Barbecue Regions to Know
Probably the most similar to North Carolina, and that’s what drew me to it: They’re both all about the meat, though because of its long history of cattle ranching, Texas is traditionally beef. In the central part of Texas, the Hill Country, where Hill Country Barbecue originates, people use Post Oak wood because it grows indigenously there. They use a simple rub of salt, butcher-ground black pepper and just enough cayenne to turn the rub a light pink color.
They like to say, “We barbecue anything that moves.” They’re very partial to sauce, a very thick, red sauce. I think that the average American identifies with this barbecue region.
Memphis is known as the home of the dry rub, but they use a lot of sauce in Memphis, too. And Memphis pulled pork uses more of a sweet red sauce in their pulled pork, as opposed to the lighter tangy, peppery Carolina vinegar sauce.
North Carolina barbecue traditionally uses pork because of all the pig farms in the state. Hickory grows widely in North Carolina, so people tend to use hickory wood. In North Carolina the rub is just salt and pepper, no cayenne. Within North Carolina there are two subregions:
In Eastern North Carolina barbecue the sauce is vinegar-based, very peppery. And they don’t use ketchup.
In Western North Carolina barbecue they add a little ketchup, which turns the sauce red. I grew up in the Piedmont area, which is sort of halfway between the two, but by barbecue standards it’s considered Western, and we add ketchup to the vinegar sauce.
Georgia + South Carolina
Then there’s the mustard region, a pocket in Georgia and a pocket in South Carolina. South Carolina is really the region that popularized the mustard, especially right around Columbia. And you know what? It’s not bad. The first time I tried it, I was skeptical, but if you think about it, they use yellow mustard, French’s mustard, that has a lot of vinegar in it anyway. So when I ate it, I was like, “OK! It’s just a yellow vinegar sauce!” But of course I still prefer what I grew up with.
Those are the major regions. But once you leave those, you’ve got St. Louis, where people are barbecue-crazy, and Alabama, which has a famous barbecue restaurant—Big Bob Gibson’s, where Chris Lilly is the pitmaster—that wins lots of awards. And then there are people in California who put their name on barbecue.
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