2021’s Best Cities for Outdoor Grilling

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Group of happy friends standing around an outdoor grill

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. 

In this article

  1. City rankings
  2. Results in depth
  3. Expert take
  4. Grilling by the numbers
  5. Methodology
  6. Final thoughts: Keep the fire going

City rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the best cities for outdoor grilling, a ranking based on the average price of meat, access to meat shops, historical weather, and more
Note: A total of 183 cities were ranked for Butcher Shops per 100,000 Residents. However, the lowest-ranking position for this metric is 127 due to a significant number of ties.

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

Carnivorous Cliques

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:

Expert take

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.

  1. What fresh grilling trends, if any, should Americans try this Labor Day weekend?
  2. What are some common grilling mistakes that are easy to avoid?
  3. What outdoor grilling tools are must-haves?
  4. What are your three best tips for finding the best cut of meat?
  5. What is the most challenging meat to grill, and why? What’s the trick to successfully grilling that type of meat?
  6. What is an overlooked dish that avid grillers should try?
  7. What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?
  8. What are the best ways to stay safe while hosting a cookout during the pandemic?
Dr. Andrea Etter
Assistant Professor, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department
Mary Kiernan, M.B.A.
Associate Teaching Professor
Steve Bell
Culinary Instructor
Mee Young Hong, PhD – Professor and Timothy Nishimura, BS – Student
Professor and Student
Dr. Andrea Etter
Assistant Professor, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department
The University of Vermont

What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?

  1. Use a meat thermometer to determine whether your meat is done, and follow USDA guidelines, especially for hamburger and poultry. Grills are so variable it’s easy to burn the outside and have the inside raw. Food poisoning isn’t a fun addition to your cookout.
  2. Don’t use the same plate for raw meat and cooked meat without thoroughly washing, or you’ll reintroduce any pathogens onto your cooked meats and, from there, straight to your stomach.
Mary Kiernan, M.B.A.
Associate Teaching Professor
Syracuse University

What fresh grilling trends, if any, should Americans try this Labor Day weekend?

Don’t limit the grilling to just meats and proteins. Get a grill basket or perforated pan, and grill vegetables, potatoes, even some fruits.

What are some common grilling mistakes that are easy to avoid?

If you’re using gas, don’t run out. If you’re using charcoal or wood, tend to it and generally don’t cook directly over the hottest part. Use the hottest part to mark meats, but cook with residual heat. Let meats warm up a bit (temper) before putting them on the grill — don’t go directly from the refrigerator to the hot coals.

What outdoor grilling tools are must-haves?

Longer tongs and spatulas and good oven mitts

What are your three best tips for finding the best cut of meat?

Know the tender cuts for simple grilling — the farther away from the hoof, the more tender the meat. Grilling is a dry-heat method of cooking. Less tender cuts take lower heat for longer periods of time, and lots of time benefit from the addition of moist-heat cooking.

What is the most challenging meat to grill, and why? What’s the trick to successfully grilling that type of meat?

White-meat chicken can be difficult because it can dry out; seafood and shrimp because they cook so quickly and are tough when overcooked.

I’ve just begun to use a plank. It seems like a safety to not scorching.

What is an overlooked dish that avid grillers should try?

Bread doughs: They open up a world of opportunity. Be daring. You do need to season the grill well or risk a sticky mess.

What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?

  1. Stay focused on the grill, and have the other menu items ready to go. Don’t give up if your first try isn’t perfect. All cooking takes practice.
  2. Season your proteins before they go on the grill — give them some time; take them out of the cooler, pat them dry, add the seasoning, and let them sit 20 minutes or so before grilling.
  3. If you are working with larger items, pat them dry, season them, and refrigerate them for a few hours or overnight. Then remove them from the refrigerator, and let them warm up a bit before grilling.

What are the best ways to stay safe while hosting a cookout during the pandemic?

Pay attention to the CDC guidelines, and stay focused on the fact that you are working with fire.

Steve Bell
Culinary Instructor
Metropolitan Community College

What fresh grilling trends, if any, should Americans try this Labor Day weekend?

