The barbecue landscape in America shares a lot in common with the population; there is an incredible amount of diversity, each style has a unique origin, and there is always going to be a debate about which kind is the best.
Even within the individual regions, there are many disagreements about the proper way to prepare the food. That’s right—barbecue isn’t just about the sauce. It also includes the steps that go into preparing the meat for cooking, and even the method used to cook the meat. Some regions can’t even agree on the animals they are cooking. Here are the different styles of regional American barbecue and what makes each one taste so damn good. The styles are in alphabetical order to avoid the appearance of favoritism for any region’s delicious fare over the others.
One of the smaller regional variations is the first offering on the list. Alabama barbecue sauce, known for its distinctive white color, has a mayonnaise and vinegar mixture as its base. Alabama barbecue fans prefer to stick with a sandwich approach. Chicken or pulled pork combined with coleslaw is a favorite in the region when combined on a bun and slathered in that famous white sauce. Though not as well-known as other regions, there are still many devout followers of this style.
The fantastic thing about Kansas City barbecue is how much variety there is, both in foods and the sauces that slather them. This sauce style is what many people around the country think of today when they think about the condiment. Famous for being thick, sweet, and tangy, it’s hard to go wrong with a good Kansas City sauce for the average backyard cookout.
The city of Kansas City was originally known as a meatpacking hub. This led to a willingness to barbecue nearly any type of meat they could get their hands on—always slow-cooked over low heat and hickory wood. Thanks to the sticky base of molasses and tomato found in most Kansas City-style combinations, the sauce is more likely to remain on the meat. Burnt ends and cuts of brisket are particularly well-known regional specialties.
Memphis-syle barbecue is all about pork, especially prepared as a slab of ribs or pulled pork. Slow cooking over wood and using a dry rub give the meat its taste. What makes Memphis-style stand out compared to other regions is that the barbecue is known for being dry. Herbs such as garlic, paprika, and cumin appear in many of these dry rubs to provide extra flavoring to the meat.
But just because the region is known for dry rub doesn’t mean you get to forget about the sauce completely. Memphis-style sauce has a tomato base and is best known for being sweet, thin, and tangy. Sometimes on the side, other times on the food—the exact ingredients are up to each maker and can vary wildly.
Carolina barbecue is another of the different styles of regional American barbecue. The region is unusual because there are three distinct styles within the same region. Though a matter of some debate, this regional specialty is considered the country’s oldest barbecue style. Like many other regions, pork is the preferred meat—except Carolina uses nearly every part of the animal.
Eastern North Carolina barbecue doesn’t use tomatoes in the sauce, instead preferring a vinegar base before adding additional spices to flavor the batch. Some of the original sauce recipes even include oysters in their mix. Chopped pork is the specialty of the region, where they utilize the whole hog.
The second faction in the Carolina barbecue war goes by “Lexington,” “Piedmont,” or “Western North Carolina,” depending on who you ask. Lexington barbecue mainly consists of the dark meat found in the pork shoulder. Unlike Eastern-style, those in the west like to add ketchup to their sauce recipes, helping to sweeten the mixture.
The final style in the Carolina barbecue trinity are the mustard sauces famous in South Carolina barbecue. “Carolina Gold” sauce is known throughout the region for its vinegar-based tangy taste. Ham and pork butt are both popular dishes found in South Carolina barbecue establishments.
Texas represents the last of the four major regions of American barbecue. Like with Carolina, there are debates within the region about the true king of Texas-style. This style area’s barbecue enthusiasts prefer to use a basting or “mop sauce” before cooking to improve the meat’s taste even further. This sauce often includes ingredients such as beef stock, vinegar, and Worcestershire, along with a handful of various spices.
The brisket is particularly notable at barbecue joints serving Central Texas-style food. Smoking the brisket over oak and serving it without sauce is the preferred method in this region. Ribs and spicy sausages are also common at barbecue joints throughout the area. Because of the emphasis this style places on the meat itself, the barbecue sauce is typically for dipping when it’s made available. One unique feature in many Central Texas-style barbecue restaurants is cafeteria-style, where diners have a tray and butchers carve the meat by weight onto the tray.
The other regional variant of barbecue found in the Texas region is the East Texas-style. What sets this area apart from nearly every other region is the willingness to use beef when cooking the food. Like a few other barbecue regions, East Texas barbecue is best when chopped rather than sliced. There is also a predilection for smothering the meat in hot sauce before plopping it on a bun to consume.
If there’s one thing that each of the different regions can agree on when it comes to barbecue, it’s the importance of good meat. At Vincent’s Meat Market, we proudly share that same passion for protein. Our butcher shop serves only the finest meat products, and we’re the best place to buy pork in The Bronx for your next barbecue, regardless of the style you choose. Stop into our shop on Arthur Avenue in Real Little Italy or visit our online store today and taste the difference that quality meats can make on your next cookout.