Johnny Fugitt’s love of barbecue goes far beyond that of your average enthusiast.
The St. Louis native spent a year dining at 365 barbecue restaurants across 48 states.
In his book, “The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America,” he details his journey and hones in on what he believes are the best ‘cue joints in the country.
The book ranks the top 25 restaurants and then explores the other 75 by region.
Keep scrolling to see Fugitt’s ranking of America’s 25 best barbecue spots, from Lockhart, Texas to Piedmont, South Dakota.
This Texas-style barbecue joint is home to both a restaurant and charcuterie. Three out of four customers order the brisket, but Fuggit says City excels in its burnt ends and sausages. Arrive early, though: The restaurant is known for selling out -- sometimes before 3 p.m.
Heirloom fuses American and Korean barbecue for a unique and memorable flavour profile. One of the chef/owners grew up eating barbecue in Southwest Texas and the other used to be a Korean pop star. The restaurant is sandwiched between a highway and an apartment building that made a cameo in 'Catch Me If You Can.'
Smoque BBQ bills itself as a neighbourhood place. Home to one of the Windy City's best Austin-style brisket, Fugitt says it's the most recognised barbecue restaurant in Chicago. By combining different barbecue styles from around the country, Smoque serves up a flavour all its own.
An arson fire set this Texas barbecue spot ablaze, forcing the restaurant to temporarily operate as a catering business out of owner J.R.'s home. But don't cross it off your list. If you're looking for a caterer in South Dakota with tasty brisket and mac 'n cheese, you've found it.
This Kansas City stalwart's secret to success is its signature Gates BBQ sauce, which Fugitt describes as 'black pepper-heavy (and) tomato-based.' Whether you like it orginal, mild, sweet and mild, or extra hot, definitely order an extra side of sauce with your 'cue.
B.T.'s started as a small-time catering business and grew to a 40-seat restaurant serving dry-rubbed meats smoked for up to 14 hours. Fugitt suggests the Reuben sandwich made with brisket, homemade slaw, Swiss cheese, toasted honey wheat bread, and house pickled rye sauce.
Promising live music Monday through Thursday night and serving a variety of barbecue dishes, The Shaved Duck's theme is 'Barbecue, Folk, and Soul.' With a smoking technique developed by a KC Royal-winning (think the World Series for BBQ) pitmaster, this restaurant serves Fugitt's favourite burnt ends in the country.
Owner Keith Allen opened Allen & Son Bar-B-Que when he was 17 years old. He started the business with a mere $US6,000 and it's been going strong for 44 years. Fugitt's favourite item here is the pork with slaw and hush puppies.
Puckett's Grocery is a feel-good, Southern hospitality kind of place place with live country music. On the menu you'll find cherry wood-smoked barbecue, homemade sides, and some upscale dishes mixed in. 'I learned how to make ribs when I was growing up in Memphis. We use our own special rub. Cooking teams have even won competitions with our ribs,' owner Andy Marshall notes on the restaurant's website.
Former President George W. Bush declared this his favourite barbecue spot. Meats are served straight off the pit and diners file inside to choose sides. The signature meal here is a two-inch thick, one-and-a-half pound pork chop with a side of bacon-jalapeno mac and cheese, gratis beans, and pecan cobbler topped with ice cream.
Fugitt describes Payne's as 'the holiest of all holes-in-the-wall' before raving about its chopped pork sandwich with mustard slaw and 'runny sauce.' In fact, he says it's his favourite barbecue sandwich in the whole country. The restaurant's interiors aren't glamorous, but its mix of charred and tender pork pieces are downright gorgeous.
Owners Russell Muehlberger and Jon Niederbremer were named Grand Champions at 1992's American Royal Invitational -- so they know their way around a slab of beef. Fugitt suggests the restaurant's ample John Russell sandwich, which is stuffed with chopped burnt ends and sausage.
Fugitt describes Dreamland as a 'bib wearin', sauce slatherin', old-school Southern joint that wouldn't pass a building safety inspection in most cities.' As the legend goes, John 'Big Daddy' Bishop opened the place after God came to him in a dream and told him to build a restaurant. Dreamland is known for its ribs and homemade sauce.
Having grown up in Memphis, Tennessee, Bogart's Chef Skip Steele lives and breathes barbecue. A blowtorch helps caramelize his apricot-glazed ribs, while a rotisserie-style Ole Hickory Pits smoker adds flavour to the beans. And in case you're wondering, those are the two things you simply must order at Bogart's.
Established in 1932, this is the oldest single family owned and operated barbecue restaurant in the state of Texas. Fugitt suggests the post oak-smoked sausages, offered in original, garlic, and jalapeño-cheddar flavours and made with a 90/10 beef to pork ratio.
The barbecue here is great, but the pulled pork barbecue nachos are next-level. Central BBQ is so popular and beloved that the restaurant and its owners have made appearances on shows like 'Pitmasters,' 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate,' and 'BBQ with Bobby Flay.' Though he's normally a dry rib kind of guy, Fugitt praises the wet ribs here.
Locals call this place 'Pete Jones' BBQ,' after owner Pete Jones, who opened the spot when he was just 17. He's served his barbecue to former presidents and earned an award from the James Beard Foundation. Jones' specialty is whole hog pork, served with corn bread and slaw.
Franklin is one of the most notable barbecue restaurants in America -- and it has the snaking line to prove it. Only open for lunch, customers arrive early in the morning and wait hours for the brisket, ribs, and sandwiches. Pitmaster Aaron Franklin even holds a James Beard award for best chef in the Southwest.
Herman Tuck opened Herman's back in 1964. And though the restaurant has shuffled owners, Tuck's barbecue tradition remains alive and well. The spare ribs are a popular choice here, but 'Herman's Famous Garlic Chicken' is also a favourite.
This family-owned smokehouse has quite the backstory. Owner John Rivers fell in love with brisket (and his wife) in Texas, and ultimately decided to travel around the country to create the perfect brisket recipe. So there's really no question of what to order here.
The interesting thing about this restaurant is that its lunch service is dedicated to traditional Texas barbecue (served 'market-style') and its dinner menu brings more innovative fare. For instance, the dinner menu's beef clod (or beef shoulder) is served with coffee quinoa crunch and pickled celery surrounded by a tomato-caramel sauce. Fugitt compares The Granary's cornbread to angel food cake, which sounds pretty heavenly.
Formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's, this former gas station has won a slew of awards and honours. Anthony Bourdain named it one of his '13 Places to Eat Before You Die.' Try the ribs or one of the sandwiches, specifically the Z-Man sandwich, stuffed with slow-smoked brisket, smoked provolone, and crispy onion rings.
Owner and Pitmaster Billy Durney spent nearly 20 years in celebrity security and private protection before turning his barbecue hobby into a business. He travelled around the country to hone his smoky craft and opened Hometown in 2013. The restaurant specialises in pit-smoked meats and makes everything (except the locally sourced pickles) in-house. Fugitt suggests the brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and beans.
Operating out of a permanently parked trailer, Kerlin is a husband-and-wife operation with some interesting techniques. As Fugitt notes, most briskets are smoked at between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from six to 20 hours. Kerlin smokes its brisket at 400 degrees for 12 hours. The result? A thick black crust encasing tender, succulent meat. They also serve free beer.
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