Regions of Barbecue
Like hamburgers and hot dogs – barbecue is as American as apple pie and baseball. During the summer, we fire up our grills and serve up saucy meat masterpieces to our friends and families at backyard gatherings. But where does this delightful tradition stem from?
The exact history of barbecue sauce is unclear. It is believed that barbecue sauce has been used to enhance the flavor of meat for more than 300 years. During that time, different regions of the United States (and the world) have created barbecue sauces in different ways, creating distinct flavors. However, no matter how great your sauce is – it’s there to showcase a great meat. If your pork or beef isn’t cooked well, no amount of delicious sauce can cover that up.
Different heats for different meats
Throughout the country, different regions “barbecue” differently – even without the sauce. In the north, it’s traditional to throw meat on the grill and smother it with sauce. In the south, barbecuing is a longer process in which meat is smoked or cooked very slowly. Even depending on the type of meat you’re using, you might cook your barbecue a different way.
Pork Roast – Most cuts of pork are rubbed with a dry rub and cooked. Then once you’ve sliced or pulled apart the meat, add the sauce and cook it a bit longer.
Chicken – Most cuts of chicken are thrown on a hot grill with sauce smeared on. If you’re looking to make barbecue pulled chicken, you’d pull it before cooking it with the sauce. Cooking the chicken quickly will help keep the moisture in.
Beef Brisket – To do justice to the beef brisket, you’ll need a smoker. Smoke the brisket long and slow. Make sure the brisket has a decent layer of fat to lock in the moisture and flavor, but you don’t want too much fat.
Chuck Eye Steak – When you’re working with inexpensive steaks, a great marinade will really take it to the next level. Marinade the steaks overnight if you can.
Keep these in mind as recommendations if you’re trying to decide how to barbecue. These aren’t rules – mix it up to your taste and cooking preferences.
Once you’ve selected your meat, you’re going to need a sauce. There are four common bases for barbecue sauce: vinegar and pepper, mustard, light tomato and heavy tomato. Most regional barbecue sauces use one of these bases or combine two of them. Which base you’ll pick will depend on what you’re used to and what flavor you’re looking for.
- Vinegar and Pepper – Vinegar and pepper based barbecue sauces aren’t commonly seen today except in Memphis. This is believed to be the base for early sauces. However, vinegar and pepper are prominent in many sauce recipes.
- Mustard – Mustard is the classic base for South Carolina sauce. In other regions, mustard is an ingredient in tomato-based sauces.
- Light Tomato – Light tomato sauce was founded in South Carolina but is now featured in North Carolina barbecue. Light tomato sauce uses ketchup as its base, often with mustard as an ingredient. This is a tangier alternative to heavy tomato sauce.
- Heavy Tomato – Heavy tomato sauce has become the most popular. This sauce uses tomatoes or ketchup as a base, but also includes brown sugar or sweeteners.
Depending on where in the country you’re barbecuing, your sauce will have its own signature style. Explore these regional sauce identifiers and consider experimenting with them in your own cuisine. Be a rebel!
- South Carolina Barbecue: Though the history of barbecue sauce isn’t clear, the mustard-style sauce from South Carolina can be traced back to Germany. South Caroline barbecue is usually slow cooked with a rub and consists of pork shoulders.
- North Carolina Barbecue: As mentioned, North Carolina barbecue features a light tomato sauce. Because most North Carolina sauces use mustard too, the sauce is much tangier than sauces from other regions. The meat of choice here is a whole hog.
- Kansas City Barbecue: At a Kansas City barbecue, you’re sure to see ribs. The Kansas City sauce is a heavy tomato sauce made with lots of brown sugar. To make it, you add oil to a pan and fry garlic until its brown. Then add your other sauce ingredients, like ketchup, brown sugar, and garlic. Molasses is another frequent ingredient in many Kansas City sauces.
- St. Louis Barbecue: St. Louis combines a light tomato sauce and vinegar, adding a little bit of sugar. At a St. Louis barbecue, plenty of extra sauce (and napkins) is always provided.
- Texas Barbecue: At Texas and other southern barbecues, brisket is usually on the menu. Texas sauce is usually a thin and spicy heavy tomato sauce. Texas-style sauces typically include tomato, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, Tabasco sauce and chopped, de-seeded jalapenos to taste. Some Texas barbecue contains no sauce at all.
- Memphis Barbecue: This region uses a vinegar and pepper sauce with liquid smoke for its barbecue. The meat usually has a dry rub and then the sauce is put on later in the cooking process. Barbecued bologna is another Memphis specialty.
- Alabama Barbecue: The specialty of Alabama is the sauce. Alabama sauce is known as “White Barbecue Sauce” because it contains a mayonnaise base with vinegar and other seasonings. This sauce is usually served on chicken or pork shoulder.
No matter where you’re from, barbecue is a delicious part of the culture. Embrace your barbecue styles and try out others by making sauces. Maybe that Alabama White Sauce would be delicious on Memphis barbecued bologna.