Most of the national best lists Liz and I put out are updated each year, and for obvious reason: there are always new burgers and pizza and cocktails to try. But barbecue is different. "New" barbecue isn’t really a thing, as most of the best places on the list have been the best places for many, many years. But now it’s been a couple of years since our first big BBQ list came out, and we felt like we needed to revisit it. So we ate brisket and chopped pork and talked to our barbecue-loving editors all over the country to come up with what we think is the most current and fair list possible (we've also created a Best BBQ bracket because it’s March, and brackets are fun. Check it out here!) 

We tried to incorporate all the major styles, from Central Texas and Memphis to South and North Carolina, Kansas City and Alabama too. Not all of these stick to their regions: we’ve got places that serve up Central Texas barbecue in Arizona, and Memphis in St. Louis, but the point is: if you're doing a legendary job cooking low and slow and making mouth-watering, black-barked briskets, or tangy, crispy chopped pork sandwiches, or anything involving burnt ends, we've got a place for you here. So check it out, complain about some things in the comments, and get hungry. I know we are. 

17th Street Barbecue

17th Street Barbecue

Murphysboro, IL

Mike Mills has won enough BBQ championships (including Memphis in May three times) and spawned a mini BBQ empire, so you could understand if things had fallen off a little bit at the original mothership... but they haven't. It remains the standard for all things smoked within one of America's more under-the-radar 'cue-crazed regions (Southern Illinois), continuing to please both the locals and the out-of-towners who've come to knock out what constitutes a bucket list item for many a meat fiend. If you're there on a Sunday, get in on the whole-hog action before it runs out. -- Matt Lynch, executive editor

Flickr/Alaina Browne

Allen & Son

Chapel Hill, NC

About five years ago, I was in Chapel Hill for my cousin’s wedding and, because I'm a caring daughter and granddaughter, I insisted the entire extended family use the few free hours we had on Friday to go eat at Allen & Son. Keith Allen is the stuff of barbecue legend, and his shadow extends far beyond his plates of chopped pork shoulder and his spicy, vinegary sauce, an exemplar of the North Carolina style. His legend (and legacy, really) starts with the giant hickory logs that fuel Allen & Son’s brick pits, and which Allen finds, splits into useable logs, burns down to coals, and then uses to carefully stoke the 12-hour smoking process. It's that insistence on detail (and, yes, the resulting piles of juicy, tender chopped pork with just the right amount of crunchy browns) that make it absolutely forgivable to be late to a wedding rehearsal. I think. -- LC

B's Cracklin' BBQ

B's Cracklin' BBQ

Savannah, GA

There's a lot of backlash in the barbecue world against new kids, who don't have have walls plastered with yellowed newspaper cutouts of pitmasters posing with Reagan or folklorish stories of Paul Bunyan characters stoking the fire for generations. B's Cracklin' has none of that. Yet, it came onto the barbecue scene less than two years ago and immediately found a spot among the legends... and then burned down in June. Proving the real worth of the 'cue community though, Nikki and Bryan Furman were inundated with help from pitmasters throughout the region and, after a few months selling ‘cue from event to event, B’s is back in business with the exact style and attention as before. Bryan sources locally raised heritage hogs (more fat!), which he breaks down himself to slow cook over oak. If you're unsure what the point in heritage breeds even is, then it probably means you should go help B's celebrate its return to business: one bite of the pork sandwich, done in the Carolina style, and you'll be hit with the incredible flavor that happens when a fatty breed sits overnight in a smoker. 

And because you really do want to help them celebrate, go ahead and get the rib sandwich, too. It’s the right thing to do. -- LC

Courtesy of Ron Paris

Barbeque Exchange

Gordonsville, VA

Virginia has no definitive place in the great Southern barbecue debate: no sauce to place its name on, no definitive meat choice like Texas, and no specialty just-so rub. While many BBQ snobs would snub the Commonwealth State for that very reason, Gordonsville’s Barbeque Exchange has taken advantage of that freedom, intermingling the best of regions with everything from vinegary Carolina sauce to sliced brisket sharing space on the menu. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a halfhearted tribute to each: Craig and Donna Hartman do each one justice. Also, don't make the mistake of skipping the items that aren’t classic because that would mean you’d be missing out on a BLT made with bacon that’s been spice-cured for a week, dried for a week, and then taken an overnight rest in the smoker. It’s so good, it makes a solid case to put Virginia on the BBQ map after all. -- LC

Courtesy of Claus Peuckert

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q

Decatur, AL

Living in New York while Southern food became the hip, trendy food of Instagram was, well, slightly alarming: spicy pimento cheese and humble grits mixed into a small ramekin and placed on a $16 sides menu is almost offensive. So, I was alarmed when "Alabama white sauce" started showing up on menus in Oregon and filtering into glossy magazine pages: would Bob Gibson’s sauce -- my state’s contribution to the great barbecue lexicon -- be ruined by the type of food gentrification that happens after one-too-many people have placed a Valencia filter on its image?

