I feel your pain, russ...
I live 10 miles from AC, and IMO , and even though there are a few places, they don't come close to what I ate in the Austin area.
There used to be a small bbq joint in YOUR area, on route 35 in Neptune, sort of in the hood.
I think I just went there once, and liked it, but it seems to be out of business now.
Im my area, (by AC) there is a "Chef Charles Kitchen" only a mile and a half or so away from me.
(on 6774 Washington Blvd, EHT/Pleasantville, 609-641-7338) Heading south on the GSP, it's right off exit 37, then turn left. It was started up by a former casino cook who wanted to branch out.
He's got a big smoker outside, so it IS the real thing. I've been there a few times. HOWEVER, as nice as the guy is, I just thought the brisket was "okay". Worth a shot if you are ever heading down to AC.
Kelsey and Kims BBQ in Pleasantville (and now in Galloway Township) is okay, too. Just okay, IMO.
Used to like them more.
There used to be a Damon's (chain) in Mays Landing , but now it became a Chickie and Pete's.
There is a Memphis based chain called Corky's inside the Tropicana Casino. But the menu does'nt appeal to me, so I have'nt tried it. (too much "pulled this, and "pulled that"; I like crusty brisket, and crispy chicken, not the pulled stuff)
There are a few of those roadside bbqs further west on Route 40(some just open on weekends), like Kingfish BBQ (I think that's the name) where the guy just operates the smoker on the weekend and there's just picnic tables outside.
In Toms River, (exit 82 , off the Garden State Parkway, then head east) there is a Tiffany's Ribs on Route 37. (another location in Union/Vauxhall)
My sister just had the baby back ribs the other night there, and said they are up to par. She loved them again, and she is a VERY tough rib critic (there is not much she loves)
I can't comment as I just go for the beef ribs, and they did'nt have them. However, I loved their buffalo wings.
I went to "Idaho Sweets" in Wildwood, (Jersey shore, exit 4 off GSP) about 4 times. I remember how much I liked the crispy beef ribs the first time. Last time the beef ribs were horrible. (a soggy mess that they got me for at least $15.00 on. I had a few bites, and threw them out) They even added a boardwalk location, for those that want to give their opinion.
Yes, Russ, we are very deprived here in Jersey, overall. (espescially south Jersey) But, I still think there's hope if someone can really do it up right, Hill Country Style !! (if NYC can suddenly become a bbq capital, why not at least a few good small places here?!?) . For instance, there is a "Sweet Lucy's" in northeast Philly that is supposed to be the real thing , and real good; gotta get up there. Good BBQ in way up in northeast Philly?!? Who would guess?!?
Please keep us posted Russ, if you make any new discoveries!