June 10th, 2014
11:45 AM ET
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Editor's note: Nothing inflames passions quite like barbecue and we'll be breaking down the nuances of regional styles all summer long. Next week - CNN readers and staff weigh in on their favorite joints and pitmasters from all over the country.

(Travel + Leisure) - Like a lot of people, Jay Metzger draws a line when it comes to his barbecue loyalties - and for him, that line falls along the Mississippi River.

“While it’s nice to enjoy a little Memphis and Carolina barbecue, the real stuff comes from the center of the U.S.,” says the Los Angeles-based advertising executive, who favors Kansas City and Texas barbecue.

Plenty of Travel + Leisure readers agree, ranking KC and more than one Texas city in the top 10. But where there’s smoke, there’s fiery debate. As part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metro areas for such qualities as good-looking locals, great sports teams, and regionally distinct pizza and barbecue. To be fair, since the survey covered only 35 cities, some barbecue hot spots like Lexington, North Carolina, Lockhart, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri were not even on the table for this particular vote.

But plenty of other hot-button BBQ cities were - and one dark horse (or perhaps pig) even took the top prize. Certainly, the prevailing styles and some gourmet-friendly trends vary from city to city, from the burnt ends in Kansas City, Missouri, to the mustard-sauced pork in Charleston, South Carolina, or the piles of brisket on butcher paper in Austin, Texas - so the definition of best may depend on what you’re used to.

1. Nashville, Tennessee
It’s a Tennessee takedown: with its ever-expanding foodie scene, Music City won for compiling a greatest-hits collection of barbecue styles - from the whole-hog approach of rural Tennessee, the tomatoey sauces of Memphis, and even the mayo-and-vinegar white sauces typical of Alabama - with southern-style catfish, fried okra, and banana pudding thrown in. Alongside traditional platters, the best places in Nashville offer some cheeky twists: Martin’s Bar-B-Que has Redneck Tacos (filled with brisket or pulled pork), while Peg Leg Porker in The Gulch offers an appetizer of Memphis Sushi (cheese and sausage on saltines). At Edley’s Bar-B-Que, both in East Nashville and 12South, the Tuck Special is a brisket sandwich topped with house-made pimento cheese, an over-easy egg, red and white sauce, and pickles. In a perhaps related note, Nashville also scored near the top for its civic pride.

2. Memphis, Tennessee
Ribs and pork sandwiches are the staples of Memphis-style barbecue: dry-rubbed and smoked over hickory, and often mopped with sauce while cooking. To eat with the savviest locals, head to one of the branches of Central BBQ, which does a classic pork sandwich, pulled-pork nachos, and even a four-ounce barbecued bologna sandwich (the newest is downtown, next to the National Civil Rights Museum). Another favorite - especially with local chefs - is the Bar-B-Q Shop (“home of the Dancing Pigs BBQ sauce”), which claims to be the birthplace of another Memphis staple, sauce-coated barbecue spaghetti. And while the locals ranked at the bottom of the survey for being physically fit, Memphis impressed readers with its bluesy street performers and low-cost luxuries.

3. Kansas City, Missouri
Only within the realm of barbecue can a gas-station location boost your appeal. At least that’s the case with Oklahoma Joe’s, a relative newcomer (as in, the 1990s) to the KC barbecue scene, whose first location was inside a Diamond Shamrock. This meatpacking city - which also ranked at the top of the survey for its great burgers - is known for delectable burnt ends that come off brisket and taste great with a tomatoes-meet-molasses sauce. Two legendary places to try it are Arthur Bryant’s and Gates Bar-B-Q, which date back to the 1920s and ’40s, respectively. Readers also applauded Kansas City for its welcoming locals, solid museums, and, come December, its twinkling Christmas spirit.

4. Austin, Texas
With its emphasis on lightly seasoned brisket, German sausage, and a tomato-vinegar sauce (and sometimes even no sauce), Texas barbecue has plenty of passionate loyalists in the state capital. Iron Works and the Salt Lick are traditional favorites, but these days the lines are longest at Franklin Barbecue in East Austin, which serves meat-market-style brisket, turkey, sausage, and more on pink butcher paper, with white bread and three sauces (including an espresso-based version) on the side. The ultimate barbecue-lovers’ day trip from Austin is the little town of Lockhart, less than an hour away, where old-time classics include Smitty’s Market and Black’s. Readers also put Austin in the top five for food trucks (including another barbecue must, John Mueller Meat Co.).

