Many cultures around the world smoke their meat, but barbecue is a unique American cuisine that varies by region. The diversity of barbecue stems from the type of sauce used, type of meat, and type of wood used to smoke the meat. While it's up for debate on where barbecue originated, it undoubtedly gained popularity in the United States. Lots of folks tend to get heated when discussing various regional BBQ types. The most militant advocates go as far as to claim that their style of barbecue is the only true form. In the search for the truth, I went on a quest across the American Barbecue Belt to taste for myself the differences between this traditional American cuisine. I found that there wasn't any type of BBQ that was superior to the others. Each style has it's pros and cons, and is subject to the palate of the consumer. Here's what I found:
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, barbecue from this region is mainly made using pork. Pork ribs are king in this area, although pulled shoulder pork is not unheard of. Memphis ribs come in two varieties: wet and dry. The wet version is marinated in Memphis signature BBQ sauce, which is made from a tomato and vinegar base. The dry version is simply rubbed with various spices and then placed in a smoker. Smoker's in Tennessee BBQ joints are typically loaded with hickory wood. As of lately, barbecue in Memphis has begun combining pulled pork with all kinds of non-traditional barbecue dishes with surprisingly pleasant results.. Pulled pork nachos, spaghetti, and even pulled pork pizza can be found all over Memphis.
Two styles of barbecue can be seen in North Carolina: Eastern-style and Lexington-style. Both styles use pork as their main dish, but the difference lies in how they use the pork and what parts are used. Eastern-stylists use the entire pork by chopping it up and mixing it all together. One unique feature of this style is their use of crunchy fried pig skin, which compliments the tender pork meat nicely. Lexington-stylists, in contrast, use only the pork shoulder and served with coleslaw. Both proponents agree that their barbecue sauce should be vinegar based, although Lexington-stylists add tomato to their sauce.
Barbecue from South Carolina is very similar to barbecue from its cousin up north. In this area, they use the entire hog and chop it up, just like in the north. What sets this style apart is the sauce that they use, known colloquially as "Carolina Gold". Carolina Gold is a yellowish barbecue sauce that uses yellow mustard as a base. Out of all the sauces I sampled, this one was undoubtedly the best. Carolina is tangy, sweet, creamy sauce that goes well with everything! Although this mustard based sauce is common in South Carolina, you can also find many ketchup based sauces near the Savannah River.
Due to its geographic location, Kansas City barbecue is a combination of the surrounding regions. For this reason Kansas City is known as the melting pot of barbecue and is made with a wide variety of meats, including chicken, beef, pork, and fish. What really characterizes this style is the French fries and barbecue sauce, which are made from sweet tomatoes and molasses. Barbecue from Missouri capitalizes on our penchant for sweet foods. For example, if you love the burnt ends, which are smoked twice caramelized chunks of brisket, they originated in Kansas City. If you haven't tried burnt ends before, you're truly missing out on the full BBQ experience. Add that crispy char to a sweeter Kansas BBQ sauce and you will be in heaven.
Texan barbecue can be divided into four sub-styles: Eastern, Central, Southern, and Western.
Eastern-style is what most people think of when they think of Texan barbecue. Barbecue from this region is strikingly similar to southern barbecue in the sense that pork and barbecue are prevalent. Unlike southern-style dishes, however, coleslaw is completely omitted. Dishes from this region are typically served as variations of chopped pork on a warm, buttery bun. If you love sandwiches, you'll love eastern style Texas BBQ.
Central-style barbecue has roots in German and Czech cuisine. Sauce isn't too important with central-style dishes and is usually served as a side for dipping. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the meat, which is sold by the pound and usually accompanied by a slice or two of white bread. Barbecue from this area has a distinct meat-market feel to it.
Southern-style Texan BBQ is heavily influenced by Mexican cuisine due to its geographical location. Barbecue from this region is defined by the use of a cow's head to make barbacoa. Another popular dish is cow tongue tacos. Cow tongue tacos aren't so bad once you get past seeing all the taste buds you're eating.
Western-stylists adopted a method for their barbecue known as "cowboy style". In cowboy style, mesquite wood is often used in a more direct heating method, rather than an indirect smoking method. The result is a savory, juicy meat that is low on the smokiness factor but rich with the earthy taste of mesquite.
Barbecue from Alabama is famous for their signature sauce: white barbecue sauce. Their white sauce is mayonnaise based and is freely applied on all dishes. The sour elements of the mayonnaise combined with the sweet flavors of traditional barbecue sauce make for a unique, but delicious flavor. Alabamian's choice of meat is typically chicken, but in certain areas pork is more prevalent. For the most part, barbecue joints in Alabama specialize in other styles, such as Memphis or Texan, but their small niche of Alabamaian barbecue is a must-try.
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