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The American south is the heartland of BBQ, and travelers from all over the world flock to Tennessee, Missouri, and Texas to find the best sauce-slathered ribs, slow-cooked pulled pork, and smoked brisket in the country. American BBQ isn’t just about digging into the meat—it’s about the process behind how that meat is prepared. Some of this meat has been simmered for hours, or smoked underground for days. And the tradition that comes with these BBQ recipes is crucial, too. The mac salad and stewed collards piled high on your plate could be from recipes that have been passed down for generations.
The best approach to finding the most delicious BBQ in America is to hit more than one city—and preferably more than one state. BBQ takes on a different form depending on the location—Carolina BBQ sauce is tangier because of the vinegar base, and Memphis is known for their dry-rub. If you’re planning a trip with a focus on good Southern cooking, you might want to turn it into a complete road trip of Texas, or a tour of Alabama and Tennessee. When you’re looking for the best BBQ eats in America, make sure to check out these BBQ destinations.
You can’t even begin to talk about good BBQ without mentioning Austin eats. Kerlin BBQ is some of the best in Austin—they’re serving 12-hour smoked brisket and free beer out of a parked trailer. After Kerlin’s, drive 45 minutes outside Austin to Lockhart and try Black’s Barbecue, a Texas staple since 1932 with sausages you’ll never forget.
St. Louis is known for their pork steak, so make sure you get your pork fix while hunting down the best smokehouse eats. Bogart’s Smokehouse has a pit smoker that flavors all their best fixin’s—even the beans. After the apricot-glazed ribs at Bogart’s, try the apple-and-cherrywood smoked ribs at Pappy’s Smokehouse.
Kansas City, Missouri
Savannah’s smoking their meats in style, and B’s Cracklin’ BBQ should be your first stop—try their backyard smoked chicken and Brenda’s Brisket. Wrap your Georgia BBQ tour up with ribs at Savannah’s Sandfly BBQ.
San Antonio, Texas
Just north of San Antonio, you’ll find Rudy’s Country Store Bar-B-Q, an institution where you must fill up on creamed corn, brisket, and jalapeño sausage—all doused in their famous “sause.” In San Antonio proper, the best brisket is at 2M Smokehouse, and the house-made sausage at The Granary ‘Cue & Brew alone is worth the trip.
The ribs at Central BBQ showcase the Memphis dry-rub BBQ fiends travel to Tennessee for. While you’re in Memphis, save room for the pork ribs at The Bar-B-Q with their signature vinegar-based BBQ sauce.
The only non-southern city to make the list: Chicago. The epicenter of Chicago BBQ culture is Lem’s Bar-B-Q—the rib tips and spare ribs are the two must-order meats. The Illinois BBQ scene has quite a presence, not only thanks to Chicago-style BBQ, but as a result of southern transplants trying interesting takes on classic flavors. For classic Memphis dry-rub, try Smoque BBQ, or sample the beef ribs at BBQ Supply Co.
Alabama is filled with BBQ capitals—between Birmingham and Montgomery—but Mobile has some of the best smokers in Alabama. Meat Boss should be your first Mobile BBQ stop—the Boston Butt, brisket, and smoked chicken are all outstanding, so you might have to pay Meat Boss more than one visit while in Mobile.