When I'm presented with a question like this, I always have to wax nostalgic, so here goes:
My first favorite
real bbq was at Arthur Bryant's
in KC. This would have been mid-70's. I had loved the pork ribs at Crosstown
and the hot links at Big Joe's Snack Shack
in Springfield, MO, but Bryant's was heaven. I haven't been back there in over 4 years, but I loved it still the last time I was there.
In the early 80's, Louie Mueller's
in Taylor, TX was my nirvana. That was when Fred Fontaine was the pitmaster. Best brisket and "gravy" available then. It will never again be like it was.
Also in the 80's, the Southside
in Elgin, TX had tremendous sausage and mutton, at the original location downtown. Kreuz
in Lockhart became my favorite for central TX bbq many moons ago. To this day, it's the one I recommend above all others. Their sausage
and beef shoulder clod
are unsurpassed, as far as I'm concerned. Although I will not argue with anyone who thinks that Luling City Market
is the best (the one in Luling, not Houston), I still go with Kreuz.
As for pulled-pork, Hay's Smokehouse
in Lexington, TN (whole-hog pork) is the finest place in the country by far.
P.S. - Had to come back and mention the best sausage I've ever eaten. Charlie's
in Smithville, TX (some folks called this place Charles) made their own sausage with a combo of beef and pork. Also made their own sauce, and the experience was unlike anything I've ever had, sausage-wise.
I learned of this place after reading a review by Michael Stern sometime in 2002. I went there as much as I could (about 120 miles round-trip for me) until Charles died in early 2003, when they closed.