Finger Licking Good: 15 BBQ Destination Cities
Having good BBQ is a badge of honor and certifies your city to be apart of an elite group of barbecue makers in America. Barbecue or as some southern folks call it, ‘cue, is a unique and cherished cooking style. There are BBQ competitions, putting cooks and pit masters into a frenzy to prove that they have the best BBQ around. There are different ways that someone can make BBQ. From the sauces, dry rubs, marinades, smoking techniques, and the type of meat BBQ’d can get complex, but that makes it better to eat. Some cities are known for there BBQ and they wouldn’t have it any other way. This list contains the best cities with the best BBQ.
Dallas – East Texas
The great state of Texas is huge and declaring the city with the best BBQ is easier said than done. So on this list we divided Texas and Dallas is the top BBQ city in East Texas. It is lesser known than Central Texas BBQ but equally delicious. Most BBQ spots in Dallas use sweet-tangy sauces. Both beef and pork are usually slowly smoked over hickory wood. Meats are roughly chopped rather than sliced. You can take your pick of tender, fatty pork shoulder, glazed pork ribs, smoke kissed brisket and spicy sausages, as these are popular choices in Dallas. Smokey John’s BBQ & Home Cooking is an ideal spot for excellent hotlinks, while Mike Anderson’s BBQ House specializes in brisket. Two hours west in the next town of Tyler, there are award winning pork ribs at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q.
Brownsville – South Texas
Heading down to Brownsville in South Texas the barbecue has a major influence from Mexico. The BBQ here incorporates flavors and techniques from our neighbors south of the border. The distinguished dish of this area is beef barbacoa. Traditionally whole cow head wrapped in maguey leaves or foil and cooked overnight in an underground pit filled with hot coals. The tender meat that falls right off the bone is then served in tortillas or simply on a plate, covered in cilantro, onions and salsa. Real pit cooking is rare these days due to Health Department regulations, but tiny, family-run Vera’s keeps the technique alive. Head’s up, Vera’s is only open on weekends.
Kansas City, MO
A BBQ capital Kansas City, Missouri is famous for its sweet tomato-and-molasses-based sauce, and they poured it on everything. Pulled pork sandwiches, beef and pork ribs, and smoked chicken and turkey can be found almost at any restaurant you walk into. Restaurants here will smoke just about everything over hickory wood. A local favorite is the burnt ends cut from smoked brisket drowned in the tangy sauce previously mentioned. Spicy-sweet baked beans are the number 1 side for any meal. If you are ever in Kansas City the must visit places are century old Arthur Bryant’s and Oklahoma Joe’s.
St. Louis, MO
On the other side of Missouri grilled meats are favored, slathered with tomato-based, sticky-sweet barbecue sauce. St. Louis is so much of a BBQ city that it has its own style of ribs. The St. Louis style ribs, are pork spareribs trimmed into neat, easy-to-eat rectangles. Along with their ribs, another local specialty is the barbecued pork steak. A thick slice of shoulder meat that’s seared and then slow cooked in a tomato-vinegar sauce. But the oddest St. Louis BBQ dish is the crispy snoot, a deeply smoked pig snout that’s either served as a starter or piled onto a sandwich. In St. Louis spots like the Roper’s Ribs has been serving up great food since 1976.
Home of Lexington style BBQ, Lexington, North Carolina is squarely focused on wood-smoked pork shoulder, chopped or sliced. It’s kept juicy and sweet with heavy applications of a ketchup and vinegar based sauce, and often served in sandwiches topped with a finely minced cabbage slaw. To dine like the locals ask for some outside brown, the crunchy, caramelized bits from the outside of the shoulder. Lexington is the home of pit masters who expertly smoke pork shoulder and almost nothing else. Stamey’s Old Fashioned Barbecue makes the best sandwich in town, topped with coleslaw and served on paper plates.
On the opposite side of Lexington in Eastern Carolina there is Raleigh, North Carolina. Noting goes to waste here as the whole hog is used. It’s not a surprise to see the entire pig being slowly smoked over hardwood coals. It’s tender meat finely chopped and mixed with bits of crispy cracklings. BBQ in Raleigh is nearly always served with a mayo-based coleslaw, fried cornmeal hush puppies and a tall glass of sweet iced tea. The Pit in Raleigh is not your typical BBQ restaurant, it is a touch more refined, but their pork is soulful and smoky. Skylight Inn houses a local hot spot Pete Jones’ Barbecue, a place you can go to have a good time with good eats.
The stretch of South Carolina from roughly Columbia to Charleston is known as “the Mustard Belt.” Here is where the distinctive mustard-based sauce reigns supreme. It originated with German settlers in the 18th century, and it’s applied liberally to whole hog BBQ smoked over open wood pits. If you’re not at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you’re doing it wrong. The buffets keep a steady supply of trays full of chopped pork and dozens of Southern sides. Little Pigs BBQ smokes a juicy combo of shoulders and hams, while Shealy’s BBQ in Batesburg offers an enormous selection of smoked pork, fried chicken and side dishes galore.
