Here in the United States BBQ is big business. It means a lot to a lot of different people.
Although BBQ might seem like a universal thing, it’s not.
Each region has its own unique style. You could break each region down to State, County, or even neighborhood.
In this article, we will break down the most famous regional BBQ styles here in the USA.
What’s your favorite regional style? I would love to hear your favorite – or any special variations you have of your own!
One of my favorites is a simple Masterbuilt electric smoker brisket or smoking a turkey in an electric smoker.
What are the Difference BBQ Styles and Regions of the United States?
Alabama Style Barbecue
Alabama BBQ has a big standout difference in Alabama style Q is the sauce. Unlike most other regional styled Alabama uses a mayonnaise-based sauce.
‘Alabama White Sauce’ is said to have been invented by Bob Gibson back in 1925 and has remained an Alabama staple ever since.
Alabama barbecue usually features smoked chicken or pork among other meats and is often fueled by Hickory, Oak, and Pecan wood.
Kansas City Style Barbecue
When you talk about Kansas City BBQ you have to start off by mentioning ‘burnt ends’. Burnt ends come from the point end of the brisket. They are essentially the trimmings that have been cooked until they are caramelized, sweet, and crispy.
Alongside burnt ends, Kansas City que usually features a wide variety of different meats including beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork, and sausage.
Although most que spots offer a range of sauces, however, the most popular is a thicker more sweet tomato-based sauce.
Kansas City is also known for its BBQ side dishes which include beans, fries, and slaw.
You will find in KC a range of woods are used, however, Hickory is a favorite.
Memphis style BBQ is one of the big 4 American bbq styles.
You will find Memphis style barbecue to be heavy on the pork, however, you will also find chicken and beef.
In Memphis, everything is cooked low and slow style. With Memphis style ribs you can get either dry – ribs coated in a dry rub consisting of salt, pepper, and a herbs and spices mix. Or you can find a wet style of rib – this is when the ribs are coated in a wet sauce before, after, and during the cook.
Memphis is also home to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC) which started back in 1981.
North Carolina Style Barbecue
Pork is the most popular meat in North Carolina que and you will usually find it chopped, pulled, or shredded. In North Carolina, you will find two distinct styles. Eastern and Western.
In the East, you will find a vinegar-based sauce and the use of the whole hog. This is when the entire hog is cooked and mixed together.
In the West, you will find a tomato-based sauce and mostly find pork shoulder.
South Carolina Style Barbecue
South Carolina is also known for their whole hof barbecue, and the state can be broken down into three main BBQ styles:
- Western: In the west, you will find tomato/ketchup based pepper sauce. This is mainly around the Savannah River area.
- Central: Central South Carolina (or the ‘Midlands’) is home to the famous ‘Carolina Gold’ sauce. This sauce is made from a base of yellow mustard with vinegar, brown sugar, and a spice blend. The name comes from the beautiful golden color the mustard gives it.
- Coastal: The coastal or ‘Pee Dee’ region of South Carolina is most known for their whole hog cooks with a watery sauce with a vinegar or peppery base. In the Piedmont end of the coast, you will find more meat options such as pork shoulders, Boston butts, and hams.
Santa Maria Style Barbecue
You read that right, Santa Maria, California. The West might not be the first place you think of when you think about BBQ, however, Santa Maria is home to some of the best beef tri-tip in the country.
Typically Santa Maria style que is cooked over coals which creates a very unique flavor. The wood that is mainly used is ‘Red Oak’ which is a California native.
You will usually find this style of BBQ to be seasoned well with black pepper, salt, and garlic.
Santa Mria style barbecue is often served with a side of beans, salad, salsa, and French bread.
St. Louis Style Barbecue
When you are talking about St Louis style barbecue usually you are referring to ribs. Spare ribs in St Louis are typically grilled over direct heat apposed to indirect heat that is more common in other parts of the country.
In St Louis BBQ is smothered in sauce. It is said this part of the country eats more barbecue sauce than anywhere else. The sauce is a sweet, tomato-based sauce that is slightly acidic and very sticky!
Texas Style Barbecue
Texas is another big player in the BBQ world. Typically in Texas, you will find a lot of briskets. Texas-style barbecue can be broken up into 4 sub-areas. The main differences between the areas are the sauce/spices used, the cooking method, and the type of wood used:
- Central Texas: In Central Texas, you will find the main focus is on the meat itself and the wood used to cook it. Pecan, oak, or mesquite woods are common in Central Texas. Sauces are available throughout Central Texas, however, sauces are seen as more of an unnecessary side.
- East Texas: In East Texas hickory is king for smoking a low and slow style que. In East Texas, both beef and pork are common, however, instead of being sliced the meat is usually chopped/pulled and served on a fresh bun. A sweet, tomato-based sauce is also used in East Texas.
- West Texas: Using mesquite wood to grill over direct heat is most common in West Texas. It is similar to grilling and is sometimes referred to as ‘cowboy style’ BBQ.
- South Texas: South Texas is also big on using mistique wood. The big difference is South Texas barbecue is the thick molasses-based sauce used. This sauce is added before and during cooks to keep the meat moist and to create a delicious thick bark.
Kentucky Style Barbecue
Kentucky barbecue is most known for chopped or pulled pork. The two most popular cuts they use are whole pork shoulders and the Boston butt. In Kentucky, cooks are long – anywhere from 12 to 30+ hours. This ensures the pork is fall-apart tender.
Another unique thing about Kentucky BBQ is the use of mutton. Mutton has a bad name, however, when cooked right can be a really delicious cheap meat to use. Hickory is the main wood used when smoking mutton.
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