June 27, 2012 at 8:31 AM ET
Few topics inspire as much fiery passion as barbecue. The style may vary across the country, but two ingredients remain the same throughout: smoke and meat, a powerful combination that’s enticed eaters since ancient times. Today, barbecue is a deeply rooted part of American culture, with regional ’cue preferences speaking to a city’s history, geography and taste.
Barbecue famously varies greatly from region to region — saucy pork ribs rule in St. Louis, Mo., while Texans love their meat pure, especially in the form of slow-cooked brisket, black and crackled like bark on top and pink-tender within. Many of the country’s best barbecue joints are institutions, like 100-year-old Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, Mo., which food writer Calvin Trillin once declared “the best restaurant in the world.” “We haven’t changed a thing since day one,” says manager Quincy Echols. “Of course, we have secrets in the kitchen. I can’t tell you any more … but you know that if you come here, you’re gonna get the best BBQ in the world.”
Visitors travel from around the globe to try some of America’s best ’cue: “We get tourists from China, New Zealand, Iceland, Brazil, you name it,” says Jim Sells, co-owner of fabled smokehouse Smitty’s in Lockhart, Texas. “My wife owns the place; she just lets me work here,” he jokes. “I still consider it good old American cooking. You can’t find BBQ this great anywhere but the USA, can you?” His attitude hints at the secret ingredients in winning barbecue: devotion to craft and endless pride.
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