Pulled pork. Baby back ribs. Brisket sandwich. Whole chicken. Smoked sausage.
No matter what your meat and regardless of whether your sauce is Eastern Carolina vinegar, tangy Kansas City, South Carolina mustard or Alabama white, barbecue is the quintessential American cuisine, available at the fanciest of restaurants and the tiniest of downhome soul food joints.
You can find amazing barbecue from the streets of Manhattan to the beaches of Malibu. While BBQ rules the roost in places like Memphis, Kansas City and Austin, where else around the nation can you find great dry rub and sopped mops?
We scoured the nation and found nearly 6,300 cities in the U.S. with at least one barbecue restaurant. We then calculated the percentage of barbecue establishments to the total number of restaurants in each of those towns to determine the cities with the highest ratio of BBQ restaurants. Here are the top 10.
In 2010, the Hoodie Awards — an extravaganza held in Las Vegas highlighting the best black-owned businesses in the nation — named Big Daddy's BBQ the Best Barbecue Restaurant in America. Standing aside competition like the famous Gates Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, MO, and Robinson's No. 1 in Chicago, this small 'cue joint in Gary, IN, of all places, was tops. And that's just the beginning because, despite its northern pedigree, a full 8.79 percent of the Chicago suburb's 91 restaurants serve Midwest barbecue.
More than just old steel mills, the Jackson 5 and the setting for “Music Man," Gary is a post-industrial city of 75,000 that sits on the most southern tip of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, just 30 miles from Chicago's loop. It remains a center of industrial development and transportation, despite economic difficulties in the days since steel production was the nation's core. Gary even features the gorgeous lakefront Majestic Star Casino Resort.
A population decline and a change in economics have lowered demand for apartment rentals in Gary. A one-bedroom unit runs for a monthly average of $597.
In the land of the fried chicken sandwich, it's chopped pork that is king when it comes to barbecue. Around Georgia, pork shoulders and hams are smoked over hickory and served with a tomato-based sauce distinct in sweetness and heat from its mustard and vinegar neighbors to the north.
And just outside of I-285 is Smyrna, Atlanta's eighth-largest suburb. The city of 56,000 holds the quiet, relatively unknown distinction as one of the South's most barbecue-friendly towns. In fact, Smyrna has nearly 23 barbecue restaurants per 100,000 residents, the densest population among our top 10 and the ninth-highest percentage in the nation. One of the city's most famous joints is Thompson Brothers BBQ, named one of the top 10 places for barbecue in Metro Atlanta by both Eater and Atlanta Magazine.
But outside of its barbecue heritage, upscale suburb Smyrna is an intriguing place. Having doubled its population since 1990 and tripled since 1980, Smyrna is one of the fastest-growing cities in Georgia, and with 3,500 residents per square mile, it's also the 13th most densely populated city among all 600 in the state.
The city is known as a small business-friendly town, with a number of independent companies and stores and no single business employing more than 600 workers. Downtown Smyrna offers the Market Village development that features a number of eateries, shops and pubs, along with the Smyrna Public Library and Community Center.
To live only about 10 miles outside of downtown Atlanta in Smyrna's suburban enclave will cost an average of $1,193 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
The reputation of Central Florida cuisine usually lies somewhere between giant Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars and Dole Whip at Disney and miles of Waffle Houses and fast food along highway off-ramps. After all, Orlando proper has 56 McDonald's and 33 Pizza Huts alone. It's a tourist town populated with nearly 100,000 local employees just at DisneyWorld and Universal, so people here are no stranger to feeding hungry sightseers.
But just 20 miles southeast of the Magic Kingdom is the city of Saint Cloud. Far enough away from population centers like Orlando and Kissimmee to be considered “locals-only," it's the unlikely king of Florida barbecue. Within its 67 local restaurants, a full half-dozen of them — nearly 9 percent — are good ol' Southern barbecue. Many of these, and a number of other eateries, lie along and around Saint Cloud's 13th Street/East Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, including old school joints like Fat Boy's Bar-B-Q, Jimmy Bears BBQ and Granny's Southern Smokehouse.
Saint Cloud, along the shores of East Lake Tohopekaliga, is a mix of Florida locals, theme park workers, veterans and retirees, offering a lot more small-town life vibes than even its resort region neighbors. To settle down in this part of Central Florida, expect to pay $934 a month for an average one-bedroom apartment.
Just across the Missouri River and State Line Road from Kansas City is … well, Kansas City. While the Missouri side may be three-or-so times bigger and have the Chiefs and Royals, the primary airport, the Power & Light District and Country Club Plaza, its Kansas counterpart has the region's NASCAR track, a growing partnership with its consolidated county and a title that KCMO would love to covet: Best barbecue city in the Midwest.
While both adjoining cities offer slow-smoked meat, spice-rubbed and slathered with a tomato-based sauce, its KCK that is barbecue haven with 19 BBQ joints out of its more than 200 total restaurants. Sure, the Missouri side might have world-famous spots like Gates Bar-B-Q and Arthur Bryant's, but don't sleep on the Kansas side's best like Jones Bar-B-Q and Slap's BBQ — named the best barbecue in Kansas by Food & Wine.
