We're kicking off a 37-day road trip around this great BBQ Nation to find some of the best barbecue the U.S. has to offer. But before we do, we checked in with our local editors around the country who revealed their picks for some of the hottest 'cue joints in 15 major cities. Put these spots in your back pocket during your summer travels and stay tuned to our social channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for daily livestreams from around the country.
Have a favorite 'cue joint of your own? Instagram it with hashtag #ZagatBBQNation and at the end of our trip we'll declare a People's Choice winner.
Austin: LeRoy & Lewis
Each day brings a new menu at Evan LeRoy's new trailer, where the former pitmaster from Freedmen's slings "new school barbecue" created using proteins from local ranches and sides dictated by the season's finest produce. Recent specials have included 44 Farms barbacoa, Strube Ranch Mishima Wagyu brisket and a beef cheek sandwich topped with spicy kimchi and beet barbecue sauce on a housemade brioche bun. In addition to spins on classics like heirloom potato salad and tarragon slaw, you'll also see fun sides like kimchi deviled eggs with chile crisps and a refreshing watermelon-fennel salad. And be sure to save room for the farm-inspired dessert: This week it's blueberry bread pudding with basil ice cream.
101-121 Pickle Rd.; 512-775-3392
Asheville: Buxton Hall Barbecue
In Eastern North Carolina, good barbecue is as prominent as good beer, and Buxton Hall Barbecue stands proud as one of the best in the Asheville region. Housed in a sprawling industrial space resembling a glorified, contemporary cafeteria, the restaurant, helmed by chef Elliott Moss (pictured) goes above and beyond the call of ‘cue duty by baking a bevy of desserts, shaking up boozy slushies, making its own “Mountain Dew” and of course, cooking whole-hog barbecue along with other Southern fixtures. Locally sourced pigs cook low and slow over wood, resulting in rich, flavorful and tender pulled pork. Barbecue chicken and buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches with pimento cheese and white BBQ sauce are other menu musts, along with a slice or two of pie.
32 Banks Ave.; 828-232-7216
Atlanta: B's Cracklin' BBQ
No longer just the purview of its rustic suburbs, Georgia's capital city has seen an explosion in its intown barbecue joints recently. One of the best and most talked about newcomers comes courtesy Bryan Furman, pitmaster of this new Riverside spot. Furman's first location is five hours away in Savannah, and opened in 2014, but he recently relocated to the A to open this smokehouse, bringing the city his commendable focus on heritage breeds of hog — and the tasty applications thereof. The South Carolina native has a chalkboard in his restaurant displaying the origins of the day's pork. Other nods to regionalism include mustard- and vinegar-based barbecue sauces both made with peaches, and cornbread hoecakes cooked on a griddle rather than baked in an oven.
2061 Main St. NW; 678-949-9912
Boston: The Smoke Shop
Opened in Central Square last summer, this is the latest project from chef Andy Husbands (Tremont 647), a "Hell's Kitchen" alum who has written a couple of barbecue cookbooks, including his just-released tome Pitmaster. Husbands also tours the country with IQue, his competitive barbecue team that was the first group from New England to win the Jack Daniels World BBQ Championship. Find out why by opting for a slab of "1st Place Ribs" — though you won't go wrong with any of our other favorites, like the burnt ends, hot links sandwich with pimento cheese and internationally inflected fried chicken imbued with Thai spices and fermented pepper mayo.
1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge; 617-577-7427
Charleston: Rodney Scott's Bar-B-Que
"There's just, to me, no other way to bring people in quicker" says this pitmaster of his new restaurant's namesake, and he should know — that's just what his 'cue has been doing for years. This hot newcomer's been a longtime coming, as Scott's barbecue knowledge grew out of the cooking done at his family's convenience store in tiny Hemingway, SC. It became so well known that the New York Times profiled the pork back in 2009, and Scott finally set up his own shop in the coastal charmer earlier this year. Southern fried catfish and smoked BBQ chicken are standouts, but the pork's the real draw — sauced, slathered, smoked and pulled, served over grits or in sandwiches. Charlestonians don't have to drive an hour anymore to get the 'cue, but now they might have to stand in line for the fast favorite.
1011 King St.; 843-990-9535
Chicago: Southern Cut
The folks behind Chicago Cut and Ocean Cut have expanded their empire once again, this time with barbecue-based, Southern Cut (note the pattern here). Acclaimed barbecue expert Lee Ann Whippen is helming the smokers and it’s hard to go wrong with any of her fork-tender smoked meats. Her ribs are rightfully renowned, as is her pulled pork and brisket, but don’t overlook the menu underdogs like honey-mustard glazed salmon.
198 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-280-8887
Dallas: Smoky Rose
Barbecue joints in Dallas typically feature cafeteria-style service with long lines (at the great spots, at least) and a 99.7% chance of leaving the restaurant smelling like smoked meat. This new spot in East Dallas near White Rock Lake and the Dallas Arboretum takes barbecue and elevates it by placing it on the menu alongside chef-driven fare while still maintaining that essential casualness of the best BBQ places. A spacious patio and beer garden with fire pits and art installations make for perfect summer noshing on moist brisket, pulled pork and housemade smoked sausage.
