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The rib plate at Virgil's in New York City. (Photograph courtesy Virgil's Real Barbecue)

The 10 Best BBQ Joints in America

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, nothing tickles the taste buds quite like barbecue. BBQ capitals like Kansas City and Memphis are well represented on our list, but America’s love affair with smoked meat is quite clearly a national preoccupation.

From sea to shining sea, here are the best barbecue joints in the U.S. of A.:

1. Corky’s (Memphis, Tennessee)

This no-frills restaurant is a barbecue landmark in Memphis (which also happens to be one of Traveler‘s “Best Trips of 2013” destinations). Slow-cooked to perfection in open and closed pits and served with tangy sauces, the hickory-smoked meats are so tender they fall off the bone. Try the hand-pulled pork shoulder – it’s cooked for more than 22 hours! Corky’s has five additional locations around the state, plus franchises in Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey.

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The Skylight Inn’s signature sandwich: whole hog chopped pork cooked over wood coals and topped with coleslaw. (Photograph courtesy Skylight Inn)

2. Skylight Inn (Ayden, North Carolina)

At Skylight Inn you can order only two things: a pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw or a pulled pork dish with corn bread and coleslaw. Whole pigs are slow-roasted over oak fires in open-air pits. Despite the short menu, Skylight doesn’t want for customers.

3. Virgil’s Real Barbecue (New York, New York)

A massive roadhouse in New York City! Buttermilk onion rings with blue-cheese dip. Hush puppies with honey butter, rack of pork ribs, Texas hot links, pulled pork, New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp – everything tasty. There is also a good list of top beers.

4. Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue (Memphis, Tennessee)

The sauce recipe might be a secret, but the word is out about Jim Neely’s. Each day brings new and repeat customers to this family-owned business that dishes up some of the country’s best barbecue. Slow-cooked in closed pits, the meat is incredibly moist and unbelievably good. It’s so popular that Jim installed a drive-thru window!

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Inside Virgil’s Real Barbecue. (Photograph courtesy Virgil’s Real Barbecue)

5. Arthur Bryant’s (Kansas City, Missouri)

Bryant’s has been touted as the “business that gave Kansas City its renown as a barbecue capital.” Simple on décor but high on taste, Bryant’s has been serving up delectable hickory-and-oak-smoked barbecue since the 1920s, counting presidents and celebrities as devotees. Its two sauces – Original and Rich & Spicy – justly deserve the accolades heaped upon them.

6. Tennessee Red’s (Portland, Oregon)

Laid-back Tennessee Red’s serves up some of the tastiest barbecue outside of the South. Generous side dishes and no less than five sauces accompany each entrée. The corn bread melts in your mouth.

7. Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ & Catering (Kansas City, Kansas)

A five-star joint situated in the back of a gas station, with top reviews for Carolina pulled pork, homemade fries, and burnt ends. Low on atmosphere but high on taste. Zagat has rated Oklahoma Joe’s as Kansas City’s best barbecue.

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The open pit at the Salt Lick, (Photograph by Kenny Braun)

8. Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que (Williamsburg, Virginia)

Operating in the same location since 1971, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que keeps it simple and doesn’t change (case in point: the sign-maker’s misspelling of “Pit” stuck). Their sauce’s secret family recipe goes back some 80 years. A classic joint serving up pulled chicken and pork, ribs, hush puppies, collards, corn bread, onion rings, and all your favorite sides.

9. Firefly’s (Marlborough, Massachusetts)

This award-winning barbecue joint dishes up ribs, brisket, and pulled chicken. Devotees rave about Firefly’s Memphis BBQ sauce that has hints of brown sugar, molasses, and chocolate. Wash it all down with a glass of sweet tea straight out of the South.

10. The Salt Lick (Driftwood, Texas)

Featuring an indoor open pit where you can see your meal being cooked, the Salt Lick is a warm and friendly establishment that excels at barbecue. Customers sit at picnic tables and dig into mouthwatering platters of ribs, brisket, sausages, and plentiful side dishes.

This list originally appeared in the National Geographic book, The 10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers, by Nathaniel Lande and Andrew Lande.

What did we miss? Tell us about your favorite barbecue joint by leaving a comment: