50 States of Barbecue
The American South is rich in culinary history, and slow-smoked meat might just be its greatest export. While Southerners have been smoking livestock since the Colonial days, barbecue has spread well beyond the Mason-Dixon line to states as far afield as Alaska and Hawaii. From traditional Carolina whole hog to Hill Country brisket to Memphis ribs, here are the best barbecue joints in every U.S. state.
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Alabama: Big Bob Gibson's
Pork is king in Southeastern barbecue — but not in Alabama. The state is best known for its smoked chicken with white sauce. Created by Bob Gibson in 1925, the tangy mix of mayo, vinegar and spices has become a regional icon, found at barbecue joints throughout the northern part of the state. Smoked-meat aficionados drive from all over the country to get a taste of the original ivory-colored recipe. At two locations, locally sourced poultry (including turkey!) is slowly cooked in hickory-fired brick pits until tender and juicy. While that may be the specialty, don’t overlook the rest of the menu. Big Bob also serves award-winning pulled pork, ribs and beef brisket, a veritable smorgasbord of luscious smoked meat.
Alaska: Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ
After a 30-year career taking care of infants in a neonatal intensive care unit, Jack Goodsell decided to step up his already impressive backyard smoking game by heading down to Illinois to apprentice with pitmaster Mike Mills of 17th Street Barbecue. In summer 2010, he set up his own shop in a mobile truck in Indian, Alaska. Goodsell garnered such a huge following for his traditional Southern-style pork, chicken and brisket that he soon opened a year-round brick-and-mortar in Anchorage — voted “Best BBQ” by Anchorage residents four years in a row. It’s all good, but the seafood specials are wholly unique. Goodsell offers an Arctic twist on a Southern mainstay by occasionally adding smoked salmon and halibut to the menu.
Arizona: Little Miss BBQ
Husband-and-wife team Scott and Bekke Holmes got their start on the competitive barbecue circuit. They had some ups and downs at first, but when they took home first prize for their brisket, they were hooked. Together they opened Little Miss BBQ near Phoenix Sky Harbor, offering Central Texas-style ’cue inspired by the great joints scattered around Austin. The counter-serve restaurant offers fantastic brisket, sausage, turkey and pork dished out by the pound, just like it is in the Lone Star State. On Thursdays, the line of locals gets even longer when the Holmeses offer their pastrami special.
It’s no secret: Former President Bill Clinton loves to eat. So much, in fact, that he is now forced to eat a mostly plant-based diet due to health issues. Back in President Clinton’s meat-eating days, the former Hot Springs resident’s favorite barbecue joint was McClard’s — and it still is, to this day. While in office, the Clintons served McClard’s Arkansas-style barbecue to dignitaries and staff at Camp David and on Air Force One. It’s just that good. Third-generation owner and pitmaster Scott McClard now serves 7,000 pounds of hickory-smoked beef, pork and ribs in a week. Plates can be ordered dry or wet with the joint’s famous sauce, a spicy vinegar-and-tomato mix.
After eight years of slinging 1,000 pounds of meat a day from his Compton storefront, pitmaster Kevin Bludso closed up shop. Fortunately, the Texas native still has his fancy-booze-serving, sit-down locale on Fairfax, where guests sip barrel-aged old fashioneds while chowing down on ribs with spicy barbecue sauce. Following in his late grandmother's footsteps, Bludso seasons his meat with a special blend of spices, then smokes it low and slow for up to 14 hours with whole logs of hardwood charcoal. Brisket, the signature, is charred on the outside, juicy within. Pulled pork is smoky and moist. Texas red hots are crisp, with that ideal snap. No wonder health-conscious Angelenos are willing to consume the extra calories here.
Colorado: The Rib House at Prospect
After relocating from their hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, to Longmont, Colorado, in 1989, Merry Ann and Tracy Webb were in desperate need of some ’cue. With only grim offerings available, they decided to take matters into their own hands, opening The Rib House on July 5, 2001. Good thing they did: The place has since won an array of best-barbecue awards. The Webbs are best known for their hickory-smoked baby back ribs, but they also offer other Kansas City specialties, such as beef ribs, pork, brisket, turkey and smoked ham.