I wouldn’t say it’s a trend for 2021, but in general I have seen in the past couple of years more folks using charcoal as their heat source. One thing you can do if you would like to add a little smoke flavor is to use charcoal and top with some hickory, cherry, or other hardwood for a smokey flavor.

I like grilling vegetables either whole or halved (i.e. zucchini, squash, par-cooked fingerling potatoes — all cut in half). This also gives a nice presentation for your guests.

What are some common grilling mistakes that are easy to avoid?

  1. Not cleaning and preparing your grill before use: If you don’t clean it after you use it, then crank it up before use, then use a wire brush to scrape any protein matter that was left on the time before. Once you have brushed it, turn down your grill, and use some high-temp oil on a towel to brush your grates. A long pair of tongs works well for this.
  2. Not having your temperature high enough for what you are cooking: It’s worth it to invest in a high-temp gauge to get an accurate reading.
  3. Having your temperature too high: This can quickly brown (or burn) the outside of what you are cooking while the inside is still uncooked.

What outdoor grilling tools are must-haves?

  • Wire brush
  • High-temp oil (for brushing grates)
  • Spray bottle of water for putting out flames that may burn your food
  • Long pair of tongs
  • Spatula
  • Sheet trays (to take food out to the grill and to bring food back on)
  • Timer with multiple settings
  • Extra: radio and a cold beer

What are your three best tips for finding the best cut of meat?

  1. Local butcher is usually a good starting point.
  2. If you like more fat, go with a ribeye; less fat, fillet mignon.

What is an overlooked dish that avid grillers should try?

No dish in particular, but you can think of the grill as also an oven and/or burner, too. With that in mind, think of all the options now available to you while grilling your meat.

What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?

  1. Don’t go too thick. The thicker the meat, the more control on temperature and patience you will need.
  2. Watch out for marinades that have too much sugar. The sugar may start to caramelize or brown your meat too quickly (watch your temperature).
  3. For more delicate items, keep one set of burners off, and place the delicate items (fish, chicken, vegetables) on that burner and let it finish cooking there. The heat from the other burners will keep the inside hot, but you don’t have to worry about the heat directly underneath the items.

What are the best ways to stay safe while hosting a cookout during the pandemic?

Listen to the experts!

Mee Young Hong, PhD – Professor and Timothy Nishimura, BS – Student
Professor and Student
San Diego State University, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences

What fresh grilling trends, if any, should Americans try this Labor Day weekend?

Try Worldly Dry Rubs

In addition to the necessary salt and pepper, try incorporating new mixtures of spices to your grilled foods, such as the Egyptian spice, dukkah, which is made from seeds, nuts, and various spices (1).

Or try a mixture of Bengali spices including fennel, fenugreek, onion seed, black cumin, and mustard seed (1). Whether you put them on vegetables or meats you’ll be in for a flavorful treat.

Nuts contain components that are helpful in maintaining a healthy heart, such as healthy fats, fiber, phytochemicals, protein, and various vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants (2). In addition, seeds can provide a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants (2).

The various healthy components of nuts and seeds can complement flavor and offer a healthy addition to your grilling experience. By incorporating ingredients like nuts and seeds, you gain added health benefits when grilling.

Marinate Your Meat

As an alternative to using dry rubs on grilled meats, try marinating what you plan on grilling.Marinades not only enhance the flavor of the meat you plan to grill, but also have some healthy components when grilling.

Marinades made from ingredients containing natural antioxidants have been shown to reduce the level of carcinogenic substances formed when grilling (3). By marinating your meat, you will end up with a tastier and potentially healthier product.

Have a Vegan BBQ

If traditional BBQ isn’t your thing, try grilling fruits and vegetables to get that delicious BBQ flavor without the meat.

Meatless options such as watermelon steaks and other vegetables have become increasingly popular (4). Fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of everyone’s diet. They provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle (5).

With the limitless choices of fruits and vegetables to choose from, get creative and throw them on the grill. You will be able to gain that smokey BBQ flavor and create all new flavors alike.

Cook in a pan first and then grill to add the smoked flavor

Charring, burning or grilling meats over high temperatures is associated with creating carcinogens that may increase the risk for cancers. Pre-cooking in a pan and then grilling would reduce the chance to generate carcinogens and you can still enjoy the smoky grilled flavor.

