So where can you find the country's best BBQ? Follow the irresistible smell of slow-cooked BBQ down to Lexington, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; and Kansas City, Missouri! Each of these cities boasts a different kind of BBQ, from vinegar-based sauces to sweet ketchup-based sauces. Grab your bibs, friends, it's time to eat!
This small town in western North Carolina is the town you go to for mind-blowingly good BBQ. This hidden enclave in the mountains of North Carolina isn't home to a lot of BBQ joints. In fact, there are only eight. But quality certainly reigns over quantity here. Lexington perfected the western Carolina sauce, which is vinegar and ketchup based, and is known countrywide for wood-smoked pork shoulder. The experts at Food & Wine advise you to ask for the "brown bits" when you order. That way you get the melt-in-your-mouth crunchy caramelized bits from the shoulder on the side of your plate.
For good, old-fashioned pork shoulder without any frills or fancy, check out Lexington BBQ off Highway 29-70. This joint won the coveted award of having the best BBQ in the Carolinas by Southern Living. They smoke their shoulders for up to nine hours and serve it to you with just a dash of salt (you're responsible for adding the sauce). Another must-visit is Jimmy's BBQ on Cotton Grove Road, which is known for its unique take on traditional Carolina sauce and some to-die-for fried hush puppies and slaw.
You can't talk BBQ without mentioning Texas, are we right? However, don't think all Texas BBQ is the same. We're pretty sure you could alienate some die-hard BBQ lovers in this state that way. For some of the best slow-cooked beef brisket and spicy hand-cranked sausages in the state, you have to go to Austin. This trendy, music mecca is very serious about their BBQ, with more than 60 restaurants serving it up. Unlike the East Coast, which is known for pork, Austin is best known for its slow-cooked (more than nine hours) beef brisket. Central Texas-style sauce is typically a mix of tangy and sweet flavors, so you'll find that many of Austin's restaurants feature both tomato and vinegar in their sauces.
If you want the best of the best, head to Franklin BBQ. This popular place is only open until they're sold out, which could be anywhere from one to three hours after they open! Pit-master Aaron Franklin slow cooks his brisket for 14 hours, giving it that melt-in-your-mouth flavor and texture. Another local favorite is Rudy's BBQ, which has three Austin locations. Everyday they serve up real Texas smoked sausage, brisket, ribs, turkey and chicken.
Often called "the BBQ capitol of the world," you can't talk about good BBQ without mentioning Kansas City. Kansas City is best known for the sauce, which is the perfect blend of tartness (from the tomato base) and thickness (from the molasses). You won't find any tangy vinegar-based sauce here. Unlike Texas, where they prefer to eat their brisket sans sauce, BBQ lovers here thoroughly douse everything from pulled pork to beef short ribs to smoked chicken in the thick, decadent sauce. Most of the delicacies here are slow-smoked on hickory wood, which lends a unique and earthy flavor to all the BBQ. While North Carolina serves up hush puppies and Austin serves up slaw, you'll find scoops of spicy baked beans alongside your Kansas City fare.
Locals and foodies alike say you can't go to Kansas City without stopping at Arthur Bryant's. This legendary BBQ joint has been around since the 1920s and now has three restaurants in the area. They are known for their luscious pork ribs and beef and pork sandwiches, which are slathered in their homemade sauce (which you can buy!). Another popular destination is Oklahoma Joe's, which is ironically located inside a gas station. It was rated the top BBQ place in 2011 in Kansas City by Zagat, was just featured in the New York Times and got some rave reviews from food and travel host Anthony Bourdain. If you're at Oklahoma Joe's, order the pulled pork sandwich, the slow-cooked house specialty.
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