BBQ is a time-honored American tradition, whether abbreviated, hyphenated (Bar-B-Cue), or spelled out (barbecue) — isn’t the English language grand! The way the meat is prepared and cooked from one area to the next is just as diverse as its spellings, perhaps more so.

These BBQ “regions” are all great in their own way: Memphis is known for pork ribs cooked low and slow with either a dry rub or a nice sauce; Kansas City sweetens the deal with a heavy dose of brown sugar in their rubs and sauces; Texans let the natural flavors do the talking, serving meat smoked only, no sauce.

This list of our readers’ favorite BBQ joints will hopefully provide inspiration for your next meal, and maybe even a trip or two to one of these fine BBQ cities. Grab some napkins because your mouth is about to begin watering!

Courtesy of Cackle & Oink BBQ

1. Cackle & Oink BBQ (Winner)

Sherman, Texas

You will find Cackle & Oink BBQ in Sherman, Texas, just over an hour northeast of Dallas. As their website proudly states, Cackle & Oink is “Cookin’ Butt & Takin’ Names!” Our readers sure have their name, voting them this year’s Best Of Travel winner for Favorite BBQ Restaurant in the U.S.

Their meats are seasoned with both dry rubs as well as marinades that are made in house. Aaron, the resident “Pitmaster,” studied techniques of other fine BBQ masters from all of the top BBQ regions. His unique blend of styles crafts a truly distinct flavor combination for his diners. The baby back ribs are award winning, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of their fine selections. Add some jalapeño cornbread to your order and you will be glad you did.

What To Order:

  • House Specialty Baby Back Ribs
  • Jalapeño Cornbread
City of New Braunfels, Texas (Photo Credit: Regan Bender /

2. Black’s Barbecue

New Braunfels, Texas

Black’s Barbecue is family owned and first opened in Lockhart, Texas, in 1932. They have expanded to three additional locations around the region: Austin, San Marcos, and — notably for this list — New Braunfels. All three outposts are within 45 minutes of the original.

Black’s meats are coated in a gluten-free rub and wood-smoked to perfection. While most seasonings are naturally gluten-free, pre-packaged “rubs” have the potential to include fillers that may not be. Choose between brisket, spare ribs, turkey, and chicken with any of their amazing sides, including Norma Jean’s Pinto Beans and creamed corn.

What To Order:

  • Giant Beef Ribs — one pound per rib!
  • Homemade Sausage — hand-stuffed and slow smoked

Editor’s Note: While the rub used is gluten-free, their homemade sausage does contain gluten and should be avoided by anyone with an allergy or intolerance.

The Z-Man sandwich from Joe's in Kansas City.
Z-Man Sandwich from Joe’s (Photo Credit: Sage Scott)

3. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

Kansas City, Kansas

From the competition circuit to their first brick-and-mortar location attached to a local gas station, Joe’s Kansas City was as slow-cooked as their delicious meats. Owners Jeff and Joy Stehney did not want to rush into anything, and their patience and perseverance have paid off big time.

You have to try their specialty: burnt ends. These tasty bite-size treats come from the thinner ends of the brisket that are removed prior to slicing it for sandwiches because the thinner “ends” of the brisket simply cook faster than the rest of the meat, “burning” them. Brisket lovers soon learned just how scrumptious these “leftovers” were on their own, producing a strong demand. Then Joe’s perfected the process, creating their signature dish — get them before they run out! Or try their brisket sandwich, dubbed the Z-Man, which is topped with provolone and onion rings.

What To Order:

  • Burnt Ends — while they last!
  • The Z-Man Sandwich
Slicing brisket
Slicing brisket at Franklin Barbecue (Photo Credit: Wyatt McSpadden)

4. Franklin Barbecue

Austin, Texas

Franklin Barbecue has become a staple in the Austin community. With humble beginnings selling brisket out of a roadside trailer in 2009, the husband-wife team perfected their trade, with Aaron (the husband) eventually earning the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef. Both President Obama and the late Anthony Bourdain — as well as the steady lines outside — have shown that this lunch-time eatery is a must visit.

The beef brisket is by far Aaron’s specialty, so be sure to order a heaping helping to share. But make room for their pulled pork, ribs, and jalapeño cheddar sausage as well. Rinse it all down with a local brew and follow it up with some bourbon banana pie. Just drop in early because once they are out for the day, they are out!

What To Order:

  • Brisket
  • Jalapeño Cheddar Sausage
  • Bourbon Banana Pie

Pro Tip: Learn from the master Aaron Franklin himself as he leads a MasterClass on how to make his mouth-watering brisket in your own home.

