We're Gonna Need a Bigger Belt: The Top Barbecue Spots in America

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BrisketTown
BrisketTown

For first-class brisket, take a train to BrisketTown in Brooklyn. (Courtesy: BrisketTown)

By Alison Murphy

May might officially be National Barbecue Month, but summer is the time for road trips. And while plenty of people have documented their journeys to all the Major League stadiums, theme parks, national parks, monuments, and presidential assassination destinations across this great land, we can think of no better adventure to take with your friends and family than finding the best, most unique, and most authentically American barbecue eateries in the country. These are 10 spots you and anyone you can stand three weeks in a car with should be hitting along the way.

BrisketTown - Brooklyn, New York

As Brooklyn’s self-described house of meat, BrisketTown is a great place to start out on any meat-themed road trip. There are no fancy plays on barbecue at BrisketTown, just solid, no-frills Central Texas-style eats. Their brisket is rubbed with salt and pepper and then smoked for 15 hours until perfectly tender. The sides you can skip, but don’t forget to check out their seasonal pie menu for dessert.

What to Order: The Brisket, obviously. It’s right there in the name.

City BBQ
City BBQ

(Courtesy: City BBQ)

City BBQ - Columbus, Ohio

It may be a chain, but don’t let it fool you: City BBQ doesn’t mess around with their meat. Top quality cuts, hand-seasoned, and slow smoked, City BBQ is the kind of joint where you don’t actually need sauce. And the upside of it being a chain? There are 23 different locations, so chances are you’ll stumble across at least one on your trip.

What to Order: The City Sampler, which includes brisket, pork, sausage, turkey, two sides and Texas Toast. Make sure to choose their famous corn pudding for one of those sides.

Related: We Travel for the Best Meatballs in America

17th Street BBQ
17th Street BBQ

(Courtesy: 17th Street BBQ)

17th Street BBQ - Murphysboro, Illinois

17th Street BBQ is a south-Illinois stronghold in the barbecue scene. Owned by champion pitmaster Mike Mills (known as “The Legend” in the barbecue world), their ribs are renowned for being some of the best in the U.S. Self-described as the “Filet Mignon of Barbecue,” they have won Grand World Champion at Memphis in May, otherwise known as “the Superbowl of Swine,” for three years running.

What to Order: As Mike says, “Life is too short for a half-rack.” Order a full rack, and leave happy.

Arthur Bryant's
Arthur Bryant's

(Courtesy: Arthur Bryant’s)

Arthur Bryant’s - Kansas City

Arthur Bryant’s is the reigning king of Kansas-style barbecue, and a mandatory stop on any road trip. Famous for its sauces, Bryant’s has been frequented by presidents and celebrities since its opening in the 1920s. Even so, it’s never lost the spirit of what the original King of Barbecue, Arthur Bryant, proudly referred to as his “grease house.” The menu is bare bones, but eat light before visiting, because you’re going to want to try everything on the board.

What to Order: The two-meat combination sandwich, sopping with one of Bryant’s famous sauces.

Jones BBQ
Jones BBQ

(Courtesy: Jones BBQ)

Jones BBQ - Marianna, Arkansas

Started in 1910 by Walter Jones, this place is one of the oldest African-American-owned restaurants in the country. Winner of the 2012 James Beard Foundation American Classics Award, the honor hasn’t changed Jones BBQ in the least – its meat is still smoked in the same cinder-block pit, and tended by James Jones, Walter’s grandson. Jones serves it up old school for barbecue lovers, but be sure to get there early; when they’re out, they’re out.

What to Order: The pork shoulder, smoked to perfection.

Related: Is This New York City’s Best Pizza?

Franklin Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue

(Courtesy: Franklin Barbecue)

Franklin Barbecue - Austin, Texas

Austin has enough good barbecue to keep you there for at least a week. But if you only have time to try one, better make it Franklin. Everybody has heard of Franklin BBQ, and for good reason – of all the overhyped barbecue joints, Franklin is among the only ones to deserve the hype. Franklin BBQ began in 2009 as a trailer, but grew quickly to compete with the superstars of the Texas Barbecue Belt.

What to Order: A Mexican Coke, the Tipsy Texan (pulled pork, sausage, brisket, and chopped beef), and a banana-bourbon pie for dessert.

John Mueller Meat Co
John Mueller Meat Co

(Photo: Ron Bailey / Getty Images)

John Mueller Meat Co - Austin, Texas

Located in East Austin, John Mueller Meat Co. is taking over for Franklin BBQ as the up-and-coming barbecue trailer. “We’re going to offer you the biggest backyard in Austin,” says founder John Mueller. Just don’t call him a pitmaster. “I’m a cook,” he says. “I cook for a living.” Luckily, he cooks damn good meat. And if that weren’t enough, he offers free beer while you wait in line, which is often stretched around the block.

What to Order: The beef short ribs, otherwise known as “meat lollipops.”

Related: The BEST Fried Chicken in America

Smitty's Market
Smitty's Market

(Photo: James Pauls / Getty Images)

Smitty’s Market - Lockhart, Texas

If you want to literally see how the sausage is made, Smitty’s is the place for you. A stronghold in the Central Texas Barbecue Belt, Smitty’s is located in the same warehouse where the meat is made, smoked, and served. Customers line up to order in the actual smokehouse, where they watch pitmasters serve up all manner of meat out of their brick pits.

What to Order: Now that you know how the sausage is made, try the hot links.

Leatha's
Leatha's

(Photo: Getty Images)

Leatha’s BBQ - Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Leatha’s is incredibly hard to find, but well worth the search once you do. Its location isn’t the only thing Leatha’s keeps under wraps, though – it’s secret sauce draws barbecue devotees from every state around for being the perfect mix of tangy and sweet. And the secret recipe for their mustard-based coleslaw that will make a believer out of even the most fervent coleslaw atheist.

What to Order: Four-meat plate with secret sauce, and a side of coleslaw.

Jim 'N Nick's
Jim 'N Nick's

(Courtesy: Jim ‘N Nick’s)

Jim ‘N Nick’s - Montgomery, Alabama

Alabama takes its barbecue pretty seriously, so it may come as a surprise that the winner of the ‘Bama BBQ Bracket (yes, they have one of those) is a chain. Jim ‘N Nick’s isn’t just any old chain, though. From their homemade BBQ chips to their addictive cheddar cornbread muffins, to their hickory-smoked pulled pork, everything at Jim ‘N Nick’s is made with pride in their product.

What to Order: Pig on a Bun (otherwise known as a pulled pork sandwich) and as many baskets of cheddar cornbread muffins as you can stomach. Or try your pulled pork in a tortilla on Taco Tuesdays.

See more of America’s Best Barbecue Spots.

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