5 BBQ Styles Debunked

By TripIt

March 01, 2016

I remember the first time my Texan father-in-law visited us at our new home in North Carolina. Knowing that he was a BBQ buff, I took him out to dinner at my favorite local BBQ joint. As the waitress took our order, my father-in-law resorted to what he knew BBQ to be and ordered the beef.

In her most condescending bless his heart tone, the waitress corrected his order, “Honey, this is North Carolina. You’ll have the pork.”

I really can’t blame my father-in-law. How BBQ is defined is one of the most confusing and debated food topics out there. BBQ styles very vastly from region to region on not only the meat used but also the type of sauce and cooking method. Here’s what to expect as you travel to each of these top regions for bold BBQ styles and where to find the best regional example.

 

North Carolina

Let’s start with the most confusing state of them all—North Carolina. Within the Tar Heel state lives two styles of BBQ: Eastern and Western. Most authentic BBQ restaurants will carry only one of the two styles. So, know the difference and chose your restaurant correctly.

Eastern North Carolina BBQ uses the whole hog, smoked slowly for a minimum of eight hours with a vinegar-based sauce.

While Western style may use the same slow cooking method, the part of the pig and the sauce used is different. Western uses only the pork shoulder and includes a hint of tomato in the mostly vinegar-based sauce.

Where to Order It:

For Eastern style, head to Allen and Son in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For Western, head to Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina.

 

Memphis

When you think of Memphis, you think of pork ribs, right? If you answered yes, then you’re close to defining Memphis BBQ. How are those hickory-smoked ribs prepared though—dry or wet? Ah… here lies the ever growing debated of Memphis BBQ.

Dry ribs are covered with a paprika-based spice mixture before the meat is placed in the smoker. The ribs are served without any sauce as the rub and cooking technique lends all the tenderness that’s needed for fall-off-the-bone, sweet and spicy ribs. Wet ribs, on the other hand, are brushed with a sauce—or mop—before, during and after cooking. They’re served with a sauce that is a sweet, thin combination of tomato, vinegar and spices.

Where to Order It:

For dry ribs, head to A&R Bar-B-Que in Memphis, Tennessee. For wet, try Corky’s Bar-B-Q in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Kansas City

Kansas City BBQ is about the sauce. Period. The thick tomato and molasses based sauce is placed on a wide variety of smoked meats: pork, beef, chicken, turkey or mutton. The stick-to-your-fingers sauce packs bold flavors of both sweet and spicy. For an extra treat, order your sauce with burnt ends. Burnt ends are the crunchy pieces of slow cooked beef or pork that are caramelized with deep, smoky, slightly charred flavor.

Where to Order It:

Arthur Bryant in Kansas City, Missouri has direct ties to the original Kansas City BBQ joint, Henry Perry.

 

Alabama

Alabama doesn’t normally show up on most BBQ lists. The reason is that the offerings tend to be a combination of other regions. However recently, the state has been catching national headlines for its white BBQ sauce, which is traditionally served with grilled or smoked chicken. The unique sauce is a tangy combination of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and coarsely ground pepper.

Where to Order It:

Head out to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama.

 

Texas

The Lone Star State’s bold declaration on BBQ is as ferocious as their independent attitude. In Texas, beef reigns supreme. While many new styles are beginning to creep up with Mexican and, gasp, pork influences; although, beef brisket, sausage and short ribs are still the most popular.

The beef is prepared simply, yet deliciously. It’s slow cooked over oak coals with a simple rub—sometimes just salt and pepper. The succulent and tender meat is then served without sauce. All the flavor you need comes from the deep woody oak and the rich cuts of meat. The stance against sauce is so strong that many traditional Texas BBQ restaurants don’t offer any, so don’t bother asking.

Where to Order It:

Without a doubt Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas

Written By:

BRYAN RICHARDS

Bryan M. Richards is a beer, food, and travel writer based in Charlotte. His work has appeared in Men's Journal, Beer Advocate, and just about anything with the word Charlotte in it. In a previous life, he was a corporate road warrior staying in two to three different hotels a week and often forgetting his room number.