1. The Ultimate BBQ Face-Off
Think your hometown barbecue is the country’s uncontestable best? Those are fighting words. Why? Because contenders from all over the map proudly lay claim to the title. But what distinguishes one region from the next when it comes to barbecue? Here’s a coast to coast culinary tour of the country’s finest ‘cue, along with one simple way to sample all of these finger-licking favorites without leaving the comfort of home this summer.
2. Know Your Types
While there are many different kinds of BBQ sauce found throughout the U.S., most BBQ aficionados break it down into four primary variations: Memphis, Texas, Kansas City, and Carolina. Each type has different origins and influences resulting in four tasty twists on a common theme.
Just how big a deal is barbecue in its “many and hotly contested” incarnations? Even academics have devoted their attention to understanding its evolution. According to a University of Virginia project on barbecue by region, “Much of the variation in barbecue methodology and saucing in Southern barbecue can be explained by its geographical migrations. After originally appearing on the East Coast, barbecue began traveling west, picking up permutations along the way. Spanish colonists spread the cooking technology, but the agriculture of each region added its own twist.”
Ultimately, researchers say, “Differences can be gauged by comparing cooking styles, serving methods, side dishes preferred by each camp, and (most contentious of all) sauces.”
Which begs the question: What makes one type of barbecue different from the next? Here’s a closer look at what some epicurean authorities had to say about each.
3. Memphis Barbecue: Positively Pucker-Inducing
We’ll start our tour of the country’s bastions of barbecue in Memphis, the self-proclaimed “BBQ champion of the world.” In fact, Memphians love their barbecue so much that rumor is they won’t even try any other kind. So what makes Memphis barbecue a scrumptious standout?
According to Thrillist, “This town’s big on pork, whether it’s in rib or pulled form, and usually uses a dry rub that includes garlic, paprika, and other spices. The meat’s cooked in a big pit, and’s typically served with a tangy, thin tomato-based sauce. How Marc Cohn still managed to sing that song about this city between bites of BBQ is truly remarkable.”
Meanwhile, Serious Eats says, “In Memphis you’ll find everything from two styles of ribs (dry and wet) to sliced or chopped pork sandwiches, to anomalies like barbecue spaghetti and barbecue bologna. Dry ribs are coated with a spice rub before they’re cooked; wet ribs have been sauced before smoking. Ribs can either be whole spare ribs, St. Louis-cut ribs (the spare ribs minus the rib tips), or even baby backs, which some barbecue purists scoff at (as they’re leaner, with less delicious fat).”
And, lastly, POPSUGAR reports, “Memphis is the capital of this state’s meat smoking tradition. Famous for its pork ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches, Memphis boasts a number of world-class smokehouses that give nearby Graceland a run for its money in the popularity contest…..While it’s known for its incredibly flavorful dry rub, adherents to this style of barbecue will tell you that most of the flavor comes from the high-quality meat and the slow smoking process, which result in delicious, tender meat even without seasonings. But don’t discount the sauce! If you order a rack of ribs, many spots will provide a thin, tangy, tomato-and-vinegar-based sauce — on the side, mind you. This pungent, pucker-inducing dressing will also come drizzled across your pulled-pork sandwich.”
4. Texas Barbecue: Big on Tasty Tradition
The expression insists that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” But most Texans would argue that everything’s better, too — especially the barbecue.
But not all Texas barbecue is created equal — specifically, East Texas and Central Texas have their differences. Thrillist says of the former, “Composed of pretty much equal parts beef and pork, East Texas BBQ is chopped instead of sliced and served between two buns with a butt-ton of hot sauce. It’s got more in common with other Southern BBQ styles than with Central Texas.”
Of the latter, Thrillist declares, “Highly influenced by Czech and German immigrants, Central Texas has a huge number of meat markets that serve heaping portions of brisket and ribs smoked over pecan or oak wood. Meat is king here, and sauce and sides are treated as secondary elements. Also, Kreuz Market popularized its sausage, which is considered the gold standard of sausage around the country. Sorry, Ron Jeremy.”
Also weighing in on the East/Central contest? Serious Eats, which says, “In East Texas, barbecue is derived from Southern African-American and soul-food traditions—ribs and pork are prominently featured, but they also serve brisket, often heavily sauced and simmered after being smoked, until it falls apart like pot roast. The central Texas traditions, on the other hand, are derived from Czech and German butchers and meat markets. Beef is king, here. You’ll find brisket in all forms—both the leaner, dryer ‘first cut,’ or the top half of the brisket, and the whole brisket, which includes a layer of fat between the two layers of meat. You’ll also see clod (the shoulders of the cow), Flinstonian-size beef ribs, and sauce served with Saltines or white bread, plus pickles and raw onions.”
