Based on my experiences (limited nationally and pretty extensive locally) below are my rankings of favorite BBQ places:
Best BBQ in the Twin Cities:
- Ted Cook's 19th hole - I've written about this place before, but I will write it again - this place serves the best BBQ in the Twin Cities. The sauce is unique and that combined with the ribs, pork and sliced beef make for an excellent meal.
- Q'Fanatic - I just made it back to Q'Fanatic for the 2nd time yesterday and again I loved the food. This small spot in Champlin was recently featured in Diners, Drive-In's and Dives and also earned the 2nd spot in Minnesota Monthly's best BBQ in Minnesota. All of the food is really good (including the sides, which isn't normally the case at BBQ restaurants) except maybe the pulled pork. Also, the only other disappointing thing is that they serve a lot of sauce options. I know this might be a positive for a lot of people, but I tend to like places that don't have too many sauce options. For instance Ted Cook's has one main sauce at three levels of heat - mild, medium and hot. Q'Fanatic offers everything from a chipotle BBQ sauce to a vinegar Carolina sauce. There are too many options and by the time you figured out what sauce is your favorite you are almost finished with the meal. The good news is that the BBQ is so good, you really don't even need to deal with the sauce.
- Pastor Hamilton's - After Q'Fanatic there is definitely a drop off in BBQ. You can find really good options at all of the next three, but there aren't as many consistently great options as the top 2 listed above. I enjoyed the ribs and the sauce at this hole in the wall spot in St. Paul. It is one of those places that I have been meaning to go back to, but for whatever reason I have only been once. It was definitely really good, but when I am looking for BBQ I normally just drive to Ted Cook's.
- C&G's Smoking BBQ - This spot opened up right next to where I used to live and serves excellent sandwiches. Also, an added bonus is the fact that you can get crispy, salty fried okra, which serves as the perfect compliment to a good BBQ sandwich.
- Rooster's (for the pulled pork/ribs) and Market BBQ (for the brisket) - For my last spot, I am going to combine the pulled pork sandwich/ribs from Roosters in St. Paul with the sliced brisket sandwich at Market BBQ. I have gone back to both places for both options and would do the same again.
Best BBQ in the nation (based on my limited experience):
- Pappy's Smokehouse - St. Louis - After finishing our Big Ben platter we had to ask one of the workers at Pappy's whether or not they sold the dry rub they put on their ribs. The guy kind of laughed, told us no and said that he is asked that question many times a day. It didn't really surprise us since the ribs we had at Pappy's was the unanimous favorite meal of my friends BBQ tour of Missouri. While we loved the 2nd spot on this list, Pappy's was different.
- Oklahoma Joe's - Kansas City - There are a lot of great BBQ places in Kansas City that I haven't tried yet. However, on my 2nd trip back to Kansas City I wanted to go back to Oklahoma Joe's for the second time. It isn't like I didn't want to try the other places that I have read about, but I guess I just wanted to make sure to go back to Oklahoma Joe's. It was that good the first time and the thankfully the second time didn't disappoint either. It is definitely worth the hour long wait inside a convenience store in a nondescript part of Kansas City, Kansas. The ribs were that good. The rest of the BBQ was that good. The place lived up to the considerable hype. (It was named as one of the 13 places you need to eat before die by Anthony Bourdain.) Really, it was very close voting between Pappy's and Oklahoma Joe's for the best BBQ I have ever had.
- Ted Cook's 19th hole - Minneapolis - see above. The best Minneapolis has to offer.
- Central BBQ - Memphis - One time flights into Jackson were so expensive that it made more sense to fly into Memphis. This was kind of a logistics pain, but it did give me the chance to sample one of the best BBQ spots in the city. If only I had known about places like Central BBQ earlier I would have made a few more trips from Jackson to Memphis when I had the chance.
- Arthur Bryant's - Kansas City - The BBQ is almost as good as the workers are unpleasant. It really is kind of like the "soup nazi" episode in Seinfeld. The service is poor and the food completely makes up for it. I especially remember liking the brisket sandwich and fries.