Connecticut: Smokin' With Chris
When one thinks barbecue, Connecticut is not the first place that comes to mind. Smokin’ With Chris is good enough to change that preconception. Owner Chris Conlon serves a wide selection of riffs on regional barbecue standbys at wallet-friendly prices. Instead of Kansas City-style brisket burnt ends, Conlon offers pork rib burnt ends. Smoked chicken is slathered in an orange-ginger barbecue sauce. The excellent baby back ribs, smoked for three to five hours, start with a dry chile rub and are finished with a Virginia-style honey mustard glaze. Brisket is slow-cooked for 10 to 12 hours and then piled high on a toasted bun with Conlon’s Kansas City-style sauce. It’s all paired with an impressive selection of craft beers and well-curated wines from around the globe.
Delaware: Locale BBQ Post
While looking for a space to produce pickles for his growing enterprise, Wilmington Pickling Company, Chef Daniel Sheridan stumbled upon a building on the edge of Little Italy and a concept for a whole new venture started coming to life. With the goal of pairing barbecue with pickles, Sheridan teamed up with a couple of other food-loving locals, Mike Gallucio and Justin Mason. Locale BBQ Post took off like hickory wood in a smoker upon opening, selling out of meat by 2 p.m. on its first day. Now well past its infancy, the place still draws the crowds for its wide selection of ’cue smoked with flavorful cherry wood. From Carolina to Kansas City, the menu features brisket, pork butt, chicken, ribs and bratwurst on platters and tucked into buns.
Florida: Jenkins Quality Barbecue
Florida may be best known for stone crabs and Cubanos, but as a big farming region, the Sunshine State has a long history of slow-cooked meat. Unlike other Southern areas known for ‘cue, the state has no defined barbecue regions. Individual barbecue joints here have unique styles and techniques that are all their own. Since 1957, Jenkins Quality Barbecue has been scorching palates with its unique hot mustard sauce. Slabs of ribs, half chickens and pork are smoked with oak in open brick pits, and the meat is laid atop slices of white bread or nestled inside a seeded bun and slathered with that tongue-tingling sauce. Spice neophytes, take heed: Jenkins offers a milder version of the mustard-based liquid that offers just as much flavor without the pepper.
Georgia: Das BBQ
Georgians love their barbecue, whatever it may be. At Atlanta’s Das BBQ, pitmaster Stephen Franklin aims to help define Georgia’s style. “Georgia is all about pulled pork and pork ribs, in particular, pulled pork sandwiches and whole hogs. I think Georgia owns smoked pork, hands down,” he says, citing several Georgia-based champions, including Chef Myron Mixon. The restaurant's two massive smokers turn out tons of pulled pork, ribs and pork sausage, best served with their mustard-based peach barbecue sauce. If you order his highly recommended beef brisket instead, pair it with the restaurant’s house-made red sauce, a sweet-tangy tomato-based sauce, infused with Octane Coffee espresso.
Hawaii: Mike's Huli Huli Chicken
Mike Fuse remembers the smell of kalua pork cooking in the ground leading up to neighborhood luaus in his hometown of Haleiwa. He loved the aromas of meat and smoke wafting through the air. So he decided to continue the tradition, opening Mike's Huli Huli Chicken in 2010. At his open-air, roadside place, Fuse cooks its namesake dish over wood, slow-roasting his birds with just Hawaiian sea salt on a rotisserie. When it's almost done he transfers the rotisserie to a pit heated by the scorching hot kiawe wood, which Fuse says could be considered Hawaiian mesquite. The result is extra-crisp skin encasing juicy and smoky meat. Word to the side: Come hungry. Fuse also serves incredible Chinese-style char siu pork, as well as kalua pork that probably tastes even better than the dish of his childhood memories.
Idaho: Bodacious Pig
Bodacious Pig isn’t husband-and-wife team Joel and Tricia Anderson’s first go-round at the barbecue rodeo. Before opening their Eagle restaurant, the couple owned Maverick BBQ in Hollister, California. With 10 years of working a pit under his belt, Joel is like a slow-cooked-meat scientist. His specialty is the RR Ranch Signature Tri-Tip, a half-pound of sliced, slow-cooked tri-tip sourced locally from ranchers in the Northwest. While Joel is cooking with fire, Tricia oversees everything else in the kitchen, including the beloved pulled pork nachos, which are topped with 14-hour applewood-smoked pork, barbecue sauce, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and a sprinkle of green onion.