Try grilling already-cooked meats as another addition.

What are some common grilling mistakes that are easy to avoid?

Take Your Meat Out of the Fridge

One common mistake in grilling is putting cold meat on the grill. Don’t take your meat straight out of the fridge and throw it on the grill. By taking the meat out early, you give the muscles time to relax and end up with a more even temperature when grilling (6).

Just take your meat out while you prepare everything else and it will give you better results.

Clean Your Grill While It’s Still Hot

The excitement of eating can lead to not immediately cleaning your grill. This can lead to build up and bad taste the next time you grill. Try using your cleaning tools when the grill is still hot to yield better results and prevent an inconvenient mess next time you grill (6).

Using EZ-light Coals or Lighter Fluid

Another mistake when grilling is how you get your BBQ started. When lighter fluid or easy to light coals are used, it may lead to an unpleasant flavor when grilling (7).

A coal starter is the best way to go, it allows your coals to evenly light without the need for lighter fluid. Simply place some paper beneath it and let the coals turn grey before spreading them out (7).

Direct Heat Isn’t Always Your Friend

When you put your meat on direct heat it doesn’t evenly distribute temperature throughout. You end up with meat that could be well done on the outside and medium rare in the middle.

Try putting a pile of coals on one side of the BBQ and an empty space on the other, making two zones, or only turning on one side of your gas grill (5). This will give you the ability to choose when to sear on direct heat and when to evenly cook over indirect heat (7).

What outdoor grilling tools are must-haves?

1. Thermometer is a must-have tool to regulate the temperature of the food you are cooking (8).

2. Grill Brush is necessary to clean the grill after you are done cooking.

3. Tongs with a long handle will give you the ability to move and flip without burning yourself (8).

4. Grill Spatula will provide a sturdy utensil for flipping meat and vegetables without the fear of burning yourself (8).

5. Charcoal Chimney will make lighting charcoal so much easier and allow them to evenly light and come to temperature at a faster rate (6).

6. Sauce Brush to put sauce on your grilled meats and coat them throughout the cooking process (8).

7. Grill Basket to keep those cut veggies from falling into the grate cracks and still get those delicious grill marks you want (8).

8. Face Mask is important when grilling to reduce the amount of smoke inhalation when cooking, especially for grillers.

What are your three best tips for finding the best cut of meat?

  1. Less Connective Tissue the Better

Meats with only one muscle tend to be more tender and the more connective tissue the tougher the meat will be. Try to choose a cut of meat that does not have a lot of muscle or is known to be a muscular part of the animal.

If you are choosing a cut of meat that has a lot of connective tissue you should slow cook or braise the meat (9).

  1. Marbling

Marbling is important when choosing a cut of meat. Marbling is the fat distributed within the meat. You want to choose a cut of meat that has decent marbling to provide for a fatter and more tender product (10).

  1. Grade

Marbling and grade tend to go hand in hand, the better the marbling in the meat the higher the grade tends to be. Aim to purchase prime or choice meat to get a juicier and more flavorful cut of meat (10).

What is the most challenging meat to grill, and why? What’s the trick to successfully grilling that type of meat?

Brisket is probably the most difficult meat to grill. Brisket is a tougher piece of meat that requires slow cooking.

Brisket is particularly difficult to grill because it usually requires a smoker to get the results you are looking for. The trick to smoking a good brisket is getting the temperature just right and having the right rub to season your meat with.

Generally, you want to slowly cook your brisket and reach an internal temperature of around 185 degrees (11).

What is an overlooked dish that avid grillers should try?

An overlooked dish that any avid griller should try is skirt steak. Skirt steak is well marbled and is cut into long sheets usually, which creates a perfect grilling meat. Skirt steak is particularly good when marinated or when topped with a sauce such as chimichurri, providing a well flavored and tender cut of meat for everyone to enjoy.

What are your three best tips for first-time grillers?

  1. Watch Your Temperature

When grilling, temperature is key to gaining the best results. For example, some meats require low heat and longer cooking times, whereas some might require a quick sear and indirect heat to finish it off.

Use the thermometer outside of your grill to preheat and use your meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature to acquire the temp you desire (12).

