While some states, like Texas (specifically Austin, which many regard as the birthplace of BBQ), get a lot of credit for their smoked and seasoned meats and sides, the reality is there are good barbecue joints on both sides of the Mississippi and as far north as Canada. From Toronto to Santa Fe, Washington, D.C. to Austin, here are our picks for unique barbecue in North America. Prepare to get your hands dirty.
Location: Austin, Texas
Dish Known For: Franklin's is famous for dishing out what many consider the best barbecue in Austin -- there is nothing bad on the menu. That's quite a feat, considering Austin is the home of Texas barbecue. The ribs have been described as "unbelievable"; the brisket as "melt-in-your mouth" perfect.
Unique Factor: When a barbecue restaurant's line has its own Twitter feed, you know the place is popular. In fact, on weekends, patrons can find themselves waiting up to five hours for the famous brisket. Waiting in the line is as much an Austin experience as eating the delicious brisket, pulled pork, and ribs in the no-frills dining room after finally getting in the front door. The lunch-only joint opens Tuesday through Sunday at 11 a.m. and closes when the food runs out. Come midweek for slightly shorter lines, but if you aren't in line by noon any day of the week, expect the food to be sold out by the time you reach the front.
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Dish Known For: Slows serves some of the best ribs in Detroit, but they're also known for their pulled pork and brisket. The sides here are also stellar. Don't miss the Mac-n-Cheese. The wings are also good. It's hard to go wrong when ordering at Slows.
Unique Factor: Beyond traditional barbecue platter options, Slows also preps a unique selection of burgers and sandwiches, which adds more variety than many barbecue joints. The Yardbird is one signature sandwich; the Slows Special Purpose burger is another. Slows has also become the poster child for Detroit barbecue and revitalization in the city as a whole. Owner Brian Perrone says he isn't sure "if what we do would be considered Detroit barbecue, but we have gotten heaps of praise from all over for not only the food but also our involvement in the community. Because of that, I think outsiders think of Slows as Detroit barbecue by association."
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Dish Known For: This Memphis barbecue institution, across the street from the historic Peabody Hotel, is most famous for its dry ribs. They are prepared with a paprika-hued, spicy dry rub, then grilled over charcoal until the seasoning is baked into the meat, creating an intensely flavorful and juicy rib that is just the right amount of spice, smoke, and sweetness.
Unique Factor: If you're looking for traditional wet barbecue ribs, Rendezvous may disappoint: Their signature ribs are not doused in sauce like many other southern barbecue joints. That said, sauce is available and you can easily add it at the table. If you enjoy the dry rub, buy some to take home. If you're craving the seasoning after leaving Memphis, it's easy to purchase online.
Location: Grand Lake, Colorado
Dish Known For: People come for the homemade baked beans and rack of barbecue pork ribs.
Unique Factor: The barbecue sauce at Sagebrush is made in house and comes in a few different flavors. Try the mustard barbecue sauce with the spicy pork sausage links for something different. The location of this barbecue restaurant at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is also unique: The building once housed the county jail. Today jail doors still hang from the wall, and the place has a rustic western vibe. The restaurant is also known as "the peanut place," because buckets filled with peanuts are located at each table, and the floor is covered with discarded shells.
Location: Toronto, Canada
Dish Known For: The Pit Master Platter is the menu's top seller and is inspired by the owner's vacations to Texas and the southern United States. Made to share, it includes a serving of pork ribs, beef brisket, and buttermilk fried chicken.
Unique Factor: The ribs and brisket here are dry-rubbed with sea salt and black pepper before they're smoked in the fire pit over white oak, which itself has been dried for more than two years. They are served without sauce so so as to not detract from the flavor of the high-quality and well-trimmed meat. However, house-made sauces, including one made with espresso beans, are served on the side.
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Dish Known For: The barbecue brisket is what to order -- it's considered the best brisket west of Memphis. It can either be a traditional sandwich or, for more of a kick, try it Southwestern-style in a quesadilla stuffed with cheese and New Mexico's famous green chiles. Wash it down with a strong margarita, which is available in all sorts of flavors and tequila qualities.
Unique Factor: The fusion of Texas barbecue with New Mexican cooking is what makes Cowgirl so tasty. Another cool factor about this local watering hole is the nightly live music. Head inside after dinner for dancing to a different band each night after 9 p.m.
Location: San Francisco, California
Dish Known For: Barbecue aficionados will not want to skip The Presidential smoked meat plate, which comes with every type of meat on the menu, plus every side and fixing in the house. If you want to eat slightly less, the brisket and ribs are the top barbecue picks -- but 4505 also does a mean cheeseburger.
Unique Factor: Run by a butcher, 4505 is locally known for its humanely raised meats that are smoked in a wood-fire pit. Beyond the tasty barbecue, 4505 makes a great burger and classic sides. Kids will love the Frankaroni, for instance, which is a combination of hot dogs and mac and cheese. Takeout is also an option at this casual restaurant with limited seating on NoPa's (north of Panhandle) Divisadero corridor. Expect to wait during peak hours.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Dish Known For: This cafeteria-style Texas barbecue joint serves some of the best smoked brisket in the nation's capital, which comes out moist and tender. The other smoked meats, including sausage and ribs, are also tasty, but the style is dry rub rather than wet sauce. Hill Country really delivers in the sides department. The cheddar mac and cheese, skillet corn bread, collard greens, sweet potato mash, and beer-braised cowboy pinto beans are good enough to star solo.
Unique Factor: There is live music downstairs on most nights at this Austin-style honky-tonk in the Penn Quarter that is more chic than cheesy. It is also known for its Texas-brewed beer and its margaritas.