Blessedly, I had nothing to worry about. Over 75 years ago, when Gibson created his sauce that so perfectly complements smoky 'cue, he certainly wasn't planning to do the impossible: create a food so delicious that the hordes of food bloggers and ravenous restaurateurs had no need to upsell it or change it or throw it into some dish where it doesn’t belong. Maybe it's because the peppery, vinegary, mayo-based sauce so perfectly (and surprisingly) complements smoky BBQ. Maybe it’s because the white sauce is so different to people who, while they may have debated on what was a good sauce, could at least agree that it should be somewhere on the red spectrum. It doesn’t really matter: I'm just happy that everyone can go enjoy bottles of the stuff at ‘cue joints from Ross, CA to Long Island, NY and then plan their pilgrimages to pay homage to the original. Come very hungry when you do. -- LC

Flickr/Joshua Bousel

Black's Barbecue

Lockhart, TX

About a year ago, I forced our Austin-based Food/Drink writer (and BBQ judge!) Dan Gentile to come with me to Lockhart, so we could eat our way through the legendary town and I could have real opinions. I hadn’t been to Lockhart since I was 11, which was also the year we moved out of Texas, which might help to explain things. Anyways, Black's opened in 1932 and -- as it gleefully points out due to the Smitty’s-vs.-Kreuz kerfuffle -- it is the oldest BBQ joint in Texas "always owned by the same family." Family unity notwithstanding, we had our best all-around meal in Lockhart at Black's. 

Two items in particular stuck out, like my belly 15 minutes after we finished: the Flintstone-sized 1lb beef ribs, and the incredible, spicy hand-stuffed and -tied jalapeño cheddar sausages. The rib was moist with just enough marbling and the jalapeño cheddar sausage was honestly incredible -- with pockets of that cheese bursting as you bit into them, and a linger of spice on the tongue. Just typing out all of this somehow makes my belly look bigger. -- KA

Central BBQ

Central BBQ

Memphis, TN

The first thing I noticed were the chips. Everyone seemed to be eating chips. And everyone was young. Like I accidentally walked into a college bar. But despite the chip-consuming college students surrounding me, I did manage to overcome my self-consciousness, remind myself I was wearing a cool Larry Bird T-shirt, sit down, and eat. Two things from the menu put Central on our list: the pork plate (get it chopped, and get the extra bark) -- with that 14-hour slow-smoky flavor -- and the Memphis-style ribs (I like 'em dry, and was basically eating the bark off the top of the rib to get that extra flavor). Oh, and side it all with the home-cooked chips. Those college students know what's up. -- KA

COURTESY OF ROB BELLINGER/MANICAMERICAN.COM

Cozy Corner BBQ

Memphis, TN

I don’t like bologna. Never have. It creeps me out, especially because the kid who brings bologna sandwiches to school was always unpredictable and nerve-wracking. But BBQ bologna is a bit of a Memphis tradition, and the good people of Cozy Corner insisted I try their BBQ’d bologna sandwich (along with a four-bone rib and some sliced pork, of course), and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t kind of delicious and salty and strangely addicting, especially in conjunction with the vinegar from the slaw and the tangy sauce. Now, the ribs and pork were also great (the pork is best as a sandwich, too), but it was that bologna which stuck with me for the rest of my time. My point: the food at Cozy Corner is good enough to change a man. -- KA

Heirloom Market BBQ

Heirloom Market BBQ

Atlanta, GA

While Heirloom Market's ‘cue style is far from traditional, its gochujang-marinated rib meat and kimchee coleslaw is an incredibly natural product of a Southern spot that boasts a large Korean population who has slowly peppered the city’s suburbs with damn good Korean restaurants. The smoking process brings out the richness of the fermented chile paste in the pork, which is then chopped and loaded onto a potato bun, and then topped with that spicy slaw and just enough sesame seeds for an occasional crunch.

Different? Yes, but in a comfortable, familiar way, and the flavors seem just as natural as it is for Texas and its cattle lands to insist that brisket is the only meat that should be barbecued. And this Korean-Southern ‘cue might just be even more delicious. -- LC

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Hometown Bar-B-Que

Brooklyn, NY

If you're looking for the city's most authentic Texas-style brisket and beef ribs, you should go to Hometown. If you're looking for Vietnamese hot wings or a lamb belly bánh mì... you should also go to Hometown! It's pretty safe to say that Billy Durney is New York's current 'cue king -- and despite being schooled by Texas masters in the elusive alchemy of salt-and-pepper-only brisket (Hometown's legitimately rivals the top Austin joints), he didn't stop there with the menu at his roadhouse-y cavern in deep Red Hook. Much of it was influenced by Billy's youth eating from Vietnamese, Caribbean, and other international food carts along Flatbush Ave: that bánh mì and those wings, plus other happy turns like pulled pork tacos. Even the preferred street fare of over-consuming New Yorkers, the Feast of San Gennaro, gets a nod, via deep-fried Oreo ribs. Just kidding! It's a hand-stuffed sausage Parmesan hero. But hey, if anyone could pull off fried Oreo ribs... -- Ben Robinson, editorial director

Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue

Franklin Barbecue

Austin, TX

There was a point, probably two years ago, in which Franklin became one of those one-named deities, like Prince or Messi. I will not waste your time explaining a place that consistently has four- to five-hour lines starting at dawn, that has long been considered the finest barbecue place in the world. I had the honor of going to Franklin in 2009, when the line was only somewhat annoying, and I wish, after consuming that 18-hour, peppery, moist, perfectly fatty brisket, that I was able to invest in it somehow, because even then I knew I was experiencing something unique. 