  1. Let It Be

Give your meat time to cook. Don’t constantly check the temperature or open the lid to look at it. You don’t need to flip it repeatedly. Let the meat cook and check it when it is time to do so (12).

  1. Proper Equipment

As listed above, the tools you’ll need for grilling are important to your grilling success. Make sure you have all the tools you need and don’t be afraid to purchase new ones to create a new experience every time you grill.

Have fun with it and remember to be prepared before you put that food on the grill.

What are the best ways to stay safe while hosting a cookout during the pandemic?

The pandemic has brought uncertain times to everyone. Having social gatherings like a BBQ have never had this much hesitation. Being safe during the pandemic is important.

Maintain your distance from people while you’re at the BBQ and wear face coverings. Serve people individually at the BBQ rather than putting everything out to be self-served (13).

Keep hand sanitizer around and provide cleaning products to allow for surfaces to be wiped down after use (13). Additionally, keep a list of people in attendance so if you need to contact trace following an incident of exposure you can (13).

References

  1. Raichlen, S. (2021, January 15). Barbecue trends 2021. Barbecuebible.com. https://barbecuebible.com/2021/01/01/bbq-trends-2021/.
  2. The wonders of nuts and seeds – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Today’s Dietitian. (n.d.). https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0316p22.shtml.
  3. Lee, S. Y., Yim, D. G., Lee, D. Y., Kim, O. Y., Kang, H. J., Kim, H. S., Jang, A., Park, T. S., Jin, S. K., & Hur, S. J. (2020). Overview of the effect of natural products on reduction of potential carcinogenic substances in meat products. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 99, 568–579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2020.03.034
  4. Machado, K., & Katie Machado (1816 Articles Published) Originally from New York. (2021, April 12). Experts predict the summer Grilling trends of 2021 (and they’re All creative). TheTravel. https://www.thetravel.com/bbq-trends-summer-2021/.
  5. Slavin, J. L., & Lloyd, B. (2012). Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances in Nutrition, 3(4), 506–516. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.002154
  6. Freeman, J. (2021, April 5). 8 biggest Grilling mistakes and how to avoid them. Allrecipes. https://www.allrecipes.com/article/common-grilling-mistakes/.
  7. López-Alt, J. K. (n.d.). 12 grilling mistakes you don’t have to make (but probably do). Serious Eats. https://www.seriouseats.com/grilling-mistakes-and-how-to-avoid-them.
  8. Must-have grilling equipment guide {best tools & gadgets!} – pwwb. Plays Well With Butter. (2021, May 18). https://playswellwithbutter.com/must-have-grilling-equipment/.
  9. chefsteps.com. (n.d.). https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/selecting-meat-for-purchase.
  10. How to select the right cut of MEAT: Oklahoma joe’s®. Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers. (n.d.). https://www.oklahomajoes.com/how-tos/select-the-right-cut-of-meat.
  11. Gabriele, A. (2020, November 22). Expert PITMASTER tips on how to smoke a brisket like a pro. The Manual. https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/pitmaster-tips-how-to-smoke-a-brisket/.
  12. Hope, P. (2018, March 21). 10 things every Good Griller should know. Good Housekeeping. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/cooking/tips/a13801/grilling-secrets/.

Nania, R. (2020, June 16). Rules for safe summer cookouts during a pandemic. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-summer-cookouts.html.

Grilling by the numbers

Infographic showing percentages and numbers related to grilling and fire-related statistics
Note about Most Popular Home Grills: Because some people own more than one type of grill, the combined percentages for the popularity of the three grill types (gas, charcoal, and electric) add up to more than 100%.
Sources: FoodSafety.gov, Guinness World Records, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, HFN, National Fire Protection Association, and The Spruce Eats

Methodology

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.

Popularity

  • Google Search Interest for “BBQ,” “Barbecue,” and “Grill” Over the Past Year (Weight: 0.5)
  • Rank Among Best Barbecue Cities (Weight: 0.5)

Access

  • 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)

Cost

  • Average Per-Pound Price of Beef (Weight: 3)
  • Average Per-Pound Price of Chicken (Weight: 3)
  • Average Price of Ground Beef (Weight: 3)

Outdoors

  • 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)

Sources

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

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