Okay, so here’s the deal. What kind of meat, what sort of sauce, what method of cooking, what sort of heat or wood, and how can it be functioned. A lot to take into account. And one thing is for sure–we’re not talking a backyard Weber grill here, folks.
From the South, especially North Carolina, the most popular outdoor version is the”pig pickin’.” Named after the Cajun term cochon de lait, traditional Southern barbecue grew from these gatherings, which entailed an whole hog roasted for hours, then letting guests pick their own meat off the final product (thus the term”going whole hog”).
But every region has its own variant, usually pork, and the sauce is what makes the difference. In North Carolina, the three varieties of sauces include vinegar-based from the east, tomato-vinegar, sometimes mustard, in the central state and a milder tomato-based sauce in western NC. The city of Lexington, just northeast of Charlotte, proclaims itself to be the”Barbecue Capital of the World,” boasting one BBQ restaurant per 1000 people (talk about going whole hog). And during the South, the meat is more likely to be served on a plate, accompanied by hush puppies, coleslaw and baked beans, not in a bun smothered with ketchup (in some regions considered a capital crime). When ordered, it’s simply called Q and the sides are confirmed. (In Texas you may get a thick piece of toast, but that’s another story.)
In accordance with South Carolinians, only in their state will you find all four”official” sauces: mustard-based, vinegar-based, light or heavy tomato based. To the west, Memphis grill favors tomato- and vinegar-based sauces, and in some restaurants (or more likely BBQ shacks) the meat is rubbed with a mixture of dry seasonings before smoking more than timber. Don’t even consider charcoal briquettes, considered a misdemeanor in the exact least.The dry rub ingredients are a closely guarded secret, setting them apart from the guy down the street. There might not be a sauce basted over the meat, but simply served on the side.
Moving right along, in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee barbecue is generally pork, basted with a sweet red sauce. Some rebels even dare to use a mayo-based sauce with vinegar, mostly on chicken (that isn’t actually considered a true barbecue, anyhow.) A popular thing in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and often topped with coleslaw. Pulled pork is prepared by shredding the pork after it has been barbecued, then piled high.
In the Midwest, we’re talking Kansas City-style, characterized by using different types of meat, which might be pulled pork or ribs, smoked sausage, beef brisket or ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish. Whew. They don’t leave anything to chance, but bear in mind, KC is a major meat packing city, no vegetarians allowed. Hickory wood delivers the very best flavor and the sauce of choice is tomato-based, spicy or mild. No hush puppies–remember you are in the Midwest. And in Chicago, when they are not wolfing down Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs or pizza, they like to season the beef with a dry rub, sear it on a hot grill, then cook it slowly in a special oven. The beef, typically ribs, is then completed with a sweet and tangy red sauce. Not to worry, they won’t have you arrested if you purchase it on a bun (just no ketchup, understand?) . Side dishes can be cooked greens, mac and cheese and sweet potatoes. Since many BBQ places can be found on the South Side, they often comprise the major ticket item in your soul food restaurants.
The state of Kentucky just has to be different, making mutton their meat of choice. In Maryland, beef is the ticket and it is grilled over a high heat, served rare with horseradish. Hardly even qualifies as barbecue, so why are we spending any time on this?
Don’t mess with Texas, especially when it comes to BBQ. The bigger the better, and the Lone Star state takes no prisoners when it comes to their version (there ain’t no other variant, pardner.) This tradition runs deep, and king-sized barbecues, thanks in no small part to the amount of famous politicians who have hosted them over the years, attempt to diminish their Northern wannabes by asserting the best darn barbecue in the world. The accent is on the meat itself, not a sauce. Usually “Texas-style” means “Central Texas-style” and that spells b-e-e-f. Brisket is cooked over indirect heat, low and slow. They favor mesquite wood or a combo of hickory and oak, then served up on plates with potato salad, beans, slaw and a big ole slice of Texas toast.
Exhausting, all these details and variations. Who’s hungry? What will you choose and where? So much barbecue, so little time.