When you’re looking for barbecue, follow your nose. That’s the advice of Fred Thompson, author of Barbecue Nation (Taunton Press, 2007). “You want to smell smoke. If you don’t, someone’s taking shortcuts,” he says.
Barbecue Nation documents Thompson’s search for the best backyard cooks and their favorite recipes across the country, from Brooklyn-born Jamaican jerk to coastal Texas Vietnamese barbecue.
“A lot of [restaurants] use gas, but the good ones cook barbecue in a pit,” he claims. We asked Thompson to find the best barbecue joints in the U.S. Here are some of his top stops to make on your next road trip:
For Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, try Wilber’s Barbecue. It’s the epitome of Eastern North Carolina barbecue,” says Thomspon. As a second choice, he recommends Parker’s Barbecue (2514 US Highway 301 S, Wilson, NC; 252.237.0972).
Head to the appropriately named Lexington Barbecue #1 (10 Highway 29-70 S, Lexington, NC; 336.249.9814) for Lexington-style barbecue.“It’s the most pristine,” Thompson says, adding, “There are several different ways to order it, but you want it outside brown and chunks, with extra dip. What you get is chunky pork that’s roasted closest to the fire with extra sauce.”
It’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, but head to Sweatman’s (1313 Gemini Dr., Holly Hill, SC; 803.492.7543) for South Carolina-style barbecue. With your order, opt for a side of their delicious coleslaw, made with mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickles and celery seeds.
For Memphis-style barbecue, try the Bar-B-Q Shop (1782 Madison Ave., Memphis, TN; 901.272.1277). It’s a great “one-stop shop,” according to Thompson. Payne’s Bar-B-Que (1762 Lamar Ave., Memphis, TN; 901.272.1523) is another favorite of his. “I visit it in the daytime, but it will take you right back into time,” he says. “It has some of the best barbecue I’ve ever put in my mouth.”
When it comes to Kansas City-style barbecue, there are two places Thompson suggests for the sweetest and best-sauce dishes: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, (it has four locations) and Arthur Bryant’s. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue was rated the number one barbecue restaurant in the country by Zagat and Arthur Bryant’s is supposedly frequented by presidents, dignitaries and movie stars, such as Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter.
Texas is a big state with many barbecue traditions. In the Hill Country, check out The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que, www.saltlickbbq.com. In Lockhart, try Kreuz Market (619 North Colorado St., Lockhart, TX 512.398.2361) or Smitty’s Market—two restaurants reliably noted on Texas Monthly’s annual list of best barbecue restaurants in the state.
For Alabama-style mayonnaise-slathered chicken—Alabama’s signature barbecue dish—head to Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, where there are two locations. This quintessential restaurant opened in 1925 and has a rustic history. Big Bob first served his barbecue chicken on oak planks he nailed to his Sycamore tree.
In the Kentucky barbecue world, the Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn, is a can’t miss destination. “This is a very regional style, and the sauce [they serve] is almost black in color, made with Worcestershire, coffee and a lot of black pepper,” says Thompson.
For Central Coast California-style barbecue—tri-tip beef doused in barbecue sauce and salsa—the best place to go is a hole-in-the-wall gas station or fruit stand. “The best thing you can do is find a dive that has a tri-tip sign out front,” Thompson advises. But if you’d prefer a more upscale sit-down dinner, go to Memphis Minnie’s Bar-B-Q Joint & Smoke House.
This Sangria is meant to be served with all types of barbecue.
3 lemons, seeded and small diced
1 pineapple, small diced
¾ cup sugar
23 ounces pineapple juice
1 cup Giori Lemoncillo
¾ cup Parrot Bay pineapple rum
½ cup Cruzan vanilla rum
4 cups Hero pineapple purée
Dry white wine
Mix ingredients together and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve over ice with an equal part of dry white wine. Makes ¾ gallon.