There’s no other style of food quite like barbecue. When a piece of meat spends hours upon hours inside a smoker, something magical happens, and the resulting product has inspired more fierce and passionate devotion than just about any other type of food on earth. But whether you’re a connoisseur or just an occasional rib-eater, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this wonderful style of cuisine.
Barbecue has many different definitions around the world; in Britain, for example, to barbecue is to cook directly over high heat (what Americans call grilling), and even in America, barbecuing and grilling are occasionally (and incorrectly) used as synonymous. But for today’s purposes, we’re talking about real barbecue: the process of hot-smoking meat low and slow.
There are different regional barbecue styles all across the country, and for a barbecue lover, one of the great joys of traveling across the country is sampling as many as possible. While there are plenty of nuances and micro-regional styles, there are four styles that anyone who claims to be a barbecue lover should know about. In North Carolina, barbecue revolves around the pig: the “whole hog” in the east and the shoulder in the west. The pork is chopped up and usually mixed with a vinegar-based sauce that’s heavy on the spices and contains only a small amount of tomato sauce, if any. In Memphis, it’s all about the ribs. Wet ribs are slathered with barbecue sauce before and after cooking, and dry ribs are seasoned with a dry rub. You’ll also find lots of barbecue sandwiches in Memphis: chopped pork on a bun topped with barbecue sauce, pickles, and coleslaw. Kansas City barbecue uses a wide variety of meat (but especially beef) and here it’s all about the sauce, which is thick and sweet — think KC Masterpiece. Kansas City is a barbecue melting pot, so expect to find plenty of ribs, brisket, chicken, and pulled pork there, all served with plenty of sauce and a side of fries. Brisket burnt ends are also a specialty here. And there are a few different styles native to Texas (it’s a big state, after all), but the most famous variety is the Central Texas Hill Country “meat market” style: heavy on the beef brisket, which has been given a black pepper-heavy rub. Sauce and side dishes usually play second fiddle, because in Texas it’s all about the meat, be it ginormous beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken, brisket, or sausage.
So loosen your belt, get your favorite bottle of barbecue sauce ready, and prepare yourself to be in the mood for some smoked meat, because you’ll most likely be craving some by the time you’re done reading. You can go your whole life competing in barbecue competitions and still not know everything there is to know about this legendary style of cuisine, but we’ll give you a head start. Read on for 10 things you didn’t know about barbecue.
Nobody Really Knows Where the Word Comes From
The word barbecue evolved from the Spanish word barbacoa; that much we know. But where the word actually originated is still hotly debated. The leading theory is that its etymology lies in barabicu, a word the Taino people of the Caribbean and the Timucua people of Florida used to mean “a framework of sticks upon posts.” (Another theory maintains that it comes from the French words barbe à queue, or "beard to tail," referring to the way a whole animal would be skewered on a rotisserie, but this is widely dismissed as folk etymology.)
George Washington Wrote of Attending a “Barbicue” in 1769