A Regional Guide to 7 Types of Southern BBQ
You wouldn't know it today, but American BBQ used to be standardized. "Up until the early 20th century, barbecue was pretty much the same, whether you were in North Carolina, Texas, or all the way out in California," says Robert Moss, a southern barbecue food correspondent and the author of Barbecue Lover's the Carolinas: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.
But with the rise of restaurants, things changed. The cook at each barbecue joint specialized in specific meats and cooking methods. And the states of one region in particular—the South—each started crafting its own types of BBQ identity.
Today, southern barbecue is no longer bound by regions. You can find Texas BBQ on the West Coast or Carolina BBQ in the Midwest, and just about everything in between. To help us sample all that the Southern culinary landscape can offer, we asked Moss to provide key characteristics for each state's BBQ, listed below.
1. North Carolina
The center of a vinegar BBQ universe.
Eastern North Carolina embraces the traditional whole-hog cooking method, and pitmasters add a spicy vinegar-based sauce that is similar to the mixes of vinegar, salt, pepper, and ground red pepper used in early barbecue. In the Piedmont region, the vinegary sauce also tends to include ketchup or tomato.
Where to try it: Bill Spoon's BBQ—named one of Zagat's 10 U.S. Barbecue Meccas. Check out our $11 for $20 deal.
2. South Carolina
Slightly sweeter than its neighbors to the north.
The barbecue around the Pee Dee region shares many characteristics with the eastern North Carolina style. Down in the Midlands and Lowcountry, though, the bright red, mustard-tinged sauce is sweeter and tangier.
Where to try it: Q2U BBQ Pit in Lake Wylie.
Four different styles in one state
Thanks to its size, Texas is home to four barbecue regions: east, west, south, and central. In west Texas, the cowboy tradition of cooking over open fires inspired the area's continued use of direct heat when barbecuing. In addition, the smoking and sausage-making techniques brought to central Texas by German immigrants still influence the region's style. South Texans embrace the barbacoa tradition, which originated in Mexico and involves slow-cooking a whole cow's head in a pit covered with maguey leaves. Finally, east Texans like their BBQ with a hickory flavor, slathered with a tomato-based sauce.
Overall, the one type of meat that brings Texas together is beef brisket—it ought to be delightfully smoked and often falling off the bone.
Where to try it: Smoke the Restaurant in San Antonio–check out our deal for two or four.
Thin, savory sauce to riff off Carolina-style BBQ
"I think Georgia often gets a bad rap for not really having a barbecue style," Moss said. "I think it very much does, but you've got to get a little bit outside of Atlanta and get to some of the older places to figure it out." Key to the region's barbecue is its thin, savory sauce, which contains significantly more tomatoes than Carolina sauces.
Where to try it: Grab our $12 for 20 deal for the slow-cooked meats at Chef Redd's BBQ & Soulfood in Augusta.
Home to a mayo-based BBQ sauce.
Moss described Alabama barbecue as a hodgepodge for the most part. The key exception is northern Alabama, where the region's iconic white, mayo-based barbecue sauce was born and barbecue chicken reigns supreme.
Where to try it: PB's BBQ in Huntsville. Try our $12.50 for $20 deal here.
Spicy-and-sweet sauce plus Memphis-style ribs
Memphis is "one of the great barbecue cities in America," Moss said. Memphis focuses mostly on pork, especially its famous ribs, which are often slow-cooked in a pit and prepared with a dry rub seasoning that will make or break the chef as a BBQ genius. However, the city doesn't represent all Tennessee has to offer. The farther east you travel, the more likely you are to encounter whole-hog barbecuing traditions and thick, red, spicy-sweet sauces.
Where to try it: Taste the hickory smoked meats of Tom's Blue Moon BBQ in Lebanon—and bring our $10 for $20 deal with you.
The only place to try burgoo
Kentucky barbecue styles vary from county to county. However, Moss singled out Owensboro and western Kentucky, whose iconic dish is burgoo: a hearty stew filled with roasted meats, most notably mutton.
Where to try it: Savor the smothered pork chops at Lucretia's Kitchen in Louisville with our $12.50 for $20 deal.
Rib photo by Andrew Nawrocki, staff photographer