The Four Regional BBQ Styles of Today

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019
Pork Styles of BBQ

Barbecue is serious business.

There’s something primal about cooking our food over an open fire. Maybe because whereas our forefathers had to cook their meat in this manner, we do it because barbecuing is the best way to do it. Think about it, even after the introduction of the stove-top cooking range as a household appliance, barbecue has continued as a cultural passion.

In America, the culinary art of smoking meat “slow and low” has diverged into several distinct regional styles over the years. Each style’s finished plate of barbecued meat is strikingly different from the other in just about every element.

Take a look at each of the four major regional styles of BBQ and what makes each one so unique.

Memphis BBQ Style

pork ribs Memphis bbq style

Memphis has a love affair with pork as their barbecue meat. For Memphis style BBQ, you’re likely to see it in its most popular incarnations: pork ribs and pulled pork. Other than the predominant use of pork, the other element that makes this regional style so distinctive is the rub. Traditionally, the meat is rubbed down with a dry rub made up of up to 40 different spices! However, all respectable Memphis style rubs will feature paprika and garlic.

After the meat is rubbed, it’s then cooked in a big pit. The person who supervises the meat while cooking is called the pitmaster. For Memphis style bbq, the pitmaster’s goal is to let the meat cook for as long as possible, with no glaze or sauce applied at all throughout the process. In Memphis, the flavor is gained from the rub and the hickory wood that’s typically used. While this style has its own sauce, a tangy tomato-based mixture, it’s always served on the side if it all. 

This BBQ Style’s Signature Dish

Pulled pork or pork ribs with coleslaw, cornbread, baked beans, greens, mac and cheese and/or cornbread.

Kansas City BBQ Style

There is no meat off-limits for the Kansas City style, thanks to its history as a meatpacking hub during the turn of the century. Whatever cut is chosen, it’s coated with a spicy rub, cooked slow-and-low over hickory smoke, and then served with a sweet and tangy molasses-and-tomato mixture as a dipping sauce. As a side note, this thick sauce is what most people think of when they hear ‘BBQ sauce’.

This BBQ Style’s Signature Dish

Burnt ends served with bbq beans and coleslaw.

Texas BBQ Style

You won’t see very many sauces or side dishes to go with the main plate of meat in this style of barbecue. In Texas, meat is king! You’ll know Texas bbq when you see plates piled high with heaping helpings of ribs and brisket along with sausage.

The typical rub of this style is a simple salt-and-pepper mix, so most of the smoky and hearty flavor you’ll taste in the meat is gained from the wood. Texas style holds true to the traditional “slow-and-low” method of preparing the meat over oak or pecan wood for upwards of 12 hours or longer. 

This BBQ Style’s Signature Dish

Moist smoked brisket and sausage with a side of beans and cornbread.

The Carolinas BBQ Style

This style has two camps: North and South Carolina. Proponents of both styles favor pork as the main meat. In North Carolina, the pork is typically brushed with a spice-and-vinegar mop as it’s cooking. It’s then portioned out and served with a ketchup-based sauce on the side.

South Carolina, however, tends to use the whole hog, as opposed to the pork shoulder preferred by North Carolina. Also, South Carolina style introduces elements of mustard in either the rub or sauce, as this state counts mustard spice as a major cash crop.

This BBQ Style’s Signature Dish

Pork shoulder served with hush puppies, green beans, and coleslaw.