Great food is a major motivation for many people. Since I love barbeque, a road trip focusing on fabulous barbeque is an idea I have considered for quite a while. Even though you can find barbequed ribs or beef in many restaurants, there are several places in the United States which are famous for their barbeque, and this trip, which covers quite a bit of the country, takes you to all these locations. Unfortunately, because of the great distance, this trip is a one-way journey. It could be accomplished with a one-way flight to the starting (or ending city) and then a return after the completion of the road trip.
This trip begins in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, known for its pork barbeque. Actually, the more storied area is east of here in Wilson and/or Smithfield, two communities along Interstate 95. The distinguishing feature of North Carolina barbeque is the salty vinegar used to flavor the meat. In the eastern part of the state, where we are starting, ketchup is not generally used, while it is added in the western areas. Follow Interstate 40 westward being sure to sample the barbeque along the way, especially in places like Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina. (Wilson is approximately 80 miles from Chapel Hill)
When you reach the Goldsboro area, you have arrived in the other famous barbeque region of the state. Detour down Route 52 to Lexington, to sample the cuisine in some of its famous barbeque restaurants, such as Lexington Barbeque (ask for the "outside brown"). Then, return to I-40 and continue west to Asheville, a charming town in the foothills of the Smokies, which has a reputation for some of America’s best barbeque. Two of the most widely known restaurants are Little Pigs, and the Barbeque Inn. (Asheville and Chapel Hill are about 225 miles apart)
Now, leave North Carolina, staying on I-40 west, through the mountains (stop for a day or two in Great Smokies National Park) and into Tennessee. You are heading for Memphis, another of this country’s premier barbeque regions. The distance from Asheville to Memphis is about 500 miles. Some of the more famous "joints" are A & R Barbeque, Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, and Payne’s Original. In Memphis, you can order your ribs "dry" or "wet," and there is a raging controversy about which is better. The only way to resolve the dilemma is to try each and see what you prefer. It probably means spending several days in the city, but there is plenty to do (see my Spotlight on Memphis or my Memphis Walking Tour for ideas).
Our next stop is Kansas City, Missouri, located in the western part of the state. If you have never been to St Louis, drive north from Memphis on Interstate 55 (285 miles) and then west on I-70 from St Louis to Kansas City (252 miles). Be sure to stop and see the Gateway Arch and some of the other St Louis attractions before proceeding. When you reach Kansas City, sample the ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s and at Arthur Bryant’s, reputed to be among the best in town.
The last barbeque "hot spot" is the state of Texas, in particular the Austin area. However, our first destination in this state, which truly takes barbeque seriously, is Dallas. To reach the city, take Interstate 35 south from Kansas City for approximately 489 miles. If you would like to break up the trip, stop overnight in Oklahoma City, being sure to check out National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. When you reach Dallas-Fort Worth, the two most highly recommended barbeque restaurants are the Railhead Smokehouse and Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse.
Continue south on I-35 to reach Austin (195 miles), the state capital and home of the University of Texas. Here barbeque reigns supreme, and there are numerous places to investigate. Among the best are Irons Works, the Salt Lick, and County Line on the Hill. Before you leave the area, travel south to Lockhart, only a thirty (30) mile ride, and check out Kreuz Market, serving barbeque since the early 1900s, and Smitty’s Market, much newer but just as famous.
This is the end of my journey to discover the best barbeque in America. Hope you enjoyed the eats!