There are cities that cook barbecue, and there are barbecue cities. The difference is the latter will make you produce “meat sweat” after eating a ridiculous amount of ’cue. So, which are the Best BBQ Cities in America?
To separate the prime from the rest of the barbecue scenes, our friends at LawnStarter ranked the 200 best U.S. cities based on 18 hallmarks of a true ’cue hub.
What are the key ingredients of the best BBQ city? Award-winning barbecue restaurants, experience hosting a “master-level” competition, multiple barbecue festivals, and high ratings, among others.
See which barbecue cities smoked the competition in our rankings, followed by some highlights, lowlights, and insights.
Once you have learned all about barbecue, you can really light up your grill or smoker this fall.
Highlights and Lowlights
Show-Me Some BBQ
This year, the Mother of the West is also the mother of BBQ: Missouri cities filled out three of the top five spots in our ranking. St. Louis brings home the gold, seizing first place overall thanks to superb ’cue (No. 6 in both Quality and Accolades) and plenty of spots to grab a bite (No. 2 in Access).
Last year’s ’Cue Capital, Kansas City (No. 2), and Springfield (No. 4) follow closely behind, with a boost from hosting acclaimed barbecue contests in recent years. All three cities are home to award-winning barbecue, but Kansas City style smokes the competition with its impressive number of Accolades (No. 1).
Unsurprisingly, other parts of the KC metro area fared well: Overland Park (No. 6) and Kansas City, Kansas (No. 7). Each ranked high in Accolades, and Overland Park impressed with Quality (No. 3) BBQ establishments.
A Southern Staple
Barbecue is more than food in the South — it’s an aspect of regional identity. Some Southern cities are known for their BBQ scenes, but this year some unexpected cities topped America’s traditional smokehouse meccas.
Orlando, Florida (No. 5), Chattanooga, Tennessee (No. 9), and Little Rock, Arkansas (No. 11), sizzled their way to the top, beating regions with well-known BBQ styles like Memphis (No. 61) and the Carolinas.
Easier access to barbeque restaurants is a big reason why the non-iconic cities seared the competition. Extra points went to Little Rock for previously hosting big competitions and serving high-quality meats.
Take a Bite of Texas
The Lone Star State is known for having distinct regional BBQ styles, but which Texas cities will leave you feeling full as a tick?
Austin (No. 8) smoked its way to our top 10 thanks to stellar access to BBQ spots, as did Houston (No. 10) for securing one of the highest numbers of BBQ awards. Further down the list, Lubbock (No. 21) fell behind in Quality (No. 125) but earned extra points for previously Hosting (No. 2) barbecue competitions.
While Dallas (No. 75) BBQ has won several awards, steer clear of suburbs Grand Prairie (No. 177), Irving (No. 173), and Frisco (No. 172). These cities landed on the burned side of our ranking, lacking access to the quality ’cue that Texans love.
Dry Meat in the Desert
Pitmasters are a rare sight once you go west of Texas. The Southwest, particularly Southern California, Nevada, and some Arizona cities, got scorched in our ranking. Las Vegas suburbs and California cities Ontario and Sunnyvale tied for last place alongside Paterson, New Jersey.
Each of these cities fared poorly across the board, failing to curb residents’ meaty cravings. Barbecue lovers in California and Nevada might need to resort to mailing it in.
After seeing if your hometown made the list of Best BBQ Cities in America be sure to check out some of the restaurants that led to that ranking and tell them you read it here.