Illinois: 17th St BBQ
The Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest brings out the U.S.’s best competitive pitmasters. With four world championships and three grand world championships under his belt, Mike Mills of 17th Street is the guy to beat. His ribs are so good that meat fanatic Iron Chef Michael Symon sang their praises on Best Thing I Ever Ate. Fortunately, those grand-champion baby backs, sprinkled with Mills’ Magic Dust rub and slow-cooked over apple and cherry woods, are now available daily at Mills’ two southern Illinois restaurants. So are some of his other blue-ribbon selections, including beef sausage links, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and the fan-favorite brisket.
Indiana: Big Hoffa’s
Adam Hoffman moved from California to Indiana to carve out a barbecue niche for himself when he opened his pirate-themed Big Hoffa’s. While the seafaring-outlaw motif may seem odd for a place serving American fare, for Hoffman it’s an ode to barbecue’s Caribbean origin. At his Westfield restaurant, pork and beef are slowly cooked for 25 to 30 hours in a large smoker outside that burns only firewood. The meat is wonderful on its own, but Hoffman integrates it into culturally influenced dishes based on his travels to more than 40 countries around the globe. One example is the Teriyaki Bowl: your choice of pulled pork, pulled chicken or brisket, layered over jasmine rice and drizzled with teriyaki sauce. Try the Buccaneer, pulled pork topped with coleslaw, fries and ranch dressing on a bun slathered with garlic butter.
Iowa: Smokey D's
Smokey D’s is like the Meryl Streep of competitive barbecue. If husband-and-wife team Darren and Sherry Warth show up at a competition, there’s a good chance they’ll be leaving with at least some kind of nod, if not a trophy. The couple compete most weeks and have won more than 75 state BBQ championships and more than 800 local, regional and national awards. The Warths also run three Iowa restaurants where guest can sample their goods such as chopped pork, pulled chicken, sliced turkey and pit ham. Locals adore the Kansas City-style burnt ends. On his visit for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri went nuts over the smoked chicken wings, which are served naked or coated with your choice of BBQ, Asian glaze or Buffalo sauce.
Kansas: Joe's Kansas City
Ask any barbecue fan where to sample some bona fide Kansas City ’cue and one name is sure to come up again and again: Joe’s. It is, in fact, considered one of the top barbecue joints in the entire U.S., hailed by chefs and meat obsessives all over. In 1996, after years of acclaim on the competitive barbecue circuit, Jeff and Joy Stehney set up shop at a former fried chicken counter in an old gas station, and the place quickly became a KC favorite for their excellent pulled pork, ribs, brisket and especially burnt ends, available in limited quantities just three days a week.
Kentucky: Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn
Ever hear the saying “mutton dressed as a lamb”? Whoever decided to use the comparison as a sexist insult obviously never tried Owensboro barbecue. Forgoing the ubiquitous pork and beef, this region of Kentucky specializes in mutton cooked low and slow over hand-built hickory-burning pits. The most-acclaimed place to get a taste is Moonlite Bar-B-Que. It’s about as authentic as one can find, and not much has changed over the course of the 50-plus years since Catherine and Pappy Bosley purchased the restaurant. Its legendary buffet showcases its mutton, smoked for 12 hours with just salt and several bastings of Moonlite’s special vinegar-based pit dip, as well as an array of other meats and traditional sides, a salad bar and a dessert bar featuring a selection of homemade pies.
Louisiana: Johnson's Boucaniere
With an Acadian French name that roughly translates as “smokehouse,” this old Lafayette grocery store specializes in Cajun-style barbecue. As one would expect, there’s plenty of seasoning and flavorful accoutrements. Lori Walls, the granddaughter of Johnson’s Grocery founder Arnestor Johnson, reopened the place in 2008, using recipes and techniques developed by her forebears when the original store was opened in 1937. Brisket and pulled pork is slowly smoked for 12 to 14 hours. Chicken and country-style ribs hit the smoker, too, but what sets this place apart from other barbecue joints throughout the U.S. are the bold smoked specialty meats like garlic pork sausage, mixed beef and pork sausage, tasso, beef jerky and boudin.
