The Search for the Best Barbecue in America

It's National Barbecue Month — recognition of an American custom and celebration of regional traditions. American barbecue joints claim to have the best sweet and smoky fare in the land, but who can claim victory? Does Memphis have the best ribs? Is North Carolina known for the best pulled pork? Does Texas rise above the rest for cooking brisket, and does Kansas City win for its spicy sauce?

Traveling to the most renowned barbecue joints in America can be the road trip of a lifetime. Find various styles of food that satisfy the taste and hunger for irresistible slow-cooked meat and spicy sauces. Jump into your 2013 Chevy Colorado with your family or hop into the vintage Jeep Wrangler with your buddies to your first stop — Austin, Texas — where barbecue is a way of life. 

Franklin BBQ 

Named the best BBQ in America in 2011 by Bon Appétit, Franklin continues to live up to the title. Owner Aaron Franklin arrives around 3:30 a.m. to begin his day. Franklin's serious set of culinary skills and zen-like degree of patience takes barbecuing to new levels daily. Notably, his brisket begins its transformation from raw, Meyer Angus beef to meaty perfection before noon when the lunch crowd rolls in. Franklin's Texas ribs also receive tons of TLC. Everything on the menu will likely send foodies in a catatonic state of pure bliss. The ribs are divine, but loyal fans agree that it would be criminal to eat at Franklin's without tasting some brisket. (900 E. 11th St. Austin, TX)

Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue  

Driving north from Austin, the landscape expands into a vast panorama of amber grain with stark, blue skies. You've entered cattle country. In Kansas City, you'll see that locals don't take pride in the meat alone. Sauce deserves just as much attention. To taste the best of both worlds, visit Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue, the best BBQ in Kansas City given by restaurant review site Zagat. Anthony Bourdain also featured Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue in his list of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die. Talk about a top recommendation! (3002 W. 47th Ave. Kansas City, KS)

Central BBQ  

Crossing the Mississippi into the city of Memphis, you'll find a city dedicated to blues, R&B and soul, and more deliciously, pork barbecue. In Memphis, pig is king. You'll find Memphis BBQ eccentricities, such as dry ribs at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and barbecued Cornish hen at Cozy Corner. According to the Memphis Flier, the best 'cue in the city goes to Central BBQ. Keep in mind every Central BBQ newbie must sink their teeth into the ribs and the pork sandwich. (2249 Central Ave. Memphis, TN)

Skylight Inn  

Heading east into the mountains, you'll traverse rugged landscape and enter into the Carolinas — land of the "Cradle of 'Cue" and self-titled "Birthplace of Barbecue." Like Memphis, pork is always on the menu. In the west, the primary cut of meat used is the shoulder. In the east, typically the entire pig is cooked. You can discover this type of BBQ at the Skylight Inn — where whole hogs are cooked over wood fires for nearly 16 hours. One bite of Skylight's chopped pork sandwich, and you'll never want to return home. (4618 S. Lee St. Ayden, NC)