There is a tendency to look at the spectacle that’s become of Aaron Franklin’s joint and feel some sort of judgment, seeing all those bros waiting there from bachelor parties, and random tourists who really don’t know or care about BBQ, and the whole second economy that’s risen up surrounding the line. But that sort of judgment is silly, near-sighted, and misses the point. All Aaron Franklin did was decide to make the best brisket (and quite incredible other things!) he possibly could. It was not a publicity ploy, there were no elaborate tricks here, no social media blast or PR campaign. He just made a singular type of meat, and the people came. You can't judge a meat meritocracy of that renown -- you can only tip your cap, and order a whole brisket two weeks ahead. -- KA

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

Kansas City, KS

First off, it is in Kansas, alright?!!? And second, you might know it as the artist formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's. A quick backstory on that, because it confuses a lot of people: in the '90s, Jeff and Joy Stehney liked barbecue enough to start doing it competitively, and then got good enough at it to win awards, and then Jeff befriended this guy Joe Don Davidson, who had a smoker company called Oklahoma Joe's. They went into the restaurant business together, and opened the first Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue and Catering in actual Oklahoma in 1996. That very same year, Jeff and Joy opened the second location in Kansas City that everyone knows about in a former gas station. One year later, Oklahoma Joe sold his company, moved to Texas, the Oklahoma BBQ spot closed, and the Stehneys bought him out of his share of the KC spot. But now they owned a place ostensibly named after a former partner’s company in a different state. Thanks to the actual barbecue, it became legendary, but obviously confusion around the name has existed forever, so finally two years ago, they changed it to Joe's Kansas City. And whew, here we are. 

Anyway, about that barbecue: it is really, really good. I am partial to the burnt ends (as is most of the world), but they're only served on Wednesday nights (and Monday/Saturday lunch), so if you want to get them, get in there early, add a pulled pork sandwich to that order, and then head out into the Kansas night chubby and contented. -- KA

Flickr/Alan Teo

The Joint

New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is one of those cities to which visitors arrive toting very strict lists of dishes to eat: gumbo, oysters, po-boys. It generally doesn't matter where the food is eaten -- although the restaurant suggestions are almost as predictable -- but one thing is certain: people rarely show up in New Orleans seeking barbecue. The Joint’s ever-so-slowly been changing that, though, whether it is thanks to Bywater’s more recent popularity as a destination neighborhood or simply because national media finally caught on to the wonders of its chaurice sandwich. The Joint locally sources the sausage, the Creole version of chorizo, and, by smoking the cayenne-loaded pork, it creates a sandwich with more flavor than any pulled pork sandwich you’re used to grabbing at a 'cue joint. So, if you want to add 'cue to your list of must-eats, just save me a spot in line. -- LC

Courtesy of Kimberly Park

Killen's

Pearland, TX

Whenever I feel like it could benefit me, I like to point out that I was born in Houston and this is one of those occasions. But sadly, during my brief tenure there, Ronnie Killen's eponymous barbecue joint did not exist, and so I was forced to drink formula and eat teething crackers instead of one of the best beef ribs in the country, marbled with rendered fat and so big that you actually start to look like an extra from that '90s remake of Flintstones. But luckily you, friend, can go there now. -- KA

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Kreuz Market

Lockhart, TX

During my Lockhart BBQ trip, Kreuz was the place I was most excited to visit. The history (opened in 1900! Changed hands to another family in the '40s! Big, famous family feud in the '80s, which led to new location!), the strict rules (no BBQ sauce, no forks), oh, and the meats. The standout for us was the brisket, which was by far the best in Lockhart that day. It was moist and peppery and made you happy, especially when you watch an 80-year-old grandma next to you alternate between dominating a brisket and taking almost dainty bites of cheese and crackers. -- KA

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

La Barbecue

Austin, TX

My first time at LB was on a whim, a split-second decision as I walked past and wondered, as I do with any Texas barbecue spot, if its brisket was good. This was in 2013, and there were only a few people in front of me, so I was able to get a pound of brisket and some chipotle slaw quickly, and skulk off somewhere to eat it in peace. What I found when I dug in was one of the best briskets I’ve ever had in my life, a point I have reaffirmed the last three times I visited in the past year. -- KA

Shanley Cox/Thrillist

LC's Bar-B-Q

Kansas City, MO

Your mistake when you go to LC's for the first time is to think that the burnt ends sandwich is actually a sandwich. Now, I guess technically it is, because of the two pieces of bread on either side, but really it’s just all of the fantastic burnt ends piled on one piece of white bread and topped with the spot's unique sauce. Despite it not even really being a sandwich, it is one of our favorite non-sandwiches in the world. And don’t fret about the mess you’re making on your hands and face: there is a reason there are two rolls of paper towels on every table. -- KA

Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Lem's BBQ

Chicago, IL

Many Chicagoans who became swept up in the boom of pan-American BBQ joints (BBQ for the Food Network era, local writer and 'cue authority MIke Gebert dubbed it) did so without even realizing that Chicago has had a damn fine BBQ tradition all its own for decades, largely a product of the city's starkly segregated North Side/South Side split. Lem's is the grandaddy of said tradition of pork-based delights tended to in an aquarium smoker. Scrappy, flavor-rich rib tips and spice-laden hot links are the calling card of any authentically Chicagoan barbecue outpost, but the spare ribs at Lem's are also an absolute must. -- ML

Flickr/Krista

Lexington Barbecue

Lexington, NC

The weird thing about Lexington-style barbecue, one of North Carolina's two styles, is that it’s a mislabeled, over-popularized name. People who study this sort of thing or simply like to sound extra snobby while their hands are covered in vinegar sauce will inform you that the real name is "Piedmont style." But Lexington, a town of less than 20k, is such a mecca of the style, with over 20 legit barbecue joints within its small borders, each one putting out its own killer version of chopped pork shoulder and red slaw, that calling the style anything else just seems wrong.

And at the top of that almost-overwhelmingly impressive citywide game is -- who else -- Lexington Barbecue, whose juicy, oak-smoked pork hits the sandwich with just the right mix of crusty, flavor-loaded browns. Go, and, while your hands are covered in vinegary sauce, tell someone why Lexington-style barbecue should be called exactly that. -- LC

Little Miss BBQ

Little Miss BBQ

Phoenix, AZ

Many restaurants aren’t upfront about their influences, afraid to admit that they look up to others because it might suggest that what they’re doing isn’t original, and thus not as good. Of course this is all bullshit, and the beauty of Little Miss BBQ is these guys know that, and gladly and openly talk about their Central Texas influences from many of the places also on this list. But soon, thanks to their smoking techniques using AZ oak and pecan wood and the seriously moist briskets and entirely underrated beef short ribs, LMB could see itself named as an influence on other BBQ restaurants in AZ. Oh, also: the Thursday pastrami special might not count in the normal barbecue sphere, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't order a lot of it. -- KA

Courtesy of Robert Strickland

Lockhart Smokehouse

Dallas, TX

First off, just know that the owner of Lockhart Smokehouse is the granddaughter of Edgar Schmidt, who purchased Kreuz Market from the Kreuzes in the '40s. And they get their sausages from their cousins’ restaurant in Lockhart (so you should know to order at least one of the original and one jalapeño and cheddar). But pitmaster Tim McLaughlin is his own man, and his brisket (done in the Central Texas style) stands up on its own, especially that peppery, spicy bark. Oh, and if you happen to be around on Thursdays, get the burnt ends. Now that I mention it, they’re worth actually scheduling your trip around a Thursday. -- KA

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Taylor, TX

Would it make me a heretic if I recommend that you get the jalapeño sausage before trying anything else? If it doesn’t, please do that, because there is no finer example of a spicy, snappy sausage than the one done in this legendary spot 40 minutes outside of Austin. As you may know, the Mueller name rings out in Texas (one grandson Wayne is the pitmaster here, a granddaughter’s Austin spot is on the list as well, and another grandson John is also in and out of BBQ) but the OG has not fallen off, and is still a must-visit for the giant novelty-toy-sized beef rib, the brisket, and that sausage. - KA

Flickr/Krista Kennedy

McClard's

Hot Springs, AR

I have cousins who grew up in Little Rock and still do a passable "woo pig sooie" chant, and they were the ones who first foisted McClard’s upon me as somewhere great. I didn't buy it. "Arkansas isn’t even known for barbecue!" I said, likely with a smug look on my face, because I’m a jerk. But thankfully, I still went along for the ride to this crazy resort town out of some handsome 1950s catalog and ended up at this legendary spot, which has seen four generations of McClards and still does one off the best chopped BBQ beef dishes I’ve had thanks to a boost from that peppery, addictive sauce. -- KA

Flickr/JWalsh

Me's BBQ

Honolulu, HI

Southern barbecue this ain't. And for some people, putting a place with Korean-influenced ‘cue on the list might be sacrilegious, but the fact is that Hawaii has its own barbecue culture worth writing about, and Me’s is the most delicious on the island. We’ve said it before and we'll say it again: get the kalbi beef BBQ plate as quickly as you can, scarf it down, and get another. Breaking the rules can make you hungry. -- KA

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Owensboro, KY

Western Kentucky barbecue dances not with brisket or pork but, rather, with mutton, which is a meat you've almost definitely never thought about much less eaten unless you're from the region. The sheep meat gets just as deliciously juicy and tender as the more familiar 'cue, but also has that incredibly rich, deep flavor that you ARE familiar with from lamb, which is all to say, you should be planning your trip to this mutton capital of the country immediately. -- LC