Maine: Salvage BBQ
Set in a renovated old railroad post office building on Congress Street, Salvage really focuses its energy on two things: Texas brisket and North Carolina-style chopped pork. These folks smoke brisket, mild and hot sausages, chicken and St. Louis ribs over Maine red oak. When their pork butts come out of the smoker, each one is cut up with a butcher’s knife and dressed with peppery vinegar sauce, just as it's done in parts of the Tar Heel State. Bottles of the vinegar sauce and light tomato-based liquid, a standby in Western North Carolina, are available for those who like it extra saucy. Wash down the meat with a nice selection of wines on tap, local craft brews and speakeasy-appropriate bourbon cocktails.
Maryland: Chaps Pit Beef
Chaps Pit Beef is not your typical barbecue spot. It is, however, a Baltimore icon. Since 1987, the place has been worshiped by locals for its famed meat sandwiches, specifically the pit beef. Big hunks of bottom round beef are slow-cooked over charcoal, cut into paper-thin pieces on a slicer, then thrown back over the charcoal when ordered and cooked to the individual diner’s desired temperature — from rare to well done — so each piece is permeated with even more of that smoky flavor. Try the “52” Chaps Special with pit beef, corned beef, ham and American cheese — and don’t forget to squirt on some Tiger Sauce, Chaps’ robust version of horseradish sauce.
Massachusetts: B.T.’s Smokehouse
A former fine-dining chef — Chef Brian Treitman once worked for renowned restaurateur Ken Oringer — Treitman left white tablecloths behind in favor of a mobile barbecue trailer that grew such an avid following for its pulled pork and brisket — his brisket Reuben is out of this world — that he quickly opened a standalone restaurant, in 2009. There, the chef goes through so much beef, pork and poultry in a week that he is now forced to order by the ton, earning raves from locals, visitors, barbecue fans and culinary pros.
Michigan: Blue Tractor Barbeque
This 1886 saloon has had many incarnations over its 150-or-so-year lifetime, but it’s long been a meeting place for local farmers who worked the land. It still is, but with a meaty twist. Blue Tractor is named for those cultivators of the past and for the present growers who supply many of the items in the kitchen. The menu covers a wide range of Midwestern classics, including burgers and deep-dish pizzas, yet the ’cue is what draws the crowds. Locals love the spice-rubbed, slow-smoked, hand-pulled pork and hickory-smoked chicken coated with bourbon-chipotle barbecue sauce. Both are served with a hearty helping of buttermilk mashers and fresh vegetables.
Minnesota: Bayport BBQ
Bayport BBQ is in a league of its own. It is the quintessential family-owned-and-operated restaurant, with no employees other than Mom, Pop and the kids. The bar has a full liquor license, but the family chooses to serve only beer, wine and whiskey. Diners get their own food, through a buffet line that passes through the kitchen, where they pick up white-oak-smoked meats including chicken, pulled pork, spare ribs and sausage. The Texas-style brisket is the MVP, seasoned with a mix of spices and slow-cooked for 13 hours at slightly higher than normal heat (about 250 degrees F). Order it in sandwich form, topped with bread-and-butter pickles and coleslaw on housemade ciabatta-like bread.
Mississippi: The Shed
In an unlikely start for a restaurant, The Shed came into existence after years of dumpster diving. Brad Orrison and his sister, Brooke, hammered together used two-by-fours, old tin roofing, vintage windows and hardwood flooring scraps into this literal shack of a barbecue restaurant. Shortly after it opened, their brother, Brett, joined the team to assist in turning it into one of the top blues venues in the region. It has since become a full-fledged family affair. The Shed’s competitive barbecue team has some legit meaty cred from the numerous awards under their belts, including 2015 World Grand Champion at Memphis in May. They are best known for their ribs and smoked chicken “wangs,” but the brisket and pulled pork are regular hits, as well.
