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The Best Barbecue Joints in All 50 States

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The key to great barbecue is to keep it simple: meat slow-smoked over wood. America’s barbecue scene is diverse, ranging from roadside shacks to full restaurants serving craft beer and brisket. Many barbecue joints create an admixture of styles from key cities like Memphis, Kansas City, and St. Louis, and states like Texas and the Carolinas. And even though the meat is the star of the show, what would a good barbecue meal be without a few solid sides? Here's our roundup of the best barbecue joint in every state.

1. ALABAMA // SAW’S BBQ

Location: Homewood, Alabama

Last year, Men’s Journal highlighted Alabama barbecue, including Saw’s. In fact, Saw’s has garnered a lot of acclaim since opening in 2009. Newcomer Saw’s Soul Kitchen opened in 2012, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks co-owns a third location, Saw’s Juke Joint. They serve barbecue with Alabama’s signature white sauce—made with mayo—and a baked potato stuffed with pork, which the Alabama Tourism Department proclaimed as one of the top 100 dishes in the state to try before you die.

2. ALASKA // BLACK JAXX BBQ

Locations: Soldotna and Homer, Alaska

Their remote location in Alaska may lead some to think of exotic meats, like moose, but Black Jaxx's weirdest offering is bologna. Their menu is fairly minimal: spiced meat sandwiches like pulled pork and brisket and traditional sides, served out of a food truck. Because of Alaska’s weather, they’re only open during the temperate spring and summer months, which makes their offerings even more special.

3. ARIZONA // BIGFOOT BBQ

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona

As their website reads, “Nothin’ fancy, just thoughtful consideration.” That consideration entails a good combination of fire, smoke, and spice. Try the BBQ Tour (pulled pork, beef brisket, short rack of ribs) or the Bigfoot Steak and Cheese (brisket, onions, cheese, and peppers). They also have some things for meat-averse vegetarians: “Everybody is welcome at Bigfoot, and to prove it we got non-meat bbq.” Finally, an inclusive addition to the barbecue kingdom.

4. ARKANSAS // SMOKIN’ BUNS

Location: Jacksonville, Arkansas

Arkansas's Smokin' Buns's menu runs the gamut, from traditional meat to pig skins (potato skins with pulled pork) and piggie pie (Fritos topped with smoked beans and pork). Catfish, shrimp, and blackened salmon platters are also available, served with hush puppies, battered fries and coleslaw. An Arkansas Times review stated Smokin’ Buns has the best brisket in the state, and that some Texans even compared it to the famous barbecue found in Austin.

5. CALIFORNIA // COPPER TOP BBQ

Location: Big Pine, California

The Golden State’s barbecue claim to fame is the Central California Santa Maria-style of barbecue: tri-tip. The best is located inside a window-serve joint in Big Pine, nestled in a valley between the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains. Copper Top smokes tri-tip, St. Louis-style pork ribs, and chicken, and was named the best restaurant in the U.S. last year according to Yelp, so there must be something good in that mountain air.

6. COLORADO // GEORGIA BOYS BBQ COMPANY

Locations: Longmont and Frederick, Colorado

In order to smoke the highest quality of meats, Georgia Boys purchased a XLR 1600 Southern Pride Smoker—“the finest and most advanced wood-burning barbecue pit available,” reads the website. The restaurant’s divided into two locations: The Shack, in Longmont, focusing on a small barbecue menu, and The Smokehouse, in Frederick, which has a bigger menu, draft beers, and the Barnyard Challenge: six pounds of meat in a cast iron skillet. If you don’t finish it, you’ll be memorialized on their wall of shame.

7. CONNECTICUT // PIG RIG BBQ

Location: Wallingford, Connecticut

The Pig Rig uses an Ole’ Hickory Smoker and their motto is "Go Pig Or Go Home." They coat a secret dry rub on the meats, and offer Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, the Jamaican topped with homemade jerk bbq sauce, and the PigMac topped with smoked macaroni and cheese. If you're not in the mood for pork, they also have chicken thighs, baby back ribs, and beef brisket platters.

8. DELAWARE // BETHANY BLUES BBQ

Locations: Bethany Beach and Lewes, Delaware

Barbecue joints aren’t typically found within a stone's throw of the ocean, but you can walk there from Bethany’s. The home of what they call Delmarva Penisula barbeque, named for the restaurant's location, was lovingly formulated after researching famous smokehouses in Austin, Texas, New York, and ones all across Tennessee. Everything is wood smoked between four and 16 hours, but try their signature St. Louis ribs, all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, and non-barbecue East Coast favorites like crab dip.

