It’s all delicious, but there are some pretty sharp differences between regional styles of barbecue. Everything from what ingredients go into your seasonings, whether you add flavor with rub or sauce, the cuts used, and how it’s served affects which regional style you’re replicating — or if you're mixing up styles for one that’s uniquely yours. There are plenty of other regional ways of doing things, each with their own slight tweaks and individual merits, but here are the big three:
The reigning champ of barbecue dishes in Memphis is pork ribs, usually served dry with a charred rub before being smoked. And thought the most notable options opt for rub instead of sauce, “wet” ribs are also an option – usually with a tomato and vinegar-heavy sauce that’s sweeter than other regional styles.
You’ll also find the barbecue staple of shredded pork sandwiches, which in Memphis are a pared down affair on a simple bun, topped with coleslaw. There’s not much beef, though, so don’t come expecting great brisket.
This one gets a little tricky, since there are so many distinct subsections. Such as:
Eastern North Carolina: made from the whole hog — that is, a whole pig is smoked, and then all of the meat is chopped and mixed together. Usually served with a thin, simple, vinegar-heavy sauce.
Western North Carolina: made specifically from the pork shoulder, coated in a sauce that includes tomato.
South Carolina: Wood-smoked whole hog is coated in a yellowish barbecue sauce that includes mustard.
This town is legendary for their barbecue – there are over 100 joints serving the stuff within the city, which also hosts some big-name barbecue competitions. The residents use a wide range of meats and woods for smoking, but one thing is consistent: the thick sauce, made from tomato and molasses for a super sweet and savory taste.
There's more high heat grilling here than actual smoke-filled, low-and-slow barbecue. But St. Louis still has it's own bragging rights, including specially-trimmed pork ribs and a pork steak that's cut from the shoulder and simmered in barbecue sauce for tender results. Most notable across all the dishes, though, are very generous amounts of sweet and sticky tomato-based sauce.
There's some regional variation between parts of the state, but the most distinctive is the brisket-heavy central Texas barbecue. It's usually served cafeteria-stylewith slices of white bread and a heavy emphasis on the quality and flavor of the meat itself, so it's served dry as opposed to drenched in sauce like in other regions.