It’s almost summertime … time to dust off the grill and stock up on barbeque sauce. And time to start planning vacations and road trips.
But if you really want it all this summer, it’s time to start planning a barbeque road trip.
Though you could easily plan your route based on barbeque stops alone, no road trip would be complete without at least a few quirky roadside attractions. So, with help from the fine folks at Atlas Obscura, here’s our guide to Southern barbeque, smothered in kitsch, and served with a nice tall glass of superlatives. (And, of course, a complementary side of Stonehenge.)
Read on for all the glorious details.
When it comes to kitsch and barbeque, Texas is a natural place to start. And it’s a great state to drive through, with its wide open spaces punctuated by down-home towns and Texans who just want you to “have a nice day, y’all.”
It’s also, of course, cattle country and when it comes to barbeque, brisket country. Brisket, simply defined, is just a huge cut of breast meat (typically beef) that’s perfect for slow cooking. And slow is just how they roll in Texas. Especially when it comes to serving up some barbeque goodness.
The meat: brisket
The sauce: simple salt and pepper rubs
The side: raw onion, dill pickle chips, and white bread
As for quirky roadside attractions and kitsch, Texas has it all. Check out the Museum of the Weird and Uncommon Objects in Austin to see well, weird and uncommon objects. There’s also the Art Car Museum in Houston and Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio.
And for cool stuff you can actually see from the road, drive through the Texas Panhandle to check out Cadillac Ranch (and neighboring Combine City and VW Slug Bug Ranch), Ozymandias on the Plains (to view a pair of giant legs), and the Leaning Tower of Texas in Groom.
As to be expected, Texas has more than its fair share of big stuff.
- World’s largest bat colony: Bracken Cave in San Antonio
- World’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic: also in San Antonio
- World’s largest collection of antique oil rigs: the Petroleum Museum in Midland
Yep. And would you believe there are 2? There’s one Stonehenge replica on Interstate 20 in Odessa. But if you happen to be on Interstate 10 instead, not to worry. You, fine traveler, can check out Stonehenge II in Ingram, complete with Easter Island heads. Because of course.
Just as the landscape changes as you travel east, so too does the barbeque. And Texas being what it is (namely huge) lays claim to more than one style of barbeque. Let’s talk about how they do it in East Texas.
The meat: beef and pork, chopped
The sauce: a LOT (tomato-based with vinegar)
The side: raw onion, dill pickle chips, white bread
You didn’t think you’d seen all the crazy stuff there is to see in Texas already, did you? Not even close.
Zigzagging your way toward the Atlantic, you can check out the world’s second-longest burning light bulb in Fort Worth (The Palace Light Bulb), the Munster Mansion in Waxahachie (yes, those Munsters), the Cockroach Hall of Fame in Plano, and of course, the Texas Eiffel Tower in Paris. Not to mention the fact that you can now say you’ve been to Italy, Paris, AND Waxahachie.
You still have more superlatives to see. And just to prove that not everything is bigger in Texas, we threw in a world’s smallest as well.
- World’s largest squirrel statue: Ms. Pearl in Cedar Creek
- World’s smallest skyscraper: the Newby-McMahon Building in Wichita Falls
Yes and no. They’re back in Central Texas.
When you get to Memphis, you know for sure you’re in the South. Elvis is still the king, summers are still slow along the Mighty Miss, and barbeque is nothing short of a religious experience.
The meat: pork (ribs or pulled)
The sauce: Dry (salt and pepper rub with a few more spices like cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, etc. kicked in) Wet (tomato vinegary)
The side: baked beans and coleslaw
While you’re in Memphis, you must see Graceland. Elvis’s estate on the edge of town is arguably the gold standard when it comes to kitschy southern charm. And really, you haven’t lived until you’ve stood in lush, green shag and taken in the mid-century tiki wonder that is … the Jungle Room.
Pigeon Forge, on the eastern side of Tennessee, is chalk-a-block full of the weird, quirky, and unusual. It’s also home to:
- The world’s largest museum attraction: The Titanic Museum Attraction
No, but there is a Concrete Parthenon just up the way in Nashville.
The only state to have booze as their official beverage and a tiny city built by a hunchback monk, Alabama does things differently. And barbeque is no exception. Though you’ll find a number of influences on the sauce scene (from North Carolina’s vinegar to South Carolina’s mustard), in the Heart of Dixie, you’ll find something new as well: mayo.
