Much like a good sauce, the exact origins of the word “barbecue” are storied and messy. The word “barbacoa” is can be traced back to what the Spanish called the indigenous peoples’ way of cooking meats over a wooden platform. And there have been generations of debate about what meat, method, marinade, and municipality makes for the “best” barbecue in this country. What is undeniable, however, is that the cuisine’s very existence can be attributed to America’s indigenous people and enslaved Africans. And, like a new Netflix documentary, we want to give credit where credit is due.

From your typical barbecue capitals like Texas, the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City, and St. Louis to some unexpected joints in Phoenix, Richmond, Brooklyn, and Portland, the following 41 spots have been vetted by a team of writers, testers, and pitmasters. Some have survived for generations, even opening up second locations, rebounding after fires, and, of course, withstanding the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is a diverse list of pitmasters that reflects who is really sweating over smokers while challenging the status quo.

So read on to find out our favorite barbecue joints in America to get tender brisket bark, sticky glazed ribs, juicy smoked pork, heaping jalapeño mac and cheese, honey-laced cornbread, and a gooey slice of triple chocolate cake for dessert. We know your mouth is watering already.

Cattleack BBQ

Farmers Branch, Texas
There’s a certain charm to barbecue shacks located in the middle of nowhere, but Cattleack proves that operating out of a crumbling bungalow isn’t a requisite for great meat, any old strip mall will do for the right pitmaster. Cattleack is just one of several places raising Dallas’s barbecue profile to a full-on destination. And in addition to some of the best-tasting, fattiest brisket in the state, there are few bites of meat in the barbecue world as indulgent as their intensely-marbled Akaushi beef ribs.