Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que (address and info)
The Q: Z Man sandwich
A barbecue joint by any other name smells just as sweet, a maxim proven by Joe's Kansas City. Formerly Oklahoma Joe's, they recently changed the name and absolutely nothing else. Same old gas station location, same dedication to consistency that is basically science at this point. The house specialty is the pulled pork, which comes from huge 8lb shoulders that've been smoked for 17 hours, but it's hard not to order one of the most iconic sandwiches in the country: the Z Man, a pile of brisket, provolone, and onion rings on a kaiser roll that's named after an old-school radio jock
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn (address and info)
The Q: Chopped mutton plate
The whole idea behind barbecue is pretty simple: cheap, tough cuts of meat become tender and delicious after hours of slow-cooking. So maybe it makes sense that only one region ever bothered to take lamb, a rich, flavor-laden meat, and throw it in the smoker. Moonlite is the epicenter of this Western Kentucky tradition, throwing lamb into the hickory pits behind the Owensboro location. The move here is, obviously, the mutton, served sliced or chopped. But save room for burgoo, the spicy veggie and smoked meat stew that the region also made famous.
The Joint (address and info)
The Q: Ribs
For all its lauded food scene, New Orleans and, for that matter, Louisiana, isn’t exactly a hotbed of barbecue activity. In 2004, The Joint set up in NOLA’s Bywater and started to change that. The main move here is pork ribs, which are coated in a Cajun rub that gives them a spicy, blackened effect -- it’s different and delicious. But you cannot leave without trying the chaurice, Cajun-style fresh sausage that’s smoked and served on a sandwich. Oh, also, there’s peanut butter pie. You should get it.
Salvage BBQ (address and info)
The Q: Meat Coma
Barbecue being anything but new, we’re normally wary of the newer BBQ spots, especially in the upper reaches of New England. But Salvage (from the folks behind Local 188 and Sonny’s) is all the right types of new, and it's clear that Chef Jay Villani did his homework -- custom building a smoker (burning Maine red oak) from an old propane tank, and setting it up in the quick-service style. Now open for two years, it’s best if you go up and order the Meat Coma (Meat Fatality, another actual dish, is just too much): 1/4 rack of ribs, 1/3lb of brisket, chopped pork, and a cup of chili to wash it down. Oh, and if that doesn’t do it for you, get one of their house-ground hot sausages, find a comforting corner, and take a nap.
Andy Nelson's BBQ (address and info)
The Q: Pulled pork sandwich
Before the Ravens, the Colts were Baltimore's favorite/only football team. More than 30 years ago, Alabama-born Andy Nelson played for that team, retired, and then started making BBQ for the Cockeysville neighborhoods before setting out on his own and opening a 'cue shack in a former gas station. Nowadays, Marylanders line up during their lunch hour to pour their house-made Bama Sauce over pulled pork sandwiches, alongside super-popular sides like slaw and beans. There's even more of a reason to visit in the Summertime -- about twice a month when it gets nice out, bands play concerts in the garage area where the fueling station used to be, and large amounts of people listen whilst drinking beers and consuming enormous quantities of 'cue.
Pit Stop Barbecue (address and info)
The Q: Beef brisket and pork ribs combo
It’s been around in Morton Village for a long time, but when the Debnams bought it eight years ago, the quality took a leap up, vaulting this long-time favorite ahead of other perennials like Soulfire, Blackstrap, Redbones, and Sweet Cheeks. You’re not going to get a seat in the tiny spot, so just be ready to order up the beef brisket and the pork ribs as a combo, and two servings of banana pudding, and eat in your car selfishly, because, after waiting in that line, you won’t want to give any of it up.
Union Woodshop (address and info)
The Q: Burnt ends in Memphis sauce on Texas toast
Plenty of people might give Slows the nod for Michigan, but the truth is that they're better known for their chicken and mac & cheese. And while the guys at Detroit BBQ Co. are trying their damndest to pump out Franklin-style quality and technique, when we polled local pitmasters, they spoke loud and clear for Union Woodshop. Halfway between Flint and Detroit, the Clarkston-based Q spot was actually first envisioned as a wood-fired pizza spot before they realized that where there's smoke, there should be meat. You can't go wrong with any of their meats, but it's a starter that's a surprise stand-out, a heap of burnt ends tossed in Memphis sauce that might have traditionalists screaming blasphemy, but slices of Texas toast pay attrition for any regional mismatching.
Big Daddy’s Old Fashioned Barbeque (address and info)
The Q: Beef short ribs
Gene Sampson, Ron Whyte, and Bob Edmond -- the pitmasters behind Big Daddy’s -- may not have grown up in Minnesota (Kentucky and Georgia), but that is Minnesota’s gain, thanks to the quality of ‘que they bring to the state. Their “traditional smokehouse barbecuing” uses hickory wood, which you can really taste in the beef and pork ribs. If you want to be hilarious, try and handle a couple of their amazingly tender but gigantic Flintstone beef short ribs, or be classy about it and get it in sandwich form. Also, don’t miss their famous rib tips, which come by the “dinghy, boatload, or shipload.”
The Shed (address and info)
The Q: Baby back ribs, whole hog if you happen to be at a barbecue competition
You might've seen the Orissons on a short-lived Food Network reality show, heard about their various accolades (BBQ person and inventions of the year), or read about their heart-warming competition triumphs, but despite their national appeal, the proof is in that Mississippi pudding. Their original Ocean Springs location was built out of ramshackle junkyard "treasures," and after a devastating fire, still retains the same charm. Pecan wood and live blues tunes set the smells and sounds, and the full baby back rib racks are cooked to perfect tenderness, without the falling-off-the-bone mushiness that lesser pitmasters use as a crutch.