12 best U.S. cities for meat lovers

Story highlights

We surveyed meat experts and collected consumption and other data to pick our list

Omaha Steaks probably the most iconic name in American steak

You may not have heard of Lexington, North Carolina, but a barbecue feast there is like no other

CNN  — 

With the possible exception of smartphone technology, nothing’s seen more practical advances this millennium than food.

While it’s true that much of that progress involves vegan, vegetarian and low-meat consumption, carnivory has also seen an impressive evolution.

Bacon-wrapped sausage, sausage-stuffed tenderloin, tenderloin burger on a fried-chicken bun – eating in the United States is becoming less a matter of sustenance than a game of meat Tetris.

Perhaps in response to years of demonization by health experts, the whole nation has gone meat crazy. Of course, some parts of the country are more flesh-obsessed than others. To determine the hierarchy of meat cities, we convened a caucus of nine experts in beef, burgers and barbecue for their top 10s, and made that half of our final score.

Then we factored in per capita meat consumption, drawing from USDA and Nielsen sales figures and survey responses provided by health assessment platform Sharecare.

Finally, we threw in the number of steakhouses (BBQ and burger joints aren’t tracked), as determined by market research firm NPD Group, and the number of events staged to celebrate seared animals.

The following are our findings. Some are expected. Some may be shocking. All are canon.

12. Omaha, Nebraska

Experts: 12th

Consumption: 12th

Steakhouses: 11th

Events: 7th

Nebraska is the nation’s No. 2 beef producer, with 93% of its available land in one way or another used to house, feed or process cattle. So, between cows and corn, there’s really only room left in the state for the restaurants that serve the two.

Of those, Rick Browne, editor in chief of Barbecue America magazine, recommends Johnny’s Cafe, a third-generation family-owned steakhouse near the Omaha Stockyards that’s been in business for nearly a century. Johnny’s is notable for “a Chateaubriand and a one-pound prime rib that are pricey, but absolutely worth every penny,” says Browne, “and both are aged right in the restaurant.”

Coincidentally, this is also the home of Omaha Steaks, the most iconic name in American steak, if there can be such a thing.

Biggest among Omaha’s annual meat-centric events are Ak-Sar-Ben’s (Nebraska backwards) River City Rodeo and the Septemberfest BBQ and Rib Eye Steak Cookoff Challenge. Plus, the city’s indoor football team is called the Omaha Beef.

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11. Fort Worth, Texas

Buffalo at Bonnell's in Fort Worth.

Experts: 7th

Consumption: 11th

Steakhouses: 5th

Events: 11th

Texas is the Argentina of the United States. Not only for its pride and passion, but also because it’s the top beef producing state in the union, which explains the appearance of two cities from the state on our list.

“They still parade longhorns down city streets,” explains Texas Monthly magazine’s resident Barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn of how Fort Worth earned its “Cowtown” sobriquet. “It’s a civic symbol of history, but also of how much they love beef.”

But it’s not just beef.

“There’s a culinary safari just between the menus of local chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, White Elephant Saloon) and Jon Bonnell (Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine),” says Vaughn.

Staged publicly for the first time in 2012, Meat Fight is fast becoming a premier annual barbecue competition over in neighboring Dallas (yes, we know Dallas isn’t Fort Worth and definitely vice versa), where one of the most recent darlings among meat elites, Pecan Lodge, can also be found.

Says Steven Raichlen, author of the “Barbecue! Bible” cookbook series, “The beef plate ribs may well be the largest bones in North America.”

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10. Las Vegas

Experts: 9th

Consumption: T-5th

Steakhouses: 8th

Events: 8th

Depending on your perspective, Las Vegas has either 600,000 residents or six. It’s a town predicated entirely on attracting outsiders, so it lacks some of the folksy authenticity of its peers on this list. But it makes up for that with – like anything else in modern-day Gomorrah – an almost criminal bounty.

Vegas is notorious for its buffets: nine-dollar, 24-hour, all-you-can-eat meatpaloozas that extend for what would constitute city blocks in the real world. But it’s also loaded with celebrity-chef steakhouses – two dozen on the Strip alone, according to Browne.

While it doesn’t boast the most meat events, Vegas may claim the most of the largest magnitude. It hosts the World Open Chili Championship, World Barbecue Championship, World Burger Championship and Bacon World Championship, with purses ranging from $25,000 to $50,000.

Each fall, nearby Laughlin stages the $50,000 USA Barbecue Championship, and just a half-hour outside of town, Boulder City throws the annual Best Dam Barbecue Challenge each spring.

9. Tampa, Florida

Tampa or Miami? For Cuban sandwich lovers, it makes a difference.

Experts: T-10th

Consumption: 2nd

Steakhouses: 6th

Events: 10th

Yeah, we couldn’t believe it either. Not only does the Cigar City rank second in per capita meat consumption, food author John T. Edge says it’s the best place in the United States to get a steak.

“Because they serve prime porterhouses, dry-aged on premises for eight weeks, Bern’s [Steakhouse] has made Tampa a citadel of American meat. The steak is that good.”

More controversial is Tampa’s dispute with rival Miami over the true origin of the Cuban sandwich. When in doubt, go with the version that uses the most meat.

That would be Tampa’s Cubano, which piles Genoa salami atop the customary slices of roasted pork butt and smoked ham. Further stoking the broiler, the city council recently passed a resolution proclaiming the Cuban Tampa’s “signature sandwich.”

Meanwhile, an annual Cuban Sandwich Festival has been inaugurated in Ybor City, America’s first Cuban community and site of the sandwich’s purported genesis.

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8. Philadelphia

Classic Philly cheesesteak from Geno's Steak.

Experts: T-10th

Consumption: 1st

Steakhouses: 3rd

Events: 12th

With Philly perennially placing at or near the top of any list of heaviest cities, meat’s probably not gonna be the only food superlative associated with it. But according to the USDA, meat represents the largest slice of overall food spending in America by almost double the second largest expense, and leading the field is the City of Buttery Love.

Synonymous with Philly is the cheesesteak, the most municipal of all sandwiches.

While the city’s placement on our list would be assured with its official sandwich alone, Philadelphia boasts another signature regional meatstuff: scrapple. After butchering a pig, take what’s left on the floor, throw in some cornmeal and flour and form into a loaf. Next, slice and pan-fry until all you can taste is heart surgery.

Browne recommends City Tavern, “the only restaurant in America where the chef cooks rabbit, lamb, pork chops, ham, veal and venison using recipes adapted from the Colonial days.”

7. Memphis, Tennessee

Experts: 4th

Consumption: 7th

Steakhouses: 12th