Regional Barbecue Styles
In Alabama, there are currently more barbecue restaurants, per capita, than in any other US state. Alabama barbecue most often consists of pork ribs or pork shoulder, slowly cooked over hickory smoke. Pork shoulder may be served either chopped or sliced; some diners also specify a preference for either "inside" or "outside" meat. Alabama barbecue is typically served with a spicy, tomato-based sauce.
Arkansas is in some ways the crossroads of American barbecue, firmly rooted in the Deep South but close enough to the Midwest and Texas to incorporate Kansas City and Texas-style barbecue traits. Like all true southern barbecue, meat is never exposed to high or direct heat. Instead it is smoked at low temperatures for long periods of time.
In northern California many BBQ restaurants serve tofu, tempeh and Portobello mushrooms for vegetarians, in addition to barbecue. Oakland is a center for traditional BBQ and other soul food side dishes. The most famous California barbecue is Santa Maria style, in the central part of the state, with its unique 2-3 inch cut of top sirloin or Tri-tip steak, pinquito pink beans and salsa.
Barbecue culture in Georgia represents an enormous range of styles, traditions, and influences. The state's "barbecue reputation" is based on pork, which is slow-cooked over an open pit stoked with oak and/or hickory and served with a sauce based on ketchup, molasses, bourbon, garlic, cayenne pepper, and other ingredients. Georgia is the melting pot of regional variations where almost any sauce or cooking style can be found.
In Kentucky, barbecue also has a long and rich tradition. Mutton is the most notable specialty in Western Kentucky, where there were once large populations of sheep. However, mutton is virtually unknown in The Purchase of the extreme west, where "barbecue" without any other qualifier refers specifically to smoked pork shoulder. A vinegar- and tomato-based sauce with a mixture of spice and sweet is traditionally served with the meat, though not always used in cooking.
Like its neighbor Alabama, Mississippians prefer pork to other meats, usually pork shoulder, or whole hog. Most restaurants serve only pulled pork, though some also serve chicken halves. Unlike the surrounding states, a purely vinegar-based sauce is preferred.
In Missouri, beef is sliced and a tomato-based sauce is added after cooking. St. Louis-style barbecue features a sauce that is typically tangier and thinner than its Kansas City cousin, with less vinegar taste. Kansas City calls itself the "world capital of barbecue." Kansas City barbecue is served with the sauce on the side, rather than mixed onto the meat before serving.
Within North Carolina, there are two regional barbecue traditions, both based on the slow cooking of pork, served pulled, chopped, or sliced. In eastern North Carolina, typically the whole hog is used, and the dominant ingredients in the sauce are vinegar and hot peppers. From the Piedmont westward, Lexington-style barbecue is the norm. It is prepared from primarily pork shoulder and served with either a vinegar-based or tomato-based sauce.
Oklahoma barbecue reflects the state's geographic location. Located south of Kansas City, north of Texas and west of Memphis, Oklahoma barbecue also includes pork, chicken, sausage, and bologna. In Oklahoma, barbecue refers to meat that has been slowly cooked over wood smoke at a very low temperature, for a very long time. The woods most commonly used for smoking meat include hickory, oak, and pecan.
In Pennsylvania, 'barbecue' refers to various sweet and mild concoctions in the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch (German) cooking techniques. Especially in central PA, barbecue is generally a mixture of browned ground beef, or in some cases shredded roast beef, with varying combinations of ketchup, mustard, molasses, brown sugar, white sugar, salt, pepper, pickle relish, and vinegar.
South Carolina is the only state to have four types of barbecue sauces: mustard, vinegar, heavy tomato, and light tomato. The meat used in South Carolina is consistent throughout the state, slow-cooked pulled pork. In addition to pork, other popular BBQ dishes include hash and ribs.
While Memphis dominates the culture of Tennessee barbecue, traditional Tennessee "barbeque" is saucy, slow-cooked pork ribs or pulled/sliced pork shoulder, and beef brisket. The molasses content in the sauce usually becomes less pronounced in middle and east Tennessee, causing the sauces there to be thinner and less sweet.
Sliced brisket, sausage, and pork ribs are the most popular meats in Texas barbecue. Chicken, beef ribs, and chopped beef are also often found. In Texas, barbecuing refers to what others call "hot smoking" cooking with both smoke and low heat for hours over woods such as oak, mesquite, or pecan. Meat prepared by Texas barbecue often has a red tinge even when fully cooked, and a pink smoke ring around the edges of the meat. The pink smoke ring is very tasty and a major focus of fans of this style. If used, traditional sauce consists of tomatoes with a vinegar base. It can be sweet or spicy and thick or thin, depending on the chef.