Salt Lick’s array of barbecue

The joys of barbecue come in many smells and flavors. Here’s an in-depth look at the top tools, tastes, and territories for enjoying this beloved cuisine.

Barbecuing transcends geography, appearing in just about every culture, from the Argentinean parrillada to Jamaica’s jerk to Korean tabletop grilling. But while it varies widely across the 50 states, in this country, barbecue has one defining characteristic: meat that is slowly cooked by indirect heat, resulting in a tender, smoky, deeply flavored meal — one that inspires passion, argument, competition, road trips, and a tasty array of side dishes.

Worth a Trip
The Shed’s eye-catching sign

There are hundreds of barbecue restaurants throughout the country, but these are the ones that are pilgrimage-­worthy. If you can’t make it, several of the nation’s best will deliver to your doorstep.

The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint From truly humble beginnings as a shack built of salvaged materials in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, The Shed has evolved into six beloved locations in four states. They offer a tomato-based sweet Southern sauce and baby back and full-size pork ribs, but it is the pulled-pork sandwich that recently won a nationwide contest on LIVE! with Regis and Kelly. theshedbbq.com

Baby Blues BBQ Think you cannot get world-class barbecue in big cities? Think again. The original Baby Blues took Venice Beach, California, by storm before expanding to West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. It serves a national “best of” menu, with Carolina pulled pork, Memphis pork ribs, and Texas beef ribs. Sauce choices­ include the vinegar-based style. babybluesbbq.com
A tempting rib plate at Rendezvous

Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous The mecca for dry-style-rib lovers, this family-­owned Memphis institution is world-renowned, and since 1948, it has served everyone from Presidents Bush (George W.) and Clinton to Bill Cosby to Frank Sinatra and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Pork ribs are the shining star, but the lamb-riblet appetizer has a loyal following. hogsfly.com

Montgomery Inn Humbly nicknamed “The Ribs King,” this Cincinnati institution (also with locations in Kentucky and Dublin, Ohio) has spent more than half a century proving that good barbecue can be found in the least-likely places. Its secret is the less-common loin back ribs, as tender as baby backs but meatier, and for years the restaurant was the nation’s single biggest purchaser of this cut — they also ship 25,000 orders annually. montgomeryinn.com
Salt Lick’s array of barbecue

The Salt Lick The current owner’s great-grandmother cooked barbecue on a wagon train to Texas, and this has been a temple of smoke in the Lone Star State’s capital ever since. It is one of the few places that excel at almost every kind of meat, including excellent, hard-to-find beef ribs, alongside pork ribs, turkey, sausage, and brisket, most of which have won awards. An outpost in the Austin airport will pack whole briskets for the road. saltlickbbq.com

Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque This restaurant is to Kansas City barbecue what Radio City Music Hall is to New York City theaters. Since 1920, a who’s who of celebrities, foodies, and regular folks have come here in search of legendary ribs, pork, chicken, sausage, ham, turkey, and most of all, burnt ends. arthurbryantsbbq.com