The Best of American BBQ

By Tom Stockwell,

America is a country of superlatives, especially when it comes to food. It seems as if every city and region has The Best something, from cheesecake to hoagies. The world of barbecue is no exception, with many states and cities tooting their own horn and proclaiming that they serve up the best barbeque in the United States. With so many different styles and types of BBQ on offer, where should you start? These cities are amongst some of the best in the country and I guarantee their succulent slabs of meat and sauces will have you coming back for more.

Tangy, burnt ends

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

BBQ in Kansas City

Burnt ends smothered in sauce. Photo by JenGallardo CC BY

For Americans and foreigners alike, at first blush Kansas City may not be one of the first places one considers for great BBQ, but it should be. Smoking pieces of meat over hickory wood is the favored method of cooking in Kansas City and sauces tend to be tomato and molasses based. That tangy sauce is best when drizzled over Burnt Ends, pieces cut from the end of smoky brisket that is a local favorite. Serve them up with spicy baked beans and a cold drink and you’ll blend in with the crowd instantly. Some of the best places in town to visit include Arthur Bryant’s, Gates Bar-B-Q, and Oklahoma Joe’s, which Anthony Bourdain included in his list of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die. If that’s not an endorsement, then I don’t know what is.

Sweet tea and mustard

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

 
 BBQ Columbia SC

Mustard Mile pulled pork. Photo by Xtina L CC BY

The state capitol of South Carolina might not be as visited by tourists as the perennially popular Charleston, but for lovers of barbecue, Columbia tops the list. The area between Columbia and Charleston is dubbed the Mustard Mile, thanks to the traditional base for the BBQ sauce. Stop by any one of the many buffets that serve up pulled pork, mashed potatoes, collard greens and of course sweet iced tea. If you’re in Columbia, don’t miss out on two locally famous restaurants, True-BBQ and Little Pigs Barbecue, or venture a little bit outside the city to Batesburg-Leesville to the nationally renowned Shealy’s.

Tenderly smoked over mesquite

AUSTIN, TEXAS

BBQ in Texas

Slow Smoked in Austin. Photo by Ernestro Andrade CC BY

Texans are passionate about a lot of things, but especially their barbecue. You’ll find delicious ribs around the state, but Austin and Central Texas dish what is arguably the best in the state. Unlike their cousins in other parts of the country, sauce isn’t used in Texas until the meat has finished smoking, usually over oak or mesquite. So, where can you get your grub on in Austin? Cooper’s is a meat lover’s dream come true, and Franklin’s BBQ is known for its salt-and-pepper brisket. If you’re starving and craving some BBQ and are looking for the best place nearby, just stop a local and ask them where their favorite barbecue joint is – you’ll likely be met with a beaming smile and an amazing recommendation.

Dry rub ribs

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

 BBQ in Memphis, TN

Dry rubbed BBQ in Memphis. Photo by KimnCris CC BY

While beef may reign supreme in other states, pork is the currency of carnivores in Memphis. Be sure to sample the dry rub ribs that the city’s BBQ shacks favor, with spicy rubs of cayenne pepper, garlic, onion and paprika liberally applied to the meat. Make sure you have some refreshments to wash down your barbecue in Memphis since the city is also known for its spicy sauces that are squirted on top of pulled pork sandwiches. My top pick for Memphis is a visit to either Central BBQ or A&R Bar-B-Que. They’re the BBQ experts in town and after your first experience, you’ll understand why.

Choice cuts of mutton

OWENSBORO, KENTUCKY

Kentucky BBQ

Just the right amount of seasoning. Photo by jeffreyw C BY

For a different twist on BBQ, follow the lead of residents in Western Kentucky who skip both beef and pork and instead use mutton as their BBQ meat of choice. Owensboro is famous for its treatment of the usually tough meat, which local cooks transform into succulent morsels of meaty delight. The meat is basted in a vinegar and pepper liquid prior to cooking and is usually served sliced, pulled or in a thick burgoo stew. Locals will tell you to head to Old Hickory, where mutton is sliced while still piping hot, and Moonlite, where the buffet is the star of the show.

 

What type of American BBQ is your favorite?


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