9. FLORIDA // AL’S FINGER LICKING GOOD BAR-B-QUE 

Location: Tampa, Florida

Menu items like Terrance's chopped beef, Aunt Nita's black-eyed peas, and of course Al's ribs give this family-run barbecue joint a personal touch. It all started as a concession stand in 2003, but now Al's is housed inside a bungalow in Tampa's historic Ybor City neighborhood. Al’s expertise centers on Tennessee-style dry rub and tomato-based sauce, good enough to be named one of Yelp’s top 10 best restaurants in Tampa Bay. Try Tia's TGIF Mac and Cheese, named after Al's daughter and served Fridays only.

10. GEORGIA // SOUTHERN SOUL BARBECUE

Location: St. Simons Island, Georgia

Another coastal location that would make more sense for a seafood restaurant, Southern Soul promises the aura of oak-smoked meats near a scenic locale. They smoke their pork, turkey, chicken, and brisket for at least 12 hours, and pit-fire their prime rib. Brunswick stew and Hoppin’ John—traditional southern dishes—are also presented on the menu.

11. HAWAII // UNCLE BOBO’S SMOKED BBQ 

Location: Kaaawa, Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu certainly knows its ‘cue. Using a combination of hickory and tropical woods, at Uncle Bobo's they smoke their meats with a “low and slow” method. The menu covers everything from pork shoulder to barbecued Sloppy Joes, and serves Redneck rice (with bacon drippings) and other Hawaiian favorites such as shaved ice and a healthy acai bowl.

12. IDAHO // BBQ4LIFE

Location: Boise, Idaho

Opening a part barbecue and part vegan restaurant might seem contradictory, but there’s something for every dietary need here. Vegans and vegetarians can enjoy the vegan bread pudding, smoked vegan potato salad or vegaloaf, while carnivores happily dine on pecan wood smoked sausage sandwiches, a Big Foot sandwich (pulled pork, mac and cheese, barbecue sauce on Hawaiian bread), and tri-tip.

13. ILLINOIS // BLACK DOG SMOKE AND ALE HOUSE

Locations: Urbana and Champaign, Illinois 

The first location opened in Urbana in 2009, and a second location, in Champaign, opened last year. Using a custom-made smoker, Black Dog cooks Polish sausages, free-range chickens, burgers, and spare ribs. They also make a line of sauces, including Georgia Peach (sweet), a hot mustard sauce, and a habanero sauce. To wash the meat and all the spiciness down, several craft beers are on draft.

14. INDIANA // RIP’S FAMILY BBQ

Location: Connersville, Indiana

Rip’s mainly offers Memphis-style barbecue, but Texas and Carolina can also be enjoyed. They use apple and hickory woods to smoke the meats listed on their vast menu, consisting of pork nachos, salads topped with meat, pork egg rolls served with barbecue sauce, pork-stuffed burritos, a smoked turkey sub, and the Beale Street (pulled pork topped with coleslaw).

15. IOWA // MOSLEY’S BARBECUE AND PROVISIONS

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Mosley’s has only been open for a year, but their Carolina-style barbecue has made a great dent in Iowa’s barbecue scene. Their bone-in pork butt (which is actually a shoulder) is pit-smoked for 12 hours, hand pulled, and topped with a couple of housemade sauces. Their red rib sauce isn’t the sticky variety, and their Gold Standard sauce is “sweet, with a kick.” They also offer St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, various sides like their jar of bacon (yes, a full $4.50 jar of hickory smoked bacon), and pitchers of southern sangria and craft cocktails.

16. KANSAS // JOE’S KANSAS CITY BAR-B-QUE

Locations: Kansas City, Leawood, and Olathe, Kansas

Though Kansas has much barbecue to offer, Joe’s Kansas City is the hands-down favorite—all the time. They have four locations throughout the state, including the original location (formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's), established in 1996 at a former gas station, and a private event space called The 180 Room. Joe’s has become such a brand, you can get it shipped to you. Their restaurants serve championship-winning barbecue, such as beef brisket, smoked ham, sandwiches like the Z-Man (brisket, provolone cheese, onion rings), and a whole section of “just ribs.”