8602 Garland Rd.; 469-776-5655
Denver: Roaming Buffalo Bar-Be-Que
Founded on ranching, Colorado’s as famous for its lamb and bison as its beef. So why shouldn’t it have a distinctive barbecue style? Enter Coy and Rachael Webb. Over the past couple of years, their Harvard Gulch pit stop has shot to the top of the town thanks to pecanwood-smoked specialties that include pulled lamb shoulder, bison-back ribs and venison sausage (pictured); recently, they launched weekend dinner service to serve fancier fare like molasses-glazed Cornish game hens and honey-cured salmon. And they’ve also expanded into the adjacent space, where City & Country Deli & Sausage Co. turns out such gems as lamb bacon–egg salad sandwiches. In short, the Webbs are single-handedly forging new frontiers for Rocky Mountain meat cookery — and we can’t wait to see where they take it next.
2387 South Downing St.; 303-722-2226
Houston: The Pit Room
Since August, this Montrose eatery has offered myriad ways to sink your teeth into Central Texas–style 'cue including smoked brisket, ribs and three kinds of housemade sausage — the latter is a rarity and represents the team's strict adherence to scratch-made goods. Chef and pitmaster Bramwell Tripp and owner Michael Sambrooks lead the kitchen that also turns out tacos, chili, classic sides and a complimentary pickle bar; tortillas for chips and tacos are made practically to order and utilize rendered fat from smoking the brisket. Draft beer, wine, lemonade and cold-brew coffee appease thirsts. Spread out in the rustic-casual space accented by iron and natural wood accents with benches, stools and a front patio overlooking busy Richmond Avenue.
1201 Richmond Ave.; 281-888-1929
Los Angeles: Bludso's Bar & Que
Kevin Bludso, of the most excellent and award-winning Bludso’s BBQ, lent his name and expertise to the guys from The Golden State, and La Brea Avenue hasn’t been the same since. This combo BBQ joint and bar is known for its brisket, big beefy ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork and great draft cocktails. In addition to great greens, mac 'n' cheese, baked beans and coleslaw for sides, there are amazing pies from Nicole Rucker, including her award-winning chocolate chess pie.
609 N. La Brea Ave.; 323-931-2583
Nashville: Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
The small town of Henderson, Tennessee, is pretty much smack dab halfway from Nashville to Memphis, and that's where Pat Martin got his start with barbecue. After refining his 'cue skills, Martin's gotten to the point where he just opened his seventh location in the region. This downtown Nashville spot has been packing in crowds since opening in early 2016. Four whole-hog pits and an attractive upstairs beer garden are big draws, and this restaurant's significantly larger than other locations. Sure, there are plenty of tourists, but when has Nashville ever been shy about bragging on its contributions to American culture? Come in for the hickory-smoked meats, as traditional as you like, or get a little playful with the "Redneck Taco," which piles pulled pork and coleslaw high atop a cornbread hoecake.
410 4th Ave. S; 615-288-0880
NYC: Pig Beach
The 150-seat outdoor eatery is returning this summer with its all-star culinary team. The barbecue bros behind Salty Rinse and Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe, made up of partners Shane McBride (Balthazar), Ed McFarland (Ed's Lobster Bar) and Matt Abdoo (Del Posto) bring their award-winning signature meats to Pig Beach. Look for their championship babyback ribs, homemade sausage and a brisket and short-rib burger.
San Francisco: 4505 Burgers & BBQ
A long ways from its roots as a Ferry Building Farmer's Market burger stand, 4505's NoPa patio-only restaurant is still one of the best places in town for smoky 'cue like brisket and ribs. The sides are just as noteworthy (try the perfectly smoky baked beans or the crispy, cheesy frank-a-roni). 4505 is also readying to open its second branch in Oakland this summer.
705 Divisadero St.; 415-231-6993
Savannah: Sandfly BBQ at the Streamliner
Memphis-native Keith Latture took over his dad's long-running barbecue restaurant earlier this decade. Located in the Savannah suburb Isle of Hope, it quickly drew fans from all over the picturesque Southern city. And then in 2015, Sandfly expanded to downtown Savannah, setting up shop in an adorably retro Streamliner diner that'd been renovated and restored by preservationists at Savannah College of Art & Design. Sandfly at the Streamliner turns out terrific Memphis-style ribs, smoked chicken and pulled pork, but the snap of the smoked sausages and the way the barbecue sauce caramelizes on their exterior is something else. It's the sort of Southern meat mastery that's kept locals lining up, but it's still new enough (and far enough from bustling River Street) to not be too overloaded with tourists.
1220 Barnard St.; 912-335-8058
Washington, DC: Federalist Pig
Pitmaster Rob Sonderman, formerly of DCity Smokehouse, fires up a slew of meats at this Adams Morgan BBQ central, offering wood-smoked, dry-rubbed pork, brisket and turkey in sandwiches and on platters, plus veggie sides. Items often sell out by 7 PM on weekends, so get there early for the best selection and check Facebook for updates on what’s left.