NEW YORK Picking top barbecue spots is a tad dangerous. The emotions connected to hometown recipes run as deeply as their flavors. Nevertheless online travel adviser Cheapflights (www.cheapflights.com) couldn't resist taking a stab at where to find finger-licking good beef and pork dishes for the Labor Day holiday. Reuters has not endorsed this list:
1. Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Find quintessential Eastern North Carolina barbecue (hint: slow-roasted pork and thin, vinegar-based sauce) in Chapel Hill at cult favorite Allen & Son Barbecue. No need to wear your jacket and tie to this neighborhood joint; its floors are covered in vinyl tile and its tables with checkered table cloths. Keith Allen cuts the hickory wood himself, then uses his secret ingredient to smoke house specialties like fall-off-the-bone ribs and BBQ sandwiches. Accompany Allen's tangy dishes with a glass of sweet tea, and remember to save - or compartmentalize - room for southern sweets like homemade peach cobbler.
2. Memphis, Tennessee
Dry rub reigns in Memphis, where restaurants throw elbows to win the hearts of visitors and would take to their secret recipes to the grave. Heavy hitter Charles Vergos' Rendezvous, opened in 1948 by "Mr. Downtown" Vergos himself, dishes out slabs of pork - part wet, part dry. "Vous style" ribs are basted with vinegar before being dusted with savory spices, creating a crispy, smoked bark. Though Vergos passed away in 2010, his legacy lives on in downtown Memphis. Those without a trip to the River City on the horizon need not fear: Rendezvous ships ribs, pork shoulder, barbecue sauce and other specialty items at a pricey - though worthy - cost.
3. Kansas City, Kansas
We know Anthony Bourdain brought legitimate attention to Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue - a restaurant nestled inside a corner gas station - years ago. But after a visit just this past spring, we couldn't miss the opportunity to talk about the unassuming gem's menu. Pulled pork sandwiches slathered in a spicy sauce with sweet undertones are just the start at this Kansas City favorite. Order a full slab of ribs - fit for you and a friend or two - and drown them in KC's rise-to-the-top table sauce.
4. Austin, Texas
The only thing better than chowing down on Texas barbecue is chowing down on Texas barbecue outside at a live rock concert. Stubb's Bar-B-Q combines Austin's two claims to fame - barbecue and live music - at one awesome downtown venue. Gracing the menu is barbecued brisket, served with your choice of two sides, including coleslaw, fried okra or pinto beans. And while other southern states perfect pork, Texas focuses its culinary attention on beef brisket. Prepared with a simple seasoning - usually just salt and pepper - the beef is slowly cooked over wood or coals. Some joints sop their meat in a famous beer, lemon and vinegar concoction, while others let the brisket speak for its savory self.
5. Chicago, Illinois
Follow a comedy show at Second City with a trip to Smoque, Chicago's go-to restaurant for fall-off-the-bone ribs and barbecue. Take the L train to Irving Park - a neighborhood north of the Loop - for brisket, pulled pork, Texas-style sausage and smoked chicken. "Low and slow" is Smoque's slogan, and the thoughtful methodology pays off. Though Chi-town is climbing the ranks of America's foodie towns and reservation-necessary restaurants like Girl and the Goat and Publican are serving snout-to-tail pork to critical acclaim, it's Smoque that's got the city's barbecue title on lockdown.
6. Holly Hill, South Carolina
South Carolina isn't a particularly large state, but you'd never guess from its extraordinary variety of secret barbecue recipes. In the western part of the state, pork comes drenched in a thick, ketchup-based tomato sauce. Central South Carolina prides itself on a mustard-vinegar-brown sugar combination. And on the east coast, it's the whole hog served up in a watered-down vinegar and pepper blend. To taste the central "Carolina Gold" recipe, head to Sweatman's Bar-b-que in Holly Hill. Carnivores drive more than 100 miles for the mustard-style pork, and the pig-filled buffet makes each mile worth it.
7. Santa Barbara, California
On your next trip to the West Coast, make room in both your itinerary and stomach for Santa Maria Style Barbecue. Unique to the Santa Maria Valley in central California, the method starts with a fairly typical rub of salt, pepper and garlic. Then grill masters takes an unexpected and fabulous turn by cooking special cuts like tri-tip beef rump over red oak coals. Chefs at farmers' markets across the Santa Barbara region take pride in their smoked craft, so be sure to bring your appetite.
8. Honolulu, Hawaii
A visit to the 50th state is pretty much guaranteed to culminate at a luau. Most resorts in Hawaii offer a once-a-week celebration - stocked with leis, hula dancers and fire throwers - that tells mesmerizing stories of ancient Polynesia. Its feast is a spread that shares Hawaii's heritage through food, and the main course: a whole roasted pig. Called kalua pig, it's prepared in an underground pit, an imu, and paired with other Hawaiian dishes like poke, similar to a ceviche, and poi, a viscous dish made from the taro plant.
9. Doral, Florida
South of the equator, the epitome of barbecue excellence is found in Brazil, where churrasco - that's Portuguese for barbecue - is king. But you don't have to travel that far to find world-class churrasco. At the aptly named Churrasco's just west of Miami, you can choose from top-notch standards like grilled chicken, short ribs, and every cut of steak you could wish for. Pair these with sides like fried sweet plantains and black beans. 10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
If you like your barbecue extra spicy, look no further than Jamaican "jerk" barbecue, where meats are dry-rubbed or marinated in an aggressive mixture of fiery spices. But you don't have to travel to tropical locales to get your fill: The Jamaican Jerk Hut in Philadelphia has some of the best jerk this side of Cuba. Jerk chicken is the staple of the menu, but, if you're feeling brave, take it to the next level with the curry goat or oxtail stew. Whatever you choose, you can't go wrong. Just make sure to keep a tall glass of water at the ready.
(Edited by Paul Casciato)