17. KENTUCKY // RED STATE BBQ

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

A little known fact: Kentucky has its own style of barbecue, and it’s quite different in the Bluegrass state. Though many Kentuckians enjoy traditional barbecue like smoked brisket and sausage, some prefer specialty food like mutton (sheep) and the state's official dish, burgoo (meat stew). At Red State, you'll find the more traditional version of smoked chicken, pork, and sausage served with a selection of domestic and craft beers. Try the BBQ Parfait: Your choice of meat and two sides served in a clear Solo cup for $5.

18. LOUISIANA // BIG MIKE’S BBQ

Location: Houma, Louisiana

New Orleans’s The Joint frequently gets named the Best BBQ in Louisiana, but an hour outside of NOLA in Houma, the family-owned Big Mike’s challenges that reign. Their varied menu offers smoked brisket, grilled boudin, crawfish, ribs, burgers, and Creole rice. Try the Big Bertha Que for your next large gathering: three whole chickens, three pounds of sausage, three pounds of ribs, three pounds of brisket, and three pounds of pork—all of which should feed around 50 people.

19. MAINE // SMOKIN’ GOOD BBQ

Location: Bethel, Maine

Using an orange trailer, Smokin’ Good makes “real pit bbq.” The menu includes hot chili, North Carolina pulled pork, Texas beef brisket, hot links, and Dave’s Double Wide Family combo, with full slabs of ribs and a whole chicken. Coming in a close second is Portland’s Elsmere BBQ, which has grass-fed beef, seafood sandwiches, and oysters on their menu.

20. MARYLAND // THE BBQ JOINT

Locations: Easton and Pasadena, Maryland; Washington D.C.

Singling out the best barbecue in the Maryland/D.C. area is tough, especially with choices like Andy Nelson’s Barbecue, Mission BBQ, and Big Bad Wolf’s BBQ in the area. But former-chef-turned-pitmaster Andrew Evans keeps it simple at his four BBQ Joint locations in Maryland and D.C. They cook St. Louis ribs and whole barbecued chickens, and serve Texas cheesesteak, skillet cookies, sloppy Joe sliders, and pork rinds, and have an extensive list of craft beers and cocktails to boot.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // BLACKSTRAP BBQ

Location: Winthrop, Massachusetts

Since their opening in 2010, Blackstrap—named for a type of molasses used to make their barbecue sauces—has made grit fries, hand-cut onion rings, smoked chicken, burnt ends, Texas brisket, catfish, and habanero-watermelon slushies in a laid back and playful atmosphere. Blackstrap has daily specials and sometimes even hosts themed nights like a Golden Girls screening party.

22. MICHIGAN // SADDLEBACK BBQ

Location: Lansing, Michigan

A lot of good barbecue thrives in Michigan, but only one place is named after the British saddleback pig. Saddleback—which opened last year in REO Town—smokes ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork shoulder, and they’re so dedicated to their craft they have an overnight shift to monitor the smoking. They sell boxed lunches, brisket rib chili, and their Wednesday special is "Wu-Tang Wings."

23. MINNESOTA // SCOTT JA-MAMA’S

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

The menu is so tiny, you could conceivably try everything on the menu at least once, but Scott Ja-Mama's offers full-, half-, and quarter-racks of ribs, half and quarter chickens, steak sandwiches, and pork sandwiches. Their famous twice-baked potato and slaw comes with every platter, and you can check out the eclectic memorabilia on the walls while you wait.

24. MISSISSIPPI // LEATHA’S BAR-B-QUE INN

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Though Leatha died in 2013 at age 90, her restaurant lives on. She started the Inn in 1976, and wrote a book about her rise from poverty to becoming the “barbecue queen” of Mississippi. The menu consists of chicken, pork and beef ribs, wood-grilled steaks, and a “secret recipe” slaw. Apparently quarterback legend (and local) Brett Favre is a regular.

25. MISSOURI // BOGART’S SMOKEHOUSE

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Barbecue chains reign in Missouri (e.g. Jack Stack), but Bogart’s only has one location and a minimal menu. That gives the staff more time to focus on the meats: ribs, pulled pork, tri-tip, burnt ends, and sides like deviled egg potato salad, and barbecued pork skins. Their VooDoo sauce hits an eight on a hot scale, but they also feature more mild sauces, like their Pineapple Express. So far their attention to detail has paid off—Yelp named them one of the top 100 restaurants in the U.S.

26. MONTANA // THE NOTORIOUS P.I.G.

Location: Missoula, Montana

We’re not just picking this place because of its punny name—it is a great name, though—but because they feature a tour of the best kinds of barbecue: Memphis-style ribs, Kansas City burnt ends, Texas-style brisket, tri-tip sirloin, and, a curveball: New York pastrami.

