America may be a melting pot, but if there’s one food that we can truly call our own, it’s barbecue. (OK, fine, apple pie is pretty patriotic, too.) And we’re not just talking about throwing some burgers and dogs on the grill. We mean real meat, cooked low and slow over an open fire, and probably served with a pile of baked beans and mac and cheese. Every region has its own style, and everyone thinks they do it best. But who are we to discriminate? Here are our 15 favorites, from sea to smoky sea. 

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Joe's Kansas City Barbecue: Kansas City, KS

Kansas City is kind of like that annoying overachiever that does everything right--they’ve got great ribs, great brisket and pretty decent pork. And the tangy, molasses-tomato-based sauce is basically the gold standard for American barbecue sauce now. Come to Joe’s (or the artist formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s) on the Kansas side of the city for the best of the best.

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Franklin BBQ: Austin, TX

You may have heard about the legendary (read: insane) line at Austin’s famed bastion of brisket, which regularly stretches to seven-hour waits. Owner Aaron Franklin, who has sold out of brisket every single day since he opened in 2009, plays no favorites--even Kanye West wasn’t allowed to cut.  So is it worth it? We think the line speaks for itself.

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17th Street BBQ: Murphysboro, IL

A favorite on the BBQ competition circuit (pitmaster Mike Mills has won “Memphis in May” three times, which basically makes him the Peyton Manning of meat smoking). You want the famous dry-rubbed baby back ribs. 

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Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q: Decatur, AL

An Alabama hangout since 1925, Big Bob Gibson is known for his smoked birds--chicken and turkey--and his totally addictive creamy white sauce, which has inspired copycats all across the state.

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HOMETOWN BAR-B-QUE: BROOKLYN, NY

Great barbecue?  In New York City? No, this isn’t the next Pace Picante commercial. This Brooklyn newcomer really is cranking out some of the best, most innovative 'cue in the country. Come for the caveman-esque beef ribs, which fall off the bone in great, charred chunks. Stay for the lamb belly bánh mì and Jamaican jerk ribs. And make sure you’ve got at least one chunk of honey cornbread on your tray too. 

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Skylight Inn BBQ: Ayden, NC

North Carolina is whole hog country, and Skylight Inn does it best. Just don’t expect a lot of fanfare--the hogs are smoked for 14 hours, then chopped, finished with a squirt of hot sauce and vinegar, and served with slaw. End of story.

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Heirloom Market BBQ: Atlanta, GA

We mostly stuck to traditional American barbecue, but with gochujang-marinated pork and kimchee slaw, this Korean-fusion spot is too good to pass up. The smoke brings out the funky, umami-rich chili paste, and the potato buns are studded with sesame, making for one of the best pulled-pork sandwiches around.

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Allen & Son BBQ: Chapel Hill, NC

For classic North Carolina pulled pork, it’s hard to find anything better than this college town spot, which uses a 12-hour smoke process and spicy, vinegar-rich sauce.

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The Joint: New Orleans, LA

Most people don’t go to New Orleans for the BBQ--it’s just hard to fit it in there with all the jambalaya and po’boys you also have to eat. But that would mean missing out on The Joint, and its chaurice sandwich. Chaurice is basically the Creole version of chorizo--and when added to The Joint’s already excellent pulled pork, it’s transcendent.

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Central BBQ: Memphis, TN

If you’re in Memphis, you’re getting dry-rub ribs. But at Central, you’ll also want an order of the pulled-pork barbecue nachos, made with homemade chips. The downtown location is just far enough off the tourist track to be great, but close enough that you can still catch a blues show on Beale Street after dinner.

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Black's BBQ: Lockhart, TX

It’s true that Texas barbecue is all about the brisket--but one should never underestimate the smoked sausages either. Lockhart is pretty much the capital of the sausage scene, and nowhere does it better than Black’s. Pro tip: Start with the jalapeño-cheddar link.

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Kerlin BBQ: Austin, TX

Author Johnny Fugitt spent a full year eating BBQ--365 restaurants in 365 days--for his book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America. At the very top? A little low-key food truck in East Austin with some of the moistest, most flavorful brisket around. Make sure to get some blue cheese coleslaw on the side.

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MOONLITE BAR-B-Q INN: OWENSBORO, KY

Once you’ve had your fill of pulled pork, brisket and ribs (as if that were possible), and want something a little different, head over to western Kentucky, which is mutton-town. Yes, that means eating a sheep, but the long, slow cooking time takes away the toughness of the meat while leaving the same gamey flavor of a lamb chop.

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Pappy's Smokehouse: St. Louis, MO

Not to be confused with the much sought-after bourbon (though we wouldn’t turn down that pairing), this Pappy’s is all about the ribs--as all good St. Louis barbecue should be.

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The Granary 'Cue and Brew: San Antonio, TX

Come at lunch for traditional, market-style barbecue, or at dinner for a more innovative (read: hipster) take on the classics. That means beef shoulder served with quinoa and tomato-caramel sauce and crispy smoked riblets with Thai dipping sauce.

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