Kansas City has so many great barbecue spots that narrowing down the list of places to visit is like herding cats. So what sets this place apart? Chef and pitmaster Rob Magee graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America before starting a three-decade career in high-end dining. While working as an executive chef for Hilton, Magee got into competitive barbecue. He and his team, Munchin Hogs, began accruing trophies for dishes like apple-brined pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken and that Kansas City standby, burnt ends, all of which are now available in various forms at Q39. The entire menu is made from scratch in the open kitchen. For that, it draws some serious crowds. Arrive early and expect to wait — it’ll be worth it.
Montana: The Notorious P.I.G.
This Missoula barbecue joint is reaching for the stars, using techniques and recipes learned from world-famous pitmasters. St. Louis native Burke Holmes cut his teeth with the experts of Bogart’s Smokehouse and Pappy’s Smokehouse back in his hometown. His appropriately titled restaurant goes well beyond pulled pork —- although that is certainly good — with meaty Memphis-style ribs, savory Kansas City burnt ends, Texas brisket and even New York City pastrami, all smoked over local cherry and apple woods onsite and served with sauce on the side. That’s why it's picked up numerous awards. When it comes to styles of delicious ’cue, this place will give you good and plenty.
Nebraska: Phat Jack's
Matt and Jackie Burt got into competition barbecue while living in Kansas City. Two years after they caught the barbecue bug, they moved back to their hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, and went into business with Matt’s parents, Ron and Kristi Burt, opening a 16-seat barbecue joint spreading the wealth of KC-style smoked meat. As one would expect, the burnt ends are a big hit, as is their award-winning brisket and the extremely popular ribs. Some of the items are so much in demand that the Burts recommend calling in orders in advance. Since setting up shop in Lincoln, Phat Jack’s has taken off, recently moving to a new and larger building that accommodates up to 100 meat-loving regulars.
Nevada: John Mull's Meats and Road Kill Grill
What started as a slaughterhouse and meat market back in 1954 has since morphed into one of Vegas’ top meat markets and barbecue restaurants. Third-generation owner Chuck Frommer opened the Road Kill Grill, where his crew slow-cook high-quality meats for up to 16 hours. Frommer encases each cut in his own blend of seasonings, including specific varieties of peppers that he roasts for an entire day before grinding into powders. This attention to detail is why many locals say Road Kill Grill has the best hot links and rib tips in the state of Nevada.
New Hampshire: Goody Cole’s
This roadside barbecue joint in Brentwood, New Hampshire, looks like it was plucked straight out of Hill Country. The red barn-like building is filled with Lone Star State knickknacks: tin signs, old license plates, posters celebrating iconic barbecue joints. Everything — chicken, kielbasa, excellent turkey, sought-after ribs — is smoked low and slow over 100 percent hickory without any help from gas or electricity. That labor-intensive process is what makes the ever-popular brisket and pulled pork so darned good. It’s like a little piece of Texas in the heart of New England.
New Jersey: The Hambone Opera
Michigander Jeffrey Lee McKay went down to Texas to learn the science of lumber. He spent time working at Big John’s Wood in Whiskey Flats studying the different heat and smoke properties of different varieties of timber. He brought his know-how north, up to New Jersey, where he opened The Hambone Opera in the Trenton Farmers Market. There, McKay uses 18-inch logs of local wild cherry wood to smoke meat for 12 to 13 hours. He calls his unique style “Texas heat meets Kansas City sauce,” combining the Lone Star State's favored techniques for smoking his tender pulled pork, chicken, brisket and ribs with KC’s famous, tangy tomato-based sauce.
New Mexico: Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue & Espresso
Find great smoked meat at this kitschy burger joint filled to the brim with vintage memorabilia and knickknacks — including an awesome moose head capped with a hat fit for a park ranger. The place is best known for its excellent chile cheeseburger, but it also offers a unique, New Mexican take on smoked meat. The best way to sample the goods is with the Oinker, the infamous Hatch green chile cheeseburger topped with a healthy serving of smoked pulled pork. Purists may prefer to stick with simpler barbecue plates featuring slow-cooked meats like sliced brisket, sausage and spare ribs.