5. Houston, Texas
This big-business city still likes to go old-school, ranking in the top 10 for bothantiques and messy burgers. Local stars include mom-and-pop-style Gatlin’s BBQ, in Houston Heights, and Goode Company, known for its smoked duck, jalapeño cheese bread, and rich Brazos Bottom pecan pie. To keep your blood-brisket level high - and also see why the metropolis scored well for its bars - go to Beaver’s in Memorial Park, which pairs smoked meats with creative cocktails such as the Sherry Cobbler.

6. San Antonio, Texas
Travel + Leisure readers have always loved the Alamo city’s chili-sauced Tex-Mex, but some of its emerging barbecue has a cutting-edge style. At the Granary ’Cue & Brew, within the rehabbed Pearl brewery, the menu features classic brisket and house-made sausage, along with grilled quail, root beer–sautéed scallops, and Texas toast glazed with a mixture of brisket drippings, butter, and sea salt. Just outside town, Texas Pride Barbecue keeps it classic; based in a former filling station, it offers a bikers’ night as well as a quasi-vegetarian giant baked potato (stuffed with cheese and chopped brisket).

7. Charleston, South Carolina
South Carolina may represent the most diversity among the main barbecue styles, thanks to its core of four sauces (mustard-based, vinegar-and-pepper, and two tomato-based sauces). In Charleston, which also scored well for its fine dining, the honky-tonk-themed Home Team BBQ ups the ante with six sauces (including an Alabama white) to go with your ribs, turkey, or Redneck Pot Roast (brisket). That sloppy eat-off-the-paper approach is a bit of a let-loose departure for locals; Charleston also scored near the top for its home décor shops and for feeling tidy.

8. Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas
Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas and Angelo’s in Fort Worth are longtime favorites for barbecue. But it says something about the cowboy-spirited metroplex that folks even flock to the farmers’ market for meat. Pecan Lodge, in downtown Dallas’s farmers’ market (but soon to move to the Deep Ellum neighborhood), sells Pitmaster sandwiches: a triple threat of brisket, pulled pork, and sausage. Meanwhile, in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District, Lockhart Smokehouse is a North Texas branch of Lockhart’s legendary Kreuz Market, where you eat your brisket, sausage, and beef ribs right off the butcher paper (and sans sauce).

9. Savannah, Georgia
T+L readers embrace this Georgia city for its unpretentious charm, and the best barbecue places reflect the city’s easygoing attitude. Angel’s BBQ has the confidence to highlight a BBQ bologna sandwich on its menu, as well as a changing menu of sauces (such as Shot Gun Wedding or Voo Doo Juice) and a down-South version of poutine topped with baked beans and cheese. And tucked away in Savannah’s historic district, Wall’s Bar-B-Q is open only from noon to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; it’s famous for ribs, fried chicken, and collard greens.

10. New Orleans, Louisiana
Wedged between Texas and the Southeast, this Louisiana city landed in the top 10 by making barbecue on its own terms - like the pork-belly po’boys and sausage-filled boudin balls at uptown’s Squeal Bar-B-Q, or the Cajun chaurice sausage and spicy Creole coleslaw at Saucy’s on Magazine Street. Either way, a hearty barbecue dinner provides good fuel for a long night of partying: New Orleans ranked at the top of the survey for its wild weekend mojo, girlfriend-getaway fun, and people-watching.

Get the rest of the list at Travel + Leisure: America's Best Cities for Barbecue and weigh in for your favorites below. We'll share the most spirited responses in an upcoming story.

More From Travel + Leisure:
The Best Barbecue Restaurants in the World
America’s Best Outdoor Restaurants
America’s Best Road Trips

Make a brilliant pork butt
Five slices of barbecue wisdom
Five tips for hot dog success
How to smoke a brisket in your backyard
Rack up on rib pointers
Take a stab at a slab – an intro to ribs
Five steps to steak supremacy
Hearts afire! Liver, marrow, kidneys and more great offal for the grill
Whole hog BBQ - the Mount Everest of Meat
Five cuts of meat to buy and grill
A prime rib primer

soundoff (266 Responses)
  1. David

    What are you people smokin'? Obviously not a delicious, succulent pork shoulder! How in the world North Carolina is not represented on this list is blasphemy! Try Goldsboro, NC with Wilbur's (#1 in the nation, verified), Kings and McCalls right within a 4 block span of one another. A handful of rural North Carolina cities could put any of these impostors to shame... I never heard of such...

    June 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm |
    • kcjnz

      sing it brother!

