry and low on flavor. When brought together on the B-Rad sandwich, however, these flavors somehow fuse with the Rotella’s hoagie to create a delicious, and massive, option. Adding one of the truck’s six sauces helps. The sides are completely forgettable.

Overall: B-

  • Ribs: N/A
  • Brisket: C+
  • Pulled pork: C-
  • Turkey: C
  • Sides: C
  • Burnt ends: A
  • Atmosphere: N/A
  • Service: A-

8. Smoking Jay’s (Omaha)

sjplate

Brisket (left) and pulled pork (right)

Smoking Jay’s is close to being a really good barbecue restaurant. Everything on the menu is pretty darn good – but nothing is great. The brisket is closest, as its nicely fatty and has a good bark. But it’s not quite as tender as I prefer and isn’t transformative.

The pork is just OK, the baked beans are pretty standard and the cornbread is downright disappointing. It’s not sweet at all and really tastes pretty similar to normal white bread.

sjbrisket

Brisket

What saves Smoking Jay’s is its beef rib, which is tender, smoky, fatty and delicious. The owner is also tremendously friendly. He often runs the register himself and is happy to come out and chat with customers.

Unfortunately, Smoking Jay’s is also easily the most expensive restaurant on this list. It’s solid and worth a try, but not worth rushing out to.

Overall: B-

  • Ribs: A-
  • Brisket: B-
  • Pork: C
  • Sides: C-
  • Atmosphere: C
  • Service: A-

9. Porky Butts BBQ (Omaha)

PorkyButtsMeal

From top (clockwise): Smoked sausage, pulled pork, ribs, brisket, grits

The newcomer to the scene, Porky Butts oozes potential. Opened by pitmaster Blane Hunter, a renowned champion on the competition barbecue circuit, this restaurant has gone through some growing pains. Competition barbecue is very, very different from operating a restaurant, and some inconsistencies exist in the product that I highly doubt are present at the judges’ table. But there’s a chance for great barbecue here.

The smoked sausage and ribs are proof of that, as both are excellent. The sausage is extremely juicy, and the casing holds in that delicious smoky flavor while supplying each bite with a pleasant snap. The ribs are meaty and feature a slightly sweet rub.

The brisket highlights the challenges of mass production vs. competition ‘que. Porky Butts’ brisket is a beautiful canvas, and there’s a lot to like. Strings of fat run throughout each cut, and there’s a pleasant smoke ring around the outside. But while the brisket tastes OK, it’s very dry. And while the edges looked beautiful, they lacked the texture component excellent bark provides. I can definitely see how this brisket wins competitions in a smaller setting, but it needs a bit more refining.

The improvements Porky Butts has made already suggest it could be a great restaurant in time. There are just a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out first.

10. We’ll Smoke U (Gretna)

WellSmokeUFood

Ribs

The ribs save We’ll Smoke U. These large, meaty spares are tender. They arrive pre-slathered in sauce and don’t have much of a smoke ring, but the flavor is still pretty solid.

SmokeBrisket

Brisket

But the other meats really pull We’ll Smoke U down. The brisket and pork are both bone-dry and neither much flavor. The pork at least brings a hint of smoky taste, but, outside of a nice crust on the brisket, these two meats are pretty easy to pass on.

The baked beans are goopy and taste like they came out of a can. But the cornbread is moist, cakey and is just sweet enough to create a nice side dish. Kudos to We’ll Smoke U for their barbecue sauces, which are all excellent. If you’re driving through Gretna during lunch or dinner and have a hankering for some ‘que, this place can tide you over. But if you can wait, just keep driving to the better options in Omaha or Lincoln.

Overall: C

  • Ribs: B
  • Brisket: C-
  • Pork: C-
  • Sides: B-
  • Atmosphere: B
  • Service: B+

11. Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que (Omaha)

OKOutside

From left: pulled pork, brisket, ribs

Many got very excited when it was announced that Oklahoma Joe’s was coming to the Haymarket in Lincoln, but that was due to some confusion. Patrons expected to be treated to the brilliance of KC Joe’s, which is one of the finest barbecue institutions in the country and formerly existed under the Oklahoma Joe’s name. But a name change a few years back shifted that, and new Oklahoma Joe’s doesn’t hold a candle to its KC counterpart. There is a reason the Lincoln location only lasted a few months.

OKRib

Rib

Nothing at Oklahoma Joe’s is bad, but nothing stands out either. The ribs are the best option, though they’re a bit on the soft side. Whatever rub Joe’s uses is very mild and lacks much taste, so these ribs need some sauce to make them pop. There’s a decent bark to help matters, but they’re not great.

The pork actually had more crust than the ribs, which was pleasant and surprisingly. But the brisket is bland and overcooked. The cornbread is cake-y and sweet, which is nice, and the smoked white chicken chili is tasty and a nice break from traditional barbecue sides. But the fries are soggy and nothing special.

