Now that summer is here, warmer weather means smoked meats and happy eats. And while your local BBQ restaurants might be right around the corner, the best nationwide fare is just a week or weekend trip away. To help you decide where to go, we’ve compiled the top five finger-lickin’ best cities in the U.S. for BBQ. Here are this summer’s top BBQ destinations:
1. Austin, TX
It’s hard to plan a trip to Austin without thinking about BBQ – and in Austin, smoked meats and sultry sauces are synonymous with Franklin Barbeque. Franklin is famous for its juicy BBQ’d meats and a long line known to be packed out the door as early as 6 a.m. But as anyone in line will tell you, it’s worth the wait.
While Franklin may steal the headlines, you can save a few hours by heading to one of Austin’s other iconic barbeque joints like La Barbeque, which serves juicy brisket and house-made chipotle sausage, or LeRoy & Lewis, whose fatty pork belly and honey-mashed sweet potatoes are a must-taste. Once you’ve filled up your plate and chowed down, check out C-Boy’s Heart & Soul for some live blues, soul, and country music or The Continental Club with a history of showcasing some of the top names in music for over 60 years. Then head downtown to South Congress Bridge to watch the sunset and witness the largest urban colony of bats (1.5 million) emerge from under the bridge. For nightlife, wander down to Dirty Sixth for one-of-a-kind bars like Midnight Cowboy and Casino El Camino.
Nestled along the Mississippi River, St. Louis is known for its 630-foot Gateway Arch, the start of the early 19th century explorations of Lewis and Clark, blues music, and, of course, it’s hard to beat, destination-worthy take on BBQ. For a taste of modern St. Louis ‘cue, head to A Fine Swine, where Pitmaster David Stidham has been creating a buzz and lining a trophy shelf with awards for years. Their Championship Pulled Pork and Competition Ribs will make your mouth water before you eat.
For a taste of traditional St. Louis, try Pappy’s Smokehouse for simmering, slow-cooked ribs that have become a staple for locals and travelers alike. To view the sights, you can hop on a riverboat to see the world-famous arch from a unique angle or wander through the Missouri Botanical Garden, which has been open for over 150 years. For beers and cocktails, head downtown and check out The Crack Fox for a colorful atmosphere or Tin Roof, coined “Margaritaville meets Cheers” by its general manager.
3. Atlanta, GA
Atlanta’s sizzling BBQ scene has been around from the beginning, pulling together different traditions and techniques to help define what melt-in-your-mouth BBQ really means. It’s hard to go wrong, but for a truly exceptional BBQ experience, order the brisket and the “Redneck Lasagna” (a generous serving of macaroni and cheese topped with a homemade Brunswick stew) from Dave Poe’s BBQ. Over the past few decades, Atlanta’s BBQ has integrated diversity into its cuisine by adding new flavors to old classics. Visit Heirloom Market BBQ to try inspired ‘cue, which brings together the Korean and Texan backgrounds of husband-and-wife owners Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor. For the perfect spicy blend, try their gochujang-rubbed ribs paired with seasonal sides.
After, check out the Georgia Aquarium, home to over 120,000 marine animals, or take a tour in the World of Coca-Cola Museum to see where one of America’s favorite beverages began. If you’re looking for some after-dinner drinks, try the Red Phone Booth for an Atlanta Prohibition experience or the Skylounge for a spectacular view of the downtown skyline.
4. Raleigh, NC
North Carolina’s capital city is an ideal summer getaway, with live music, artisan craft beers, bumping bluegrass festivals, and passionate minds hard at work in and around North Carolina State University, which rounds out North Carolina’s research triangle. Raleigh is colloquially known as the heart of barbecue country, with slow-cooked pulled pork as good smothered in sauce as it is plain out of the oven.
Allen & Son cooks up pork traditionally, over seasoned hickory and oak, and serves it with a generous side of hushpuppies, which are worth the trip alone. Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque has been around since 1938, exclusively cooking up BBQ with wood and slathering it in their homemade sauce. Or track down Daddy Bob’s Barbeque, a food truck on the move that slow-smokes its pork shoulders with hickory, apple, and pecan for 12 hours. To see a different side of the city, visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which carries over 25 regional exhibits, or try to walk off the food coma with a scenic stroll through the campus of North Carolina State University. For nightlife, try the C. Grace speakeasy or FOUNDATION for the best local spins on classic cocktails and craft brews.
The Big Apple offers so much in the areas of culture and cuisine, and its BBQ is no exception. Beginning in the 90s and hitting its stride over the past two decades, New York City now offers both traditional BBQ classics and innovative takes that push the boundaries of what it means to eat slow-cooked, sauce-covered meat. Virgil’s, which opened in 1994, helped lead the charge and continues to deliver delicious house-smoked classics like Carolina pulled chicken and Texas BBQ beef brisket. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, known for its char-grilled chicken wings, and Mighty Quinn’s, famous for its authentic smoky flavor, both followed Virgil’s and helped earn New York City a place in the national BBQ conversation. For a modern, edgier take on BBQ, try Fette Sau (literally translating to “fat pig” in German), which serves up chili and espresso rubbed meats by the pound, or Ducks Eatery, which offers a whole curry-seasoned goat neck and a fatty brisket sandwich with a mountain of ricotta cheese on top.
After you eat, you can see some scenic views of this iconic city from the Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building, and the One World Observatory. NYC is full of nightlife, but bars like Please Don’t Tell and McSorley’s Old Ale House will give you some street cred and a story to take home with you.
Wherever you decide to go, make sure your trip is an experience you won’t forget. VacationRenter can help you book a stay and plan the best trip possible.