Lillie's Q, Chicago
Chef Charlie McKenna, who has won big on the competitive barbecue circuit, makes five kinds of sauces to go with his meat. His signature dish is baby back ribs rubbed with a secret "Carolina dirt" spice rub.
Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse; Louisville, KY
Vietnamese brothers Michael and Steven Ton grew up in Texas and cooked in North Carolina. Now they make great barbecue in Kentucky, like brisket with Texas toast. One local perk: a 100-plus whiskey list.
Bogart's Smokehouse, St. Louis
St. Louis's reputation as a barbecue destination just got better. Skip Steele worked at local institution Pappy's Smokehouse before opening his own place in February. He cooks his pork ribs in an Old Hickory wood smoker, then coats them with an apricot glaze and blasts them with a blowtorch that sounds like a plane taking off. His baked beans are terrific; they cook in the smoker underneath the brisket to absorb the drippings.
Insider's Tip: Besides barbecue standards like ribs and brisket, Bogart's also offers less traditional smoked specialties: juicy pastrami and crispy pork skins.
Mable's Smokehouse and Banquet Hall; Brooklyn, NY
Meghan Love and her husband, Jeff Lutonsky, have renovated this Greenpoint warehouse, installing a wood smoker and decorating with mismatched chairs at long tables. Love, who used to shake cocktails in fancy NYC restaurants, keeps the drinks list simple, while Lutonsky makes sauces based on his grandmother Mable's recipes and gets hot links from Schwab's in his home state of Oklahoma.
Hill Country; Washington, DC
At the original Hill Country in Manhattan, chef Elizabeth Karmel serves her gargantuan, messy beef ribs on butcher paper with sides like creamy green bean casserole. Now, Hill Country has expanded to DC (owner Marc Glosserman is from there). The menu is basically identical but with more desserts, including monthly changing cakes like five-layer red velvet cake.
Sneaky's, San Francisco
Until recently, the only way to get almond-wood-smoked kurobuta pork belly from Sneaky's was by delivery. Now Sneaky's has a permanent home at Hayes Valley's Rebel bar; that superrich pork belly and Carolina-style pulled pork are served nightly until 10 p.m.