Major Barbecue Styles in the US: Where Can You Try Them

Feb 26, 2016 06:00 AM EST | By Josine Macaspac (media@latinospost.com)

In the USA, barbecue is such a huge part of the culture that many states have taken the style of cooking meats and have added their own spins and twists to the process. Sure, all of them use the traditional method of cooking the meat over wood as their primary source of fuel, and all of them cook their meat low and slow-- but that's where the similarities end, and where the creative tweaking begins.

Different states in the USA use different meats, different seasonings, and different condiments to create unique flavors that highlight the flavor of the meat, as well as a great contrast of sweet, spicy, sour, and umami. With all the different barbecue flavors out there, how does one make sense of which barbecue style they would like best?

Well, here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular barbecue styles in the USA, and what makes them different from each other. Warning, don't read this on an empty stomach!

1. North Carolina

The great thing about North Carolina barbecue is that you can get two distinctly different kinds of barbecue styles: the Down East style and the Lexington style.

WHAT MEATS DO THEY USE?

For the Down East style, locals are partial to using the "whole hog", so be prepared to see those huge, gallon-drum style smokers, while for the Lexington style, they use smaller cuts such as the pork shoulder or the "Boston Butt", so the smokers are typically smaller.

WHAT CONDIMENTS/SEASONINGS?

The Down East style uses a vinegar-pepper sauce, and the hog is smoked using hickory wood while the Lexington style adds tomatoes to the mix.

WHAT FLAVORS CAN I EXPECT?

For both styles of barbecue, you can expect a spicy and sour base, but the Lexington style incorporates a fruit note because of the tomato. What's more, you also get some slaw on Lexington barbecue to cool down the acidic, spicy flavors.

2. South Carolina

South Carolina is a place where barbecue is such a huge part of their tradition, that you can barely walk a few blocks in any direction without stumbling on a barbecue joint or two. 

WHAT MEATS DO THEY USE?

Just like in North Carolina, South Carolina uses the whole hog and nothing goes to waste, so expect the bones to be included. Some places even use the bones for stock!

WHAT CONDIMENTS/SEASONINGS?

South Carolina utilizes mustard as a base of their seasoning, but different parts of the state can use ketchup, fresh tomatoes, or the aforementioned vinegar-pepper sauce.

WHAT FLAVORS CAN I EXPECT?

Spicy, sweet, and fruity, South Carolina distinguishes itself from its North counterpart with the addition of the mustard, which gives a unique depth of flavor to the meat. Also, you can actually order your preferred cuts, such as ribs, back meat, or belly, or a combination, for that perfect plate of barbecue.

3. Texas

You know what they say about the Lone Star state: everything is bigger in Texas, and you'd better believe that it applies to their barbecue as well! You get big, bold cuts of meat, with even bigger, bolder flavors!

WHAT MEATS DO THEY USE?

Texas may feature the usual pork ribs, but Texans sure do love their beef, and this is why brisket is king in Texas barbecue.

WHAT CONDIMENTS/SEASONINGS?

For East Texas, they use a "traditional" sauce of tomato, ketchup, sugar, Worcestershire, mustard, salt, pepper, and a ton of different spices. For Central Texas, however, the "pure" taste of beef is thought to be best, and anything beyond salt, pepper, and maybe some paprika and cayenne is thought to be blasphemous!

WHAT FLAVORS CAN I EXPECT?

If you love the traditional flavors of barbecue, you'll get that with East Texas barbecue. Smokey, sweet, and spicy. However, if you love a clean and pure beef flavor, make room on your plate for Central Texas barbecue.

4. Kansas City, Missouri

No barbecue list would be complete without Kansas-style barbecue. Arguably one of the most famous barbecue styles in the whole USA, sides such as beans and skin-on fries are a must-have with any Kansas-style cookout.

WHAT MEATS DO THEY USE?

For Kansas barbecue, the most common cuts are ribs, brisket, and burnt ends. All of them are tough cuts of meat that require low and slow cooking, but produce tons of flavor in the end.

WHAT CONDIMENTS/SEASONINGS?

Kansas barbecue is synonymous to one thing: SAUCE. No matter where you go, the meat must be heavily sauced with a blend of tomato, spices, vinegar, and ketchup.

WHAT FLAVORS CAN I EXPECT?

Deep, meaty flavors that blend well with the spice and smoke, as well as enoughs sauce to give your experience a whole new level of flavor.

5. Memphis, Tennesse

The other big player in the USA barbecue scene, Memphis style barbecue has its own loyal fan base because the barbecue style is so wide and versatile, there's literally something for everyone.

WHAT MEATS DO THEY USE?

In Memphis, you will find that barbecue runs the gamut from using the whole hog, to pork shoulder, to ribs. Everything will welcome here, as long as it tastes good when smoked!

WHAT CONDIMENTS/SEASONINGS?

There are two types of barbecue in Memphis: dry and wet. For dry barbecue, rubs made from spices and seasonings such as salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika form a delicious crust when cooked. Wet barbecue is all about the sauce: ketchup, vinegar, and tomatoes are made into a sauce that is mopped onto the ribs while they cook.

WHAT FLAVORS CAN I EXPECT?

Whether you're going for wet or dry ribs, you can expect sweet, spicy, smokey, and juicy barbecue.

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