When you cross the Mason-Dixon, things get simpler – the talk gets slower, the drawl gets deeper, and the music doesn’t need a sub-woofer and a 6-part light show. But something Southerners take very seriously is their barbecue.
Northerners, listen up – if you’ve ever made the grave mistake of calling your backyard burger-sesh a “barbecue”, this is for you. Avoid offending the BBQ die-hards by mastering the ins and outs of southern BBQ. First, you’ll need to learn the lingo:
Rub: a mixture of spices applied to meat before cooking
Brisket: a prime cut of beef from the chest area
Cole slaw: shredded cabbage and carrots in a vinaigrette and mayo dressing (click here for a quick and delish recipe)
Marinate: to soak in a sauce for an extended amount of time before cooking to add flavor and moisture
Grilling: does not mean barbecue
1. Kansas City
Let’s start with what you think you know: Kansas City-style barbecue. Kansas City-style is characterized by a thick, sweet sauce composed of tomatoes and molasses. This dense, sugary, almost ketchup-like sauce screams “classic barbecue,” but it’s unique to Kansas City.
Picky eaters, take note – this barbecue incorporates a wide variety of different meats. Beef not your thing? Choose from pork, chicken, turkey, even fish – Kansas City’s not choosy about its livestock. And if you crave a little crunch, this style of BBQ is for you: burnt, crispy edges are a Kansas City signature.
Memphis BBQ keeps it simple with two signature dishes: ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. Ribs can come wet or dry. “Wet ribs” are dripping with sauce for a pre-grill marinade, and then sauced up again after cooking. “Dry ribs” go for the shake ‘n bake approach – they’re seasoned with a dry rub before being fired up.
Pulled pork sandwiches are done up pretty simply: bun, pork, cole slaw. Enjoy. Add pickles if you’re feeling crazy.
3. The Carolinas
Carolina barbecue takes everything you think you know about BBQ sauce and flips it on its head, steals its lunch money, and sends it packing. Forget your thick, sweet, Kansas City-style sauce and trade it for what could honestly be mistaken for a bottle of lighter fluid (but the best bottle of lighter fluid you’ll ever taste).
North Carolina’s signature barbecue sauce is a thin, fiery vinegar-based liquid that finds its way into every nook and cranny of the pulled pork. Head south and you’ll find South Carolina’s “Carolina Gold” sauce, which kicks things up with a dollop of mustard.
They say football is king in Texas; if that’s true, beef must be the prince. Or Coach Eric Taylor. Or whatever title conveys its domination over the Texas BBQ scene. Beef ribs and brisket reign supreme and are brushed with a tomato-based sauce, though thinner and not as sweet as Kansas City’s.
South Texas is known for barbacoa – you know, the last option that no one gets at Chipotle. This style has its roots in the Caribbean and is made with meat from a cow head that has been slow-cooked over a fire pit and covered in agave leaves to seal in the smoky flavor.
So next time you’re headed down South to the land of the pines (or the Lone Star State, or you’re “walking in Memphis”, or any other Southern city even if it doesn’t have a nickname), try the BBQ. Now you’ll know what you’re in for. And please don’t embarrass yourself by asking for a hot dog – this isn’t Yankee Stadium.
Can’t get enough of the grill? Here are some of the best places around the country to get your BBQ fix: