Which U.S. cities are most likely to give you the meat sweats? To separate the good from the bad and the ugly our friends at LawnStarter ranked 2023’s Best BBQ Cities in America. They compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities based on five categories. Then looked at access to tasty barbecue vendors, consumer ratings, competition awards, and the number of barbecue festivals, among 20 total metrics.
Once again, three Missouri cities — Kansas City (No. 1), St. Louis (No. 2), and Springfield (No. 7) — finished in the top 10 of their ranking. They each claim the key ingredients of a BBQ city: champion pitmasters, award-winning meats, and satisfied customers. Other iconic BBQ regions — such as Tennessee cities Memphis (No. 4) and Nashville (No. 9) — fared better this year, thanks to more accolades or improved consumer satisfaction.
At the burnt end of their ranking, Paterson, New Jersey, and Yonkers, New York, tied for last place with an overall score of — zero. These cities lack tasty barbecue but are luckily close enough to New York City (No. 14) to fulfill their meaty needs.
Show-Me Some ’Cue
- Kansas City, Missouri (No. 1), smoked the competition in Hosting and Elite BBQ Memberships, with the most barbecue festivals and the most 180 Club and 700 Club members, followed by St. Louis (No. 2). KCMO is the self-proclaimed BBQ Capital of the World, with such popular grub that they boast the highest average number of reviews — over 623 — per BBQ vendor.
- St. Louis stands out with the 2nd-highest number of BBQ vendors per capita and the most National Barbecue & Grilling Association (NBBQA) members.
Heart of BBQ
- Kansas City, Missouri (No. 1), and Kansas City, Kansas (No. 3), each tied for most cooking teams that finished in the top 25% in recent open contests for the American Royal World Series of Barbecue. They also took 2nd and 3rd places, respectively, in the number of teams that landed in the top quarter of the Series’ invitational contests, after Minneapolis (No. 13).
- Other Kansas cities — Olathe (No. 17), Overland Park (No. 22), and Wichita (No. 47) — scored in the top 50 of our ranking, thanks to high Consumer Satisfaction.
Take a Bite of Texas
- Houston (No. 5) is Texas’ BBQ star, with the 2nd-largest number of top-rated BBQ vendors and the most cooking teams finishing in the top quarter of the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. Houston tied with San Antonio (No. 31) and New York (No. 14) for 2nd place in top-rated smokehouses. Meanwhile, Austin (No. 12) and Dallas (No. 36) claimed the 5th– and 6th-highest numbers of top-rated BBQ vendors, respectively.
- Waco (No. 20) and Lubbock (No. 21) impress with high Access. Both cities also host BBQ competitions sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS).
- Missouri and Kansas aren’t the only Midwestern regions with remarkable smoked meats. Although residents might not have many options to choose from, Chicago (No. 19) took 6th place in overall Consumer Satisfaction, and Joliet, Illinois (No. 166), boasts the highest average consumer rating for BBQ vendors.
- Superb pitmasters also can be found in the Beef State. Omaha, Nebraska (No. 8), is home to five 180 Club Members and a KCBS-sanctioned competition, while Lincoln, Nebraska (No. 48), claims the most cooking teams awarded by the NBBQA over the past 5 years.
- North Carolina is known for its distinct BBQ style, but some Tar Heel cities fell behind in both barbecue Access and pitmasters with Elite Memberships. Out of all the North Carolina cities in their ranking, Fayetteville (No. 69) enjoys the best Access to BBQ. Raleigh (No. 25) is home to pitmasters that have been recognized by the NBBQA, American Royal World Series of Barbecue, and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC).
- Coals burn hot in the South, where many cities grill up impressive barbecue Access. Orlando (No. 6) offers the most barbecue vendors and smokehouses per 100,000 residents. Tennessee cities Memphis (No. 4), Nashville (No. 9), Knoxville (No. 16), and Chattanooga (No. 28) are among the top 16 cities for BBQ vendor access, alongside Atlanta (No. 23) and Richmond, Virginia (No. 10).
- Large cities tend to attract cuisine from around the world — BBQ is no exception. Los Angeles (No. 11), New York (No. 14), and Las Vegas (No. 15) landed near the top with high Consumer Satisfaction. LA cooks up the most top-rated BBQ vendors and smokehouses, while New York (No. 14) has the 2nd-largest number of top-rated smokehouses.
- On the flip side, meat lovers in smaller suburban areas — such as Miramar, Florida (No. 197), and California cities Ontario (No. 196) and Lancaster (No. 198) — are most likely to be disappointed by the lack of mouthwatering brisket and burnt ends.