But what Kansas City, KS, also has over the Missouri side is a lower cost of living and a cheaper place to live. In fact, KCK was named one of the best cities to start over after foreclosure. Rents here are much cheaper than across the river, with an average one-bedroom in KCK renting for $808, less than the $1,162 for the same in KCMO.
The first (and smaller) of the two Decaturs in our top six, Decatur, AL, has nearly the same number of restaurants overall and number of barbecue restaurants as its Illinois counterpart despite more than 17,000 fewer residents. This certainly proves that the people in the second-largest city in North Alabama love their food and are crazy for barbecue. With its dozen barbecue spots among 129 eateries for those 54,000, Decatur's BBQ Ratio of more than 22 is the 10th highest in the entire nation.
Decatur is an important stop along the North Alabama Barbecue Trail (which runs from the Mississippi border nearly all the way to Georgia), with two featured joints on the tour, LawLers Barbecue and the legendary Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. Tradition here smokes pork over hickory, which is then chipped or chopped and piled large on a hamburger bun with dill pickle slices.
But Decatur's location along the Tennessee River is key to its non-barbecue economy. As the busiest port along the river, it's become a hub for manufacturing with facilities for corporations like General Electric and 3M, along with the headquarters of pet food Meow Mix and the 1.6 million-square-foot Lockheed-Martin/Boeing-combined satellite-launching rocket facility.
Each year, 100,000 people crowd into Decatur for the Alabama Jubilee hot air balloon festival and 65,000 more for the annual Spirit of America July 4th festival. To live here full time, expect to pay $481 on average a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Halfway between the bureaucratic halls of Washington, D.C. and wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, you'd imagine Bowie, MD, would be a haven for crab boils and Old Bay. Sure, the seafood and shellfish abound in Bowie, but it's also one of the best places in the Mid-Atlantic for barbecue. More than 9.6 percent of the 83 restaurants in Bowie serve Northeastern barbecue, including hotspots like Chuck's Wagon BBQ and Hardy's BBQ and the local sauce company Barbecue Everything.
Bowie, MD, was named one of Money Magazine's “Best Places To Live In America." It's no wonder, with a city convenient to Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and the Eastern Shore. But for those that stay at home, there's plenty for the 59,000 residents, including 2,000 acres of parks and greenspace (about a fifth of the total land area), which includes more than 70 athletic fields, hiking and biking trails, the Bowie Playhouse and SportFit Bowie at Whitemarsh Park and the Bowie Ice Arena at Allen Pond Park, which also often serves as a de facto Main Street Bowie. The city also offers the village-style Bowie Town Center and the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, along with community events like Bowiefest, the Back-to-School Bash and the International Festival.
With most of the jobs for locals over in D.C. and its suburbs, Bowie (pronounced BOO-ee, not like the singer) is primarily a bedroom community. A monthly rent of $1,637 will house you in an average one-bedroom apartment.
Chicago and St. Louis are two of the most revered barbecue regions in the world, connected by decades of tradition and historic Route 66. So, it's not a stretch to picture generations of travelers and pilgrims traversing the Mother Road — and later I-55 and I-57, as well — trading Chicago rib tips and sausage with Saint Louie style spare ribs. And along the way is the Central Illinois city of Decatur, the second Decatur on our list. Out of the 133 listed restaurants in Decatur, IL, more than 9 percent of them are of the barbecue variety.
The city of Decatur, IL, is perhaps best known as the first home of the Chicago Bears, known as the Decatur Staleys from 1919-1920. But the city of 72,000, just to the west of Springfield, is, much like its past, an industrial town, with facilities of large manufacturers like Caterpillar, Archer Daniels Midland and Tate & Lyle.
Decatur was also the first home of Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, having settled near here in 1830, and at the center of town is Lincoln Square and the monument at the site of the 21-year-old future President's first political speech.
Nearby, the Decatur Transfer House is one of the most historic buildings in Illinois, an important piece of architecture that was moved from the Square to neighboring Central Park in 1962 for modernization of U.S. Business Route 51.
While big cities like Austin and Dallas and small cities like Lockhart and Brownsville get all the attention around the Lone Star State, it's the southern Metroplex suburb of DeSoto that's the King of Texas for barbecue lovers. Out of just 58 restaurants in the town of 54,000 (the smallest in our top 10), six are solid barbecue joints. That's more than 10 percent serving Texas beef barbecue, the most of anywhere deep in the heart of Texas, including local favorites Ray's Bar-B-Q and Evans Pit.
DeSoto, one of the oldest cities in North Texas, grew beyond its railroad stop beginnings after World War II like many regions in the state. Today, DeSoto is a diverse city just 20 minutes south of downtown Dallas just off the junction of I-20 (Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway) and U.S. Route 67 (Marvin D. Love Freeway). It's a city filled with urban parks and retail centers along with several attractions like the Windmill Hill Nature Preserve, the Victorian Nance Farm, helicopter excursions and Metroplex BMX, the longest BMX bike racing facility in the nation.
