Okay, so here’s the deal. What type of meat, what sort of sauce, what method of Animal Removal cooking, which sort of wood or heat, and how is it served. A lot to consider. And one thing is for sure–we’re not talking a backyard Weber grill here, folks.
From the South, especially North Carolina, the most common outdoor version is that the”pig pickin’.” Named after the Cajun term cochon de lait, traditional Southern barbecue grew from these gatherings, which entailed an entire 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 kinds of sauces include vinegar-based from the east, tomato-vinegar, occasionally mustard, in the central state and a milder tomato-based sauce in western NC. And throughout 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 places considered a capital offense ). When ordered, it’s simply called Q and the sides are a given. (In Texas you might get a thick piece of toast, but that’s another story.)
In accordance with South Carolinians, just in their state will you find all four”official” sauces: mustard-based, vinegar-based, light or thick 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 combination of dry seasonings before smoking more than wood. Don’t even consider charcoal briquettes, considered a misdemeanor at the very least.The dry rub ingredients are a closely guarded secret, setting them apart from the guy down the street. There may not be a sauce basted over the meat, but only 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 (which is not really considered a true barbecue, anyhow.) A popular item in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and frequently 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 may be pulled pork or ribs, smoked sausage, beef brisket or ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish. Whew. They do not leave anything to chance, but bear in mind, KC is a major meat packing city, no vegetarians allowed. Hickory wood delivers the best flavor and the sauce of choice is tomato-based, mild or hot. No hush puppies–remember you are in the Midwest. And in Chicago, when they’re 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 in a special oven. The meat, typically ribs, is then finished 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?) . Since many BBQ places are located on the South Side, they often comprise the major ticket thing in your soul food restaurants.
The state of Kentucky just needs 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 some time on this?
Don’t mess with Texas, particularly when it comes to BBQ. The larger 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 that have hosted them over time, attempt to diminish their Northern wannabes by asserting the best darn barbecue in the world. The emphasis 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, slow and low. They prefer mesquite wood or a combo of hickory and walnut, then served up on plates with potato salad, beans, slaw and a big ole piece of Texas toast. This is serious eatin’, y’all.
And there you have it. Exhausting, all these details and variations. So much barbecue, so little time.