Grills out? Tongs ready? The first three-day weekend of the summer is just around the corner, and we are so very ready for some barbecue.
All across the country, pro pitmasters and weekend warriors are polishing their tools and planning their menus with careful consideration. Beef or pork? Smoky or sweet? Sauce or no sauce? Texas-style or Memphis-style? It’s serious business! After all, you are what you ’cue.
Barbecue is a great American pastime, but its history extends back far before the USA. Grilling meat over an open flame is older than homo sapiens, and the first documented English usage of the word barbecue dates back to 1661. The word comes from the Spanish barbacoa, but historians believe the concept originated in the Caribbean, where early forms of barbecue involved digging a hole in the ground to roast some lamb...or a whole alligator.
These days, you’re more likely to find a whole hog than a whole gator. The art of barbecue has evolved across the country, inspiring regional rivalries and fierce championship cookouts. Leave it to the Americans to take a simple cooking method and turn it into competition!
While some folks may debate the one true barbecue, we’re not taking sides...we just want seconds. This summer, we’re expanding our horizons with a wide variety of cooking styles, from the Deep South to the Midwest. There’s more than one way to grill a pig in this big country!
Here are just a few highlights of the many splendors of American barbecue to inspire your next cookout:
Texas-style: Texas is synonymous with barbecue. It’s best known for beef, especially brisket, but there are several distinct styles of barbecue just within state lines. For example, in South Texas you’ll find plenty of juicy barbecued beef topped with a thick, sweet sauce, while in Central Texas barbecue is generally prepared sans sauce —some purists will only use salt and pepper! For a deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas experience at home, serve your barbecued masterpiece with sauce on the side and let the meat be the main attraction.
Carolina-style: In the Carolinas and throughout the Deep South, pork is king. Perhaps the most famous element of North and South Carolina’s style of barbecue is its unique sauce. Unlike the ubiquitous bottled brown sauces, Carolina-style sauces are vinegar-based instead of tomato-based. But there are still plenty of regional differences, from South Carolina’s “Carolina Gold” made with mustard to North Carolina’s style of sauce made with ketchup. Bring the local flavor to your barbecue by whisking together your own Carolina Gold sauce with mustard, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar.
Caroline Gold BBQ sauce gets its yellow color from mustard and apple cider vinegar.
St. Louis-style: Out in the Midwest, St. Louis is home to extra-saucy spare ribs trimmed into a tidy rectangular shape, then topped with a tomato-based sauce that’s slightly sweet, slightly spicy, with a hit of zingy apple cider vinegar. The city’s residents are said to consume more barbecue sauce per capita than anywhere else in the country, so if you want to cook St. Louis-style in your backyard, go ahead and slather your spare ribs with a heavy pour.
St. Louis-style BBQ Sauce - it's got a little kick!
Memphis-style: In Memphis, barbecue is served either “wet” or “dry” — that is, with sauce or without sauce. Dry barbecue is made with a rub of herbs and spices, while wet barbecue gets a hefty dose of saucing before, during, and after the cooking process. If you want to channel Memphis creativity at your gathering, try adding barbecued pork in unexpected places, like nachos or pizza. (Memphians even eat it on spaghetti!)
Kansas City-style: Kansas City barbecue history traces back to one man: a Tennessee native named Henry Perry who moved to Kansas City in the early 20th century and opened a food stand serving smoked, sauced meats in the Memphis tradition. He sold classic cuts of pork and beef, as well as some more questionable options...like raccoon and possum. Today, Kansas City is still unique in its wide variety of barbecued protein options, like turkey, chicken, and fish — so if you’re feeling frisky with your menu selections, you’ll love their approach to equal-opportunity barbecuing. Though you may want to skip the possum.
Kansas City-style looks more like the familiar bottled BBQ sauce.
Stuck inside? Bring the barbecue to your office! Try these EAT Club entrées for a delicious taste of summertime:
Pulled Pork with Cheesy Grits
BBQ Smoked Chicken Sausage w/ Sweet Potato Mash
Vegan BBQ Pulled "Pork" Sandwich from Terri NYC