Ah, American barbecue…how the world craves your smoky, sweet and savoury, meaty goodness. Legendary American barbecue fever has well and truly made its way into our culinary scene and without doubt it’s here to stay.
What makes this cooking style so revered, is that it’s not about cooking in glorified kitchens, it’s a craft. And many professionals and enthusiasts alike are dedicating their lives to the pursuit of meaty perfection.
It’s also a hotly debated topic and for those of us not immersed in the culture, it can be confusing understanding the diverse regional barbecue styles. Pitmasters take this regionality seriously. Very seriously.
Each region features different meats, cuts, spices, sauces, techniques and pits. And despite each declaring theirs is the best or the true ‘cue, what’s obvious is that it’s the pitmasters and their fans unwavering passion that ensures theirs remains authentic.
But not all of us have the means to eat our way through the American barbecue belt, so how do we gain an understanding of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of America’s national cuisine?
We’ve gathered some information to give you the low down on the slow and low. It’s by no means a definitive guide, but one that’s designed to provide an overview so you know your rib tips from your butt? and what to do with them.
PIG | RIBS | DRY RUB | SAUCE
Pork is king in Memphis, along with heavy smoking, long and slow cooking, dry rubs and sweet-tangy barbecue sauce.
They’re best known for both ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ pork ribs although purists claim that dry is the regions specialty. The ribs can be either whole spare ribs or St. Louis-cut ribs (that’s the spare ribs minus the rib tips).
Pulled pork is another highlight of the region, usually served on a sandwich with a tangy tomato-vinegar based sauce.
PIG | MUSTARD | SAUCE
Want to go the whole hog? Then South Carolina is where it’s at. They barbecue the entire animal and serve it with a unique mustard based sauce, AKA ‘Carolina Gold?’.
PIG | HOT SAUCE | SANDWICH/BUN
In North Carolina, there are two major traditions. In the East their style is to cook the whole hog and serve it with a vinegar-chilli sauce. The pig is cooked low and slow over hickory with the meat served on its own or on a sandwich.
Lexington style, to the West, is generally pulled pork shoulder/butt served with a tomato and vinegar sauce, topped with slaw and served on a bun.
COW | SAUSAGES | NO SAUCE
There are several distinct styles within the Texas region. In Central Texas it’s all about cattle, so barbecue means beef brisket. It’s smoked between 6 – 12 hours in a long, low pit which is raised and lowered by a pulley system. They also serve Clod (beef shoulder) and dinosaur sized beef ribs. But absolutely no sauce. It’s not negotiable!
East & West Texas
PIG | RIBS | HOT SAUCE | BUNS
In East Texas, slow cooked pork shoulder/butt and pork ribs make an appearance, as do hot sauce and buns.
PIG | MEXICAN
In the West it’s cowboy style barbecue which involves direct grilling rather than offset smoking, while in Southwest Texas there’s a strong Mexican influence with dishes such as Barbaocoa.
Kansas City, Missouri
PIG | COW | CHICKEN | SAUSAGE | RIBS | SAUCE
Kansas City, a historic meatpacking district, offers a variety of meats including pork, beef, chicken and sausages. All are cooked low and slow and smoked predominantly over hickory wood and smothered in a sweet, sticky molasses-tomato sauce.
Burnt ends (say what?) have also achieved cult status here. They’re the drier, oddly shaped pieces cut from the end of the slow cooked pork or brisket. These tasty morsels are smoky, crunchy, fatty mouthfuls of deliciousness.
Next time on the blog…more about BBQ.
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