      June 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm |
  2. Diana

    KC BBQ is the best – why else would the organization that is the primary judging for nearly all BBQ Competitions known as the Kansas City Barbecue Society and why are they the only ones who certify judges for competitions?? It's because Kansas City has over 90 home-grown Barbecue pit restaurants within its metro area and was one of the first to feature a mass produced barbecue sauce – Arthur Bryants followed by KC Masterpiece. I'm surprised that Travel & Leisure left out BB's Lawnside – if you want really good burnt ends (call ahead to be sure they aren't out – theirs are authentic – not just chopped brisket) and really good brews and blues music – you have to go to BB's (http://bbslawnsidebbq.com/). They've been featured on Food Network shows beginning with Dining Out in the early days and most recently on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives with Guy Fieri.

    June 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm |
  3. singletrack74

    No McRib?

    June 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm |
  4. Heathen

    I don’t like BBQ. It is to greasy, salty, tough, overcooked, over spiced, acid, messy and it gives me gas.. Give me a big steaming bowl of tripe and veal knuckle soup with, potatoes, onions and leeks seasoned with thyme, pepper and calvados finished with cream with a crusty baguette any day.

    June 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
    • Carn E. Vore

      You don't like BBQ yet you came to an article about BBQ solely to say you don't like it and to post what you do like as if anyone cares. Congratulations! You've made a whole bunch of total strangers want to go back in time and encourage your dad to pull out.

      June 10, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
  5. Derek

    How on earth NO WHERE in North Carolina is included on this list is mind blowing...Charleston? Because mustard based BBQ is good...not. Short Sugars – Reidsville, NC; Stameys/Country BBQ – Greensboro, NC; Lexington BBQ – Lexington, NC; Hendrix/College BBQ – Salisbury, NC (Home of Cheerwine); Gary's BBQ – China Grove, NC

    June 10, 2014 at 2:07 pm |
  6. wolfpack97

    Seriously? Leaving off any area in North Carolina on the list of best BBQ makes the list invalid.

    June 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
    • Derek

      agreed, unreal

      June 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm |
  7. Todd

    KANSAS CITY IS NUMERO UNO....BAR NONE!!!!! Just ask Anthony Bourdain and David Ortiz..... they are just two of the many celebs that rank KC as the best. I've tried the so called best in ever state from Memphis, Texas, North Carolina and it can't even compare. You try them all and be the judge......KC will come on Top again, again and again!!!!!

    June 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm |
  8. Fishpunt

    Everyone is an expert on BBQ. I live in Houston, Texas. I can say the BBQ in TN and TX is so different I don't think you can adequately compare it. Nobody here in Texas takes Pork seriously, except for the folks who got here from the south. If I go to TN and ask for brisket they are dumbfounded.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
  9. Carsst

    This article just used classic American towns just for their name. For example, Savannah's BBQ sucks... what, there are a few low quality establishments? Meanwhile, Atlanta actually has a ton of high quality, amazing BBQ joints. But, Atlanta doesn't sound right on this list. Same goes for Charleston, few crappy establishments.... but the name sounds good!

    June 10, 2014 at 1:54 pm |
  10. chance

    You have to include Lexington, NC. Why do the story if you don't include all the hot spots....just another half done story by CNN. We want the real stuff, small towns or big towns...why put thresholds on your stories with disclaimers! Lexington, NC is where it's at!

    June 10, 2014 at 1:54 pm |
  11. Darlene Spengler

    You left out one of the best! The Shedd in Ocean Springs, MS Not only do they serve the best Pork barbecue I've ever eaten. You can't beat the atmosphere! :-)

    June 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
  12. tm1946

    For me BBQ is all about KCMO and then the rest. There are more than the three mentioned here, come on over and try the different ones.

    But have traveled enough to say – it is a matter of individual taste. I have had "Carolina BBQ" that was worst than most but there were a lot of customers who seemed to be enjoying it (with both hands). If you like one style just enjoy it.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Pat

    People in Pittsburgh think that they have great BBQ here and I just laugh in their faces. I'm from KC, I've had Memphis, Texas, and Carolina BBQ and I will alway think KC is the best. But that is my bias.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
    • singletrack74

      everyone laughs at Pittsburgh

      June 10, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
  14. lunchbreaker

    SPOILER ALERT: I have derived a formula how to post on this article=> No! [insert personal preference here] has the best BBQ because [insert personal reasons here and adamantly defend them]!

