Barbecue is a religion to some, and it’s a lot more complex than you may think. Like many other foods, it changes depending on where you are in the country. Here’s a quick guide to the four main barbecue regions, and what the hallmarks of all of those regional styles are.
North Carolina BBQ 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 only contains 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 cole slaw. You’ll find chopped pork all over the place in Memphis, in fact, on everything from pizza to nachos.
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, to 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.
There are a few different styles native to Texas (it’s a big state, after all), but the most popular variety is the Central Texas “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.
Of course, this is just the tip of the rib when it comes to barbecue; there’s Alabama white sauce, St. Louis crispy snoots, Oklahoma bologna, and plenty of other regional styles and specialties out there, but memorize the ones above and you’ll have made a good start.