These U. S. Cities Are Tops for Barbecue

Where there’s smoke, there’s fiery debate over which American cities offer the best barbecue. 

As part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, “Travel + Leisure” readers ranked 35 metro areas for qualities including barbecue. Texas should be proud: it took four places on the list. But maybe the Lone Star State is ashamed: it didn’t make the top three.

Top honors go to Nashville, and in fact Tennessee has the two top spots. New York City, with its raft of regionally inspired barbecue joints—Blue Smoke, Georgia’s Eastside BBQ, Virgil’s Barbecue, Fette Sau, Dinosaur Barbecue—didn’t even make the top 20, pushed aside by Providence, Rhode Island; San Diego, California; and Portland. (Both Maine and Oregon.)  

The top 10 barbecue cities are:

  1. Nashville, Tennessee. Music City won for a collection of barbecue styles, from the whole-hog approach of rural Tennessee, the tomato-y sauces of Memphis and even the mayo-and-vinegar white sauces more typical of Alabama.
  2. Memphis, Tennessee. Ribs and pork sandwiches are the staples of Memphis-style barbecue: dry-rubbed and smoked over hickory and often mopped with sauce while cooking.
  3. Kansas City, Missouri. Only within the realm of barbecue can a gas-station location boost your appeal. At least that’s the case with one spot on the KC barbecue scene. This meatpacking city – also at the top of the survey for great burgers – is known for burnt ends that come off brisket and taste great with a tomatoes-meet-molasses sauce.
  4. Austin, Texas. With its emphasis on lightly seasoned brisket, German sausage and a tomato-vinegar sauce (and sometimes even no sauce), Texas barbecue has plenty of passionate loyalists in the state capital. The ultimate barbecue-lovers’ day trip from Austin is Lockhart, Texas, less than an hour away, with its old-time classic joints. Readers also put Austin in the top five for food trucks, including barbecue.
  5. Houston, Texas. Local stars include mom-and-pop-style, smoked duck, jalapeño cheese bread and rich Brazos Bottom pecan pie.
  6. San Antonio, Texas. Some of its emerging barbecue has a cutting-edge style, including brisket and house-made sausage, grilled quail, root beer-sautéed scallops, Texas toast glazed with a mixture of brisket drippings, butter and sea salt and a quasi-vegetarian baked potato stuffed with cheese and chopped brisket.
  7. Charleston, South Carolina. This state may represent the most diversity among the main barbecue styles thanks to its core of four sauces (mustard-based, vinegar-and-pepper and two tomato-based). One Charleston spot offers six sauces (including an Alabama white) with ribs, turkey or Redneck Pot Roast (brisket).
  8. Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas. It says something about the cowboy-spirited metroplex that folks flock to the farmers’ market for meat: Pitmaster sandwiches (brisket, pulled pork, and sausage) and brisket, sausage and beef ribs sans sauce right off the butcher paper.
  9. Savannah, Georgia. A “BBQ bologna sandwich” is offered on one menu, as well as a changing selection of sauces, such as Shot Gun Wedding or Voo Doo Juice and a down-South version of poutine (french fries topped with baked beans and cheese), as well as ribs, fried chicken and collard greens.
  10. New Orleans, Louisiana. Barbecue on this city’s own terms: pork-belly po’boys and sausage-filled boudin balls, Cajun chaurice sausage and spicy Creole coleslaw.