Summer is a time for popsicles that melt on your hands and baby back ribs that manage to get sauce on every article of clothing that you own. It's practically the law. But as someone who is both the progeny of people from the actual Florida-Georgia line, and very afraid of cooking meat, the classic barbecue joint is an essential part of my summertime enjoyment. Thankfully, Travel + Leisure just released their list of America's 20 best cities for barbecue. Ugh, thank you, guys, so very, very much.
Travel + Leisure compiled their list from the results of this year's America's Favorite Cities survey, in which they polled their readers on which metro areas they thought had the best wine, the best art, and more — including, of course, where the best BBQ is to be had. The final list of the best cities for barbecue has us eating our way across the United States, making it as far north as Cleveland (my hometown, so very proud), and as far west as Los Angeles. Obviously,the southern half of our great nation has the majority of best spots on lockdown, but the variations on what constitutes "good" BBQ varies so extensively from city to city that you should probably just like hit all of them. Just in case.
Michael Smith, a healthcare marketing pro who has compiled his own extensive BBQ bucket list, suggests hitting up long-standing dives within these top 20 cities. Why? “You can trust them for the best barbecue — because no one is going there for the atmosphere,” says Smith.
Check out the top seven cities below, and head on over to Travel + Leisure to see the full list of all 20. Roadtrip, anyone?
1. Kansas City, MO
Interestingly, a Midwestern city nabbed the top BBQ spot this year. Kansas City is known for its sweet, tomato-y sauce and "the burnt ends" — intensely flavorful meat scraps. Terribly phrased, amazingly good.
2. Memphis, TN
Classic Memphis barbecue is dry-rubbed, smoked over hickory, and "mopped with sauce" during cooking, and locals are fiercely loyal to this style. If you want more than just meat, Memphis is the birthplace of both barbecue spaghetti, found at the Bar-B-Q Shop, and the barbecue pizza, a classic dish at Coletta's (and a favorite of Elvis).
3. Austin, TX
In the Texas family, Austin is the cool younger sibling with tats and a killer record collection. I mean, their motto is Keep Austin Weird. Regardless of their alt status, Austin is a go-to spot for old-school, Central Texas-style BBQ, meaning a dry rub, a side of white bread, and probably served on wax paper.
4. Houston, TX
While Houston may not have a specific style of BBQ, they do have a motto when it comes to this dish: more is more. Barbecue-meat-on-a-baked-potato at Gatlin's? Yasss. Killen's creme brule bread pudding, sold by the quart? Yaaaasssss!
5. Nashville, TN
Pulling musicians from all over the country, Nashville and its BBQ scene are, as expected, pretty diverse, with a focus on locally-sourced goods. Ever wondered what barbecue sushi might taste like? Head to Peg Leg Porker for their sausage-and-cheese platter, served with saltines.
6. Oklahoma City, OK
The barbecue style of Oklahoma City mirrors the sweet and tomato-y trend of Kansas City, with additional influences from Texas and the Carolinas. That's not to say that OKC is just a copy cat; Iron Star's classic brown-sugar-cured brisket pays homage to a Belle Starr, an Oklahoman and famous outlaw.
7. Dallas, TX
Oh Dallas, city of Big Hair and Bigger Hats. Despite its reputation as a glitzy southern belle, Dallas still holds its own with meat-market-style BBQ and classic central Texas-style. You can take the gal out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the gal.