THE WHOLE HOG
The Best Barbecue Joints in America
From Carolina to California, every state has at least one place that stakes a claim to having "the best BBQ in the world." Here are 16 that can actually look you in the eye when they say it.
DeValls Bluff: Craig's Barbecue
DeValls Bluff is barely a dot on the map, but it happens to have some of the meanest Memphis-style barbecue around. Craig's Barbecue, in an unassuming white stand-alone building, has been serving its pork, ribs, and smoked chicken since the '40s. The local favorite: a sandwich with pulled pork dressed in a mild, medium, or hot red sauce and then topped with coleslaw. For dessert, those in the know head across the street to the Family Pie Shop (locals call it Miss Mary's), a stucco shack with some seriously delicious coconut and chocolate pie. Hwy. 70, 870/998-2616, sandwiches from $3.50.
Pacifica: Gorilla Barbeque
Lamenting the lack of decent BBQ options in the Bay Area, local pals Jeff Greathouse and Rich Bacchi took matters into their own hands. In 2006, they bought a bright-orange train car and outfitted it with a small counter and a giant smoker to open this boxcar shop, 15 miles down the coast from San Francisco. With just a few seats inside, there's always a cadre of locals parked in their cars chowing down on spicy dry-rub pork ribs, pulled pork, and the Philly cheese steak sandwich made with BBQ beef brisket. Gorilla Barbecue seems to do everything well, which explains why regulars often opt for the three-meat combo—a plate of beef, pork, and chicken, (the vinegary BBQ sauce, meant for dipping, is served in a separate container) with beans, rice, and cornbread—at $20, it easily serves two. 2145 Coast Hwy., 650/359-7427, dinner plates from $11.25.
Chicago: Fat Willy's Rib Shack
This homey spot in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood pays no heed to barbecue's regional rules and traditions: Texas-style beef brisket is topped with caramelized onions and a horseradish sauce, Carolina pulled pork is served on a (gasp) baguette, and there's even a smoked portobello mushroom. Baby back rib dinners come loaded with coleslaw, garlicky grilled Texas toast, and a choice of hearty sides like baked beans and collard greens. The 8-year-old restaurant has quickly established its fare as some of the best big-city BBQ around, though it's a bit of a splurge, with sandwiches priced from $12. 2416 W. Schubert Ave., 773/782-1800, rib dinners from $14.
Owensboro: Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
The massive buffet table at this roadside eatery takes up nearly an entire room. The centerpiece is western Kentucky's signature dish: hunks of mutton slow-cooked over a hickory-log fire and topped at the table with a tangy, tomato-based sauce. Buffet plates are rounded out with vegetables of the delicious and decidedly non-healthy sort—hearty helpings of creamed corn, buttery mashed potatoes, and cheesy broccoli casserole. The restaurant plays host to the International Bar-B-Q Festival every second weekend in May. It's most likely the world's largest mutton feast; some 20,000 pounds of it is slow-cooked there each year. 2840 W. Parrish Ave., 270/684-8143, buffet from $10.
New Orleans: The Joint
A year before Hurricane Katrina hit, husband-and-wife owners Pete and Jenny Breen outfitted an abandoned building in New Orleans's Bywater neighborhood with wooden benches and a giant black smoker. After the storm, the duo reopened right away, trucking in meat to cook free meals for neighbors. Today, they're still pleasing locals with spicy, Cajun-style sausages and rapidly gaining a reputation as one of America's best stops for BBQ pork ribs, rubbed in spice and smoked for hours until they gain a crisp, caramelized coating and fall-off-the-bone texture. End the meal with a traditional Southern specialty, extra-creamy peanut butter pie. 801 Poland Ave., 504/949-3232, ribs plate $10.
Detroit: Slows Bar B Q
Motor City is perhaps not the first place you'd expect to find this trendy new spot, which gives classic barbecue technique a modern foodie twist. The restaurant slow-cooks beef brisket and pork butt from Niman Ranch and tops its sandwiches with surprising extras like onion marmalade, smoked Gouda, and Applewood bacon. The eatery, set in a once-dilapidated 1880s building rehabbed in 2005 with brick walls, swanky booths, and an open, three-sided bar, has helped revitalize the Corktown neighborhood and draws more of a hipster crowd than your typical smokehouse. Traditionalists will be appeased by classics like St. Louis–style dry-rub spare ribs. 2138 Michigan Ave., 313/962-9828, sandwiches $8.
Clarksdale: Abe's Bar-B-Q
Lebanese immigrant Abraham Davis opened this roadside BBQ shack in the heart of Deep South blues country in 1924. Word caught on, and more than 80 years later, crowds come from all over the country to sample Abe's legendary pecan-smoked pork (now cooked up by his son, Pat Davis). The meat is piled high on a double-decker "Big Abe" sandwich, or stuffed inside cornmeal and boiled in corn husks as part of a traditional Mississippi hot tamale. 616 State St., 662/624-9947, "Big Abe" pork sandwich $5.25.