Barbecue, BBQ or Bar-B-Q is serious business in the good ol’ U-S-of-A. Heck, even the name alone sparks heated debate. Barbecue, more so than any other branch of the culinary tree in America, inspires a heap of controversy and regional diversity. Beef, pork or chicken? To dry rub or wet rub, or both? When to sauce? And what kind of sauce, vinegar or sweet, tangy or spicy?
The arguments are endless. From what kind of contraption to use to what kind of wood to smoke with, to rub ingredients and ideal side dishes, barbecue is part art, part science and pure passion all across America. For fanatic road-trippin’ foodies, there are some must-try meccas to pay homage to. While authentic joints in big cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have appropriated old-fashioned traditions and techniques, as with anything else, it’s always best to head to the source. With that in mind, here are some the real barbecue capitals in America.
A hotbed of jazz and blues, Kansas City has a specific brand of barbecue that has major support not just in Missouri, but across America, as the very best. The metro area of more than 2 million people plays host to a vast array of cook-offs, contests and festivals that celebrate all things barbecue all year round. Kansas City barbecue favors many types of meat, from pulled pork to smoked sausage, beef brisket to poultry, and is characterized by a variety of sides and a distinctly sweeter brand of sauce.
Arkansas is at a barbecue crossroads of sorts, which for the most part, is a direct result of geography. While part of the Deep South, the state is close enough to Texas, the Midwest and Tennessee to incorporate many culinary takes and styles. Other states like Louisiana and Oklahoma are in a similar position, though Arkansas barbecue, at its best, gives them all a run for their money.
Alabama barbecue is all about pork, though chicken is a popular staple as well. The ribs and tender shoulder of the pig and even whole-hog preparation however, remain faves in the “Heart of Dixie”.
With some superb towns in Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, the state is already a prime destination. Delicious, off-the-charts soul food and barbecue is just another feather in Alabama’s cap.
The great city of Memphis has a lot to offer visitors, from Graceland and Sun Studio, to the National Civil Rights Museum in the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The Tennessee town is also home to one of the venerable traditions in the history of barbecue.
“Memphis-style” is famous for pork ribs, with either a wet or dry rub, and a classic sandwich with chopped or pulled pork and coleslaw. Memphis sauce is typically on the sweet and mild side and can be found on just about any preparation in city barbecue joints. If you had to choose one city to visit for barbecue excellence, the home of The King could very well be the king of the castle.
The massive state of Texas is cattle country and home to a ranch culture that gave rise to a special brand of barbecue tradition. The Lone Star State in fact, is so vast that it has several iterations of barbecue for visitors to choose from.
East Texas barbecue is similar in style to Tennessee and Arkansas, with emphasis on pork cuts, hickory wood and tomato-centric sauce applications. Border areas play off Mexico’s culinary heritage and Central Texas, with a rich immigrant history from Central Europe, has a unique twist on barbecue as well.
Another region with strong, genuine barbecue roots is the state of North Carolina. From Charlotte to Durham, Raleigh to Lexington, the state has a fine brand of barbecue to tempt tourist tastebuds.
Low and slow pork (preferably pulled), a process that rewards patience many times over, is a staple in North Carolina. Luminary sides like hushpuppies, Brunswick stew, okra and collard greens round out a typical meal, to be washed down with a tall glass of cold, sweet tea of course.
Before you embark on your own personal quest for the best bbq in America, check out hot hotel deals all over the country.