5. The Bar-B-Q Shop

Memphis, Tennessee

Are you ready for a new spin on an old favorite? Well, make room for Bar-B-Q spaghetti! This specialty side originated in Memphis at The Bar-B-Q Shop and tastes great alongside any menu item. Enjoy their meats as a sandwich, a plate, or over a salad. Or enjoy some finger-licking good ribs by the slab.

If you enjoy the flavor of their meat, be sure to purchase their signature Dancing Pigs rub and sauces to enjoy at home. Their sauce comes in original and hot varieties, which can be bought separately, in a gift pack with their rub, or by the case. Bon appétit!

What To Order:

  • Side Of Bar-B-Q Spaghetti
  • Bar-B-Q Pork Sandwich On Texas Toast
Ribs with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob from Pappy's in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: SW Louis

6. Pappy’s Smokehouse (Tie)

St. Louis, Missouri

The original Pappy’s Smokehouse is located in St. Louis’s Midtown theatre district. Before a show, stroll down the street to their flagship location on Olive Street. The Pappy’s family has expanded to one additional location, as well as five sister restaurants around the city, and even one in Nuremberg, Germany!

They became famous for their Memphis-style BBQ, earning recognition for their famous dry-rubbed ribs, smoked low and slow for up to 24 hours. Choose between a sandwich or a platter, each with your choice of two great sides.

What To Order:

  • Dry-Rubbed Ribs
  • Sweet Potato Fries

Pro Tip: If it is getting later in the day, make sure to call ahead to ensure they have not sold out, as this does happen regularly.

Slab of seasoned ribs.
Photo Courtesy of the Rendezvous

6. Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (Tie)

Memphis, Tennessee

From a basement bar in a downtown alley serving beer and sandwiches to the go-to destination for Memphis-style ribs, Rendezvous is a Memphis landmark. You can still order a ham sandwich and a beer like early patrons to Charlie Vergos’ basement retreat did in days gone by, but the clear winner here is the pork ribs. Seasoned with a blend of greek and Cajun flavors, the recipe today is the same as the original. Stop in during your next trip to Memphis.

What To Order:

  • Charbroiled Pork Ribs
  • Barbecue Pork Nachos

8. The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

If it wasn’t for those folks out there who keep every piece of scrap wood they come across — and hold onto every spare nail or screw that “still has potential” — The Shed may never have been born. The original structure, built by Brad Orrison out of the junk he re-claimed from dumpsters in his college days, has been added onto over the years. It now seats nearly 600 guests between its large indoor and outdoor spaces. Head over to the stage for some live music as you enjoy a delicious meal.

Where the bayou meets the BBQ; enjoy a unique blend of BBQ staples with sides fit for coastal Mississippi, including hush puppies and fried okra. Enjoy the savory baby back ribs, and wash it all down with a refreshingly cold beer from G-Maw’s beer bar. Follow it up with a slice of peanut butter pie, and sit back and let the music take you away.

What To Order:

  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Fried Okra And Hushpuppies
Sliced brisket.
Photo Courtesy of 4 Rivers Smokehouse

9. 4 Rivers Smokehouse

Orlando, Florida

With locations scattered around the state of Florida from Miami to Tallahassee, 4 Rivers has a strong following in the Sunshine State. There are five locations in and around the Orlando area, including their flagship spot in Winter Park. Enjoy everything from BBQ classics like brisket and burnt ends to specialty sandwiches and creative fusions such as the BBQ quesadilla and the BBQ street tacos. Their menu is expansive, so give it a look.

What To Order:

  • Signature Angus Brisket
  • BBQ Quesadilla
  • Crispy Cream Bread Pudding

Pro Tip: Vegans can also enjoy some BBQ with 4 Rivers’ vegan burnt ends that are made from a plant alternative and full of the same slow-smoked flavor.

BBQ pork on top of coleslaw with a side of sweet potato fries.
Amy Whidby, Creative Director – A. Marshall Hospitality

10. Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant

Franklin, Tennessee

If your mouth hasn’t started watering yet, it is about to. Puckett’s traditional BBQ is enough to tantalize anyone’s taste buds. But have you tried pulled pork covered in macaroni and cheese and biscuit crumbles? If not, make your way to Puckett’s and order a Piggy Mac today. Or try a slice of their smoked meatloaf, blending the fine flavors of Memphis BBQ with true Southern-style comfort food.

What To Order:

  • Memphis Style Pulled Pork
  • Piggy Mac
  • Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding

Editor’s Note: Be on the lookout for what is affectionately known as “Ms. Trolley Parton.” This trolley car turned food truck can be found at area festivals and is rentable for private parties.