As any American BBQ lover will know, here in the States we’ve developed a few methods to prepare and grill food, which vary in quality and results. If you thought barbecuing was mostly about firing up a grill and cooking some meat and veg over charcoal, think again! The BBQ is serious business in America, so we’ve prepared a primer on the different styles you can expect to taste based on each (loosely-defined) region of: Kansas, Texas, Carolina, Alabama and, of course, Memphis.
As a side note, for reasons better explained by poker legend and Memphis BBQ devotee Chris Moneymaker, we won’t be including Nashville in this guide because “Nashville has no BBQ… they just copy Memphis.” However, it should be pointed out that some BBQ purists do consider Tennessee’s capital city to have its own style.
Kansas City BBQ
Kansas City is a known hub for meatpacking, and a typical Kansas grill reflects this by cooking any and all kinds of meats. Kansas-style BBQ grilling is done for a long time over a low heat, preferably with hickory wood instead of charcoal. Sauces are thick and sweet and are usually made with tomato and molasses to ensure they stick well to ribs and cuts during the long grilling process.
Signature Kansas City BBQ dish: Sticky ribs.
Central Texas BBQ
When it comes to BBQ in Central Texas, meat is king and sauces take a backseat. This grilling style is influenced by the German and Czech immigrants who laid down roots in the area and usually focuses on brisket and ribs smoked over oak or pecan.
Signature Central Texas BBQ dish: Smoked brisket.
East Texas BBQ
If you love beef on the grill, you’ll love the East Texas BBQ style. Beef and pork are treated equally and are served chopped in a bun with heaps of hot sauce. East Texas BBQ shares a lot more in common with southern styles than that of Central Texas.
Signature East Texas BBQ dish: Pulled beef and hot sauce.
Although there are some distinctions between North Carolina and South Carolina BBQ styles, both sides of the state use vinegar as a key ingredient for sauces and prefer pork over other meats. In North Carolina, meats are brushed with spice and vinegar prior to cooking, but down in The South they prefer to use brown sugar, mustard and vinegar. West Carolina BBQ stands out for its vinegar and ketchup combination, which can also be found in Lexington—hence the famous “Lexington Dip.”
Signature Carolina BBQ Dish: Pork shoulder (North), Ham (South).
Influenced by both Texas and Carolina styles, a classic Alabama BBQ serves up pulled pork or chicken sandwiches with coleslaw. One of the most distinctive elements of the Alabama way of grilling is the prevalence of white sauce, a vinegar and mayonnaise combination that you can find at grills all over the state.
Signature Alabama BBQ Dish: Pulled pork/chicken sandwich served with white sauce.
Memphis BBQ Style
The Memphis style is the most recognisable throughout all Tennessee, and many grill fans claim it to be the top way to cook meats. In Memphis style, meats (usually pork ribs or shoulder) are cooked either “dry” or “wet”; dry ribs are covered in a rub of herbs and spices and smoked, while wet ribs are basted and served in a classic, tomato-based barbeque sauce. You can also expect to see other foods on the grill in a Memphis BBQ, including nachos, pizza, and even pasta.
Signature Memphis BBQ dish: Pulled pork.
Yes, you’ll even find pizza on a Memphis grill
Honourable Mention: Florida
Ok, so Florida might not have its own unique mop (meat sauce), but this melting pot of grilling styles (influenced by Caribbean and South American techniques) does produce some delicious results. You’ll find chicken, local fish and beef ribs on a Florida grill, which are doused in citrus juice and typically smoked slowly over pine chips.
Signature Florida BBQ dish: Grilled mullet