Courtesy of SWLouis photography by Scott Louis

Pappy's

St. Louis, MO

One of the biggest barbecue misconceptions is the whole idea of the St. Louis style. St Louis-style ribs have to do with the cut of the rib (spare ribs cut in a rectangular shape) and not the cooking or saucing technique. So the fact that Pappy’s is doing Memphis-style barbecue (dry and wet rubs, slow-smoking the meats) in St Louis is not quite as bold a move as it might appear on its face. But doing it nearly as well as some of the best places in Memphis proper is damn bold. And yet Mike Emerson and Pappy’s pull it off with aplomb thanks to their dry-rubbed, apple and cherry wood-smoked ribs. Come with three friends and get the "Adam" Bomb -- which includes a full slab of ribs, brisket, a pork sandwich, chicken, sides, and a hot link Frito pie. Or just come by yourself, get a slab of ribs, and bring another one home. -- KA

Flickr/Elliot Pack

Payne's Bar-B-Que

Memphis, TN

Flora Payne’s cleaver rings out. You can hear it banging on the cutting board as she makes your order, because of course you are getting the chopped pork sandwich, which is one of the best things you can ever hope to eat in this country. It is neither the chewy pork itself, nor the spicy sauce, nor the famously yellow mustard slaw (essentially relish) but the combination of all three that makes it unbeatable, a sandwich Superman. And though I want to just go on and on about this, one of the most underrated things about Payne's is that its sausage sandwich would likely be the best thing on a hundred other BBQ spots' menus, and most people who go to Payne’s barely even know about it. So don’t be stupid: get both. -- KA

Robert Strickland

Pecan Lodge

Dallas, TX

When I was in elementary school outside of Dallas, my family used to eat BBQ on the weekends, heading out to various giant barn-shaped eateries all over the place. But nothing that I was eating in my Huffman Hawks soccer jersey in the '80s or '90s could prepare for me for what I had when I finally went back in 2012 and got to sample Pecan Lodge. At the time, the Fourtons were still operating out of the Dallas Farmers Market, but this was post-Texas Monthly BBQ editor Daniel Vaughn AND Guy Fieri praising them, so the lines were long. But when I finally got the brisket, I felt changed. It had the moisture and smokiness of the stuff I’d been eating in Central Texas but the spices were slightly different, and my palate wasn’t refined enough to get more specific than that (I’d later learn that it’s because they use a more complex rub that many people would consider East Texas). All I knew is that I wanted more of it. So much more. --KA

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

Shelby, NC

There’s a man named Warner Stamey, who is just about as famous in North Carolina barbecue circles as Louie Mueller in Texas. Stamey grew up in Lexington and learned the barbecue business in high school, then, after moving to Shelby, he started selling his own barbecue, and teaching others, including Wayne Monk (Lexington Barbecue) and Red Bridges, who used that knowledge to start this spot, and serve us fantastic chopped pork, which combined with BBQ slaw, is worth traveling long distances to eat. But since you've done the traveling, you might as well get Mama B’s pimento cheese too. You’ve earned it. -- KA

Brent Boyd

Saw's BBQ

Birmingham, AL

In 2009, when he put an offer on a BBQ restaurant that was about to close, Mike Wilson didn’t expect to leave his full-time gig behind the stoves at Cooking Light magazine. But the Carolina native and Alabama alum never returned after his planned two-week vacation, instead opening his 'cue joint, and also lending his childhood nickname -- short for Sorry Ass Wilson -- to two other spots, a food truck and a very good bottled sauce. The Homewood joint has Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches, a nod to Wilson’s home state and where he first started experimenting with smoking, and there’s an incredible version of juicy smoked chicken with his own version of Alabama white sauce. Saw’s also boasts a damn delicious rack of ribs, the kind that fall off the bone when you try to pick them up and have just the right amount of flavor from the green hickory that mingles with the slightly thick, just-spicy-enough sauce. -- LC

Scott's Bar-B-Que

Scott's Bar-B-Que

Hemingway, SC

In 2013, the Scotts’ cookhouse caught fire and burned down, and -- for a while -- the barbecue world was just sad. The Scotts had no insurance on it, and they weren’t sure how or if they could afford to start over. But considering Rodney Scott is a legend in the South and people can’t possibly fathom not eating his different variations of pork, his friends helped him put together a fundraising tour ("Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour") to raise money to rebuild, and now they’re back in the mix. You still need to get there Wed-Sat to get the chopped pork with just enough of the spicy vinegary sauce, and you need to pair that up with some pork skins -- I like mine right off the hog because it makes me feel like I’m some sort of hunter, and not a poser wearing a faux-old White Men Can’t Jump T-shirt. -- KA