    June 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
    • tm1946

      Embarrassingly true..... hate you for deflating my ego. LOL

      June 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
  15. tomasseffect

    Just look where the fat people are coming out of.....like any place in Houston, TX. Nations fat capital.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
    • HarpAttack

      It used to be. Now it's your house.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Thurston

    The best place for BBQ is in Orangeburg, South Carolina. There are three different places, but all use a very similar formula to turn out great stuff. This is a rural area in South Carolina.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
  17. Jenny

    Lived in KCMO. A very long time ago. Longer than I want to say, and to this day I will always think that their BBQ is the best. Family still hring me back a certain sauce that will always bring back great childhood memories. Ugh, now I want some...,

    June 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
  18. HarpAttack

    Who writes this crap? Goode Company in Houston is one of the worst excuses for Texas Q I've ever eaten. It's bland and ordinary at best. Great decor – lousy Q.

    The small outfits run by African Americans usually end up being great. They invented it, after all, and I sure miss Williams Smokehouse.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
  19. Indroneel Chatterjee

    "Best" is a subjective work but Lockhart, Texas and Luling, Texas boast an incredible collection of BBQ houses. Smitty's Market, Kreuz Market, Black's Market and Luling City Market will make you pack your bags and leave the North East for ever.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
    • RC

      Just about anything would make me leave the Northeast forever.......

      June 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm |
  20. MsB

    The best place to get BBQ is the small shack. Not the big chains. Your local small shack can serve it up better every time.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
  21. Phillip

    As a native Texan, and resident of the DFW area, their inclusion of Sonny Bryan's was not necessary. There are significantly better small shops in the area. Angelo's in FW is supposed to be really good. Different areas offer different styles of bbq. I prefer rubbed and smoked, with sauce on the side(if i use it at all). Hard 8 in Coppell is not that good. The original or the one in Roanoke are much better, but you have to like mesquite for smoking the meat. The Feedstore in Southlake is awesome and there are many others that are single location and family run that are great.
    Me, i am game to try anything for bbq as long as it is slow smoked and rubbed for flavors. Pecan and apple wood are my favs.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
  22. Ally

    "As part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metro areas for such qualities as good-looking locals, great sports teams, and regionally distinct pizza and barbecue." Hmmmmm.... Great sports teams: Cardinals, the Blues. Regionally distinct pizza: the provel-covered cracker that is Imo's Pizza. Regionally distinct barbecue: Pappy's and Bogarts are national winners.

    Are people in St Louis really that homely that it didn't make the list??

    June 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm |
  23. Jeremy

    Memphis and it's not even close.
    And as far as NC BBQ goes, it is disgusting. I ate it one time with a family member and he said don't get your hopes up, it's nothing like Memphis. He was right.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
  24. JT

    This is a terrible attempt at a "best barbecue cities" article simply because it's just an advertisement for Travel + Leisure, restating the conclusions of their reader submitted poll (that only had certain cities for choices).

    Again, what is the point of this other than to just advertise?

    June 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm |
  25. tom

    ate at "Home Team" in Charleston and had their lunch special. Felt very sick later that day. Wasn't that good to begin with.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
  26. Valerie

    Beaver's in Houston is located in the Old Sixth Ward Historical District, not in Memorial Park which is a few miles away. Also, you should probably add Killen's to the list. .

    June 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
    • HarpAttack

      Should probably have Killen's TOP the list. Can you believe the mention of Goode Company? Yecch.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
  27. jonp

    Probably some of the fattest cities in America.

    June 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
    • The Truth

      Interesting nonbiased research you did there. Did you have a traumatic experience with BBQ and fat guy? Did he take the last rib that you wanted?

      Good BBQ is enjoyed by all walks of life.

      June 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm |
  28. Ghetto Leprechaun

    Iron Works

    June 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
  29. Joe

    I like all of them. I think it's funny how effing touchy people are about it.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:57 pm |
  30. STL Mike

    How is St. Louis not on this list? The main cut of a rib bone is names after it. What is this? I call foul.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
  31. JUSTIN

    No love for STL...COME ON NOW!!

    June 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
  32. sure you will

    Yet another stupid list.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:48 pm |
  33. Foodie

    Berbecue stinks no matter where you get it.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • theandy

      You shut your mouth with your ignorant banter. And someone who calls themselves a 'Foodie'

      What an ass.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm |
    • HarpAttack

      You're what's known as a 'chooch'.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm |
      • HarpAttack

        Regarding 'Foodie'.