27. NEBRASKA // LIPPY’S BBQ

Location: Malcolm, Nebraska

Lippy’s specializes in “naked barbecue,” which means they don’t add any sauce to their meats, instead letting the high-quality meat speak for itself. Their menu includes a beef brisket sandwich, Memphis-style pulled pork, brisket fajitas, and a Mix-Up Sandwich Meal: brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken.

28. NEVADA // JOHN MULL’S MEATS AND ROAD KILL GRILL

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

The location started as John Mull’s Meats and Deer Processing, until third generation owner Chuck Frommer took over the business in 1981. Deer and other meats are no longer slaughtered on the premises, and the space has evolved into a catering company, a meat market, and a small picnic-style lunch and dinner spot. You can pick up pork offal and goat meat by the pound from the market, or you can have them prepare the food for you: half-chicken dinners, five-bone rib dinners, hot links, mac and cheese, and cobbler.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // GOODY COLE’S SMOKEHOUSE & CATERING

Location: Brentwood, New Hampshire

The husband and wife team behind Goody Cole’s use an Oyler Barbecue Pit—which can hold up to 1200 pounds of meat—to hickory-smoke their meats for 12 hours. One of the owners hails from Texas, so she knows a thing or two about smoking barbecue well. The results are mouth-watering turkey, kielbasa, beef brisket, and a "world famous" St. Louis-style pork rib, dry seasoned with their own secret recipe.

30. NEW JERSEY // HENRI’S HOTTS BARBEQUE

Location: Hammonton, New Jersey

As if one plate of barbecue wasn’t filling enough, now you have the option of endlessly stuffing your face with pulled pork, black-eyed peas, ribs, whipped yams, and meatloaf at Henri's all-you-can-eat weekend buffet (or, thankfully, you can also opt to take your buffet to go). During the week, Henri’s serves a regular menu with many of the same items, including platters, wings, sandwiches, and burgers, which are just part of the reason Henri's has won the Best BBQ in South Jersey title for five years in a row.

31. NEW MEXICO // WATSON’S BBQ

Location: Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari Ranch Supply is home to a general store that sells livestock feed and sundries, but it’s also where owners Jimmy and Stella Watson smoke meats for their restaurant, Watson’s. They have Frito pie, a Bucky Special (brisket and sausage), a turkey leg plate, and a New Mexico green chili stew, as well as a full (not barbecued) donut menu.

32. NEW YORK // BIG W’S ROADSIDE BAR-B-QUE

Location: Wingdale, New York

New York City may have tons of barbecue options, but take a 90-minute drive outside the city and visit Big W’s in Wingdale. The “W” stands for owner/pitboss Warren Norstein, who started his barbecue adventure in 2003, on the side of Route 22. His chickens are smoked over wood for six hours, hence the name “slow chicken.” Besides poultry, their menu offers sandwiches and spare ribs in portions “truly sensible,” “sensible,” and “roadside.” If you’re feeding a lot of people, choose the For The Table meal: one whole rack of ribs, whole chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, and six sides for $99.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // HIGH COTTON

Location: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge wins a lot of barbecue brackets, but North Carolina has other barbecue joints. Enter the Outer Banks’ High Cotton, which serves up family-sized portions of eastern North Carolina 'cue. The hand-chopped pork is smoked on hickory for 12 hours, and they also make mean southern fried chicken, chocolate pecan Chess pie, hushpuppies, and Texas brisket.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // SPITFIRE BAR AND GRILL

Location: West Fargo, North Dakota

In 2011, Spitfire won first place for chicken in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbeque. The chicken is spitfired, their ribs are pit-smoked, and their burgers, fish, and steaks are wood-fired.

35. OHIO // ELI’S BBQ

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

In 2012, Elias Leisring started Eli’s in a tent, selling his sandwiches and meat platters at Cincinnati’s Findlay Market. He has since upgraded to two brick-and-mortar locations, including one at Findlay. Last year, Yelp named Eli’s one of the top 100 places to eat in the U.S.—the only Ohio restaurant on the list. For a mere $6, you can get a brisket sandwich, or for a couple of dollars more, a full slab of ribs, rib tips, and smoked all-beef franks. Besides the meats, their jalapeño cheddar grits are also tasty.

