What "Barbecue" Means in Various Southeastern US Regions


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Written by George Hancock Jr. | Last Updated October 30th, 2019
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First thing's first. This is not about the stuff that residents of New York City call barbecue, which could be defined as "stuff you cook on a grill, like hot dogs and hamburgers." As a 3-year veteran of the big apple, I've even witnessed food from McDonald's being referred to as barbecue. That's not barbecue! That's McDonald's.  This is about pork barbecue. It's usually smoked for long periods of time. Then, we douse it with a tangy sauce.  Sometimes the sauce includes tomatoes, mustard, or molasses. Sometimes the meat is chopped or pulled apart into small pieces. For other styles, the meat is left in larger chunks or on ribs. It's not hot dogs and hamburgers. Get with it, New York! I still love you, though.

Eastern Carolina Barbecue

Inhabitants of the eastern half of North Carolina use the whole hog. They smoke it or grill it for several hours before chopping the meat into tiny pieces. Then, a vinegar and red pepper sauce adds flavor. Some prefer to eat it off of a plate while others put it in a bun. Tomatoes aren't a part of the sauce, despite what various internet sources tell you. It's enjoyed with a sweet cole slaw. Brunswick stew, a stew of chicken and vegetables, may also accompany barbecue here.

Lexington (Carolina) Barbecue

Lexington Barbecue is famous for its use of ketchup in barbecue sauce and in cole slaw. It's similar to Eastern Carolina barbecue except for the ketchup and the tendency to omit certain cuts of meat from the dish. This style is also enjoyed either straight from the plate or in a bun.

Memphis Barbecue

A sweet tomato and molasses sauce is the notable aspect of this style. Pork is slowly smoked and then pulled apart, not chopped. The sauce can also be used to make pork ribs, although some chefs in the region use a dry rub for them. Corn bread and cole slaw are commonly eaten with the meat, which usually comes smothered with sauce.

South Carolina Barbecue

This type of barbecue is similar to the Lexington variety but has mustard in the sauce, instead of ketchup or tomatoes, and may be served with light bread, coleslaw, or hash with rice. Hash is a stewed organ meat dish. Also popular is fried pork skin, as explained here. You find these foods in Georgia as well.

Alabama Barbecue

Alabama's barbecue style varies in different parts of the state, even more so than it does in the Carolinas.  That has something to do with its proximity to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. In southern Alabama, you can find pulled pork, chopped pork and pork ribs with sauces resembling the Tennessee (Memphis) variety.  The pulled and chopped stuff are commonly enjoyed on a hamburger bun with cole slaw and a few dill pickles. Areas closer to the bolded regions above tend to share the traditions of those regions. Surprisingly, in regions closer to South Carolina and Georgia, you may find a sauce made with both mustard and tomatoes, blending the Memphis and South Carolina recipes. An interesting variation of barbecue was created in the 1920s by Robert Gibson at Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q restaurant, in Decatur, Alabama. A sauce made of mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, black pepper, and salt is used for both pork and chicken in this region. More information is here.

Looking for barbecue recipes? Find out which recipe website works best for you here.


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