POPSUGAR, meanwhile, highlights the state’s love affair with brisket: “While other states may focus on ribs and pork, Texans tend to be fanatical about beef brisket, which is marinated in a sweet, tomato-based sauce, then slowly smoked with wood chips. A variety of wood chips like hickory, pecan, oak, and mesquite impart unique, campfire-like flavor to the meat: anyone who’s eaten lunch at a Texas barbecue stand knows it’s nearly impossible to air out the smell from your clothes once you’ve entered the building.”
5. Kansas City: “Nuggets of Barbecue Gold”
Barbecue isn’t just a food in Kansas City. It’s a culture. Says Eater, “In Kansas City, the history of barbecue is woven along with the city’s legendary history of jazz. The town’s music scene thrived on barbecue in the 1930s. Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, and Charlie Parker were fans of “the father of KC barbecue” Henry Perry’s smoked meats. But subsequent generations of pitmasters have developed their own loyal followings, and competition is fierce.”
Echoes Thrillist of the town’s commitment to the craft of ‘cue, “Kansas City goes for the gusto — no meat is off-limits (owing to the city’s status as a meatpacking hub), and it’s all cooked super-slow and super-low, preferably over hickory wood. The sauce is most commonly a thick, sweet molasses-and-tomato concoction that sticks to ribs of both animal and man.”
POPSUGAR also lays it on thick (see what we just did there?) in declaring, “Certain regions of this country are fiercely loyal to their particular style of barbecue, and Missouri is no exception. The fine city of Kansas City is the birthplace of dry-rubbed barbecue drizzled in a mouthwatering tomato-molasses sauce, and while restaurants here don’t discriminate among types of meat (unlike Texas barbecue, pork, chicken, beef, and even turkey are fair game), no upstanding KC smoke joint goes without its own version of the sticky, finger-licking condiment.”
And insiders know that no discussion of Kansas City barbecue is complete without mention of burnt ends, of which Serious Eats says, “Kansas City is one of the capitals of American barbecue, and ribs, brisket, and burnt ends are its currency. Barbecue sauce really matters here—-it’s not just a way to add flavor to less delicious meat, it’s integral to the experience of barbecue itself. Sides of choice? Beans with shards of meat and killer skin-on fries. Sides figure heavily in Kansas City barbecue culture.”
6. The Carolinas: East vs. West Action
Most of the country might think of the Carolinas in terms of North and South, but when it comes to barbecue fans, the rivalry is all East versus West (AKA “Lexington-style”).
Explains POPSUGAR of the divide, “Two characteristics hold true for traditional barbecue from either place: in a region where the cattle industry struggled, pork is king, and it’s usually served pulled and/or chopped into juicy, bite-sized morsels (often to serve in a sandwich topped with coleslaw). But here the similarities end. Eastern Carolina barbecue uses the whole hog, and then the tender meat is pulled off the carcass to be chopped. While smoking, the meat is mopped with a salted and spiced vinegar mixture to hydrate and season the meat….Western Carolina-style barbecue (sometimes known as Lexington-style) uses the pork shoulder, a fatty cut of meat, and tends to be moister than the mix of meats in barbecue from the East. Here, the sauce is tomato- or ketchup-based, and restaurants serve up what’s known locally as “the brown”: the meat exposed to the wood coal smoke on the outside of the shoulder cut.”
Adds Thrillist, “Divided between Lexington-style and Eastern-style, both camps agree that the meat (typically pork) should be brushed with a spice-and-vinegar mixture while cooking and served with a ketchup-based sauce. Eastern proponents use the entire pig when BBQing, and Lexington tends to use just the pork shoulder or ribs.”
But the two sides ultimately come together if challenged. Says OurState.com, “Regardless of where your allegiance falls, one thing is for certain: This state would not be the same without heated conversations about what’s in the smoker. So keep the debate retorts and backhanded “Bless your hearts” coming, pass the pig, and always remember that our barbecue will forever best Texas’s.”
7. An All-in-One BBQ Solution
Sure, you could take each town’s word for it. But why would you when you can be your own judge? While a cross-country tour of regional barbecue meccas might be on your bucket list, you don’t have to wait for that fateful day to start sampling, thanks to FoodyDirect.
A carefully cultivated inventory of “bring-you-to-your-knees brisket, sausage, baby back ribs, burnt ends, and so much more,” the gourmet mail order food company’s “Best of Barbecue” selection makes it easier than ever to discover for yourself why these four locales get so much love when it comes to ‘cue.
But FoodyDirect isn’t all barbecue all the time. Whatever you’re hankering for, FoodyDirect can help you get your foodie fix — from hamburgers and grilling to gifts (Father’s Day is right around the corner) and monthly food boxes. Browse our mouth-watering barbecue and so much more at FoodyDirect today.