Rents in DeSoto, south of Dallas, are lower than its more popular counterparts in the northern suburbs like Richardson or Grapevine. A one-bedroom in DeSoto leases for an average of $1,058 per month.
When you consider all of the marvelous barbecue regions in America, of course, you never overlook the barbecue hotbed of … Minnesota? Why yes, inside the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the land of awesome barbecue choices.
Just west of Minneapolis lies the MSP suburb of Minnetonka. Outside of the tourist areas around the Mall of America and the sports arenas, Minnetonka dissolves into real Minnesota with neighborhood joints and local eateries, and where out of its 43 restaurants, the fewest in the top 10, five offer saucy barbecue.
It was just a few years ago where if you said “barbecue" in these parts, you'd get grilled meats like brats and burgers. But as real pitmasters populate the region, Memphis and Texas barbecue are melding with Scandinavian and Viking traditions to create Minnesota dishes like smoked lamb Valhalla Dip and barbecue smoked Lake Superior whitefish and trout, much with horseradish for heat over chiles.
While most of Minnetonka is tree-canopy suburban neighborhoods, you can find tasty barbecue and other eateries in the retail districts along the Interstate 394 and State Highway 7 corridors.
While Minnetonka is a suburban bedroom community for many that work in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, a number of people settle in the land of Great Water for work at Minnetonka's Cargill, where the headquarters of the largest privately held corporation in America lie. But for the needs of either, an average one-bedroom apartment unit lists for $1,395 a month.
To absolutely no one's surprise, Memphis, TN — the barbecue capital of the world — sits at No. 1 for the best city for BBQ. Not only does the River City have the highest ratio of barbecue restaurants in the nation, but it also has the third overall most barbecue joints behind only the much larger Houston and Chicago.
There's a reason everyone knows — with apologies to Austin, St. Louis and Kansas City — that Memphis is the best place in the world for barbecue restaurants. With some of the most famous joints in the world, from Central BBQ and Payne's to Charlie Vergos and the late Public Eye, with 142 barbecue restaurants within the city limits, there's amazing pulled pork, ribs and dry rub around every corner.
But for those that live in and visit Memphis, the city is much more than dry rub, Elvis and the blues. Beale Street is a cacophony of music, art, drink and eateries. Mud Island is a stunning park set on an island just off the Mississippi riverfront with walking trails, museums, an amphitheater and a half-mile long, full-scale geographic model of the lower Mississippi River from confluence with the Ohio River in Illinois to the delta in Louisiana, with river water flowing southward into a replica Gulf of Mexico. And the National Civil Rights Museum celebrates the fight for equal rights at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.
OK, sure, there's a no better place in the world to visit for Southern eats and events like the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, nowhere else to hear the blues than in the home of the legacies of W.C. Handy, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin and — yes — to see Graceland.
If you want to bring home the best dry rub leftovers anywhere, a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the Midsouth will run you an average of $960 each month.
Didn't see your favorite barbecue city in the top 10? If it seems like there's a 'cue joint around every corner by you, find your town in the top 50 cities list and if it's not there, open up your own place!
|Rank||City||State||Population||Percentage of BBQ Restaurants||BBQ Restaurants Per 100K People|
Just two of our top 10 best cities by the highest percentage of barbecue spots are also in the top 10 for the most barbecue restaurants per person, and they're at numbers nine and 10. So, where do you find the most ribs and rub per capita? No surprise, they're entirely in the South in the heart of the BBQ Belt.
|Rank||City||State||Population||BBQ Restaurants Per 100K People||Percentage of BBQ Restaurants|
Combine a large metro population, a rich culinary culture and mostly a Southern pedigree and you'll find the top 10 cities for the most barbecue restaurants overall. Every city in America with more than a hundred BBQ hangouts is in the top 10. But don't worry, all is right in barbecue world: Memphis still beats out New York City and L.A.
|Rank||City||State||Population||BBQ Restaurants||Percentage of BBQ Restaurants||BBQ Restaurants Per 100K People|
To determine the best cities for BBQ, we looked at roughly 6,300 cities that had at least one barbecue restaurant in a database of more than 8 million commercially available business listings. We then filtered out all cities with less than 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 population estimates. From there, we divided the total number of barbecue establishments by total dining businesses of the remaining cities. This gave us the percentage of all restaurants in a specific city that are barbecue restaurants. The cities with the highest percentage of barbecue restaurants were deemed to be the best cities for barbecue in our quantitative report.
Per capita calculations were based on dividing the total number of barbecue restaurants in a specific city by that area's population, then multiplying by 100,000 to determine the number of barbecue restaurants per 100,000 people.
Our calculations may not reflect recent restaurant openings or closings.
The rent information included in this article is based on average entry-level one-bedroom multifamily rental property unit inventory on Apartment Guide and Rent.com as of January 2019 and is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.