A Whirlwind Tour of US Barbecue
“Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the US to Europe’s wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes.”
—John Shelton Reed, sociologist, writer, and all-around expert on all things Southern.
At its most basic, barbecue is meat that’s cooked low and slow over a smoky fire. But barbecue aficionados will tell you that “authentic” American barbecue is so much more—and, just like the wines and cheeses of Europe, the answer to just what “real” barbecue is will vary state-to-state, even region-to-region, with each area insisting that their version is the one true style.
The variations by region can be dizzying. Some swear barbecue needs a vinegar-based sauce, others swear by a tomato-based sauce. Some sauce their meat with mustard, some with mayonnaise. Up your barbecue IQ by taking a quick tour of American BBQ with us and learn about just some of each region’s specialties.
You’ll find not one but two distinct styles of barbecue in North Carolina. In the Eastern method—which John Shelton Reed calls the “original” American barbecue—whole hogs are smoked and then chopped and served with a vinegar-and-pepper-based sauce. Further west another style of barbecue, known as Lexington-style, emerged. Here, just the pork shoulder is smoked and it’s served on a sandwich with a bright red tomato-based sauce. Confused yet? Hang on, we’re just getting started…
South Carolina is just one state to the south, but their take on barbecue is worlds away. Like its neighbor to the north, pork is largely the meat of choice but South Carolinians put their own spin on the sauce. A very specific condiment developed in the area stretching from Charleston to Colombia: According to the South Carolina Barbecue Association, German settlers brought a love for mustard with them to South Carolina, and were soon pouring a golden, mustard-based, vinegary sauce they christened Carolina Gold on their pulled pork.1
Deep in the heart of Texas, barbecue is all about the beef—brisket specifically—smoked low and slow over oak, mesquite, pecan, or hickory wood for up to 20 hours until it’s so tender it falls off the bone. How it’s served depends on where you are: in East Texas, brisket is marinated in a sweet tomato-based sauce, while in South Texas, the sauce is molasses-based. Near the Rio Grande, Mexican-style barbacoa dominates, while in Central Texas they do without sauce altogether and settle for a simple rub of salt and pepper.2
In Kansas City, all kinds of meat are smoked—beef, pork, chicken, or sausage—but what makes it unique is the thick sweet molasses- and tomato-based sauce that the smoked meat is smothered in. The most famous specialty of KC barbecue is burnt ends, the crunchy, caramelized, intensely smoky ends of brisket. Once considered a throwaway piece of meat, these tasty nuggets have become a favorite of barbecue enthusiasts.
Hold the sauce in Memphis! Here, another style of barbecue developed: slabs of pork ribs are flavored with a dry rub of garlic, paprika, chili pepper, cumin, and other spices and cooked over a hickory fire. And in Memphis, they like to think outside the box: barbecued meat is added to nachos, pizza, and even spaghetti.3
Last but not least is Alabama, famous for its unconventional white barbecue sauce. This combo of mayonnaise, vinegar, apple juice, and cayenne pepper has been served with smoked chicken since the 1920s and has gradually gained national attention. In fact, Texas Monthly declared 2015 “the year of Alabama barbecue.”4
Our virtual road trip through American barbecue just scratches the surface—St. Louis, Kentucky, Georgia, and more.. they’ve all developed their own local barbecue traditions and have their own share of passionate fanatics who swear their regions are the best.
Our newest Genie, Ryan Pascoe, brings his passion for BBQ to your home. Choose one of Ryan’s falling-off-the-bone, slow-smoked specialties and he’ll arrive at your house in the morning to set up his smoker in your backyard, driveway, or garage and get your meat going, then come back later that day to finish it off. He offers everything from traditional finger-lickin’ favorites like Saint Louis Ribs smothered in a homemade barbecue sauce, to a tender, Coffee-rubbed Brisket, to a decadent Smoked Prime Rib with Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes. Let us know when you like the food done and we will work the right start time with you. Ryan brings the smoker with him. And takes it away – no cleanup for you. All you need to do is to find a dry spot for the smoker and a regular power outlet. Fresh meat from the nearby butcher shop, slow-cooked to perfection. If it’s not raining, even a chilly February day will not hamper an outdoor smoking event from CookinGenie.