        June 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm |
  34. Don

    You can get just as good bbq in New York as you can anywhere else. Our pigs and cows are just as good so there's really no reason why North Carolina, Kansas or Texas is any better than bbq in Burlington Vermont.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:45 pm |
    • HarpAttack

      Go to Killens's in Pearland Texas (suburb of Houston) and then see if you still feel that way.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm |
  35. Mike Brown

    The best BBQ I have ever eaten was at the Hard Eight in Coppell, TX. I am not a fan of much from Texas, but I thought I was in heaven the nights I ate there. You can keep the rest of Texas, but that place I will keep.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jon

      Hard 8 is a good tourist spot. Way overpriced and a little too harsh on the smoke. For a third of your money go to the west side of Fort Worth. Billy's Oak Acres BBQ is some real fine BBQ.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
  36. Terry Gamel

    How is it that KC gets credit for *Oklahoma Joes*, but Tulsa, where it was actually started, doesn't?

    June 10, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • Mike E

      They have two different owners, Terry, though the restaurants are related.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  37. jazzman157

    best BBQ joint and North Carolina is not even listed whom ever took this data truly don't know what real BBQ suppose to taste like

    June 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
    • Eric T

      Right on.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • wbstookie

      NC really does belong, just stopped in Lexington the other week and hands down best I've had...we have so many good places in Raleigh too, way to blow it CNN

      June 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
  38. Ctrygrl

    Vinegar based sauce belongs to Eastern NORTH Carolina. The only thing on the list that actually is SC is the nasty mustard based sauce. I consider any barbecue list that does NOT include NC a useless joke.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
    • Linda

      actually that's not true.. the Lowcountry of SC tends to favor the vinegar-based sauces.. Midlands is mostly mustard based while the Upstate is more tomato based... I prefer the tomato based sauces any day

      June 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm |
      • JT

        I like them all but clearly the poster you're replying to has never eaten BBQ in the eastern half of SC.

        June 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
        • Linda


          June 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
  39. Ron

    No St. Louis??? How can that be given St. Louis has it's own unique style and places like Pappy's and Bogart's are regularly featured on nearly every show that does famous BBQ. Mike Emerson has a staggering number of awards as well as a line out the door that is sometimes more than 2 hours long on weekends.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  40. Val

    Clearly your readers know nothing about eastern North Carolina barbeque; otherwise, they would have voted the greater Raleigh area as the best. Who wants ketchup based bbq sauce smeared over beef when you can have the greatest vingegar based sauce basted over wood smoked pork. I'll take NC bbq over the rest of the country any day.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
    • adoylebu

      clearly whatever your favorite bbq is the best and all the rest is garbage. orrrrr, maybe it's not on the list at all because vinegar based bbq sauce is the absolute worst. that seems like a more likely explanation.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
  41. Meade

    Virginia BBQ is the best. I live in Richmond, VA and we have many great BBQ places all around the region.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
    • keetstreet

      VA has some of the BEST BBQ!!!!!! Whitners and smoke from above in Va Beach are AMAZING!!!!!!

      June 10, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
  42. Don

    My son and I had BBQ at Jack Stack's in KC over the weekend – not bad either.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  43. Joe

    Chicopee, MA isn't on there? Shocking

    June 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  44. JB

    So a survey including BBQ and great sports left out STL? Sorry, I live in Nashville and the BBQ here is getting better but far from the best. Sounds like the header is misleading since it looks like BBQ was just part of a larger survey about cities.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  45. J

    Atlanta also has some great BBQ – Fox Bros? Fat Matt's? I'm hungry now..

    June 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
  46. Candy

    "To be fair, since the survey covered only 35 cities, some barbecue hot spots like Lexington, North Carolina, Lockhart, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri were not even on the table for this particular vote.: --Survey failure. Why even bother with it?

    June 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
    • Eric T

      Because they want clicks.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • JT

      Seriously, this is someone mailing it in for a paycheck. I couldn't care less what CNN does with their money but I hate to think they spent much on an article like this.

      June 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm |
  47. Brandon

    No, the joke is that "Slow Bone" is not listed for DFW!! C'mon now...

    June 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm |
  48. Candy

    This is completely ridiculous. Not a NC city anywhere?!

    June 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm |
  49. Mike

    What the heck? There are no cities from North Carolina on this list! We're known for our BBQ.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm |
    • Eric T

      Truly ridiculous.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm |
    • Joe

      In defense of no NC cities on here, these are large, metro areas. While Raleigh has some awesome BBQ places, I think most of NC's good BBQ is in more rural areas.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:51 pm |
  50. Jake

    What a joke! The best BBQ resides in Kansas City.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
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