Find Your Barbecue Style
Bill and Cheryl Jamison haunt America's BBQ joints for the hottest regional styles. Light up the grill and bring your favorite home.
Choose Your Favorite Style of 'Cue
True slow-smoked barbecue is all-American food that inspires pride in those who champion various regional styles. Friendly rivalries flourish about the best meats, the nature of sauces, even whether you should eat it with your hands or a fork.
Bill and Cheryl Jamison have eaten at countless barbecue joints to research their cookbooks. Here, they've shared some of their favorite styles of 'cue. Try the following recipes, adapted for home cooks, for authentic regional barbecue flavor.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri ToutMeat: Any–it's a vehicle for sauce
Sauce: Thick, sweet, tomato-based
It's all about the sauce in Kansas City. Pitmasters specialize without prejudice in brisket, spareribs, and even chicken and sausage. What doesn't vary is the style of the tomato-based, sweet, and sticky sauce, long established as America's favorite barbecue topping. (KC Masterpiece is a popular commercial version.)
Memphis, Tennessee ToutMeat: Pulled pork and ribs
Sauce: Medium-bodied, tangy, tomato-based
As the center of Southern barbecue, Memphis offers a style of sauce somewhere between the thin, tangy Carolina version and the sweet, thick variety typical of Kansas City.
If you've never eaten slaw on, rather than with, a sandwich, you're in for a treat. Locals enjoy premier pork sandwiches topped with a mustard-laced slaw.
Lexington, North Carolina
Lexington, North Carolina ToutMeat: Pulled pork shoulder
Sauce: Thin, vinegar-based
Pulled pork shoulder is the signature BBQ style in Lexington. Slow, low-heat cooking is key to tender pork that shreds easily. While the pork is still warm, shred it into uneven shards, mixing together some of the crisp, dark outer meat with the moister interior meat. Combine the classic Piedmont sauce–a thin, vinegar-based mixture–with the meat for a tangy kick, or mix it with shredded cabbage for Lexington coleslaw.
Central Texas ToutMeat: Beef, especially brisket
Sauce: None, or a thin jus
In Texas, barbecue is about the beef–if there's any sauce, it's a thin, spicy pan sauce made from the meat drippings. In all of the area's barbecue bastions, pitmasters smoke hefty hunks of beef, usually brisket, for up to a full day.
Santa Maria, California
Santa Maria, California ToutMeat: Tri-tip steak
Santa Maria beef barbecue calls for tri-tip steak, a cut of beef also known as bottom sirloin or sirloin tip. The pros cook their meat over specially-crafted pits, often with a crank and pulley controlling the temperature by raising and lowering the grate over a red oak log fire. The sirloin's ready to enjoy much more quickly than brisket or pork shoulder, and generally served rare to medium instead of well done. The customary topping is a mild green-chile-and-tomato-salsa.
Once you decide which part of the country your heart–and stomach–reside in, plan to pair your barbecue of choice with a top-notch beverage. Cooking Light suggests serving a smoky brisket with a similarly smoky beer, like Germany's Aecht Schlenkerla Maerzen beer. The editors also recommend matching a California-style dish with a full-throttle merlot, such as Gainey Merlot 2004, to really bring out the flavor of the salsa.
Chances are, you won't ever have to worry about having leftovers with these meals, but in case you do, make sure to store them properly. You can refrigerate beef, pork, or chicken for up to four days. Pulled pork freezes beautifully, so store it in a zip-top bag for up to three months for your next off-season barbecue. To defrost, thaw it in the fridge then wrap it in foil and bake for about 30 minutes to an hour at 250 degrees.