Skylight Inn BBQ

Skylight Inn BBQ

Ayden, NC

If you are someone who drowns your barbecue in sauce, don’t come around to Sam Jones' place. The whole-hog barbecue served at Skylight in Eastern NC gets onto your plate after 14 hours smoking on the wood, and several minutes under the cleavers in the back, plus a touch of hot sauce and vinegar. You get it either on a bun topped with coleslaw, or as a platter with pan-fried cornbread and slaw. That's it. Simple. Perfect. And God help you if anyone sees you misusing those squeeze bottles of sauce on the tables. - KA

Flickr/Kent Wang

Snow's BBQ

Lexington, TX

The backstory of this Lexington, Texas barbecue joint is out of a barbecue movie (Editor’s Note: NO ONE STEAL THIS IDEA). An 80-year-old, 5ft-tall pitmaster named Tootsie, who works as a janitor during the week, gets pestered by a former rodeo clown to help cook barbecue on Saturdays for locals. Eight years ago, as Texas Monthly went to put out its BBQ issue, a reader tip caused them to check out this place called Snow’s with this tiny lady pitmaster, and they proclaimed it the best BBQ in Texas. It is now a must-stop on any barbecue tour, especially to get Tootsie’s brisket, which is moist and pure and beefy, but doesn’t have that crazy bark you see at a lot of the old legends. The last time I was there, a woman grabbed the sauce bottle from her son when he attempted to put some on the brisket. "We don’t do that here," she said. I’m pretty sure she meant "in Texas."  -- KA

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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's national writer-at-large and once wrote a poem about barbecue in third grade. It got a B. Follow his mediocre forays into the arts: @KAlexander03

Liz Childers is Thrillist's cities director and has a shelf in her fridge dedicated to her BBQ sauce collection. Ask about sending donations: @lizchilders1

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. 17th Street Barbecue 32 N 17th St, Murphysboro, IL 62966

Champion pitmaster Mike "The Legend" Mills runs 17th St, so you can expect some of the best damn 'cue you've ever tasted no matter what you order (but definitely try their famous ribs). Not looking for BBQ? 17th Street got a slew of other menu items including fettuccine alfredo, burgers and a fish dinner.

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2. Allen & Son Barbeque 6203 Millhouse Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Allen & (his) Son are serving old-school BBQ cooked to perfection over hickory hardwood coals. The wood is hauled in and split by hand with a steel wedge by Mr. Allen, himself— how’s that for from scratch? The homemade sauces are vinegar based with a touch of butter and are brought warmed to the table.

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3. B's Cracklin' BBQ 12409 White Bluff Rd, Savannah, GA 31419

Although a fire in 2015 halted business at this popular, family-owned and operated 'cue joint, B's Cracklin' BBQ rose from the ashes and successfully resumed serving the people of Southside. Be sure to try the pork sandwich, made with locally-sourced heritage hogs that've been slow-cooked over oak. Carolina style.

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4. Barbeque Exchange 102 Martinsburg Ave, Gordonsville, VA 22942

Located in Gordonsville, The BBQ Ex serves delicious hickory-smoked, slow-roasted meat that’s dry cured with secret ingredients. Chicken halves are grilled over coals and freshly baked cornbread, pumpkin muffins, baked rolls, salads and slaws are made daily. Dine in at cedar picnic tables—adorned with homemade sauces—or, if you’re short on time, take-out. The BBQ Ex’s rustic building with green roof is unmistakable and inviting.

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5. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que 1715 6th Avenue SE, Decatur, AL 35601

Bib Bob Gibson BBQ is Qlabama’s most legendary BBQ restaurant, dating back to 1925 when 6’4” railroad man Bob G. started selling home-cooked meals from a hand-dug pit in the backyard. His family-run business has been going strong for four generations, and recipe traditions carry through today. The inside of this joint is decked out with trophies from years of state wins and framed praises from the likes of NYT and WSJ. Try the ribs, meat-stuffed potatoes and brisket.

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6. Black's Barbecue 215 N Main St, Lockhart, TX 78644

Lockhart, Texas is the self-proclaimed "barbecue capital of Texas," and Black's Barbecue is one of the cornerstones of the city. It's been owned and operated by the same family for generations,serving up slow-smoked ribs, pork, and other meats since 1932.

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7. Central BBQ 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

Central's been ranked in the top three BBQ joints in Memphis since 2003, so you know they aren't messing around. The exceptional taste comes rubbing down all of their meats with a secret blend of spices (NOT sauces), marinating them for 24hrs, then slow-smoking all of their meats over hickory and pecan woods.

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8. Cozy Corner Restaurant 745 N. Parkway, Memphis, TN 38112 (Downtown)

The Cozy Corner is Downtown, but still a neighborhood restaurant away from the main entertainment district. The ribs are great, but the whole Cornish hens are a signature item there -- and there is no way to eat them except to get your hands dirty. Just be careful about requesting the spicy sauce unless you genuinely like it hot.

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9. Heirloom Market BBQ 2243 Akers Mill Rd, Atlanta, GA 30339 (Cobb)

From a duo originally repping TN and South Korea, Heirloom is a down-homey, natural-wood-surrounded 'cue house with Texas-sourced pecan, red oak, hickory & fruitwood ready to be tossed into two custom BBQ vaults where GA-farmed meats are slow-smoked. Get down with a variety of dinners & sandwiches (sliced brisket, stuffed turkey, baby back/St. Louis-style ribs...), sides like pork belly & Tabasco vinegar collards, grass-fed burgers, and smoked sausages including kielbasa, chaurice, and hot Italian.