Overall: C

  • Ribs: B-
  • Brisket: C
  • Pork: B-
  • Sides: B
  • Atmosphere: C+
  • Service: C

12. C. Berry’s (Lincoln)

cberry-meal

Brisket, pulled pork, turkey, beans, mac and cheese

C. Berry’s is a true oddity for barbecue, as it’s only open for lunch and late at night. In the heart of the downtown O St. scene, that makes sense to an extent. But those odd hours definitely don’t make for killer ‘que, and that’s quite evident.

First off, there are no ribs. That’s a major first strike. Any barbecue joint that doesn’t serve God’s gift to Earth better make up for it with the other meats.

cberry-brisket

Brisket

C. Berry’s doesn’t do this. The brisket has a disconcerting, pink color – I get that’s a smoke ring, but it’s a little too colorful. That’s not what a healthy brisket looks like. A touch of pink is perfect, but this brisket is borderline red. But I must admit that a nice smoky aftertaste creeps in a few seconds after the consumption, and – for better or worse – it’s the best meat on the plate.

cberry-pork

Pulled pork

The pork looks great, but it’s pretty disappointing and lacks flavor. There’s very little flavor here with the addition of sauce. The turkey was actually surprisingly juicy and flavorful. It comes in nice thick slices and is a much better option than the pork.

The sides are either home runs or complete swings and misses. The baked beans are terrible – I’ve had better out of a can. The fries are soggy and again bring to mind store-bought options. But the mac and cheese is delicious and topped with shredded cheese, producing those wonderful cheese pulls. And the ice cream is absolutely delicious, though the serving sizes are a bit underwhelming.

It’s hard to compare C. Berry’s with most barbecue spots because it’s not trying to be a classic, low-and-slow delivery option. The restaurant clearly caters to the on-the-go downtown crowd during lunch and the inebriated coeds filtering out of the O St. bars late at night. Ultimately, it doesn’t stack up with most on this list. For a lunch break or solution for the munchies, it’s fine. But don’t expect much else.

Overall: C

  • Ribs: N/A
  • Brisket: C+
  • Pulled pork: C-
  • Turkey: B+
  • Sides: C+
  • Atmosphere: C-
  • Service: C

13. Hartland BBQ (Omaha)

hartlandribs

Ribs

Hartland comes with a decent reputation, but unfortunately, it’s undeserved. The words “dry” and “bland” come to mind many times during they typical visit.

The ribs were actually quite pleasant, as they’re very meaty and have a decent tang to them. They’re a little tough and require more pulling than is typically ideal, and the rub doesn’t have a ton of flavor. These are best when topped with some sauce.

hartlandbrisket

Brisket

The brisket is a bit of an inconsistent mess. Some pieces, particularly those on the outside with some bark, are OK and have some decent smoky flavor. But overall it’s dry and semi-tasteless. This brisket is probably too lean – it doesn’t have that fat layer to infuse flavor into the rest of the cut.

The pork is completely forgettable, and the sides are downright bad. Both the baked beans and green beans taste store-bought, though I do give Hartland creativity points for infusing the baked beans with chunks of cooked-down apples. The cornbread is fine, but nothing special. And with semi-high prices, Hartland is ultimately forgettable and therefore easy to skip.

Overall: C

  • Ribs: B
  • Brisket: B-
  • Pulled pork: C-
  • Sides: D
  • Atmosphere: C
  • Service: C

Nebraska’s barbecue scene has greatly involved in just the past few years. The top five spots on my list either just opened or moved into new locations. There is real growth, and I can’t wait to see how the space continues to develop.

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Craig Ryon · October 5, 2017

    Here is a chance for you to try another up and comming bbq place.
    https ://www.eventbrite.com/e/sauce-bosses-bbq-pop-up-tickets-38091341227?aff=es2#tickets. As the pitmaster for Sauce Bosses BBQ this is a chance to try a chefs menu as we do a pop up resturant at Mula in the Blackstone District.

    Like

  2. Greg · October 5, 2017

    Sad to see that Cubby’s BBQ (Yeah, the convenience Stores) we’re left out of the consideration. In a few short years they have grown Leaps, and bounds by providing Fresh BBQ Daily all over the Metro, and Outlying Towns.
    Not your typical Gas Station food, warmed under lamps, But real bbq made on location by 2 Mobile Pit Masters.
    Give them a try!

    Like

  3. Doug davis · October 11, 2017

    I’ve been smoking meat for24 years and do a fair job but if you want some good bbq you should try tattoo bobs bbq. That right there is the best ribs and consistent. They safe baby backs and extra meaty and pulls perfect off the bone. The brisket has a nice light smoke ring and melts in your mouth. And something most do not have is a true Texas hot link. Then the keg quarter are so juicy you better have a bib never you sink your teeth in them. He serves out of a custom built at least 30 foot trailer and has a huge smoker inside. It’s diffenitlly worth tracking him down on Facebook as he only serves 3 days a week unless he is doing compitition some where in the United States. He will post on Facebook in the beginning of every week. Ok done ranting have a good day

    Like

  4. Josh Smith · October 13, 2017

    Having the locations of each BBQ joint would have been SUPER HELPFUL!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s