We are one week out from the 4th of July, which means that the neighbors you hate have probably started setting off a few fireworks here and there. It’s not enough to feel festive, just enough to wake you up and leave you lying in the dark, questioning your life choices. It also means that we are in the middle of barbecue season. Memorial Day ushers in family affairs where people are encouraged to get wicked drunk and play with fire. Independence Day is the sequel: all the intoxicated grilling of meats, but now with Roman candles.
As you’ll quickly learn by watching literally any episode of Chopped: Grill Masters, people are incredibly passionate about barbecue — hanging onto regional rivalries and personal preferences with the tenacity and lowkey resentment generally reserved for politics and sports. Lovers of outdoor cooking will fight about tomato v. vinegar, gas v. charcoal, sauce v. rub, and classic cuts v. whole hog. And, those are just a few of the potential arguments. The fact that anyone can have a get together and barbecue things without a brawl erupting is baffling. This may be why so many people settle and do benign burgers and hotdogs. It’s not great eating, but no one has to visit the ER or get a divorce.
It may simply be easier to skip attempts at pitmastering with family and friends and hit up a restaurant instead. The food will likely be much, much better. and if violence erupts, you don’t have to clean up afterwards. You just get banned from the location. And, speaking as someone who was drunkenly flung to the ground as her friends broke a table in a bar, if you leave fast enough, you can come back without people remembering the incident. Bans are garbage.
To find out about the best barbecue places, we asked some famous chefs from across the country where they have had the best BBQ. Read through their answers, look at pictures of slow cooked meats, and get into the comments and tell us about all the topnotch ‘cue joints that we left off of the list.
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, TX)
Chef Sarah Schafer — Owner and Executive Chef, Irving Street Kitchen
Louie Mueller in Taylor, Texas hands down. The town itself harkens back to what makes BBQ great! For 68 years they have been doing smoking to perfection daily, and when they run-out, they shut.
Smokehouse Tavern (Portland, OR)
Chef Alan Maniscalco, Owner and Chef, Rally Pizza
Portland has some good BBQ, but BJ Smith’s BBQ joints stand out. For sure, the meats are good: ribs, brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, and my favorite, the chicken. The meats are always tender and juicy, with that great pink layer of smoke and salt just below the skin. What sets Smokehouse apart is the rest of the food. The sides, salads, sauces and the burgers(!) all carry owner BJ Smith’s signature culinary chops!
Hambone’s Bar & Grill (Huntington Beach, CA)
Chef Danny Allen — Executive Chef, Ways & Means Oyster House
This is by far the best barbecue chicken I have ever eaten in a restaurant! Hambone’s chicken comes cooked to perfection and smothered in their housemade barbecue sauce. Pair that with an ice cold beer and, well, pure madness!
Spring Street Smokehouse BBQ (Los Angeles, CA)
Chef Craig Connole — Executive Chef, La Casa del Camino, K’ya Bistro Bar, The Rooftop Lounge
I like to take the train from San Juan Capistrano to Los Angeles and this spot is right across the street. They have a wonderful variety of meat cuts, a great beer selection, and the spicy sauce is excellent! Afterward, I recommend a stroll through Olvera Street.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Nashville, TN) and Peg Leg Porker (Nashville, TN)
Chef Garrett Pittler — Executive Chef, City Winery Nashville
I live and work in Nashville, Tennessee, so I have it better than most people across the nation when it comes to easy access to amazing barbeque. There are so many great places to choose from, but Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is someone that really stands out for making great barbeque. One of my favorite things to get at Martin’s — and one of my favorite things in general — is a sandwich that comes with burnt ends. Then there’s Peg Leg Porker. One of their specialties is Memphis-style dry ribs, and they’re the best in Nashville. Like I said, too many options to pick a favorite…
Gates BBQ (Kansas City, MO)
Chef William Weisiger — Head Pitmaster, Ten50 BBQ
Gates BBQ has some of the best pork spare ribs in the country. They are sauced with a tangy, sweet BBQ sauce that leaves you wanting more. My favorite combination is spare ribs with a side of onion rings. Afterwards, make time for a nap.
Smitty’s Bar-B-Q (Bronwood, TX) and Ten 50 BBQ (Richardson, TX)
Chef Tony Street — Chef and Owner, Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse
I have a lot of respect for people that are brave enough to open a BBQ joint. It’s so hard to stand out and even more difficult to be consistently good. I would say my favorite is Smitty’s Bar-B-Q in my hometown of Brownwood, Texas. Another BBQ joint I love in Richardson, Texas just north of Dallas is Ten 50 BBQ. They’ve got amazing brisket!
Braindead Brewing (Dallas, TX)
Chef Nick Harrison — Chef, STIRR and Nikkei
The best sandwich and, simultaneously, the best BBQ I’ve ever had was a Big Red Braised Brisket and Pimento Cheese sandwich here in Dallas, TX at Braindead Brewing. Chef Dave Pena LOVES Big Red and had the ludicrous idea of braising brisket in it – and it was phenomenal. I did a guest chef dinner at the brewery one night with Chef Dave, and at the end of the six course dinner, one of the line cooks asked if I was hungry. Of course I was after a long night, and though I actually declined, he insisted on making me a sandwich to go. I’m not even sure what he created was on their menu, but after a long day of cooking, that was the best sandwich I’d ever put in my mouth! To this day, that’s the best BBQ and sandwich I’ve ever had.
The Smoking Ribs (Garden Grove, CA)
Chef Hiro Uchida — Chef and Kitchen Manager, The Blind Rabbit, The Alchemists, The Iron Press
My favorite BBQ spot right now would have to be The Smoking Ribs in Garden Grove. They have an amazing line up of smoked meats and their spicy BBQ sauce is perfect ! My favorite part is right when you walk in you see their smoker right in the front. To me that’s them saying they aren’t afraid of what they are doing and proud of it. And their food and flavor definitely showcases it.
Lien Hoa BBQ (Westminster, CA) and The Smoking BBQ (Orange County, CA)
Chef Hop Phan — Chef, Dos Chinos, Megadon, Red Envelope
The best BBQ is a toss up between Lien Hoa BBQ and The Smoking BBQ here in OC. Lien Hoa is Vietnamese-Chinese BBQ like roast duck or Peking duck and whole roasted pigs or piglets. It’s an institution in the Vietnamese community here in OC. Whereas, The Smoking BBQ is relatively new and is more traditional American BBQ: like their delicious perfect smoked brisket or their whole BBQ chickens to their smoked pork ribs.
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, TX), Smoke (Dallas and Plano, TX), and Sam’s BBQ-1 (Marietta, GA)
Chef Ben Jones — Executive Chef, The Resort at Paws Up
Montanans have a deep relationship with the land and in turn the gift of meat is very meaningful — we hunt it, clean it and cook it. Every hunter, outfitter and home cook has their favorite recipe, so the flavors vary across the state, but the difference is if you are eating at your neighbor’s cook-out, it is more than likely raised on their land or last season’s Elk Harvest.