36. OKLAHOMA // BURN CO. BARBEQUE

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Burn Co. opened in 2011, and they smoke meat (baby back ribs, drumsticks, bologna) and sausages (Polish, pork, venison, bratwurst), and serve sides of smoky baked beans, hand cut coleslaw, and grilled potato salad. Some of their meats are available to take home, so you can grill them up on your own, but the restaurant goes through about 40 gallons of barbecue sauce and 125 pounds of rub each week. Their food is so good that Alton Brown recently said it was the “best barbecue we’ve had on the road so far.”

37. OREGON // BO-MACK’S BBQ EXPRESS

Location: Albany, Oregon

Podnah's Pit is a revered place in Oregon and Portland, but Bo-Mack’s is a true family affair. Owned and operated by a nine-member family, Bo-Mack’s serves complimentary cornbread with fresh whipped honey butter during meals, which are based around dry-rubbed meats smoked for 14-18 hours, as well as a selection of sides like creamy garlic mashed potatoes. They make their own sauces, too, from Sweet and Sassy to the Ghost Pepper-spiced Hooligan.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // HARVEY’S MAIN STREET BBQ

Location: Mount Joy, Pennsylvania

Harvey Schademan and his wife got their start in the barbecue business 30 years ago, selling half chickens on the side of the road. Since then, Harvey has won several barbecue competitions, which he attributes to his ribs being less sugary than typical Kansas City-style ribs. The large menu includes gumbo, cherry-smoked pulled pork, smoked brisket nachos, wild boar, and burgers, and after a 2014 fire destroyed their original building, Harvey's reopened last year with more than twice the seating capacity. Plenty of room to fill up on their "flavory and savory" plates.

39. RHODE ISLAND // BECKY’S BBQ

Location: Middletown, Rhode Island

At Becky’s, they barbecue their pork and beef for 18 hours, and then hand-pull each cut. Since 1998, they’ve offered family style meals, sandwiches, platters, sides like Becky’s three-bean bake, and hickory-smoked ribs. Unfortunately, Becky Bowden, the restaurant's namesake founder, passed away, but her husband, Bob Bringhurst, carries on with their friendly barbecue legacy.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // SWEATMAN’S BAR-B-QUE

Location: Holly Hill, South Carolina

You will have to drive an hour from Charleston to Holly Hill to find the Sweatman's barbecue place, located inside a an old farmhouse. For 40 years, Sweatman's has served plates with meats, hash, and slaw, and an all-you-can-eat plate of "ribs and skins." Plus, you can get banana pudding for less than a buck. As one Eater commenter wrote, “Any votes other than Sweatman’s have never made the drive.”

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // BIG RIG BBQ

Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Big Rig takes a naked, "sauce optional" approach to barbecue. “Try it first without it, and if you need it, add it,” reads their website. Located in front of a Home Depot, everything Big Rig does has a no-frills approach to cooking; they joke that they don't even own a can opener. But the product is superb, which co-owner Bob Brenner's recent Food Falls Tourney win can attest to.

42. TENNESSEE // PEG LEG PORKER

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

In the Volunteer State, swine is king. Peg Leg pitmaster Carey Bringle opened his restaurant in 2013 (the eatery's name is a good-natured nod to the bone cancer that claimed his right leg as a teenager), and fare is as southern as it gets. Favorites like pimento cheese, smoked green beans, barbecued pulled pork, and pork rinds are served alongside Kool-Aid pickles and "Memphis sushi" (a sausage and cheese platter with saltines). They also sell a variety of bourbon, including their own batch called Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon.

43. TEXAS // THE SALT LICK BBQ

Locations: Driftwood and Round Rock, Texas

It’s not hard to find good barbecue in the great state of Texas, but you’d be hard-pressed to find something like Salt Lick. The original location in Driftwood, Texas started smoking their 'cue in 1967, and the brand's popularity grew from there (there are more than 10,000 reviews on its Facebook page, a testament to the widespread appeal). Also located in Round Rock, the two locations serve brisket, a vegetable plate, samplers, turkey, and homemade pecan pie. And, if you're in the mood for something truly Texas-sized, you can order a gallon—yes, a full gallon—of their house barbecue sauce.

44. UTAH // BAM BAM'S BBQ

Location: Orem, Utah

Owner Cameron “Bam Bam” Treu started competing in the Kansas City Barbecue Society contest circuit, and in 2012 he won grand champion at the Best Dam BBQ Challenge. At his namesake restaurant—which opened in 2013—Bam Bam smokes Central Texas-style meats like chopped beef, sausage links, and turkey for 14 hours. Pick a meat and pile it on their BBQ Swachos (their barbecue-covered nachos).

