There are few things in life more delicious and satisfying than a plate of barbecue. And more often than not, the centerpiece of that plate is a rack of ribs. A glistening, smoky, slow-cooked rib, whether pork or beef, has the potential to be one of the most groan-inducingly good foods in existence, especially when enjoyed with a cold, easy-drinking beer. But who makes the best ribs in America? And what exactly makes a perfect rib?
We reached out to some of the country's most renowned food writers and critics, and assembled a list not only of their favorites, but of ribs that are renowned far and wide for their smoky perfection. The only criterion that we provided these panelists was that their picks needed to be bone-in ribs, best eaten with your hands and a pile of napkins. So while we're certainly fans of Italian-style braised short ribs (famed critic Gael Greene told us that her favorite ribs are the ones at New York City's Il Buco Alimentari), those didn't meet our criteria for this list. Renowned food writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance John T. Edge, The Washington Post's Tim Carman, GQ's Alan Richman, the Los Angeles Times' Jonathan Gold, and Esquire's John Mariani all submitted some of their favorites. A couple of panelists also gave us their answer to the question -- "What makes the perfect rib?"
So what does make for a perfect rib, according to some of the country's leading experts? Tenderness, sauce-to-meat ratio, smokiness, and good charring.
"For me, barbecue spareribs should not fall off the bone like those ubiquitous braised short ribs you find on every chef-driven menu," Tim Carman told us. "Your teeth should be engaged in the eating process with spareribs, forced to lock onto the smoky flesh and gently pull it from the bone. The spareribs should also not arrive at your table smothered in tangy/sweet/spicy sauce. I want to taste the meat and smoke and whatever layer of seasonings the pitmaster has applied to the ribs. Sauces can hide defects in seasoning and smoking."
We wholeheartedly agree, so with those parameters in mind, we set off to find the country's best ribs, building on our previous rankings and ranking them according to local renown, critical appraisal, and adherence to the criteria set forth by our panel of experts. A word of warning before reading on: You'll be hungry by the time you make your way to number one. And if your favorite place isn't on the list, we also agree with what Alan Richman told us: "In fact, they're all great."
City Market is one of Texas’ great barbecue joints and a true claim to fame for the city of Luling. You’d be hard-pressed to find better brisket, and the ribs are simply out of this world. It’s a comfortable, air-conditioned restaurant (a nice change of pace from some of the state’s more rustic establishments), and while the sauce is some of the best you’ll ever have, it’s completely unnecessary on these beautifully smoky ribs that really let the meat speak for itself. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Joshua Bousel Click Here to see the more of America's 35 Best Ribs
In order to stand out in Kansas City you have to be better than good, and Gates is much better than good. While the menu at this restaurant, which has locations scattered throughout the area, is more varied than you might expect, ribs are the way to go. Lightly seasoned with a secret rub, they’re seared over an open flame before getting the low and slow treatment, resulting in a rib with the perfect amount of char, smoke, and tenderness. The tomato and vinegar-based sauces are so popular that they’re sold nationwide, but these ribs are so good that you should consider eating them sauceless. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Jason Johnson
Sam Huff had been competing in the professional barbecue circuit for more than 30 years before opening Sam & Dave’s BBQ in 2005. They went their separate ways four years later, and today Huff caters, teaches, and smokes some killer meat. Hickory smoked for upwards of 12 hours, his ribs are super-smoky, tender, properly-rendered, and require no sauce (even though the Kansas City-style sauce is great). Get there early, because they close up shop when they run out of meat. Photo Credit: Credit: Sam’s BBQ Click Here to see the more of America's 35 Best Ribs
Arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America, Kansas City can be very proud to be home to Arthur Bryant’s. Founded in the 1920s, you would be doing yourself a great disservice is you were to pay a visit without trying the ribs. The secret to the barbecue here lies in the wood: the hickory and fruit wood used is better suited to making furniture from than burning. The pork ribs are pink and perfectly smoked, and when slathered with Bryant’s famous orange-red barbecue sauce (made with double-strength pickling vinegar), they’re the stuff dreams are made of. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Dave Herholz
In a city renowned for its pork ribs, the ones at Oklahoma Joe’s are simply the best, and appeared on more than one of our panelists’ lists. Boasting a deeply burnished shade of red thanks to a rub heavy with paprika, cumin, brown sugar, and chili powder, these ribs also happen to be postcard-picture-perfect to look at, and you’ll most likely find yourself snapping a photo of them before you even take that first bite. And once you do, you’ll learn what the fuss has been about. Moist, juicy, smoky, tender — all those adjectives you thought you knew the definition of will only conjure one image in your mind from here on out: Oklahoma Joe’s pork ribs. They’re the best you’ll ever have. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Joe Newman Click Here to see the more of America's 35 Best Ribs
- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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