Holy smokes! Breaking down the 4 distinct regions of BBQ in the US

There might not be a more popular cooking pastime — especially in the summer! — than gathering around and enjoying a little barbecue when the weather is nice and the occasion is festive.

But even those who love to barbecue or grill at their homes might not know that the US is actually known for four regions of barbecued cuisine.

In honor of Monday being National Barbecue Day, here is an explainer on what the four regions of barbecue are in the United States.


1. Kansas City-style barbecue.

Barbecue in this region is best characterized by two features that stand out.

The first is the sauce, which is sweet and thick with a base made of tomato, molasses and brown sugar, according to the website Q39.

The other feature in Kansas City-style barbecue is burnt ends. Made from the tips of smoked beef brisket, the ends are carved off and put in the smoker to get a flavorful char on the outside.

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Just about all types of meat are smoked in this region of barbecue, whether it’s pork, chicken, beef, sausage and turkey. Fish is also commonly smoked.


2. Memphis-style BBQ.

The foundation of barbecue in this region is pork, although you can still get chicken and beef dishes.

Whatever the meat is, especially the pork, it’s slow-cooked in a rub that has 20 to 40 spices added to it, according to this website.

The philosophy of Memphis-style barbecue is to cook the meat slower in order to get a rich, wet sauce.

The sauce also is a bit spicier than Kansas City barbecue.


3. Texas-style barbecue.

Since Texas is such a big state, different regions have their different methods for preparing barbecue dishes.

In general, the state is best known for its brisket, which can be smoked for roughly 18 hours, according to webstaurantstore.com.

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Ribs and East Texas Hot Links are also popular dishes, but the centerpiece item is brisket. The primary type of meat used throughout the state is beef, although there are exceptions in some parts.

Here is how four regions in Texas prepare barbecue, according to traveltexas.com.

  • Central Texas-style BBQ. This is where brisket is smoked in a dry rub for 12 to 24 hours over mesquite, oak and hickory woods.

  • West Texas-style BBQ. Meat is grilled over an open pit, with higher heat meaning faster cook times.

  • South Texas-style BBQ. Brisket is smoked for 12 hours in an underground pit, oven or steamer.

  • East Texas-style BBQ. Sausages and sandwiches are the main staple in this region of Texas, so there’s a big focus on preparing quality sauces for those items. Pork is used more in this region as well, compared to beef in other parts of the state.


4. Carolina-style barbecue.

One of the older methods of cooking meat, Carolina-style barbecue, involves cooking a whole hog over the course of 12 to 24 hours, according to webstaurantstore.com.

The hog then produces three kinds of meat: stomach, neck and shoulders.

Stomach meat is tender, while the neck and shoulders are tough.

From there, a variety of sauces is made around the region to make the meat flavorful. The most popular type of sauce is mop sauce, which is applied to the meat while it cooks.

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Mop sauce is typically based in vinegar, in Carolina-style barbecue.

Mustard-based sauces and sauces that are a combination of vinegar and ketchup are also popular.

Which style of barbecue is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

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