45. VERMONT // BIG FATTY’S BBQ

Location: White River Junction, Vermont

At Big Fatty’s New England barbecue joint they serve brined chicken wings, beef brisket, five pounds of whole slab ribs, and Texas brisket. And here, being a "Big Fatty" is an accomplishment: To complete the Big Fatty’s Challenge, you must eat four pounds worth of pulled pork and fries on a bun in under an hour.

46. VIRGINIA // BBQ EXCHANGE

Location: Gordonsville, Virginia

Pork belly and smoked tofu aren’t exactly traditional components on a barbecue menu, but the BBQ Exchange takes a unique approach to classic barbecue fare. Their sauces consist of Virginia-style smoky bacon, sweet Kansas City-style, and hog fire made with hot peppers. As a reminder of their southern roots, the Exchange also has fried green tomatoes, collared greens, and Brunswick stew on the menu.

47. WASHINGTON // CAMPFIRE BBQ

Location: Seattle, Washington

Campfire's well-reviewed brisket and Memphis-style ribs are made with locally sourced meat that's organic and sustainable. The sauces—bourbon, beer, and mustard based—use ingredients from local distilleries and brewers. Paying tribute to their Pacific Northwest location, Campfire also offers agave-glazed salmon, barbecued eggplant, and sometimes wild game like elk.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // DEM 2 BROTHERS & A GRILL

Location: Charleston, West Virginia

Only one brother runs the joint—Adrian “Bay” Wright—but he is the youngest of 10 kids. As Wright says on the website, the eatery is “located on the best-smelling corner in Charleston.” Wright visited his hometown of Charleston and cooked roadside ribs for a weekend, and with some coercion from his family, decided to stay indefinitely and open the place. The menu features Big Bay’s ribs, fish, chicken, sweet potato casserole, wings, and on Soul Food Sundays, Wright offers ox tail, collard greens, and fried chicken.

49. WISCONSIN // LD’S BBQ

Location: East Troy, Wisconsin

LD’s is known for their sandwiches, which are piled high in a mix-and-match style of multiple meats. The Shane is made with half chicken and half brisket, the Z-Drake adds pulled pork to the Shane, and the Hocking contains smoked sausage and pulled pork. If meatloaf is your thing, come Wednesdays when they sell it as a special.

50. WYOMING // POKEY’S BBQ & SMOKEHOUSE

Location: Gillette, Wyoming

For the folks at Pokey’s, their “dinner” menu is “lunch for you cityfolks,” and "supper" [PDF] is served evenings Tuesday through Sunday. Their beef brisket, kielbasa, smoked pork chops, steaks, shrimp, and samplers come with a trip to their salad bar, two sides, and cheesy biscuits. And the sides—tater salad, ale-battered onion rings, fried green tomatoes—are just as crucial as the meats. So what separates Pokey’s from the rest of the barbecue joints in town? Their “wild thang" [PDF] menu: ostrich, gator tail, kangaroo, buffalo skewers, and—for the most adventurous of eaters—python.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists
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Hollywood food stylists are little short of magicians—only instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re turning piles of mashed potatoes into ice cream sundaes. Indeed, making food (or food-like products) appear photogenic and appetizing onscreen is a job for a true illusionist. Mental Floss spoke to a few food stylists working in TV, film, and commercials—from Game of Thrones to Taco Bell—to bring you the tricks of their magical trade.

1. MOST OF THE FOOD BEING FILMED IS REAL.

While food stylists are well-versed in the old-school swap tricks—using a pint of white glue to impersonate a glass of milk, for example—those are being phased out. Now, directors want actors to interact with their food, and high-definition camera lenses have made the fake stuff much more obvious. Plastic food props only appear in the background of scenes today, where they're less visible and susceptible to scrutiny.

“I only deal with real food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled food for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You also have to think about how a character would cook something or put a plate together. Realistic food is not all beautiful and perfect. I make ugly food and burnt food, too.”

There’s a trend in commercial food styling to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles food ads for clients including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are demanding food look more realistic and therefore more approachable.

“People are tired of seeing something in a TV commercial and then ordering it in a restaurant and it doesn't look the same,” she says. “You don’t want it to look staged anymore. You want a burger to look like the cheese naturally dripped off and landed on the plate.”

2. THEY GO THROUGH A LOT OF FOOD ...

Bowl of strawberry ice cream
iStock

If a food stylist needs one sprig of parsley for a shoot, they’ll often order 10 bunches. They never know what the condition of the parsley is going to be when it arrives from the produce vendor, or if the shoot is going to require more than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may require two dozen birds if an actor keeps flubbing his line.

