Labor Day weekend is a time when Americans fire up their grills for outdoor gatherings of family and friends. But whether you’re a novice or a professional pitmaster, where you live can mean the difference between a well-done steak and a rare disaster.
So which cities have that special sizzle?
Lawn Love ranked over 180 of the largest U.S. cities to determine the Best Cities for Outdoor Grilling. We looked for cities with plenty of butcher shops, affordable meat, nice weather, and community interest based on Google search trends.
Use our rankings, in-depth analysis, and practical tips to make your Labor Day cookout the party of the year.
See how each city fared in our ranking:
Results in depth
No Rain on Your Pork Parade
Two California cities topped our ranking of the Best Cities for Outdoor Grilling — Pomona at No. 1 and Palmdale at No. 2.
Pomona ranked high in our Access, Cost, and Outdoors categories. Besides having access to butcher shops and affordable cuts of meat, Pomona historically experiences infrequent rain, few extremely hot or cold days, and low wind speed. These environmental qualities make it a prime location for hosting backyard barbecues.
Less than 90 minutes away, Palmdale does not have quite as many butcher shops as Pomona, but it does offer low meat prices and a similar climate. Your party won’t get rained out in these two cities.
Local tip: If you’re looking for a bigger outdoor cookout in Pomona, check out Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park. Located near the Puddingstone Reservoir, this park boasts an abundance of activities besides grilling, including boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.
In Palmdale, check out Marie Kerr Park, which provides BBQ grills and picnic pavilions — plus basketball courts, a pool, and a skate park.
A Hollywood Meat Cute
While California is best known for Hollywood, beaches, and hills, it also boasts a strong farming culture. California is the fifth-largest cattle producer in the U.S., with nearly 13,700 ranches operating in The Golden State.
It’s no surprise, then, that California cities dominated the Access category, with cities like San Francisco (No. 2), Pasadena (No. 4), and San Bernardino (No. 8) taking up most of the top 10.
California also pioneered the farm-to-table movement, thanks to activist and culinary artist Alice Waters. The increase in popularity for traditional food preparation and locally sourced foods has likely led to the proliferation of butcher shops in these cities.
Local tip: San Francisco is home to one of the best butcher shops in the country, Guerra Quality Meats. Californians can easily find a local butcher through the California Association of Meat Processors.
Take a Southern Drive
The southern half of the U.S. takes the cake in our overall ranking: Our top nine cities extend from Clarksville, Tennessee (No. 7), westward to our SoCal cookout captains, Pomona and Palmdale.
Among the other cities in this elite group are Baton Rouge, Louisiana (No. 3), Memphis, Tennessee (No. 4) — an iconic BBQ destination known for its pulled pork and wet and dry ribs — Killeen, Texas (No. 5), and Glendale, Arizona (No. 6). Lubbock, Texas, came in eighth, while Springfield, Missouri, finished ninth.
What has these cities fired up? It all boils down to their low-cost meat, with Glendale, Killeen, and Memphis claiming the top three in that metric. Baton Rouge and Clarksville also scored high in the Outdoors category, landing in eighth and sixth places, respectively.
Local tip: Try some regional flavors to enhance your next outdoor barbecue. Make your own signature Memphis Rub at home, or buy it at your local grocery store. Get a taste of southern Louisiana with Baton Rouge Burger Blend. For some Texas flavor, take a pilgrimage to Meat Church.
There’s a reason why the southern half of the mainland hosts the best backyard barbecues: They’re also home to the most outdoor grilling fans.
The top 10 of our Popularity rank was dominated by cities in lower latitudes, with Austin, Texas, coming in first, followed by Los Angeles (No. 2) and Houston (No. 3). Memphis (No. 6), Birmingham, Alabama (No. 7), and Corona, California (No. 9) also smoked the competition in this category.
But the southern regions aren’t the gatekeepers of America’s barbecue culture. Plenty of BBQ fans hail from Midwestern cities like Kansas City, Missouri (No. 4), and Overland Park, Kansas (No. 5).
In 2017, Kansas City hosted the world’s biggest grilling lesson at Arrowhead Stadium. Once a meatpacking hub, Kansas City is another region with a signature barbecue style, sizzling its way to first place in the Best BBQ Cities metric.
Local tip: Check out these iconic BBQ restaurants on your next foodie road trip:
- Austin: Franklin Barbecue
- Los Angeles: Bo Daddy’s BBQ
- Houston: Pinkerton’s Barbecue
- Kansas City: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
- Memphis: Central BBQ
Whether you’re a relative newbie to grilling or a seasoned grill master, there’s always something new to learn about the art of outdoor cooking. We pulled together a panel of experts to share their meaty wisdom and thoughts on grilling trends. Find out what they had to say below.
- What fresh grilling trends, if any, should Americans try this Labor Day weekend?
- What are some common grilling mistakes that are easy to avoid?
- What outdoor grilling tools are must-haves?
- What are your three best tips for finding the best cut of meat?
- What is the most challenging meat to grill, and why? What’s the trick to successfully grilling that type of meat?
- What is an overlooked dish that avid grillers should try?
- What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?
- What are the best ways to stay safe while hosting a cookout during the pandemic?
Grilling by the numbers
We ranked 183 of the biggest U.S. cities from best to worst (1-183) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below.
Note about Baton Rouge, Louisiana: This ranking study was conducted prior to Hurricane Ida. The “Outdoors” category of our ranking accounts only for historical weather data for each city and therefore does not reflect current or recent weather events.
- Google Search Interest for “BBQ,” “Barbecue,” and “Grill” Over the Past Year (Weight: 0.5)
- Rank Among Best Barbecue Cities (Weight: 0.5)
- Butcher Shops per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2)
- Herbs and Spices Shops per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 1)
- Home Depot and Lowe’s Locations per 100,000 Residents (for Grilling Equipment) (Weight: 1)
- Average Per-Pound Price of Beef (Weight: 3)
- Average Per-Pound Price of Chicken (Weight: 3)
- Average Price of Ground Beef (Weight: 3)
- Average Yard Square Footage (Weight: 1)
- Average Monthly Rain (in Inches) (Weight: 0.5)
- Number of Very Hot Days (Weight: 0.5)
- Number of Very Cold Days (Weight: 0.5)
- Air Quality (Weight: 0.5)
- Wind Speed (Weight: 0.5)
Google Trends, Home Depot, LawnStarter, Lowe’s, National Centers for Environmental Information, Numbeo, and Yelp
Final thoughts: Keep the fire going
During the pandemic, millions of Americans discovered their love for outdoor grilling — their “top cooking activity” since lockdowns started in March 2020.
In fact, more than half of U.S. adults now cook outdoors at least once a week. Need an excuse to get outside and grill? Holidays make great times to get together for a barbecue, especially if you haven’t seen friends and family in a while.
Barbecue Your Breakfast Day, Sept. 4, and Labor Day, Sept. 6, are just two upcoming dates you can celebrate by the grill. Football season also starts in September, while National Beer Lovers Day (Sept. 7) and National Cheeseburger Day (Sept. 18) are just around the corner.
No matter where you are and what time of year, grilling outside is a safe and fun way to get back into nature and create precious memories with your family and friends.
Just remember to be cautious and take protective measures so your meat, chicken, or fish is grilled and your house or shed doesn’t go up in smoke.
Need a hand getting your yard ready for guests? Contact a Lawn Love pro to help get the job done before your next backyard barbecue.
Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock