Some like it pristine; others prefer it slathered in mustard sauce. When picking the best cities for barbecue, Travel + Leisure readers were ready to face some hickory-smoked heat.
America's Best Cities for Barbecue
Like a lot of people, Jay Metzger draws a line when it comes to his barbecue loyalties—and for him, that line falls along the Mississippi River.
“While it’s nice to enjoy a little Memphis and Carolina barbecue, the real stuff comes from the center of the U.S.,” says the L.A.–based advertising executive, who favors Kansas City and Texas barbecue.
Plenty of Travel + Leisure readers agree, ranking KC and more than one Texas city in the top 10. But where there’s smoke, there’s fiery debate. As part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metro areas for such qualities as good-looking locals, great sports teams, and regionally distinct pizza and barbecue. To be fair, since the survey covered only 35 cities, some barbecue hot spots like Lexington, NC, Lockhart, TX, and St. Louis were not even on the table for this particular vote.
But plenty of other hot-button BBQ cities were—and one dark horse (or perhaps pig) even took the top prize. Certainly, the prevailing styles and some gourmet-friendly trends vary from city to city, from the burnt ends in Kansas City, MO, to the mustard-sauced pork in Charleston, SC, or the piles of brisket on butcher paper in Austin, TX—so the definition of best may depend on what you’re used to.
“Charleston has great barbecue, but any southerner will argue that their city has the best,” says Boston-based chef Jason Albus, who hails from South Carolina. But good “low-and-slow” cooking methods, he says, transcend any regional distinctions. “You really can’t rush barbecue—you can definitely taste the difference when someone puts time and passion into it.” For the customer, he adds, three other factors are essential: “Good friends, cold beer, and lots of napkins.”