New York: Fette Sau
Barbecue has gone Brooklyn at this converted Williamsburg garage. Local craft beer and small-production spirits are served at the bar. All of the heritage-breed meat is 100 percent hormone- and antibiotic-free and is raised by small family farms. And just like the borough, it’s a melting pot of sorts, fusing different techniques into its own unique style of ’cue with picks like Duroc pork ribs and pulled pork, Berkshire pork belly and spicy sausage, and Free Bird half chicken as well as deli-inspired options like beef tongue pastrami and veal heart. The must-try is the Black Angus brisket, coated in the house dry rub, a mix of espresso, brown sugar, salt, garlic and spices, then slowly smoked until juicy and tender.
North Carolina: Skylight Inn
Eastern North Carolina’s barbecue roots run deep. From Raleigh to the coast, locals have a long-standing tradition of smoking whole hogs over open pits, chopping up the white and dark meat, and mixing it all together with a white-vinegar-based sauce seasoned with just salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes. Skylight Inn is the granddaddy of the region’s barbecue restaurants. For more than two centuries, the family-run place has been serving fantastic whole-hog plates, which combine the crisp skin with the tender, juicy meat. Another delicious dish is the chopped pork sandwich served with cornbread and coleslaw.
North Dakota: Spitfire Bar & Grill
The smell of smoke from this bar and grill carries through the West Fargo air. The concept at Spitfire focuses on three things: wood fire, smoke and fresh ingredients. Here, steaks, burgers and even fish are cooked right on a special grill that hangs over roaring oak flames. When they say their barbecue is award-winning, they mean it. The crew regularly participates in Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned competitions, earning recognition for their 12-hour brisket, pork shoulder, slow-smoked ribs and moist spit-fire chicken. Try all of the above in the cozy brick-covered dining room or at the convivial bar.
Ohio: Eli's BBQ
Here’s a story of “slow and steady wins the race”: Eli’s BBQ started as a booth at the Fountain Square Tuesday Market in downtown Cincy, then moved to a stand at nearby Findlay Market. Due to popular demand, in addition to Findlay, Eli’s debuted a brick-and-mortar shop open seven days a week. The Riverside Drive locale is a revered local hangout, where carnivores fill up on hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwiches slathered in Memphis-style sauce while sipping BYO adult beverages from coolers on picnic tables in the relaxed outdoor garden. Live music is often playing in the background. Must-tries include the brisket, turkey breast and all-beef hot dogs that are smoked, fried, then grilled and topped with barbecue sauce, slaw and pork crispins.
Oklahoma: Burns BBQ
The folks behind this Tulsa barbecue joint focus on the food, not the ambiance. The bare-bones restaurant features straightforward picnic tables, graffiti-covered walls, a refrigerated meat display and a counter to order. That is all. The attention to detail is reserved for the meat. Every day, the team smokes brisket, pulled pork, bologna, chicken drumsticks and locally adored ribs as well as a handful of special sausages including Polish, hot links, pork and venison, jalapeno and cheddar and bratwurst. This place is so adored that after a visit, Alton Brown tweeted, “Best barbecue we’ve had on the road so far.” The tribe has spoken.
Oregon: Podnah's Pit BBQ
Pitmaster Rodney Muirhead slow-cooks 30 tons of meat a year. That’s equivalent in weight to a small humpback whale. It’s because Portlandia locals can’t get enough of Podnah's Central Texas-style ’cue. Muirhead and his crew fire up the oak hardwood-fueled pit at 5 a.m. every morning, just like the folks do in the Lone Star State, slowly melting away the fat and connective tissue in their Creekstone Farms all-natural beef brisket until it’s supple and scented with oak. And the house-smoked hot links may just be the best north of the Amarillo. There’s a reason you don’t want to mess with Texas — it’s just that darned good.
Pennsylvania: Percy Street
Local red oak is used to flavor and cook Percy Street Barbecue’s signature Creekstone Angus beef brisket, for a Philly-meets-Hill Country hybrid. That beef is offered in a number of dishes, including an excellent chopped brisket sandwich (with just bread-and-butter pickles and sliced onion on a Martin’s potato roll) or a whole cut, carved tableside with one of each side. Then there’s the mother of all meaty options, the Lockhart, which comes with a choice of three meats (including chicken, ribs, pulled pork or pork belly), collard greens, burnt ends beans, German potato salad and slaw. Bring some friends and work around the latter. In the words of Guy Fieri, the ribs are just as “ridiculous” as the beef.
