Americans sure love to barbeque! It is a long-held cherished American tradition to slow cook meat over fire until it is so tender it literally slides off the bone. Though the practice of cooking meat in this way is certainly not limited to America or even recent times… humans have been cooking meat over fire since prehistoric times.
The version of barbeque that we know and love today actually originated in the Caribbean. The transformation of tough or chewy meats into succulent delicacies, they called barbacoa, these early pitmasters honed their craft on the island of Hispaniola which is modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Today in the USA there are four “main” types of barbeque (though certainly not the only four types), named for the particular region the variety gained popularity in, and each features its own unique combination of seasonings, sauces, and meats. Those are: Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas. Of course, each variety we will discuss below can also be further divided into multiple distinct subtypes, but we will be going over just the major focus of and differences between these styles here.
The main focus of Carolina barbeque is pork. All of the pig is “in the pot” as it were – from pork shoulder to ribs, to a whole hog! The meat is typically seasoned with a dry rub and then cooked in a wood-fired barbeque pit for 8-12 hours, until the meat literally melts off the bone. It is then pulled apart and tossed with a sauce of vinegar and cayenne, occasionally ketchup or mustard is also added to the sauce, and then it is served. Depending on the region, the finished meat will be served on a bun or simply on a plate with a side of hush puppies (deep-fried cornmeal balls) and coleslaw.
Kansas City Barbeque
Kansas City Barbeque stands out since as features a broad array of meats including beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey. Typically the selected meat is dry-rubbed, slow-smoked, and served with a side of Kansas City style sauce. This sauce is thick, sweet, and tangy thanks to the ketchup, brown sugar, and molasses it contains. This style is most famous for a dish called burnt ends, or popcorn brisket, which are the burnt, crunchy, meaty, smoky, fatty ends of the cooked brisket. Common sides include coleslaw, mashed sweet potato, French fries, and smoked baked beans.
Memphis style also focuses heavily on pork but specifically the shoulder and ribs. The shoulder is typically dry rubbed and smoked where the ribs are prepared two ways – wet or dry. Ribs are what Memphis barbeque is truly known for! If prepared wet, the ribs are coated in a vinegar and tomato-based sauce before cooking, during cooking, and again right before serving. If the ribs are served dry, it means that they are prepared using a dry rub only. It is common to find pulled pork or pork rib meat on everything from sandwiches and pizza, to spaghetti and nachos in Memphis.
Texas barbeque is typically all about the beef! From tender brisket seasoned with a dry rub and smoked, to sausages, burgers, big beef ribs, brisket, and more. The most common style you will find throughout Texas barbeque will be dry-rubbed meats that are smoked but they also make a wide variety smothered in a sweet tomato-based sauce. Most barbeque is served with sides of pinto beans, pickles, potato salad, and bread.
What about other styles of American barbeque?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of barbeque styles in America, simply a peek at some of the most commonly talked about styles around the USA. A few others of note include:
- Alabama style which is known for their tasty pulled pork or smoked chicken sandwiches smothered in a mayonnaise-based white sauce.
- Chicago style which is known for its glass “aquarium” smokers, which resemble fish tanks, where they craft amazing smoked pork ribs and rib tips.
- Kentucky style which is known for its delicious mutton sandwiches.
- Saint Louis style which is known for its slow-cooked pork snouts (crispy snoots) and pork steaks (thin-sliced pork shoulder).
- Santa Maria style which is known for tri-tip seasoned with black pepper, salt, and garlic then cooked over coals made from native California oak trees.
- And so many more!
What is your favorite style of barbeque? Did we miss it on the list? Let us know in the comments!