The barbecue belt stretches from the Carolinas across the South down to Texas. While delicious smoked protein can be found across the States, we focused our list on the restaurants that produce the best regional ‘cue styles. If you find yourself in any of these areas and are craving some of the best BBQ the country has to offer, these are the spots to stop at. This is your barbecue bucket list.
Defined by two main ingredients, pork (especially shoulder and in some cases the entire pig) and a vinegar based sauce.
B’ Cracklin BBQ
B’s is a true family affair with a husband and wife team heading up a unique take on Carolina style ‘cue. Locally raised heritage hogs, unique mustard based sauce, and in-house crafted sides all help B’s shine despite being a relative newcomer to the barbecue scene.
Your Order: Anything pork, the mac and cheese, hash and rice, and the chicken plate.
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
A North Carolina institution carrying the torch for two items: Carolina style sauce and perfectly smoked pork shoulder. Slow cooked overnight on hickory, Bridges is turning out some of the best pork in the region.
Your Order: Everything pork and the hush puppies.
What happens when you mix cattle ranches with Czech, Polish, and German immigrants? Succulent brisket, sausage, and beef ribs. Texas style ‘cue is born out of the rich European heritage in central Texas, a love of beef, and sauce on the side (always on the side).
The granddaddy of them all, Black’s opened in 1932 and is still owned and operated by the Black family. Located in the barbecue capital of the world, Lockhart (they have a location in Austin but go to the original), Black’s present offerings live up to their storied history.
Your Order: The brisket, the beef rib, and the jalapeno cheddar sausage (it’s incredible).
What else is there to say about Franklin’s? On every best BBQ list across the country, Franklin’s continues to churn out incredible food despite the sky-high expectations, fame, and multi-hour daily line. All we can say is yes, it’s completely worth it.
Your Order: The brisket (best we’ve ever tasted), beef rib, and The Tipsy Texan.
Family drama (the infamous Mueller family of BBQ fame) and the hiring of Franklin’s former pit master doesn’t change the fact that La Barbecue is serving some of the best ‘cue in the country. With a reputation closing in on Franklin’s, Austin is blessed to have two incredible BBQ spots ½ a mile apart.
Your Order: The brisket (make it fatty), beef rib, and house made sausage.
Kansas City BBQ
Mix it all together and char it up. KC style came about thanks to southern immigration after the Civil War. This melting pot of barbecue innovation has given us one of BBQ’s greatest inventions: burnt ends.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Kansas City, KS
From barbecue competitions to BBQ royalty, Jeff and Joy Stehney’s restaurant epitomizes everything that makes Kansas City barbecue so enjoyable. The menu fully embraces the eclectic nature of the city’s BBQ heritage and consistently churns out incredible ‘cue from a gas station (and you want the original gas station location).
Your Order: The burnt ends, Z-Man, and full slab of pork ribs.
Kansas City, MO
A decidedly modern take on traditional barbecue, Q39 is about providing a comfortable atmosphere in addition to delicious BBQ. While this is a different take than your standard smoke-filled dining room, there is something enjoyable about eating great food in a comfortable urban environment.
Your Order: The burnt ends, judge’s platter, and the wings.
Kansas City, KS
Old school done right. Slaps is about one thing and one thing only: perfectly smoked protein. One of the few locations outside of the Lone Star State cooking Texas-worthy brisket.
Your Order: The burnt ends, the brisket, and pork ribs.
Do it low and slow. Memphis style is all about pork ribs, both dry and wet (as in sauce). You’ll find some incredible pork sandwiches as well but just remember, it’s all about the pork.
One of the most awarded BBQ restaurants in Memphis, Central BBQ is consistently in the press. Don’t let this mainstream vibe deter you. This establishment is still all about the food. Sourcing loin back ribs exclusively, Central produces a decadent char and sauce that perfectly complements their incredible pork.
Your Order: The ribs (½ wet, ½ dry), and the pulled pork nachos.
You’re going to Payne’s for a specific item: the chopped pork sandwich. A local establishment in every sense of the word, Payne’s doesn’t even have a website. However, the pork sandwich is a game changer, and that item alone puts Payne’s solidly on our list.
Your Order: The chopped pork sandwich, the ribs, and the beans (order the beans).
The Wild Cards
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
Bob’s is all about poultry and their famous white sauce (tangy, peppery deliciousness). In fact, Bob’s sauce is so good that it has become synonymous with Alabama ‘cue and helps define the barbecue style in the state.
Your Order: The chicken and the turkey, white sauce on everything.
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
A family-owned and -operated business for over 52 years, Moonlite is serving up solid food across the board. However, it’s the two items that are native to Kentucky BBQ that make it stand out: BBQ Mutton and Kentucky Burgoo (a thick spicy stew).
Your Order: Anything mutton and save room for the burgoo.