Pit-smoked meats have deep cultural roots in many American locales, from North Carolina to Kansas City to central Texas. Across the United States, the term “barbecue” can conjure drastically different images, from the cut of meat and the type of sauce, down to the variety of wood used for flavor. From food trucks to whiskey lounges, the best barbecue spots all have one thing in common, however – they serve up mouthwatering smoked meats.
To assemble a list of the top barbecue spots in in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed and extrapolated from listings, rankings, and reviews on websites including First We Feast, Eat This Not That, Thrillist, Insider, LoveFood, Lonely Planet, Gayot, Eater, Food & Wine, and Southern Living, as well as numerous state-specific sites.
Many of these establishments have a cult following, and their customers are willing to wait in line for hours to get their share. Some are only open during a brief window on select days before they sell out. Many are family-owned establishments that have been passed down for generations, while others are new smokehouses headed by enthusiastic young pitmasters. (Backyard barbecue is a whole different thing – basically grilling. That’s the kind that features in these tips for the perfect barbecue from the experts.)
The best barbecue spots in every state represent a rich and diverse culinary heritage. Central Texas-style barbecue – which has become popular across the U.S. – is characterized by a salt and pepper dry rub and is heavy on the beef, with sausages, turkey, and pork sometimes added to the menu. Beef brisket is traditionally cooked slowly at low temperatures over indirect heat, often with oak or pecan wood; and while sauce may be offered on the side, it’s generally frowned upon.
Kansas City-style barbecue, on the other hand, is characterized by a sweet, tomato-based sauce slathered on various cuts of meat including turkey, pork shoulder, beef, pork ribs, and chicken. Nearby St. Louis is famous for sweet, saucy ribs smoked over fruitwoods like apple and cherry.
East Carolina barbecue focuses on pulled pork (from a whole smoked hog) with a vinegar-based sauce, while Memphis-style features pork shoulder and ribs, and can come dry-rubbed or brushed with sauce – in either case often using hickory wood for its intense smoky flavor. (Local specialties aren’t limited to barbecue. Here is the most iconic dish from every state.)
Southern states (including Texas) tend to have the best barbecue spots in the country, but this kind of food has become so popular that there are now first-rate practitioners of the pitmaster’s art from Maine to California, Washington to Florida.
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