How Barbecue Works


American Regional Barbecue Styles
North Carolina Barbecue: Wyatt Dixon prepares pulled pork by extracting it from the smoked pig and adding his Pig Whistle sauce. April Greer For The Washington Post via Getty Images
North Carolina Barbecue: Wyatt Dixon prepares pulled pork by extracting it from the smoked pig and adding his Pig Whistle sauce. April Greer For The Washington Post via Getty Images

As barbecue spread across America, different regions developed distinctly different styles of 'cue that were influenced by their environments and the people who settled in those places [sources: Geiling, Suddath]:

  • Carolina-style barbecue is one of the earliest styles of barbecuing. The British colonists in North Carolina and Virginia liked tart tastes, so they developed the vinegar-based sauces that we think of as North Carolina sauce today, and appropriated the Caribbean technique of basting to keep the meat juicy. In South Carolina, French and German immigrants liked mustard on their pork, so they developed a mustard-based barbecue sauce.
  • Texas barbecue evolved as German immigrants moved westward and started raising cattle. That led them to apply barbecue techniques to beef instead of pork. They also cooked on fires made with mesquite. "Cowboy style" beef brisket is a signature menu item in Texas.
  • Memphis barbecue was influenced by the Tennessee city's prominence as a Mississippi River port. Pitmasters there were easily able to get molasses, an ingredient they used to make the sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce for which the region is known. One favorite Memphis dishes is pulled-pork shoulder drenched in the sweet sauce, which can be eaten by itself or inside a sandwich.
  • Kansas City-style barbecue was the last regional style to develop. In the early 1900s, a Memphis native named Henry Perry settled in the city and opened a barbecue restaurant. Perry used a sweet, spicy barbecue sauce similar to the ones that he grew up with, but instead of sticking to pork in classic Memphis fashion, he cooked beef and other meats, merging barbecue's southern and western influences.
  • Alabama barbecue is a lesser-known style from Northern Alabama involving a white sauce made with mayonnaise, vinegar and lemon juice [source: Encyclopedia of Alabama].