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10. Hometown Bar-B-Que 454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

Pitmaster Billy Durney's Red Hook restaurant is smoking authentic regional barbecue like Texas-style brisket and St. Louis-style ribs. The menu is inspired by Durney's New York childhood spent eating eating at the international food carts along Flatbush Avenue, so options like lamb belly bánh mì and Vietnamese hot wings make the cut as well.

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11. Franklin Barbecue 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702

This lunch-only spot often sees long lines of customers waiting to order pulled pork, brisket and other smoked meats. Chef Aaron Franklin brought quality barbecue to Austin that was excellent enough to earn him the 2015 James Beard Award for "Best Chef: Southwest." His BBQ is so lauded that meat lovers from around the world regulalry make a pit stop at this shack-like locale in East Austin.

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12. Joe's Kansas City 3002 W 47th St, Kansas City, KS 66103

What was once confusingly named Oklahoma Joe’s has been rebranded with a more accurate name -- though, the name isn’t really what’s important here. What’s important is the life-changing slab of ribs you’re about to tear into after a tantalizing wait in line outside Joe’s gas station digs. Check to see when they’re serving up burnt ends (usually Monday and Saturday lunches along with Wednesday dinners).

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14. Killen's BBQ 3613 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581 (Pearland)

This Pearland brick-and-mortar barbecue joint, born from the success of Chef Ronnie Killen's immensely popular pop-up, delivers mouth-watering 'cue like slabs of smoked brisket, pulled pork, and homemade sausages. Killen has training at Le Cordon Bleu and does the BBQ classics in a way that exceeds Texas standards of size and taste. Try some of the more unexpected menu items, like brisket tamales or fried chicken.

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15. Kreuz Market 619 N Colorado St, Lockhart, TX 78644

Originally opened as a meat market around 1900, Kreuz's been smoking insanely delicious BBQ (some of the best in all of Texas) ever since. You won't get a fork or extra sauce in here. You'll eat with your hands and like it!! Out of all the barbecue joints in America, Kreuz Market is by far one of the best.

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16. La Barbecue: Cuisine Texicana 902 E Cesar Chavez in the Good Life Food Park, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

This is a no frills barbecue joint is known for their hand made sausage and mean slabs of meat. Behind La Barbecue's fire is veteran pitt boss (which is basically like the General of the BBQ world), John Lewis, who can also churn out whole briskets and racks of ribs to go if you're in a hurry. And did we mention the live music? Yes, every Saturday and Sunday, as it should be in the live music capital.

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17. LC's Barbeque 5800 Blue Pkwy, Kansas City, MO 64129

Mountains of ribs and brisket are complimented by the paper towel dispenser conveniently placed in the middle of the tables, and rightfully so at this mecca of Kansas City BBQ. We appreciate their non-sandwich sandwiches, where the white bread acts like plate for their delicious barbecue.

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18. Lem's BBQ House 311 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619 (South Chicago)

Lem's has racked up throngs of fans since it opened in 1954 thanks to its juicy BBQ ribs, which are served out of a retro roadside stand complete with a tall, neon-lit sign. This South Side institution still tops its meats -- from hot links and rib tips to chicken and shrimp -- with the original spicy BBQ sauce that late owner Myles Lemons created back in the 1940s. Prepare for large portions at small prices, and to take your order with you -- this tiny counter doesn't have seating.

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19. Lexington Barbecue 10 Old US Hwy 29-70 S, Lexington, NC 27295

Even though the I-85 has been relocated, Lexington Barbecue can still be found by the wafting scent of smoking pork shoulders. It's definitely worth the trip off the beaten path. Their barbecue pork sandwiches are out of this world, making them one of the best barbecue joints in America.

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20. Little Miss BBQ 4301 E University Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85034

With nods from Phoenix Magazine, Arizona Republic, and Phoenix New Times, it's no wonder that this Okemah Haven 'cue joint is one of the best in country. At Little Miss', the Central Texas-style BBQ is cooked up daily -- with Arizona oak and pecan on a giant smoker -- along with the from-scratch sides. Most impressive are the Lone Star-state inspired jalapeño cheddar grits and the pulled chopped sandwich.

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21. Lockhart Smokehouse 400 W Davis St, Dallas, TX 75208 (Oak Cliff)

This classic Texas smokehouse serves up juicy cuts of meat the old-school way. Walk up to the counter, make your pick, and watch your protein pulled straight off the smoker, wrapped in butcher paper, and placed into your anxious mitts. The brisket is done Central-Texas style and has a delicious peppery, spicy bark.

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22. Louie Mueller Barbecue 206 W 2nd St, Taylor, TX 76574

Smoking up meat for multiple generations, the folks behind Louie Mueller in Taylor do some of the best Texas-style BBQ in America, and are known for their awesome ribs, brisket, and sausage, which is stuffed on-site.

