Many people have one ubiquitous image in their mind when they picture “Barbeque”. But BBQ is as diverse as the regions for which it hails, says enthusiast Dennis Haggerty. The smoky flavors and styles of North Carolina, the spice and heat of Texas, the unique fruits and vegetables of the midwest, and the hickory-smoked classics of the Deep South all have something unique to offer the world of BBQ.
And that’s just the BBQ flavors developed in the United States! There are different spins on the flavors all over the world, from Korea to Brazil. In this article, we’ll be exploring the world of BBQ and identifying the four main types of regional BBQ in the U.S. based on sauces, meats, and cuts.
North Carolina has a proud history as a center of agriculture and American cuisine. The state is second in grilling tradition only to Texas and has more than a dozen recognized BBQ regions, each with its own style. Raleigh, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem, in the north, each have strong regional identities, while the more southern regions of eastern North Carolina and South Carolina have unique cooking techniques and ingredients.
North Carolina techniques and flavor profiles:
South Carolina techniques and flavor profiles:
Western Carolina techniques and flavor profiles:
All of Carolina tends to favor hickory as the smoking wood of choice as it is traditional and native to the area.
Memphis, Tennessee, is known as the “BBQ Capital of the World” thanks to its rich history in meat smoking. The “bbqxchange” website and the “BBQ Capital of the World” label were both created in the mid-2000s in Memphis.
The area has more than a dozen recognized BBQ regions, each with its own distinct style. The north Memphis region is known for its use of garlic and jalapeños, while the south Memphis region favors tomatoes and, of course, the famous “Memphis Sauce.”
Everything is bigger in Texas–even the BBQ! For instance, the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas alone has more than 40 recognized BBQ regions, each with its own unique flavor. The area is known for its use of chilies which are popular in other forms of South Texas cooking as well.
East Texas, on the other hand, is known for its Hot Links BBQ. Sausage makers known as “salumists” started making Czech and German-inspired sausages by hand, and serving them piping hot, many generations ago.
But the style of BBQ that Texas is most well known for is easily brisket, says Dennis Haggerty. Brisket is the lower pectoral muscle of the cow and is known for being incredibly tough and chewy. But once a Texas pitmaster roasts the cut of meat for eighteen hours over live coals, it becomes so tender you can pull off chunks with your fingers.
Most Texas pitmasters prefer a thin, flavorful mop sauce with varying levels of Worcestershire, cumin, and hot sauces in the blend.
Kansas City is a widely-popular variety of BBQ that appeals to all palates. It’s the sauce that most resembles commercial BBQ flavoring like the McRib or store-bought BBQ sauce. Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is characterized by its sweetness and thick consistency. The brown sugar used in the sauce allows for intense sweetness and attractive caramelization.
Chicken, ribs, and pulled pork are all represented and beloved in Kansas City, but they are most famous for their burnt ends. Burt ends are the crispy, fatty pieces pulled off the end of a brisket. When cooked properly, they are crunchy and caramelized on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth flavor bombs on the inside.
The above are just the four main regions of BBQ in the United States, says Dennis Haggerty. There are other riffs and unique styles of BBQ all over America, especially in the Deep South.
If you’re familiar with these styles and want to explore them even further, try:
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