Rhode Island: Becky’s Real BBQ
Rhode Island may have a number of barbecue options these days, but that certainly wasn’t the case when Becky’s Real BBQ first fired up its Aquidneck Island pit back in 1994. For more than two decades, the place has been churning out real Southern-style ’cue to adoring Yankees. Pitmaster and owner Bob Bringhurst personally tends to each hunk of meat entering his hickory-fueled smoker pit, rotating the shelves within so the juices drip from cut to cut during the cooking process. Pork and brisket are slow-smoked for 18 hours, then pulled, cleaned and lightly sauced with the shop's signature North Carolina vinegar-and-pepper sauce or tangy Kansas City-style sweet sauce (although sauce-free plates are available upon request). Ribs and chicken are hand-rubbed with a proprietary spice blend, then cooked until they are moist and tender enough to almost fall off the bone.
South Carolina: Jackie Hite’s
South Carolina is arguably where American barbecue was born. Across the Palmetto State, pitmasters smoke pork just as their forebears did. One of the best old-school joints is Jackie Hite’s Bar-B-Que right smack-dab in the middle of the state. Hogs are cooked the old-fashioned way, whole over housemade hickory coals. Barbecue aficionados travel from across the U.S. for the Friday pig pull buffets made from half hogs pulled out of the box, chopped up and mixed with Hite’s signature mustard sauce. At 11 a.m., one half is served, so fans can pig-pick, just like South Carolinians did in the old days. At 12 p.m., the other half is put out to continue the truly unique feast. Hams, shoulders and midsections are sold Wednesday, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
South Dakota: Big Rig BBQ
Texas barbecue spread north to South Dakota when Big Rig BBQ opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken are sold by the half-pound or in sandwiches. Friday and Saturday nights, prime rib is slow-smoked like the ’cue with real oak wood, also served in half-pound portions. Just like they do in Texas, owner Bob Brenner takes his meat seriously, adding extra wood every 30 to 45 minutes through the long, drawn-out cooking process. Although he makes his own sauce from scratch, Brenner adheres to a “sauce optional” philosophy. He wants guests to take a bite to sample the natural flavors of the meat before adding accoutrements to their meal.
Tennessee: Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
Go whole hog — literally! — at this renowned barbecue joint that specializes in West Tennessee’s legendary whole-hog barbecue tradition. Nationally celebrated pitmaster Pat Martin starts cooking his 200-pound pigs a full day before they come out of the custom-built brick pits set in the dining room of each one of his half-dozen locations. Hogs are flavored with aromas of hickory, Martin’s own dry-rub blend and his rendition of the traditional West Tennessee sauce, a slightly sweet blend of vinegar and tomato. Barbecue trays and sandwiches are on the menu (including housemade bologna), but the Redneck Tacos are a favorite. Cornbread hoe cakes are topped with slaw and sauce with a choice of barbecue pork, beef brisket, sausage, chicken, turkey or catfish.
Texas: Franklin Barbecue
Anticipate a wait for a taste of Aaron Franklin’s acclaimed brisket. The line at his eponymous Franklin Barbecue usually takes a minimum of three hours to reach the counter — sometimes as long as five. Kanye West once tried to bypass the hordes, to no avail. The only human being ever allowed to cut the crowd: President Obama on a trip to Austin in 2014. Why the big deal? Every day, 2,000 pounds of meat (including ribs, pulled pork, turkey and sausage) are indirectly cooked with post oak. Franklin, a total perfectionist, is considered to make the best smoked brisket in the world, going through 20,000 hunks of beef per month. Each one of the 106 briskets cooked per day is seasoned with just salt and pepper and cooked for 12 to 16 hours with the scent of delicious smoke.