“It really depends on how much of a story point the food is and how important the scene is for the director,” Oliver says.

Food stylists usually have relationships with produce vendors, who can look for products with the specific size, shape, and color that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no frozen lettuce! But stylists can hide those things if they have to.

Ice cream is infamously hard to keep intact because it melts so quickly. Food stylists have been known to replace the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or butter rolled in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day before and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they freeze rock hard overnight, they can last a few hours on set the next day before being replaced with another sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice cream with cold spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas used for cooling electronics.

3. ... BUT THE FOOD RARELY GOES TO WASTE.

On film and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, good food stylists often compete with the caterers: Actors usually have to eat the food during their scenes, and the crew finishes off the scraps. While shooting a Chinese New Year scene for the show Fresh Off the Boat recently, actress Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was styling that episode, that she was going to skip lunch because she wanted to enjoy eating her food on camera. “That was pretty freaking flattering!” Oliver says.

Because Oliver works on multiple TV shows in a single day, if an item doesn’t get used on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can just take it back to her shop and recycle it for use on another show. If something can’t be used again, she’ll take it home and make salsa or jam. “When it gets really old, I'll just stick it in vodka,” she says.

Commercial shoots tend to have more unused food. Anderson says anything that’s still edible will be given to a food pantry. “I once donated an entire swordfish when we did a commercial for a fish restaurant,” she says. “We never even used it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men's homeless shelter. They were thrilled to have it.”

4. THEY VALUE FOOD SAFETY.

Another reason food stylists swap out on-camera food so much is because of safety concerns—hot and cold foods need to be kept at certain temperatures that may not be practical on-set. Sushi-grade tuna may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the fish spoils so easily.

Oliver requires all of her employees to have a food handler’s license. She also only works out of commercial kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped food styling truck). But not every food styling team does; some prepare food in their homes. “The reason that I get so much work is that everybody knows I'm a chef and I have a real kitchen,” Oliver says. “People trust my food. I’ve done a bunch of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the food is safe to eat.”

5. WOMEN DOMINATE THE FIELD.

woman styling food
iStock

While there are a few well-known male food stylists, for the most part the key food stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are food stylists, too.) The reason for this dates back decades.

Before food styling became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to network employees with home economics degrees (almost always women) to cook on-camera food. Then props departments became responsible. “But props guys can’t even make spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to make whatever food was required for the next day’s scene. “Eventually they would just hire their girlfriends or wives to do it; keep the money in the family,” she says. “I know five food stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”

Also in the 1990s, networks began making more multi-camera TV shows. A lot more food began appearing on screen, and actors openly discussed their dietary restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver trained at the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in restaurants and catering jobs before stumbling into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I understood how food works, I knew how to feed people and make food last on set,” she says. “And I could charge anything I wanted to.”

To get a job as a food stylist today, it helps to know someone already in the industry and have a culinary background. Everyone starts as an intern, and then may be able to work their way up to being an assistant and then a stylist. “Not everybody can be a food stylist,” Anderson says. “You have to be able to cook, but you still have to be creative. And you have to be able to work fast and under pressure.”

6. THEY LIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES NOW.

Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of just on sets in Los Angeles, food stylists can be based anywhere. There is a concentration of stylists who live in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that's where many shows are now filmed. Labor laws also often require production crews to hire locally, so residing outside of L.A. can be a real advantage.

Some commercial food stylists, like Anderson, are flown in for shoots. “Food stylists can make or break a commercial,” she says. “And if you have trouble and you don't know what you're doing, it can be a real problem for production.” This is especially true on out-of-the-country shoots, when stylists don't have the resources that they’re used to. So clients who know her and her skill level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they're filming.

7. THEY TALK LIKE CHEFS AND FILMMAKERS.

hand styling pancakes
iStock

Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen lingo and film jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the food that is written into the script, is being shot, and must appear in front of the actor. “Bite and smile” is when an actor takes a bite of food and pretends to like it. “All day” is the total number of items needed; if they needed five turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”

8. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO BE IN THE MOVIES.

Food stylists usually specialize in different media: film, TV, commercials, or print editorial. Stylists often prefer one over the other. Print editorial is shot in a controlled studio and tends to have more leeway for creativity. Commercials are tied to a brand’s specifications. Film and TV shoots on location are in unpredictable settings and can be physically demanding. But everyone tends to work long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can often take three days to shoot one 30-second spot.

