Where there’s smoke, there’s… some of the best barbecue in the United States.
Sure, you might automatically (and correctly) think of St. Louis and Memphis as barbecue hot spots on the Mississippi River, but the truth is, you can find delectable BBQ at restaurants up and down the Great River Road—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.
Here’s a region-by-region breakdown of where you can find the best brisket, ribs and more along America’s greatest drive.
Even if they don’t have the traditions of their Southern cousins, the states of the northern Great River Road still have plenty of restaurants that produce delicious barbecue. In the Twin Cities, visitors can find authentic Carolina barbecue at Revival, which has restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and also sells smoked meats at the Keg and Case Market in Saint Paul).
Head to La Crosse—the biggest city on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road—for great bites at Piggy’s (and don’t miss live blues music in the Smokin’ Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights). Across the river in Bellevue, Iowa, you’ll find another barbecue-and-blues restaurant at Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ, housed in a historic grist mill on the banks of the Mississippi.
A short drive from St. Louis, Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville, Illinois, has won lots of awards since it opened in 2015, including nods from Thrillist (who called it one of the 33 best BBQ joints in America) and Food & Wine magazine (Illinois’ best barbecue).
Now this is barbecue country. We could do a whole article—or several, in fact—on the offerings in St. Louis and Memphis alone, but we’ll pick a few that you must check out. In St. Louis, don’t miss Pappy’s Smokehouse near Saint Louis University; while you’re waiting in line for their award-winning ribs, check out the autographed menus plastered on the walls.
In the tiny town of Bardwell, Kentucky, locals flock to Prince Pit BBQ (which also has a store in nearby Barlow). Further south in Memphis, you’ll find delicious barbecue almost anywhere, but be sure to visit the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has welcomed rock stars, presidents and regular folks alike to its alley-front location since 1948.
Did you know that Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant can be found in a town of just 3,500 people? Well, that’s how good the reputation is for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which has been serving customers since at least 1910 and may be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, is home to the infamous Crossroads—the place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul in exchange for his unearthly musical talent. Just a few steps away from the marker commemorating this location is Abe’s Bar-B-Q, which has been serving locals and visitors to unfettered acclaim for decades.
Louisiana is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so it only makes sense that you’ll find po’ boys and fried chicken in addition to the barbecue favorites on the menu at The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats in St. Francisville. What started out as a specialty meat shop now serves hundreds of sandwiches daily; don’t miss their fancier relative, The Francis Southern Table & Bar, next door.