Though the U.S. certainly knows how to do barbecue, there is nothing inherently American about smoking and grilling meat. All over the world, one can find top-notch barbecue and, in each place, a tasty local variation on the practice. Think of the variety: There is Korean barbecue, Japanese teppanyaki, Chinese chuar, Middle Eastern kebabs, South African braaivleis, and Argentine parrilla. It would seem a near-universal condition, cutting through cultural differences, our human love of bringing fire to meat. And, in today’s world, where there is a robust culinary tradition, there are enterprising chefs who have made it high-end. Below is a collection of some of the best top-tier barbecue spots from across our carnivorous globe.
Though the rivalries and claims of superiority between regions and states can get heated, it is true that there is great barbecue to be found throughout the U.S. In the renowned barbecue capital of Austin, Texas, one must pay homage to Franklin BBQ–founder Aaron Franklin is the first barbecue chef to win a James Beard award. And in New York City is Hometown, much loved for its brisket and lamb banh mi sandwiches, though the brisket tacos are a close second.
In the high-tech, high-speed capital of Seoul, barbecue spots abound. In the Korean context, barbecue is a do-it-yourself endeavor, with tables coming equipped with small grills. At Gombawi, one can find a classic Korean barbecue ambiance, always stocked with high-quality meat, from aged beef to ox tongue to wagyu, and wood-burning grills. Located in the city’s chic Cheongdam-dong neighborhood, Saebyukjib is a 24-hour spot with serious quality; alongside your meat grilling on the table, enjoy its delicious ddaro gukbap, a beef-based soup with Chinese herbs and radishes. For big groups, try Two Plus Itaewon, so named because it only offers Hanwoo beef, an upmarket Korean beef, that has been graded 1++, the highest rating.
In the Argentinian context, the word parrilla (pronounced “pa-ree-sha”) refers to an open-fire hearth for grilling meat. Barbecue in Argentina is almost exclusively a large-cuts affair, with big slabs of beef, rarely marinated but copiously seasoned with parrillero salt, thrown directly on a hot grating. The capital Buenos Aires offers plenty of opportunities to get the parrilla experience. Patronized by Rod Stewart, Bono, Steven Tyler, and others, the massive three-floored La Brigada is a Buenos Aires staple, with waiters famously cutting each slab with a spoon to show off its tenderness. The more modern La Carnicería, which sources from a family farm in the Pampas, is known for its smoked meats. The not-to-be-missed La Cabrera in the popular Palermo district offers classics like bife de lomo (tenderloin) alongside quirkier delights like the chicken kebabs scented with rum and oranges.
Similar to Korean barbecue, yakiniku restaurants involve tableside grilling over a charcoal or gas brazier. In the posh Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo is the sharply designed Tendan, known for its boned beef ribs and grilled vegetables sourced from the Kyoto countryside. In Kobe, the town famed for its stellar cows, try Wakkoqu, which features set menus offering various cuts, which are cooked in front of you on massive iron griddles. In Kyoto’s always-happening Gion quarter, make time for the small but impeccable Sou, a gourmet restaurant known for its wagyu A5, the highest grade of the famed meat.
Centered in Sydney, the country-continent has had something of a grilling renaissance in recent years. At Firedoor, which opened in 2015, one can expect top-notch meats cooked entirely over wood fires. Another spot big on the wood fire is Ester, which is heavy on smoking, from fish to beef to cauliflower. Ester offers a barbecue variation on the sanga, the Aussie word for sandwich, using blood sausage.