Barbeque America - A Brief Discussion of the Four Regional Barbeque Styles

People hear the word Barbecue, and it conjures different images of food based on the region the person has lived most of their life. First, we must distinguish Barbecue from general outdoor cooking with a grill. The term Barbecue as I am using it in this article, is for cooking meat in a wood or charcoal fired smoker, with indirect heat, at low temperature, for a long period of time. I am not referring to the grilling of meat on an outdoor grill, using direct heat(meaning directly over the fire source) quickly at high temperature. Please do not take this the wrong way. I love grilled foods, and would even consider myself a "grill master". But, that isn't Barbecue. I'm talking about the real deal here, wood smoked pig, cow or chicken.

Most barbecue experts would break the United States down into four geographic regions when it comes to the preferential styles of barbecue. These are not hard and fast rules along state and city territorial lines, but are merely generalizations for categorical purposes. What delineates these regions from each other are choice of meat, the makeup of various rubs and marinades, and ingredients in the finishing sauces. In some of these regions there are further sub-preferences which will also be discussed. The four main regional styles are:


  1. Carolina style
  2. Memphis style
  3. Kansas City style
  4. Texas style.

Barbeque America - A Brief Discussion of the Four Regional Barbeque Styles

Carolina Barbecue Style

The overwhelming characteristic of Carolina Style Barbecue is whole hog smoking with a tangy vinegar based sauce, which has a peppery bite to it. Carolina style can be further broken down into three subcategories, Eastern North Carolina, Western North Carolina and south Carolina. These three sub-regions all prefer the same type of meat, Pork (usually the whole hog, but pork shoulder and ribs will work as well). The difference between Eastern and Western is that Eastern doesn't use any tomato product in their sauce. Western, even though the predominate ingredient is vinegar, will also add some type of tomato product either tomato juice, tomato sauce or ketchup into the sauce. South Carolina will add mustard instead of a tomato product, giving their sauce a completely different look and level of tangy flavor.

Memphis Barbecue Style

In Memphis, and its surrounding region, they lean toward pork ribs, but also will cook pork shoulder the whole hog or the occasional chicken. The Memphis specialty though, is the Pork Spare rib. The Memphis Barbecue rib can be either served "Dry" like the ones served at the famous Barbecue place The Rendezvous or wet. If served dry, the ribs are treated to a rub prior to cooking, and are basted with a mopping sauce throughout the cooking process. If served "Wet", the ribs will receive a glazing with sauce near the end of the cooking process with a sauce that is tomato based, with ketchup as the primary ingredient and will also contain vinegar, yellow mustard, brown sugar, and red pepper sauce to taste. The sauce is slightly sweet, slightly hot and tangy.

Kansas City Barbecue Style

Like Memphis, Kansas City is home of the Spare rib. Also found at many Kansas City BBQ joints is Beef Brisket. Kansas City style differs from Memphis in that the ribs are almost always coated with a very sticky sweet, medium hot, tangy tomato based sauce. For Kansas City Barbecue fanatics it is all about the sauce. They are passionate about their sauces.

Texas style Barbecue

Barbecue in Texas means Beef. Beef Brisket is king, but they also serve beef ribs as well as pork ribs. Brisket requires great attention to detail to get it properly smoked using low and slow methods, and must be cooked at very low temperature for a long time. The meat is first treated with a rub, and then smoked, sometimes served with a sauce, tomato based and hot, usually on the side. The further west in Texas one travels, the hotter the spices in the sauce will be.

These are the four regional styles of real low and slow, wood smoked Barbecue in the United States. Of course, there will be variations throughout these regions, as barbecue is as diverse as the individuals who cook it, with every pit-master thinking their particular version is best. There is vast amounts of material that can be studied by the individual interested in the traditions of real barbecue.

Barbeque America - A Brief Discussion of the Four Regional Barbeque Styles

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