If you’re like us, you can’t wait for Memorial Day, the unofficial start of barbeque season. There’s nothing quite like spending the evening with a cold beer and a plate piled high with chilled coleslaw, thick-cut French fries, and succulent barbeque. You can almost smell the tangy deliciousness of the North Carolina-style, vinegar-based barbeque wafting from these very words. But it could be that this article is helping you recall the smoky flavors of Texas beef brisket or the sweet molasses taste of Kansas City-style ribs…
That brings us to another point: There are few topics more incendiary than barbeque—politics and pizza being two of them. We tried to list the standout cities, but keep in mind that some of the best barbeque joints are the ones you find in postage stamp-size towns while on road trips. With that said, here are the seven best cities for barbeque.
1. St. Louis
Although good ‘ole Saint Louie is home to several dozen barbeque joints, this is a bit of a wild card on this list. That’s because many of the restaurants specialize in grilling rather than the distinct art of barbequing (cooking the meat with indirect heat and smoke). But the happy patrons of St. Louis-style barbeque don’t discriminate, so we won’t, either. By the way, those in STL like their barbeque heavily sauced. So if you’re visiting one of the Gateway City’s many barbeque spots, we don’t recommend wearing white clothing.
Where to Try? Right now, TripAdvisor users say Pappy’s Smokehouse isn’t just the best barbeque joint, but also the best restaurant in all of St. Louis. Roper’s Ribs comes in as a close second.
When you think of Tennessee and barbeque, Memphis is the city that comes to mind, not Nashville. But just stop and think for a second: Why else would country music stars stick around if it weren’t for some top-notch pulled pork? Music City does have one problem: There’s no unified barbeque style here. Still, we think the variety is an asset. At Jack’s downtown, you can enjoy everything from smoked Boston turkey to Texas beef brisket, while Hog Heaven serves up a “Kickin’ Chicken” white barbeque sauce. By the way, do you think the latter restaurant is so-named because the hogs are enjoying the afterlife or because their flavor is so celestial to the restaurant’s patrons?
Where to Try? Jack’s Bar-B-Que for its great sauces and Hog Heaven for its all-around excellent food and hole-in-the-wall atmosphere.
3. Austin, Texas
Austin is known not only for its music scene, but also for its succulent barbeque. Texas-style sauce is typically a mix of tangy and sweet flavors, so many of the 60-some Austin restaurants feature both tomato and vinegar in their sauces. When it comes to meat, Austin serves the gamut—beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and more. Keeping with the city’s eclectic style, these mouthwatering establishments range from white-tablecloth restaurants to asphalt dives.
Where to Try? Many visitors say Franklin Barbecue’s brisket is the best they’ve ever had. Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q also has praise-worthy brisket and a fun dine-in atmosphere.
4. Lexington, N.C.
A little more than an hour’s drive northeast of Charlotte, you’ll find the peaceful enclave of Lexington. According to TripAdvisor, this small town is home to only eight barbeque restaurants, but don’t mistake Lexington’s small quantity for poor quality. This city serves up some scrumptious barbeque. In fact, according to NCBBQ.com (North Carolina Barbeque), Lexington’s innovative chefs created and perfected the entire Western North Carolina style. In short, it’s pork shoulder served with a vinegar-based sauce. On the side, you’ll most likely find deep-fried hushpuppies and hand-cut French fries.
Where to Try? Lexington Barbecue for their melt-in-your-mouth, slow-cooked pork shoulder. You should also give Jimmy’s Barbecue a whirl for its fantastic sauce.
5. Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City’s barbeque style traces its roots back to Henry Perry in 1908. Perry, who hailed from outside of Memphis, started selling slow-cooked ribs for a quarter in the 18th and Vine neighborhood of Kansas City. It was later renamed Arthur Bryant’s, which remains one of the most popular barbeque names in KC. (Consequently, a former cook at Perry’s restaurant opened what would become another revered spot: Gates Bar-B-Q in 1946.) Because Kansas City’s style was heavily influenced by Perry, it also borrowed some traits from Memphis. You’ll find that this city’s barbeque is characterized by a variety of meats and a thick tomato-molasses sauce.
Where to Try? TripAdvisor users tend to think Oklahoma Joe’s is the all-around best place for barbeque. But you’ve got to try Arthur Bryant’s and Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q for the history as well as the tasty fare.
6. Lockhart, Texas
You’ll find the small town of Lockhart about 70 miles northeast of San Antonio (roughly 30 miles south of Austin). Although little Lockhart only contains a handful of barbeque joints—four, in fact—Texas Monthly magazine highlights two of them in their top-five best places to enjoy barbeque in Texas. Well-cooked meat is the name of the game here, so don’t even ask for a menu of sauces. After biting into some tender beef brisket or a juicy sausage, you’ll be able to see why many before you have locked their hearts to Lockhart.
Where to Try? Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market are the top contenders for best barbeque in Lockhart. We recommend trying the beef brisket at both establishments and deciding for yourself which establishment serves the best.
When you’re “walking with your feet 10 feet off of Beale,” you’ll run across one or two barbeque joints—The Pig on Beale, for instance. But the city contains roughly 80 barbeque-plating restaurants, so your appetite will be served well wherever you go. Memphis barbeque is not as much about the sauce (usually a thin tomato and vinegar concoction) as it is the meat and the rubs. The local joints specialize in slow-cooked pork (on a slab or pulled), and they’ve just about perfected the art of the dry rub (usually a mix of onion, garlic, paprika, and a handful of secret ingredients)