Many people believe that Memphis is theKing of BBQ and with good reason. Pork is the go to meat in Memphis, in rib form or chopped. The city is known for its dry ribs, rubbed with a complex but tasty combination of garlic, onion, paprika and black and cayenne pepper, then slow-smoked over hickory wood. Chopped pork sandwiches topped with a bright, mustard-based slaw is a staple in Memphis. Even odd foods like bologna and spaghetti get barbecued. The sauce that is usually used is tomato and vinegar based, slightly runny and sometimes spicy. You can order you ribs dry or wet at A&R Bar-B-Que. You can kick back a little at Central BBQ with one of their BBQ platters.
With no strict style to call its own, Tennessee’s BBQ offerings are more varied. Like Memphis, pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches are popular, but so is Texas-influenced brisket and even smoked chicken and turkey. Tomato-based sauces are most typical, from deathly hot to tangy to mild. There really is something for everyone in this town. Jack’s Bar-B-Que has everything from St. Louis ribs to Texas brisket, with all kinds of different sauces to choose from. On Jefferson Street, Mary’s Old Fashioned Pit BBQ is renowned for its chopped pork sandwich and staying open for extra-long hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. A great way to end a night of bar hopping.
Western Kentucky is the capital for the non-popularized mutton barbecue. Here, the naturally tough meat, which comes from a sheep older than a year, is tamed by low and slow wood-smoking. Vinegar and pepper basting liquid is applied often. Once the meat is tender, it is served sliced or pulled. A worcestershire-based “black” dipping sauce is served with it. The meat is also served as burgoo, a thick mutton stew fortified with chicken, pork and vegetables. The locals frequent Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn that has seating for 350 and a 40-foot buffet table with multiple mutton barbeque dishes. Old Hickory Bar-B-Que, a nearly 100-year-old, family-run restaurant, lets customers order “off the pit,” meaning they’ll slice your preferred portion straight from the piping-hot whole cut.
Alabama had to make this list. It is home to nearly every style of Southern BBQ, but the state does add at least one touch that’s all its own. White BBQ sauce is Decatur, Alabama’s claim to BBQ fame. A thin mayo and vinegar condiment that’s swiped on chicken, both as a marinade and a table sauce. The founders of local legend Big Bob Gibson’s claim to have invented the white sauce. With well known pit master Chris Lilly backing up the claim I won’t disagree. If Big Bob Gibson’s is packed with hungry customers go to, the takeout-only spot Whitt’s as an alternative.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs, Arkansas doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It has its own rich style, with influences from nearby Tennessee and Texas. The BBQ in Hot Springs is all about the sauce. The locals enjoy a thin, tomato based sauce spiced with a kicking array of hot peppers and chiles. It tastes the best on pork shoulder sandwiches and beef and pork ribs. McClard’s has a signature dish, which is a platter of spicy ribs buried beneath a mountain of French fries. Stubby’s Hik-Ry Pit Bar-B-Que is a cafeteria style restaurant and has been serving hickory-smoked pork, beef, potatoes and beans with a garlicky sauce since 1952.
Chicago is known for it sauce dripping, messy and delicious barbecue style. Many restaurants in Chi-town are outfitted with custom made, rectangular glass-encased smokers known as “aquariums” because of their resemblance to fish tanks. Locals enjoy one the go BBQ rib tips and spareribs heavily submerged in a thick, tangy tomato based sauce. Giant, saucy pork sausage hot links, with a thick casing are also a favorite. Most plates are served with thick-cut fries and white bread to sop up excess sauce, though you’ll want to pack extra Wet-Naps, too. Head to 70-year-old Leon’s for a cardboard platter of rib tips covered in fries, or see an aquarium smoker in action at casual smokehouse Honey 1 BBQ.
Atlanta is a growing foodie town. While it may not have a distinct barbecue style of its own, there are still plenty of places to get a plate of good barbeque. Atlanta takes its smoked meat seriously, offering tomato based sauce-slathered ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and brisket. The local specialty is Brunswick stew, a thick, tomato based mix loaded with bits of smoked pork, beef and vegetables. If you are new to the city, it isn’t hard to find a BBQ spot to sink your teeth in. The Texas-style BBQ at Fox Brothers BBQ comes highly recommended.
Hawaiians have not one but two notable styles of barbecue. One involves slow cooking whole pigs. It’s traditionally done for a luau celebration, in an underground pit called an imu. The other style is called huli-huli. A rotisserie style chicken roasted over kaiwe wood coals and glazed with shoyu-pineapple-ginger sauce. Local luaus are hard to find, so many hotels and resorts host entertaining reproductions. However, huli-huli chicken is often sold at roadside stands. Visitors can buy tickets for a luau at Paradise Cove, or stop off at Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken, which sells fresh, piping-hot poultry out of a food truck.