Monday, May 7, 2012

a tale of barbecue

I dedicate today's post to one of my most favorite things: BARBECUE.

Why, you may ask, am I dedicating an entire post to barbecue?

Well, barbecue is oft misunderstood, misrepresented and mistaken for other things.

First off, for all of you non-Southerners, when I say "barbecue" I am referring to chopped pork (or chicken/beef) that is smoked/cooked. I am NOT referring to cooking burgers and hot dogs on a grill in your backyard. That is called a cookout.

Mmmkay, now that we're on the same page, let's discuss some different kinds of barbecue. There are TONS of different kinds of barbecue, but a handful of major kinds.

1. Eastern North Carolina BBQ
2. Western North Carolina BBQ
3. Memphis BBQ
4. St. Louis/Kansas City BBQ
5. South Carolina BBQ
6. Texas BBQ

Now, I realize that other places have delicious BBQ, but in my opinion, these are the most distinctly different kinds. Some of these are only certain types/cuts of meat but the main differences in these are the sauces/spices.

Having tried ALL of these kinds, I have a first-hand experience at describing them.

First, we have the sweet reds: Memphis and St. Louis/KC. These are characterized by their sweet, tomato-based red sauces. Often, you'll find beef BBQ here like brisket and chopped beef. The difference is that St. Louis/Kansas City uses sugar to sweeten their sauce while Memphis relies on molasses. Random factoid: It wasn't until I visited Kansas City that I realized it was where KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce originated. The KC stands for Kansas City. Wow. Mind blown.

Next up are the vinegar-based North Carolinas styles. Eastern NC BBQ is one of the original BBQ sauces in the US. Most often, Eastern NC BBQ is chopped or pulled pork butt seasoned with red pepper flakes, vinegar and black pepper. There is little to no sugar in this type of BBQ. Western NC BBQ (or Lexington BBQ) adds ketchup or tomato sauce to the mixture to cut the sharpness of the vinegar a bit. Both of these are known as "dipping" BBQs that are not served with sauce on them. Often, the vinegar and spice mixture is served on the side as a dipping sauce.

South Carolina BBQ and Texas BBQ are both in categories all by themselves. South Carolina BBQ is mustard-based with vinegar and spices. This BBQ sauce is yellow from the yellow mustard base. Texas BBQ incorporates some Mexican elements with the addition of chile peppers, cumin and chile powder.

Nowadays, most chain BBQ restaurants cook in the St. Louis/KC/Memphis style with a sweet, red sauce and a variety of beef, pork and chicken. This is the most widespread style of BBQ in the country. However, Eastern NC BBQ and SC BBQ have the most cult-following because of their unusual tastes.

Personally, Eastern NC BBQ has my heart. No sauce, just vinegary goodness. YUM!

I'm blessed to live in the BBQ Mecca that is North Carolina and realize that BBQ might not have such a substantial presence on, say, the West Coast, for example. But, if you ever travel to any of these areas or are privileged to have an authentic BBQ place that claims to be Memphis-style or Carolina-style, I encourage you to visit, sample and compare with other types of BBQ you may have tried before.

As for me, I'll continue to get my monthly dose of Eastern NC BBQ at Cookout. Delicious!


  1. I am a fan of mustard-based BBQ, but I suppose tjat's due to where I was raised.

  2. I love the Eastern Carolina BBQ too. Harris Teeter HT Traders brand makes a great Eastern Carolina Sauce.


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