Different Styles of Barbecue
By Felix Chesterfield
Few foods are as American as barbecue. There is some dispute as to where it originated, but no other culture as embraced it and put its own stamp on it like the good ole USA. However, that does not mean that American barbecue comes in a standard, one size fits all variety. In fact, barbecue varies greatly from one region in the United States versus another; heck, it often varies greatly within these regions. Nonetheless, there are four primary styles that Americans attribute to the word barbecue: Kansas City, Texas, Carolina, and Memphis. Again, that is not to say that all barbecue fits under these descriptive umbrellas, but they are certainly the most common.’
Kansas City is probably the most famous home of American barbecue. No less of a critic than Anthony Bourdain once said that, “The best barbecue in Kansas City is the best the best barbecue in the world.” Establishments such as Oklahoma Joe’s, Arthur Bryant’s, Gates Brothers’, and (the now defunct) KC Masterpiece entrenched Kansas City’s place in the barbecue world. The style of barbecue is typically that of smoked and quite dry (compared to some of the others that will be discussed here). There is also a tomato based sauce that fans feel really separates it from the competition. Never get KC style BBQ without burnt ends. Nowhere else does them, or at least nowhere else does them right.
Texas also features a very distinct style of barbecue, although it is a regional flavor that extends beyond just the state over most of the southwest. This style dates back the old west cowboy days when meat was purchased directly from the market and cooked out on an open fire. Colter’s BBQ and Rudy’s represent some of the most quintessential style Texas BBQ locations. Texas style cuisine is notable for its dry rub and typically has a bit more kick (spice) compared to other regional styles. Because everything is big in Texas, they really excel with a big hunk of brisket slow cooked over a fire of mesquite.
Carolina style is quite different from the aforementioned version. This style of barbecue would be classified as “wet.” This is because it is dipped with a vinegar/spice mixture prior to serving. While Carolina style can applied to just about any meat, it is most famous for its shredded or pulled pork, usually served as a sandwich. Another unique aspect of this style is that cole slaw with a red base is put inside the sandwich itself. The most famous locales for Carolina style include Stamey’s (in Greensboro) and the Lexington Barbecue Festival, one of the largest BBQ events on the east coast.
Memphis style offers a bit of a hybrid form of the aforementioned types, as it can be served wet or dry. This typically depends on whether a sauce or a rub is applied. Memphis fans really pride themselves on their ribs. Corky’s and Memphis Minnie’s are among the most popular and famous Memphis joints.
The most interesting thing about all of this is how territorial Americans are with their BBQ. As far as we are concerned, our favorite style is the only style – and to hear contrary is fighting words!
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