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Really good barbecue takes time—lots of time. To get that perfectly tender, falling-off-the-bone texture, smoky flavor, and crisp outer char, there’s no substitute for many hours of low-and-slow cooking, basting, and proper resting.
Fortunately, if you’re short on time—or perhaps just not inclined to spend twelve hours or more babysitting some meat—there are plenty of well-regarded barbecue joints across the United States that are willing to do the hard part for you, then ship the results directly to your door. Once thawed, most cuts require thirty minutes to an hour of cooking (preferably on a grill, but the oven works just fine, too)—just enough time to prep the sides and make yourself a cocktail. (It’s up to you whether you cop to the shortcut or not when your guests arrive.)
Not all BBQ is made equal, however. Since there’s nothing more disappointing than biting into a dry, flavorless slab of meat, we rounded up a variety of offerings from some of our favorite barbecue joints in Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, and North Carolina. After taste-testing them all, there were a few clear winners; read on for our favorites.
Best Ribs: Black’s Barbecue
Consistently ranked as some of the best barbecue in Texas, if not the country, Black’s mail-order BBQ lives up to the standard set by their dine-in spots in Austin (3110 Guadalupe St.; 512-524-0801) and Lockhart (215 North Main St.; 512-398-2712). The plate beef ribs—a comically large cut from ribs six through eight, almost dinosaur-like in their appearance—are smoky and flavorful, streaked with fat and incredibly tender. $60; blacksbbq.com.
Best Brisket: Black’s Barbecue
Black’s is also a favorite for their brisket, which is prepared with a slightly unusual method: the pit men cook it in a multi-step process, letting it chill and rest for a day or so in-between. The result is a tender cut of meat with a substantial layer of rendered fat and an exterior that becomes a beautifully charred bark after a brief stint on the grill. $35; blacksbbq.com.
Best Pulled Pork: Carolina Cue to Go
North Carolina native Elizabeth Karmel—the founding executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue—started Carolina Cue to Go in 2014. For her signature pulled pork, whole hogs are cooked for ten hours with hickory wood, which gives them an assertively smoky flavor. But what really makes this one shine is the bottle of western NC–style tangy vinegar-plus-ketchup sauce that arrives alongside. $20 per pound; carolinacuetogo.com.
Best Poultry: The Salt Lick
If you're looking for something other than pork or beef, the Salt Lick’s turkey breast cooks up tender and juicy, with a light layer of sweet barbecue sauce. The smoke flavor is there, but not overwhelmingly so. Slice it and use it for the best turkey sandwich you’ve ever had the next day. $50; saltlickbbq.com.
Best Sausage: The Salt Lick
The Salt Lick smokes their sausages for three hours, then cooks them on high heat for 45 minutes. The result is flavorful, smoky sausage with a juicy interior and a snappy outer casing—perfect for eating alone or on a bun, slathered with sauce. $28 for 3 lbs.; saltlickbbq.com.
Pictured: Brisket from Black's Barbecue; photo: Laura Sant