When it comes to BBQ, it can be a very personal matter, and there are a myriad of different BBQ mindsets out there, that can be as diversely opinionated as the chasm of temperatures that can be found between hot and cold. Ask anyone what the best barbecue sauce, barbecue recipe or barbecue restaurant is, and you’re likely to get as many different opinions as number of people you ask. And everyone staunchly believes that theirs is undeniably the best. While there may be a vast number of BBQ hotspots around the country that are spot-on, with their outstanding, flavor, method of preparation—and don’t forget all the sides, which cannot be separated from the main dish. These encompass slaw, hush puppies, corn bread, and particularly the local standards for acceptable condiment augmentation. And then, depending on the region, the most suitable go-withs can vary widely, as well.
There’s Room at the Top
First, it’s time to accept the fact that there’s room for more than one or two BBQ “bests,” not only in the U.S., but probably even in the city where you live. With an open mind, take a look at some of the very top BBQ spots that Americans have voted into superlative status, with their patronage and their dollars. Do not conclude that the restaurants listed here are in a “best to less-best” order. They are all good, and won’t disappoint even the most serious BBQ devotee.
- Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Kansas City, MO: At Arthur Bryant’s, the pit masters generously slather on their delectable secret sauce atop some hearty pieces of white bread, followed by a sizeable pile of meats, wood-smoked to perfection. The fries here are freshly cut, with the peels left on, and patrons rave about the finely shredded creamy coleslaw and meaty beans, which keep the traffic moving busily here.
- Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, AL: Now in operation under the direction of its fourth generation of Gibsons, they are sticking to the original plan and closely guard the family secrets that have made them a highly acclaimed, divine dining experience for Decatur and beyond. While Bob Gibson’s meager 1925 beginnings involved a bunch of oak planks nailed to a large sycamore tree that sat in his backyard, the restaurant had to move indoors eventually, where every other detail remains intact.
- Charcoal BBQ, LA, CA: Here’s what you get when you mix a prime location, finely aged bourbon, ice cold craft beer and a 1,700 lb. smoker. This is the choice spot for Kansas city discriminating diners to go get their fill of pork back ribs and house specialty-dry-rubbed brisket. Here, they smoke everything to perfection and serve up with a sumptuously light and delicious glaze that offers the ideal culmination of tangy and sweet, and perfectly complements the house tomato and molasses sauce.
- Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous, Memphis, TN: This is Memphis’ go-to spot for the very best pork ribs, but ask anyone who’s tried their char-broiled lamb riblets, their barbecue chopped chicken and their beef brisket to pick a fave, and they won’t be able to. Responding to a heavy demand for their sauces and special house seasonings, they now sell these in-house and online.
- 4505 Burgers & BBQ, San Francisco, CA: This San Fran version of BBQ begins with local, pasture-raised animals, and takes pride in wasting less meat from the animal. A key to the delightful complexities of their BBQ flavor has much to do with its cooking, in a vintage wood-fired pit, to guarantee patrons will want to lick their plates along with their fingers.
- Hill Country, Washington, DC: When our nation’s lawmakers and government officials crave BBQ, they all head over to Hill Country to fill up on lip-smacking ribs, with tantalizing sides you just can’t resist, like beer-braised cowboy pinto beans, skillet cornbread and their house favorite–rich and creamy banana pudding for dessert.