The perfect way to soak up the summer is with a slice of white bread to mop up every last drop of sweet, tangy barbecue sauce left on your plate. Around America, barbecue is a point of pride. Loyal supporters argue that their region’s cuts, cooking methods, and sauces are the best, while sporting restaurant trucker hats and tees as they would jerseys. But how do you choose your own tasty team? In a country that’s brimming with so many barbecue flavors, our advice is to try them all.
Whether it’s chopped, pulled, or served over spaghetti, barbecue around the country has its own distinct style and sauce. Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, and Robert Moss, contributing barbecue editor at Southern Living, tell us where to find the best BBQ and slow-smoked specialties. Our tip? Pack extra napkins.
Around Santa Maria, California, sirloin steak is the cut. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic, the meat’s cooked over red-oak coals and usually served with salsa and pink (pinquito) beans. Spots to try: Jocko’s, Hitching Post, Far Western Tavern
The Lone Star State has three distinct barbecue regions. West Texas prefers brisket or beef shoulder, usually with sauce on the side. In Central Texas, brisket and ribs are slowly smoked, and sauce is also not a necessity. East Texas is the land of ribs and chopped brisket sandwiches, topped with a hot tomato-based sauce. Spots to try: Tyler’s Barbeque, Kreuz Market, Cranky Frank’s, Joseph’s Riverport BBQ
Two distinct sauces thrive in South Carolina’s BBQ scene. Pee Dee style means a vinegar-and-pepper sauce, with chicken and rice sides such as perloo or chicken bog. Midlands style centers on a mustard-based sauce, as well as sides of hash and rice (pork and gravy, poured over rice). Spots to try: Scott’s BBQ, Melvin’s, Bessinger’s
The South Side of the Windy City is home to some of the country’s best ribs, rib tips, and hot links, all of which are cooked in glass-walled smokers that look like aquariums. Spots to try: Honey 1, Lem’s Bar-B-Que
If you have the blues, Memphis offers a pick-me-up in the form of barbecue spaghetti (pasta topped with sweet sauce and pork) and dry-rubbed ribs. Spots to try: Leonard’s Pit Barbecue, Central BBQ, Cozy Corner Bar-B-Q
Mutton makes the meal in the Bluegrass State, specifically in Owensboro. Sliced, chopped, or served as ribs, it’s paired with a spicy Worcestershire sauce known as “black dip.” Spots to try: Old Hickory Bar-B-Que, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
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This state specializes in direct-heat ribs and smoked chicken with white sauce. “The sauce tastes like barbecue ranch dressing,” says Moss. Spots to try: Archibald’s Bar-B-Que, Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que
“North Carolina is one of the pillars of the barbecue world,” says Vaughn. The state sets the standard for whole hog cooking. Order pulled pork with the area’s vinegar-based sauce (but the side of the state you’re on will determine the vinegar-to-ketchup ratio). Spots to try: Barb-B-Q Center, Lexington Barbecue, Picnic, Buxton Hall