As Americans, it is safe to say that we are obsessed with barbecue. Although it is believed to have found its origins in Haiti, and named barbacoa by the Spanish who landed there, barbecue is clearly an American institution and synonymous with any/all summer holiday celebrations. Typically, the term barbecue is not understood to be the sauce (at least not among BBQ diehards), but rather refers to the method of cooking: indirect, slow cooking of meat over wood for long periods of time.
From there, it gets a little murkier: depending on what part of the country, the barbecue of the region takes on a distinctive flair and flavor profile that is subject to intense debate among the purists of each BBQ house. Tempers flare and voices are raised all for the sake of pride in the name of BBQ; owing largely to the local traditions ingrained in each region. For the purposes of this blog, we are going to focus primarily on the type of sauce used and the protein typical to each type of BBQ.
So let’s jump in and learn a little about the major BBQ styles:
South Carolina: This state has 3 types of BBQ sauce that it is known for. On the coast “Pee Dee” BBQ uses whole hogs with a sauce that is thin but spicy with components of vinegar and peppers. In the central region, the “Carolina Gold” BBQ sauce is a mustard-based sauce, and the dominant player, pairing well with pulled or chopped pork. The least known sauce in South Carolina is the “light tomato sauce” which is common in the western art of the state.
North Carolina: Eastern North Carolina is known for whole hog roasts with a thin sauce made from vinegar and tomato. Lexington BBQ (Western North Carolina) is ketchup-based and slightly sweeter than the sauce found in the East, due to the addition of brown sugar.
Memphis: Memphis-Style BBQ consists of ribs that are either “wet” or “dry”. The sauce for these ribs is slightly sweet but thinner with more spices, heat, sugar and vinegar than Carolina style BBQ sauces.
Kansas City: An off-shoot of Memphian BBQ, it includes beef in addition to the traditional pork BBQ. In this style, the sauce is the center of attention, and French Fries are a typical accompaniment. Molasses as a component of the sauce results in a richer, darker sauce made most popular by K.C. Masterpiece.
Texas: Arguably the home of BBQ, there are 4 predominant styles of BBQ, including East Texas BBQ (chopped meat, predominantly hickory smoke in a sweet tomato BBQ); Central Texas BBQ or ‘meat market style’(the meat is dry rubbed and cooked over pecan or oak, sauce is thinner and served on the side, served sliced on a tray with sides and condiments); West Texas BBQ (“Cowboy Style” with mesquite wood an direct fire); and South Texas BBQ: (BBQ sauces made with molasses and barbacoa and cabrito for proteins). Texas is among the states where BBQ sauce is optional and usually is served on the side.
Kentucky: In the far western corner of Kentucky, a small pocket of counties specialize in mutton smoked over hickory coals. The sauce, which is Worcestershire-based with black pepper and allspice, is strong enough on its own to cut the gamey flavor of the mutton.
Alabama: In Alabama’s far north chicken reigns supreme in the BBQ scene. The true star of North Alabama BBQ is not the chicken though. Rather, it is a surprisingly unique white sauce. Comprised of mayonnaise, horseradish, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar (and sometimes apple or lemon juice), the sauce is what truly sets Alabama BBQ apart from the rest of the pack.
Whichever school of BBQ thought you find yourself in, one thing is for sure: BBQ is bigger and better than ever. So go on, get your BBQ on – just make sure to bring some friends, because there is always enough to share.