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23. McClard's BBQ 505 Albert Pike Rd, Hot Springs, AR 71913-3815

Four generations of the McClard family have been working the smoker since opening their BBQ joint in the '20s. One of the most popular dishes is the tamale spread, featuring tamales covered in Fritos, beans, chopped meat, onions, and cheese -- but the chicken and ribs are probably what keeps most people coming back. The recipes are all family originals and everything down to the sides is prepared on the premises. That's a lot to make, considering they serve 7,000lbs of meat and 250lbs of BBQ beans in any given week.

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24. Me's BBQ 151 Uluniu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

Large portions of Korean BBQ are served at this very casual, counter-serve eatery just minutes from the beautiful Waikiki Bay. Be sure your Styrofoam tray is loaded with kalbi beef BBQ or bibimbap, along with four sides (such as noodles, kimchi cucumbers, rice, or bean sprouts) before setting out to enjoy the waterfront.

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25. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn 2840 W Parrish Ave, Owensboro, KY 42301

Western Kentucky's barbecue game focuses not on brisket or pulled pork but, unexpectedly, mutton. This sheep meat can take on the juicy tenderness of regular barbecue but has a rich, deep flavor entirely its own. You can find this unique 'cue at Moonlite, a family tradition since 1963. Their meat is smoked in custom-built hickory fire pits and the restaurant serves regular lunch and dinner buffets.

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26. Pappy's Smokehouse 3106 Olive St, St Louis, MO 63103

You’ve all heard of it. And if you’ve been to St. Louis, you’ve probably waited in line to try it. The barbecue scene across Missouri -- namely in St. Louis and Kansas City -- is a force, and Pappy’s Smokehouse is a major player, selling around 6,000lbs of ribs per day. Go early, get the ribs, and be prepared for a wait. (And if you don’t go early, be prepared to wait an entire day, as they close when they run out of meat.) Pappy’s draws crowds from across the country, and will continue to do so with its Memphis-style, sauce-less meat (its juices alone will suffice), distinct fruit wood smoke, and hog-whispering tendencies.

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27. Payne's Bar-B-Q 1762 Lamar Ave, Memphis, TN 38114

Despite what its exterior may suggest, Payne's has some of the best BBQ in Memphis with its famous pork that's chopped, not pulled, then piled high with mustard slaw and spicy sauce. The sandwich has a perfect balance of moist meat and its crisp outside brown, creating a deliciously messy meal that the unassuming hamburger bun can barely contain.

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28. Pecan Lodge 1010 S Pearl Expy, Dallas, TX 75201 (Downtown)

"The best things in life are smoked in a pit and steeped in time-honored traditions," this outstanding Texan BBQ joint's website reads. Pecan Lodge boasts Mesquite BBQ rubs, Southern fried chicken, fried okra, and the best beans ya'll have ever had.

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29. Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28152

Since 1946, this Shelby mainstay has been cranking out incredible barbecue, which has been prepared in the same, timeless style since Red Bridges' (originally known as Dedmond's) inception: slow/pit-cooked and over hickory all night long. A variety of Southern sides accompany the 'cue, but we recommend Mama B' pimento cheese.

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30. Saw's BBQ 1008 Oxmoor Rd, Birmingham, AL 35209

Saw’s is a true hole-in-the-wall gem. While some restaurants rack up decor and advertising expenses, Saw instead focus on no-frills good food and the power of word-of-mouth. Don’t get us wrong: the signs and sports mementos that line the walls make the place homey and inviting, and the service is welcoming. This joint is a local and state favorite, and one bite of the smoked chicken or pulled pork and you’ll see why.

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31. Scott's Bar-B-Que 2734 Hemingway Hwy, Hemingway, SC 29554

This family-run BBQ joint builds their own wood-fired pits, where they cook whole hogs overnight. They've been around for over 30 years and have become a South Carolina institution. Top the juicy, tender meat with their house sauce, and be sure to get a side of crispy pork skins.

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32. Skylight Inn 4618 S Lee St, Ayden, NC 28513

In the BBQ capitol of the world, the Skylight Inn shines big and bright. They've got a whole-hog barbecue that spends 14 hours smoking on wood. It's then touched lightly with hot sauce and vinegar and served either on a bun with cole slaw or as a platter with some amazing pan-fried corn bread. Whatever you do, don't go overboard with the squeeze bottles of sauce. You'd be ruining culinary artwork.

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33. Snow's BBQ 516 Main St, Lexington, TX 78947

Snow’s BBQ is famous in Texas with owner and chef Tootsie Tomanetz, a living folk legend. Award-winning by many and voted #1 BBQ by Texas Monthly, Snow’s is a must-eat. BBQ for breakfast? Snow's BBQ is only open on Saturdays from 8am until there's-no-more-meat-left pm, so getting there early is the move. Try the brisket, mouthwatering soft and undeniably the best. If you’re anywhere in Texas - no the United States - it’s worth the drive.

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