American barbecue originated in Virginia in the 17th century, and cooks have been transforming the process of slowly roasting whole animals over a trench filled with hardwood coals ever since. Over 300 years, a wide variety of barbecue styles emerged in different regions, each with its own distinct traditions and flavors—and the unshakeable opinion that that’s where it’s prepared best. From Texas to North Carolina, we look at four classic regional barbecue spots.
Kansas City, Kansas
For more than 30 years, Deborah and Mary Jones have been fixtures in the Kansas City barbecue scene, and recently had a deserved star turn on Netflix’s Queer Eye (online sales of their barbecue sauce skyrocketed soon after). Last year, the Jones sisters brilliantly created the first barbecue vending machine—now you can get sandwiches whenever your mouth waters.
Cooking technique: Missouri white oak and hickory wood
Sauce type: A thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce
Must try: The crispy brisket burnt ends and coarsely ground, spicy sausage
Cozy Corner Restaurant
Desiree Robinson opened this barbecue joint in 1977. Many stop by after they attend the famous Memphis in May barbecue competition, and she is frequently told that her food is better than anything at the event. Robinson is the first African-American woman inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame.
Cooking technique: Charcoal
Sauce type: A thick, tangy, tomato-based sauce
Must try: Cornish hen, pork spareribs and bologna
Burns Original BBQ
In 1973, Roy Burns, Sr., started this restaurant. Nearly half a century later, Houstonians can’t get enough of the barbecue prepared by the late pitmaster’s family. Barbecue in this part of the state often reflects a Creole influence, from the seasoning to the addition of dirty rice—a highly spiced mixture of meat, rice and vegetable—as a side dish.
Cooking technique: Post oak wood
Sauce type: A dark brown, slightly sweet, tomato-based sauce
Must try: Pork spareribs and chicken
Backyard BBQ Pit
Durham, North Carolina
North Carolina barbecue is divided into two regional styles: eastern and Lexington (sometimes called Piedmont). Eastern emphasizes cooking whole hogs. At Backyard—which has been named best in the state—Melvin Simmons serves Lexington-style with a twist, offering the standard pork shoulder, but also beef, chicken and turkey.