That’s right. Alabama’s unique gift to the world of barbeque is a mayonnaise-based sauce, spiced up with vinegar, horseradish, and cayenne, among other things. As far as barbeque road trips with a flair for the unusual go, it’s a no-brainer.
The meat: pork or chicken, chopped, pulled, sliced
The sauce: white sauce, a mayonnaise-and-vinegar based sauce unique to the state
The side: coleslaw
Remember that tiny city built by a hunchback monk we mentioned? Well, you can see the Ava Maria Grotto for yourself when you drive through Cullman. Continue your tour of the unusual by bringing bananas to the grave of Miss Baker (the first monkey in space) in Huntsville.
Before you cross the state line into Georgia, make a quick pit stop in Anniston to see:
- The world’s largest office chair
- The world’s largest brick made of smaller bricks (maybe)
Yep. Bamahenge, in Elberta, is a full-size fiberglass replica.
Starting from Texas, you’ve traveled as far east as is possible without a sailing ship. But don’t let this fool you! You’re still in the South and the barbeque is still cookin’.
As part of an area stretching from the Atlantic to Columbia that used to be known as the “Mustard Belt,” it should come as no surprise that South Carolina’s signature sauce is mustard-based. And here, as in parts of North Carolina, they’re famous for cooking up the whole pig, or “whole hog” as they say.
The meat: whole hog (exactly what it sounds like)
The sauce: mustard based with brown sugar and vinegar
The side: pork skins
Notwithstanding its capital city of Charleston, which brings to mind stately homes and southern sophistication, South Carolina is no stranger to the quirky and unusual.
If you thought the world’s largest peach was in Georgia, you’d be wrong.
- World’s largest peach: in Gaffney
- World’s largest fire hydrant (said to be tornadoproof as well): in Columbia
If you think North and South Carolina are the same, think again. In fact, when it comes to barbeque, North Carolina does it differently from the east side of the state (whole hog) to the west side (pork shoulders from the hog’s front legs). The signature sauces vary from east to west too, from a peppery, vinegary sauce to a tomato-based, brown sugar “dip.”
The meat: whole hog or pork shoulder or ribs
The sauce: cooked with a spice and vinegar sauce, served with a tomato-based sauce or “dip”
The side: coleslaw, Brunswick stew, boiled potatoes, and corn bread
Make no mistake about it — North Carolina, in spite of what its name implies, is still in the South. And there’s no shortage of kitsch and quirk in the home state of NASCAR.
Before you head west for Kansas City, stop and see the Land of Oz Theme Park in Beech Mountain, the last Shell Oil Clam Shell Station in Winston-Salem, and Shangri La Stone Village (another amazing-to-see city in miniature) in Prospect Hill.
Depending on whether you want to relax in the breeze or get pummeled by 3 miles’ worth of electric fans, check out:
- The world’s largest hammock: in Point Harbor
- The world’s largest vertical wind tunnel: (Paraclete XP Skyventure) in Raeford
Again, no. What gives, Carolinas?
Kansas City used to be a meatpacking hub, so it stands to reason that it would eventually become the unofficial barbeque capital of the world. Brisket, pork shoulder, ribs, beef, sausage, chicken — you’ll find it all in this central Missouri border town.
The meat: All. The. Meat.
The sauce: thick, sweet with molasses and tomato
The side: baked beans, coleslaw, “burnt ends” (look this up if you want to drool)
Just like you can’t end any barbeque road trip without a stop in Kansas City, you can’t end any kitsch and superlatives road trip without checking out The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum.
In Lucas, Kansas (on Interstate 70 as you begin making your way back west), this is exactly what its name implies. If you’re not sure what its name implies, we can explain. Basically, if you happened to miss any of the “world’s largests” on our list, just make a pit stop in Lucas to see tiny replicas (the world’s smallest) of some of those things. Full circle. Stop.
If you’d still prefer largests to smallests, however, Kansas City has you covered. Check out:
- The world’s largest shuttlecocks: at the Kansas City Museum
- The world’s largest cap gun: in the West Bottoms area
Not in Kansas City. But if you’re westward-bound on I-70, you can stop in Topeka to see Truckhenge — it’s just like it sounds and is the last of the “henges” on your trip.
Here’s a shout out to the experts of all things fun, quirky, and off the beaten path!