Before I even start this piece I need to make this very clear. Grilling and Barbecue are two different things. When you make a steak you are grilling, when you make a brisket you are barbecuing. What is the main difference? In a word…smoke. Your home barbecue is probably only used as a grill especially if it runs on gas, you cook your burgers, steaks and chicken. Now if you took that same barbecue, added some wood chips or charcoal, never let the heat get above 250 and smoked a pork shoulder for six hours, you’re not grilling. You are barbecuing.
The word Barbecue comes from the native South American word barbacot which translates to “wooden rack”, which refers to the technique of these native people of placing their meat on a wooden rack above a fire. Spanish explorers(genociders) brought the technique to North America and it was quickly taken on by the colonists.
Now barbecue comes from all over the world. Korea, Australia, the UK, Canada, France, the Caribbean, and South Africa to name a few. Today we are going to talk about my favourite theocracy to the south, The United States of America.*
American Barbecue is ultra regional and cannot really be defined as one thing. Along the Mississippi, barbecue works like the blues, similar DNA but every city has their own take on it**. Kansas City represents the midwestern sensibility. The Carolinas are still fighting a civil war over barbecue, and Texas is well….Texas.
So what makes regional American BBQ so different? If I was to stumble my way into a Pan-American BBQ cook off how can I not look like a dumbshit?*** Well a great place to start is the NBA.****
Kansas City BBQ:
We will start with my least favourite of the four main styles. Kansas City BBQ is all about the sauce, KC Masterpiece anyone? Kansas City BBQ sauce is a heavy mixture of molasses and tomato sauce, it is not my cup of tea, but there are some good aspects of Kansas City BBQ. Kansas City is an equal opportunity meat eating town. Pork, Beef, Chicken, turkey and fish all get included which is cool. What isn’t cool is on your nice smoked chicken leg gets covered in their BBQ spackle. The most prized thing in Kansas City BBQ is the burnt ends of the meat, because of the thick sauce and heavy smoked used in the process the bark on the outside of the meat can be glorious. Overall Kansas City BBQ isn’t my favourite but it may be the most widely known style of American BBQ.
In the early days of The Blues, musicians would travel up and down the the Mississippi River from Chicago to New Orleans. This migration would allow musicians to hear the regional music and taylor the blues to each region. Over time this practice of using local folk music as a flavour for the structure of The Blues stratified the music scene along the mississippi, Chicago Blues sounds almost nothing like Delta Blues(from Memphis to Mississippi).
BBQ along the Mississippi is the same way. Cooking techniques, ingredients and flavours all colour the BBQ along the Mississippi. Memphis BBQ seems to have come up as the winner. Memphis is the most democratic of the BBQ styles. It offers a wet and a dry style of BBQ. The Dry is comprised of a dry rubbed piece of meat being smoked for hours on a pit BBQ and sauce is kept within 500 yards of the dry style. The wet style BBQ is basted with a tomato and vinegar based sauce which is less sweet than Kansas City style. Usually the wet ribs are then dipped into more sauce while being eaten. Memphis is all about inclusion, wet or dry you can have your choice.
Carolina BBQ is like the middle east. There is a bunch of people who fundamentally disagree with each other on how to make BBQ and I assume that there are styles of Carolina that have been lost to history because their proponents were wiped off the earth. So here is my attempt at breaking this all down.
Eastern Vs Lexington: Eastern Carolina BBQ is all about full animal BBQ. This means that the entire pig is cooked on a spit and then chopped up(along with the skin) into a delicious porky slurry of meat and cracklin’. While Lexington style is all about the pork shoulder. They smoke the shoulder for as long as 24 hours and then shred it. It is the ultimate pulled pork. Lexington bbq sauce comes in the form of coleslaw that is tangy and sweet.
Like Eastern Carolina, all of the South Carolina BBQ is based on whole hog cooking. Central Carolina uses a mustard based sauce which was derived from German immigrants who settled in the area. Western South Carolina uses a tomato and hot pepper based sauce. Finally Piedmonte uses a vinegar and pepper based sauce which works more as a mop to create a great bark on the meat.
Finally Texas BBQ is a different animal. It is mostly beef based though against popular belief pork is still acceptable. There are four main styles of Texas BBQ. East Texas eats more like Kansas City style. In Central Texas style BBQ we again see German influence, the meat is usually of a higher quality and a thin vinegar based sauce is used. In West Texas we see more of a frontier style BBQ. It’s all about smoke and heat over mesquite wood, this area is almost 100% beef and normally dry rubs are employeed. In Southern Texas we see the Mexican influence creep into the cuisine. Dry rubs, peppers, mole, etc all become part of the BBQ culture.
In all, BBQ is an art and like any art it’s the environment which helps shape the final product. I will have a few great BBQ recipes coming up on Braised Blue. Stay Tuned!
*That was kind of mean eh? If Barbecue was the dominant religion in the US, I think it would be a better place, care to disagree?
**Though Memphis usually gets the credit for perfecting the Mississippi style of BBQ. St. Louis does great things, as does New Orleans. And I would like to add in a few cities on the Ohio River as well, Cincinnati and Lexington has some great BBQ as does Louisville.
***To start bring a gun.
****Now before you start protesting my blog for being super racist, the NBA is the National Barbecuing Association.