The Best BBQ Towns for Memorial Day

Kansas City-style ribs
Kansas City-style ribs  (iStockphoto)

Memorial Day marks the first long weekend of summer, and it’s the perfect opportunity to kick off the season with a trip. And of course no Memorial Day weekend would be complete without BBQ. Here are some of the best areas around the country to discover whether you like it pulled, sliced, shredded, wet or dry.  

Lockhart, Texas
A lot of restaurants in the Lone Star State serve “Texas barbecue,” but Texas barbecue is not just one style. Texas actually has four different styles of barbecue, and what you get depends on which side of the invisible line you’re standing on. East Texas style is slow cooked to the point that it’s “falling off the bone.” Central Texas’s focus is on the meat, which is typically rubbed with spices and cooked over indirect heat, served with sauce on the side. These two styles are the most well-known. South Texas barbeque is coated in either a molasses-like sauce or a spicy Mexican style called barbacoa, while West Texas-style meat is cooked over direct heat and can have a bitter taste.

Which should you choose? If you only have time for one town, we recommend choosing Lockhart in Central Texas. It is considered the “Barbecue Capital of Texas.” Lockhart has a grand total of four barbecue restaurants, but they average 5,000 visitors each week, so you know they’re serving something special.

Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City celebrates barbecue the way that Philly embraces cheesesteaks, meaning every local has their own opinion about where to find the best food. The sauce is Kansas City’s signature, think K.C. Masterpiece, one of the best-selling barbecue sauces in America. When you venture to Kansas City, be sure to order a plate of “burnt ends.” These are the morsels from the edges of the brisket, and they are one of the yummiest things you will ever taste.

Lexington, North Carolina
Barbecue in the Carolinas is more than just a style of cooking, it is a culture. The differences across the states can be determined by which sauce is used. A vinegar-based sauce means you are in the east; central North Carolina combines ketchup and vinegar; western barbecue is primarily tomato based; and South Carolina is mainly known for its mustard-based sauce. The small town of Lexington, North Carolina, stakes its claim as “The Barbecue Capital of the World.” Known for its wood-smoked chopped pork and red-and-white coleslaws, Lexington attracts barbecue lovers from all over the country. 

Memphis, Tennessee
For any barbeque lover a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, is a must. This southern belle of a city might be the “Home of the Blues,” but it’s also the home of more than 100 barbeque joints. Memphis barbecue is known for its tomato- and vinegar-based sauces, but a favorite at some Memphis establishments is meat that is dry-rubbed and smoked over hickory wood, and then served with sauce on the side. Either way, when your hardest decision all weekend is whether to have your ribs wet or dry, you know it’s a good vacation.

Other highlights
If you find yourself near St. Louis, then try the regional specialty called snoots; don’t even ask what it is, but just enjoy its crispy goodness. St. Louis also has its own style of ribs that are neatly trimmed before they are cooked. Western Kentucky is one of the only areas known for mutton, which is lamb-based versus the traditional pork or beef. Oklahoma combines Texas, Kansas City, and Memphis barbecue styles, and California's well-known barbecue dish is called tri-tip beef rump.

Published: 7 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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The Raphael Hotel, Autograph Collection®
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The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center
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