When working on a movie or TV show, the actors’ demands usually take precedence over the food needs. After working on one film, Anderson had had enough and dedicated herself to commercial work. “When I do commercials, the food is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] want to make sure I have everything I need. On a movie, they could care less about you.”

9. FOOD STYLISTS DON’T JUST MAKE FOOD.

Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal
NBC

Sometimes food stylists are expected to create sci-fi props—what would a person eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they have no experience with. While working on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver made gooey, edible slime from her imagination. “I also had to roll with the [actors’] different dietary needs,” she says. “I had to be able to make vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free slime … Slime, any way you want it.”

Oliver also has to make items that you don’t really want to put in your mouth. While filming the TV show Big Little Lies, she made green-colored vomit for actress Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like green gazpacho. For a war film, she had to make 400 pounds of “dirt” for a group of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani soil shipped to California so she could match it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, mixed with brown sugar and white sugar.)

Janice Poon, the food stylist behind the cannibal-centric TV show Hannibal, had a more challenging obstacle: how to make dishes that resembled human flesh. She refused to do research on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she studied a lot of anatomy books. “I’m just like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m always stitching things, exchanging, putting one kind of meat on a different bone, patching stuff together. ... The key is to let the viewer’s imagination do more of your work.” She transformed veal shanks into human legs, and used prosciutto slices to mimic slivers of a human arm.

10. THEY PACK SOME SERIOUS GEAR.

When shooting, stylists need to be prepared for anything. They carry tools including tweezers, scissors, paint brushes, knives, offset spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and spritz bottles.

“Think about your kitchen: all of your mixing bowls and utensils … I have that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She also has a torch on hand for quick-cooking burgers and cold spray for extending the life of ice cream. Other stylists may have glycerin for adding shine or Kitchen Bouquet sauce for adding color. Poon often uses a white ceramic knife so she can see what she's doing on dark sets and work more quietly, so as not to disturb the acting process.

Food stylists sometimes work in erratic environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over truck to shoots. “It has a lift gate and everything's on wheels, so I can take everything out and have a kitchen in the middle of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a full commercial kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, prep tables, storage, TV, and a generator.

11. THEY’RE SKILLED AT IMPROV.

When production starts, the prop team sends memos to actors or their reps asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. As trained chefs, most food stylists are happy to accommodate such limitations, cooking convincing swap-outs. “I find out what they will eat and make it happen,” Oliver says.

For example, Poon once made a convincing vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal using only grains. “I made lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like making a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix cracked wheat with water and it makes a kind of mush that holds together. The texture is a little 'nubbly,' so I added a pink food coloring, made little tongues out of kibbeh dough, steamed them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”

Sometimes a director changes his or her mind at the last minute, and what was supposed to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the food stylist will squish down the meatballs and turn them into sausage patties. In an interview with NPR, food stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time when a movie director suddenly decided to cut open a birthday cake she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.

“So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake.”

12. THERE’S ALWAYS THE SPIT BUCKET OPTION.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Bradley in Game of Thrones
HBO

Professional actors will often pick at the food in front of them, but not eat it because they know their scenes are going to require a lot of takes; they could be eating birthday cake for eight hours straight. Others dive right in. For a scene in The Guilt Trip (2012), actress Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through more than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was totally game.

“But there’s a part towards the end where she has to eat really quickly and do a line without, you know, choking and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one bite and it sort of dissolved in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you really listen, you can hear the crunch of the watermelon.”

Sometimes, though, the spit bucket is the only option. In season one of Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a whole horse heart. But the actress who plays her, Emilia Clarke, actually had to eat 28. They were made of solidified jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was very helpful to be given something so truly disgusting to eat, so there wasn’t much acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a spit bucket because I was vomiting in it quite often.”

13. SOMETIMES THEY’RE SURPRISED BY THE FINAL PRODUCT.

Food stylists who work on multiple projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t always stick around to see how their food will be used. They may later find out that a gorgeous spread was relegated to the background, or worse. For a scene in Seinfeld, Oliver was once asked to prepare a perfect, glistening turkey. “Later I was home watching the episode and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was literally crying I was laughing so hard. Never in a million years did I think my turkey was going to end up with a guy’s head.”

14. THEY THROW EPIC DINNER PARTIES.

Food stylist preparing vegetables
iStock

You’d think that being around food all day would make food stylists tired of making things look nice. But most food stylists love to cook, and on the days they aren’t working, they love to throw parties. “People always expect to have beautiful food,” Anderson says. “And I don't disappoint.”

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