America's 11 Best Barbecue Cities (and Where to Eat There)
By Suzanne Raga
Top-notch barbecue can be hard to find, unless you know where to look. Though you can find a solid BBQ joint in any state, there are a few regions with more than their fair share of real-deal smokehouses. Regional variations in cooking times, techniques, and sauces mean that opinions differ on what makes the best barbecue. If you love the smoky taste and meaty texture of barbecue, read on to discover where to eat at America’s 11 best barbecue cities.
1. AUSTIN, TEXAS
You can find multiple styles of barbecue within Texas, but Austin has some of Texas’s absolute best beef brisket and ribs. Check out Franklin Barbecue, which serves caramelized, tender brisket sandwiches (as well as brisket by the pound) to long lines of hungry customers, and Freedmen’s, which serves its brisket, pulled pork, and pork spare ribs with house-made pickles, focaccia, and barbecue sauce.
2. MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
If you’re looking for barbecue in Memphis, you're never more than a stone's throw from some pork ribs and chopped pork sandwiches. Memphis-style pork is usually served with sauce that doesn’t contain all the sugar that’s more commonly seen in barbecue from other regions. To get a taste of barbecue history, order the pork shoulder sandwich or pork ribs at Charlie Vergos Rendezvous—in 1948, a cook there added paprika and broiled ribs over charcoal, helping to turn ribs from undesirable scrap meat into a delicious main course. You can also hit up Payne’s Bar-B-Que for one of the city’s best chopped pork sandwiches, which they make with smoked pork shoulder and serve with a spicy red sauce.
3. KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
When most people think of barbecue, they’re most likely imagining Kansas City-style barbecue: slow-cooked over low heat, with a tomato-based sauce thick and full of brown sugar or molasses. Opened in 1957, Jack Stack Barbecue serves beef, ham, pork, and sausage burnt ends, which consist of the fatty end pieces of the meat. If you like the sound of burnt ends, try them on a sandwich at LC’s Bar-B-Q—you’ll need several napkins before the meal is over!—or at Arthur Bryant's, which serves them open-faced at arguably the most famous barbecue joint in the country.
4. LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
Although Louisville has plenty of good beef barbecue, you don’t want to miss out on its all-star pork offerings. Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ serves Kansas City-style barbecue, which means they slow-smoke their meat and serve it with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Sink your teeth into the smoked pork ribs, brisket sliders, and smoked wings at Momma’s, or try the baby back pork ribs or pulled pork sandwich at Feast BBQ.
5. TULSA, OKLAHOMA
Because of Oklahoma’s location north of Texas and southwest of Missouri, the state incorporates aspects of Texas-style and Kansas City-style barbecue. Whether you chow down on beef, pork, or chicken barbecue in Tulsa, the common denominator is that the meat is charred on the outside, tender on the inside, and full of smoky flavor. At Elmer’s BBQ, eat the Famous Badwich, a sandwich that contains hickory smoked bologna, beef, sausage, and a rib. And try the sausage-stuffed pork loin or turkey (a specialty) and ribs at Burn Co Barbecue.
6. LEXINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
Barbecue in the Carolinas is all about pork. In Lexington, locals eat pork shoulder or ribs with a vinegar-based red sauce. Established in 1962, Lexington Barbecue serves an excellent chopped BBQ plate and chopped BBQ sandwich. While you’re at it, also check out the chopped barbecue plates at Speedy’s Barbecue Inc. and Cook’s Barbecue.
7. CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Like North Carolina, in South Carolina pork rules over all other types of meat, and Charleston has plenty of spots for prime South Carolina barbecue. At the Charleston Farmers Market, RightOnQue offers authentic southern pulled pork, ribs, pork loin, and beef brisket cooked slowly at a low temperature (it takes 12 to 14 hours) over local woods. For pork tacos, head to Nick’s Original Bar-B-Q, and stop by Swig & Swine for pulled pork and smoked pork belly sandwiches.
8. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Barbecue in Louisiana doesn’t have as long a history as barbecue in Kansas City or Memphis, but New Orleans has more top barbecue joints than ever. Incorporating Creole flavors, barbecue in New Orleans includes ribs, sausage, and plenty of sweet sauces. Head to Walker’s Southern Style BBQ for a cochon de lait poboy, a Cajun-style sandwich with smoked pork and Creole slaw. You can also try the plate of pork ribs or the chaurice sausage (a spicy Creole pork sausage, similar to chorizo) at The Joint.
9. ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Although Kansas City barbecue is immensely popular, across the state, St. Louis, Missouri is also famous for its grilled pork spare ribs. At Bogart’s Smokehouse, order the smoked prime rib sandwich—the ribs are caramelized with an apricot glaze. Head to The Rib Shack for grilled meats, soul food dinners, and rib sandwiches, and check out Pappy’s Smokehouse for classic Memphis-style barbecue … their specialty is the dry-rubbed ribs, which are slow smoked over apple and cherry wood.
10. TYLER, TEXAS
Texas is a big state, and east Texas has its own distinctive style of barbecue. In Tyler, you’ll find lots of chopped beef and pork sandwiches served with hot sauce. Your first stop should be Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue, which has served pit-smoked barbecue for more than half a century. Although you can’t go wrong with the double-rubbed baby back ribs or the pulled pork taco, you’ll definitely want to order the chopped brisket sandwich. Also check out Pat Gee’s, a converted shack in the woods, for chopped beef, pulled pork, and hot links. You can eat there or order your meat by the pound to take home.
11. BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA
Birmingham is known for its unique use of white sauce on smoked chicken. Invented in Decatur, Alabama by barbecue restaurateur "Big Bob" Gibson in 1925, the white sauce is typically made with mayonnaise, vinegar, and black pepper. In Birmingham, head to Saw’s Soul Kitchen for a fried green tomato BLT and the smoked chicken sandwich with white barbecue sauce, or go to Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q for the hickory smoked chicken, pulled pork, and smoked ham. Miss Myra’s chicken is served with a creamy, tangy white sauce, making it a perfect example of Alabama’s distinct barbecue identity.