It’s possible that there’s nothing more American than good, finger-licking barbecue. Even the founding father George Washington loved the cuisine, as evidenced in his personal journal. In fact, the very best cities in the United States for barbecue have built their entire reputation on namesake sauces, seasonings, and cuts of meat.
According to our annual America’s Favorite Places survey, readers don’t prefer one style of barbecue to another. Whether you believe that barbecue sauce should be made with vinegar or tomato sauce, or if you’re a proud Texan who keeps with tradition and serves smoked meat without any sauce at all, it’s hard to argue that the homestyle, no-frills plates coming out of these Barbecue Belt meccas is delicious.
Take Memphis, TN, for example (which may very well be the South’s hottest city), where ribs are sticky with a spicy, tomato-based sauce. You can get your fix any time of year at A&R Bar-B-Que, though fanatics should visit in May, when the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is in town.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, you can sample both the eastern Carolina-style whole hog (sauce sans tomato) as well as the western Carolina version with ketchup in the sauce.
For the second year in a row, top honors go to Kansas City, MO, where slow-cooked meats are served slathered in a thick tomato-and-molasses sauce. They’re especially famous for their charred burnt ends (the fatty edges of brisket), which you should try at the legendary Arthur Bryant’s.
No matter how you like your barbecue—wet or dry, sweet or spicy—you can’t argue that these cities have mastered the local specialty. And the meat is some of the best (and messiest) you’ll find in the country.
Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Places survey opened on 10/8/2015 and closed on 04/15/2016. It was open to everyone, and ran alongside a sweepstakes. The open-response survey asked respondents to submit their favorite place and rate it in over 65 categories, including affordability, notable restaurants, and public parks. Cities are defined as governed bodies with a population over 100,000.