Utah: Brian Head Resort
Born and bred in Kansas City, John Grissinger grew up smoking meat — everything from brisket to ribs — over hickory in the backyard with his family. Now, as the owner of Brian Head Resort in Southern Utah, Grissinger shares his family traditions with skiers, snowboarders and outdoors enthusiasts every Saturday night at Last Chair Saloon. Each week, Grissinger personally slow-cooks a 500-pound smorgasbord of Kansas City-style specialties like brisket, ribs and chicken, which are served with Grissinger’s housemade barbecue sauce on the side. Once a month, the feast coincides with the Dark Sky parties at Cedar Breaks National Monument — Southern Utah’s version of dinner and a show.
Vermont: Localfolk Smokehouse
As one would expect in Vermont, most of the menu at Localfolk Smokehouse is made from local ingredients. Beef brisket, St. Louis ribs, smoked chicken and pulled pork are hickory-smoked until tender and moist, served with a sweet, tangy and slightly spicy housemade sauce. The smoking doesn’t stop with the old reliables, though — this place also makes superb bacon and andouille sausage. It’s all paired with more than two dozen small-batch beers from New England and beyond, along with a few commercial options for good measure. Live bands play most weekends.
Whitner’s owner, Warren Rogers, was born and bred on barbecue. So he takes his work incredibly seriously, smoking fresh North Carolina-inspired pork butts and Texas briskets overnight with hickory wood in his J&R smoker. The following morning, St. Louis ribs, red hots, turkeys and chickens join the slow-cook party. Because of Rogers’ dedication and solid reputation, Guy Fieri stopped by the joint, a couple of years after its inception, to sample the smoky goods. Guy raved about the “real-deal” Kansas City burnt ends seasoned with Rogers’ special rub and the sweet housemade barbecue sauce.
Washington: Briley's BBQ
High school and college friends Kyle Brierley and Skyler Riley had long dreamed of opening their own restaurant together. While traveling to Western Australia they stayed with a South African family who smoked and grilled meat every night, and the duo fell for the process of smoking protein. In summer 2015 they opened Brileys BBQ, serving their own mash-up of smoked meat styles in what they’ve dubbed “Northwest Barbecue.” The pair serve Kansas City-style ribs cooked over cherry wood and slathered with sweet and tangy sauce, as well as housemade sausages, brisket and pulled chicken. The most-popular menu item epitomizes their meaty hodgepodge approach: The Harry Stamper combines a half-pound of pulled pork, house-cured bacon and a jalapeno cheddar sausage piled high on a brioche bun.
West Virginia: Dee Jay’s BBQ Ribs & Grille
Polynesia meets Memphis at this Weirton, West Virginia, tiki and sports bar — consider it a lesson in mixing multiple opposing forces. Just about an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, Dee Jay's is renowned for its award-winning ribs that are so satisfying that current and former Penguins, Steelers and Pirates players are often spotted in the dining room with barbecue sauce smeared across their cheeks. Tender baby backs are trimmed, then slow-cooked with hickory until they nearly fall off the bone. Those robust smoky aromas are complemented with a sweet and zesty barbecue sauce.
Wisconsin: Smoky Jon's
Jon Olson has been racking up barbecue awards — pun intended — since 1980, when he took home first place for ribs at the Wisconsin Association of Professional Meat Processors. He’s since won countless other distinctions at local and national competitions for his authentic wood-smoked ’cue, available at Smoky Jon's. Olson uses only meat from locally raised butcher-quality hogs for his St. Louis spare ribs. Slabs are coated in his special spice rub, then cooked with low heat, high humidity and plenty of smoke for hours on end. When each order comes through, the slabs are finished on the grill and slathered with Olson’s sweet and smoky, full-bodied tomato-based sauce.
Try Southern-style smoked meats with Western ambiance at Pokey's, a family-owned bar, grill and barbecue joint. The laid-back restaurant is known for its wide range of hearty slow-cooked classics like beef brisket, kielbasa, pulled pork, turkey and pork ribs. However, the carnivorous options don’t stop there. Loaded beef ribs (basically prime left on the bone) are smoked, too, and the restaurant offers a special “Wild Thang” menu with a mix of exotic meats. Sample rarer proteins like bison, ostrich, kangaroo, alligator, python and wild boar. Each entree order comes with a trip to the salad bar — hey, even cowboys need a bit of fiber.