Cozy Corner, Memphis, Tennessee
745 North Parkway, 901-527-9158; cozycornerbbq.com
Memphis gets slagged for being an overrated barbecue town thatís more sauce than substance. Cozy Corner is the decisive riposte, a pint-size shop run by Desiree Robinsonwidow of the founding pitmaster Raymondthat specializes in amazingly tasty Cornish game hens and slaw-topped barbecued-bologna sandwiches. Then of course there are the spice-rubbed, sauce-slicked ribs, which Robinson manages to give an irresistibly succulent bite.
B.E. Scottís Bar-B-Que, Lexington, Tennessee
10880 Highway 412 West, Lexington; 731-968-0420
When Early Scott, the founder of this legendary restaurant, retired nearly 20 years ago, he left the operation in the hands of his disciple and kindred spirit Ricky Parker, who masterfully upholds the often-neglected Tennessee tradition of whole-hog barbecue. Customers can choose from various parts of 250-pound hogs that have spent 20-plus hours in pits over smoldering hickory charcoal.
Sweatmanís, Holly Hill, South Carolina
1313 Gemini Drive, 803-492-7543
If barbecue hounds had a motto, it might be this: The more obscure and eccentric the place, the better the meat. Itís a peculiar logic with countless exceptions. Sweatmanís is not one of them. Itís between middle-of-no where Eutawville and Holly Hill, South Carolina. Itís open only on Fridays and Saturdays. Itís in a dumpy old house that owner Bub Sweatman, who died in 2005, bought when he came out of culinary retirement. Whether the whole hogscooked over oak coals and then broken down into toothsome ribs, lush light meat, and chewy, crunch-flecked pieces of fleshwould taste just as good in less quirky environs is beside the point.
Memphis Minnieís, San Francisco, California
576 Haight Street, 415-864- 7675; memphisminnies.com
San Francisco isnít the likeliest barbecue town, but lo and behold, itís home to a place that serves slices of moist brisket rimmed with a gleaming, blackish crust and meltingly tender pork butt that could compete with the best in the country. It doesnít matter that Bob Kantor, the man behind the meat, doesnít hail from Kansas City or small-town Texas but from Brooklyn. His barbecue is shaped not by one regional style but by his insistence that the meat see hours of oak smoke and be served sauceless.
Big Bob Gibsonís, Decatur, Alabama
2520 Danville Road SW, 256-350-0404; bigbobgibsonbbq.com
There actually was a Bob Gibson, and he was big, even by the inflated standards of the barbecue world. In 1925 he set up shop selling pulled pork, chicken, and the tangy, peppery white sauce now standard in northern Alabama. Rarely can chicken, even by dint of hickory smoke, dream of overshadowing pig, but after a three-and-a-half-hour trip to the pit and a brief baptism in that white sauce, it comes awfully close. A tangle of pork, cooked for 16 hours and pulled into almost creamy strands, wins by a nose.