As outdoor temperatures start to warm, excitement flares among food lovers at the thought of a new barbecue season. But you don’t have to wait for summer to sate your cravings for smoked and grilled meats. This list of mouthwatering barbecue joints will whet your appetite and inspire your backyard barbecue game all year long.
1. Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque
Kansas City, Missouri
When Henry Perry opened a barbecue stand in 1907, nobody imagined he would fuel a vibrant culinary culture for Kansas City. One of the Kansas City Barbecue King’s protégés—Charlie Bryant—kept Perry’s style of barbecue going. Charlie assumed control of the operation when Perry died, and Charlie’s younger brother, Arthur, took over when Charlie retired.
Sink your teeth into Arthur’s signature ribs flavored with his secret sauce at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque on Brooklyn Avenue. Although Arthur died in 1982, the family continues the long barbecue tradition, and now ships smoked meats and sauces nationwide.
2. Gates Bar-B-Q
Kansas City, Missouri
Arthur Pinkard, who also learned the art of barbecue from Henry Perry, was working at ’Ol Kentuck Bar-B-Q when George and Arzelia Gates bought the restaurant in 1946 and renamed it Gates Ol’ Kentucky. Now known as Gates Bar-B-Q, the family operates 6 locations in the greater Kansas City area and ships its barbecue sauces and spices far and wide.
Choose from a variety of smoked meats, but don’t miss the burnt ends (tender, caramelized ends of a smoked brisket) piled on a sandwich for a Kansas City classic.
3. Buck Tui BBQ
Overland Park, Kansas
Chef and pitmaster Ted Liberda serves up savory dishes at Buck Tui BBQ, which brings together the complementary flavors of northeastern Thai cuisine and Kansas City barbecue. Fans can find Liberda’s barbecue at various pop-up events in the Kansas City area and at a new permanent location that opened in early 2022.
Look for one of Buck Tui’s specialties—brined brisket—served with seasoned jasmine rice, house-made pickles, Thai BBQ sauce, and fiery Tiger Cry sauce.
4. Sugarfire Smoke House
Barbecue fans will find a range of smoked meats, various sauces, and an ever-changing menu of top-notch sides at Sugarfire Smoke House, which borrows from all styles of barbecue. Chef/owner Mike Johnson’s ribs and pulled pork sandwiches are always delicious, but try the smoked turkey or sausage when visiting 1 of 9 Missouri locations, including several in the St. Louis area and 2 in Illinois.
The enterprise also has outposts in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Texas. After your meal, pastry chef/owner Carolyn Downs wants you to save room for something sweet, like a slice of Mississippi Mud Pie.
5. Smoke N Bones BBQ
Last year, the Machado family opened Smoke N Bones BBQ on the south side of St. Louis. Joining his father, Enrique (who has been in the barbecue business since the mid-1990s), Aaron Machado said patrons love the smoked ribs, beef, and pork.
Try the “sloppy Joe” that features shredded spicy chicken or shredded pork and beef in a sweeter sauce. Don’t forget a side of the amazing cheesy potatoes.
6. Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
For more 100 years, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has smoked meats on-site and brushed the tender pork with a secret vinegar-based sauce. Served on white bread with coleslaw, this simple but delicious food has been featured in national media, and the James Beard Foundation recognized the diner as an American Classic.
After a February 2021 fire burned nearly 70 percent of the building, residents of this small Delta community (population about 3,500) raised funds to help current owner and pitmaster James Jones rebuild, and the restaurant reopened in May. But you’d better get there early each day for Jones’ succulent barbecue because he usually sells out, sometimes before noon. Just don’t go on Sundays because the restaurant is closed.
7. Memphis Barbecue Company
Horn Lake, Mississippi
Barbecue competitions remain largely a man’s game, but pitmaster and restaurant owner Melissa Cookston has proved for 25 years she can bring the heat. A 7-time world champ—the only female to hold the title—Cookston also has written cookbooks and served as a barbecue judge on Food Network. She also just opened the BBQ Allstars Barbecue Super Store in Southaven, Mississippi, that includes a cooking studio for classes.
Sample Cookston’s award-winning food at her Memphis Barbecue Company restaurant in Horn Lake, Mississippi, located just 15 miles south of downtown Memphis; a second location is in Dunwoody, Georgia. Try her world-champion baby back ribs or the Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich. Among many other menu options is the Burnt Ends Cheddar Melt, a helping of brisket burnt ends served with melted cheddar and sauteed onions on Texas toast.
8. Walker’s Southern Style BBQ
Cochon de lait is part of Louisiana’s culinary tradition. This French phrase, which translates to milk-fed pig, historically involved roasting young pigs over a wood fire as part of the Cajun boucherie (butchery), a community-wide event that provided a source of meat for many families.
Sample that savory history in New Orleans at Walker’s Southern Style BBQ, home to the famous cochon de lait po’boy. The dish has been a popular staple at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for many years. A full menu of grilled favorites includes ribs, chicken, brisket, and pork, along with tempting sides like smothered mustard greens and potato salad.
9. Central City BBQ
Since 2016, pitmaster James Cruse Jr. and Central City BBQ have delivered award-winning barbecue in the shadow of the Superdome. In last year’s Memphis in May competition, the restaurant received first place for ribs, second for wings, and fourth for beef.
A large covered patio and an even larger open-air deck provide great places to sample the fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, smoked boudin, and sweet corn spoonbread.
10. 17th Street Barbecue
Murphysboro and Marion, Illinois
Barbecue competitors and fans knew world champion pitmaster Mike Mills well. His 17th Street Barbecue grew to become internationally known.
Often simply referred to as “The Legend,” Mills died in 2020, but the family still operates 2 locations in southern Illinois—Murphysboro and Marion—and barbecue fans eat up the appetizers that include smoked chicken wings (dubbed among the best in America by food publication Epicurious) and pimento cheese with sausage. Don’t leave without an order of the baby back ribs.
A contributor from St. Louis, Deborah Reinhardt is co-author of A Culinary History of Missouri: Foodways & Iconic Dishes of the Show-Me State, which includes details of the state’s barbecue history.
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