BBQ – What’s Your Style?

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by David Slade, Willow Seasonings and  Blends

What is barbecue? Barbecue is the process of using fire and smoke to cook food,
predominantly meat. Barbecue is believed to have originated with Indigenous Americans and the Caribbean indigenous people known as the Taino. The Taino referred to this style of cooking as barbacoa. As the Spanish traveled to America from the Caribbean they brought barbacoa with them. As colonization began this method of cooking spread quickly amongst the Spanish, French, and English, especially in the southern parts of the United States. We have been enjoying barbecue in America for hundreds of years.

As the United States grew and expanded barbecue did as well and regional variations began to pop up. There are four primary regional variations of barbecue in the United States, they are; Carolina Style (this variation is sometimes split between North Carolina and South Carolina styles), Kansas City Style, Memphis Style, and Texas Style. Each region takes extreme pride in their style of barbecue and you will always find people arguing about which region is the best. We will take a look at each of the primary regional variations.

Carolina Style

Carolina style BBQ is usually divided between North Carolina and South Carolina.
North Carolina barbeque has two distinct styles, Eastern and Lexington styles.
Eastern is a whole-hog style bbq that uses a vinegar and pepper-based sauce that contains no tomato whatsoever. Eastern style sauce is usually used as a seasoning after the cook, however it can be used for mopping during the cook.

Lexington style barbecue uses only the pork shoulder section of the pig and uses a “red” sauce that is made from vinegar, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and other seasonings. This style of barbecue is normally served as “pulled” or lightly chopped.

South Carolina barbecue predominantly uses pork and is famous for their mustard sauce (also known as Carolina Gold). South Carolina barbecue consists of four or five primary regions, the big difference between the regions is the type of sauce used.

Willow Seasonings produces the 1859 Colorado Gold Mustard Sauce that was inspired by the flavors of the Carolina mustard sauces. Colorado Gold adds additional flavor profiles to give it a distinct taste.

Kansas City Style

Kansas City barbecue includes a wide variety of meats; pork, beef, chicken, and turkey which is seasoned with a dry rub and smoked over wood. KC barbecue is typically served with a thick sweet sauce that is derived from brown sugar, molasses, and tomatoes. Traditionally, Kansas City sauces were not sweet, they had more of a spicy and tangy flavor profile. Sweet sauce did  not become popular in the KC barbecue scene until around 1977 when KC Masterpiece sauce was made with molasses. Sauces that have spicy and tangy flavor profiles are still prominent in the Kansas City style of barbecue. Kansas City style rubs tend to be less sweet and more savory, this is to pair it with the sweeter sauces used in KC BBQ.

The Willow Seasonings Sweet Thang BBQ Sauce is a mixture of the types of sauces found in Kansas City BBQ, it is sweet and tangy and has a little bit of a kick to it.

Memphis Style

Memphis-style barbeque is mostly made using pork ribs and pork shoulders, however many pit masters also serve chicken and beef. This style of barbecue is slow-cooked using the pit method and ribs can be served either wet or dry. Traditionally Memphis seasonings are slightly sweet with a savory and earthy flavor profile. Memphis style rubs are typically made from sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, and other spices. Memphis style barbecue sauces are thin and tangy and compliment meat nicely.

Willow Seasonings consulted with a Memphis pit-master when developing our Memphis Style BBQ Rub.

Texas Style

Ask any Texan and they will tell you that Texas Style BBQ is the only style of BBQ. What you have to find out is what part of Texas BBQ they are referring to. In the state of Texas there are four distinct styles of BBQ, to truly understand Texas BBQ you have to look at each of these distinct styles.

East Texas the meat is slowly cooked until it “falls off the bone”, it is typically cooked over hickory wood and marinated in sweet tomato based sauce.

Central Texas style the meat is usually only rubbed with salt and pepper, however pit masters are adding more spices to enhance flavors. The meats are cooked over indirect heat using a variety of woods; pecan, post oak, and mesquite are the most popular. Central Texas style BBQ does not use a sauce in the cooking process, however it may be served on the side to complement the flavor of the meat.

West Texas style cooks the meat over direct heat from mesquite wood, this is more in line with the grilling method.

South Texas style is close to the Mexican form of barbecue known as Barbacoa. The meat is marinated in thick molasses type sauces, this keeps the meat moist after cooking.

When you think of Texas barbecue more than likely the first thing that pops into your head is brisket or some other form of beef. Although beef is the most popular meat cooked in Texas barbecue, other meats are cooked as well including pork and chicken.

Willow Seasonings developed our High Elevation Salt, Pepper, and Garlic Rub based off the
Texas staple of Salt, Pepper, and Garlic. Willow added in a few elements to provide a unique
flavor profile in our SPG.



The Verdict Please!

As you can see there are so many styles of BBQ out there, and there are many variations popping up as we move west. You have Southwest and California styles that are becoming more and more popular. As people migrate around the United States the flavors of BBQ travel with them and sometimes adapt to the area and the people.

I find it hard to pick a favorite style of BBQ, it really depends on what I am in the mood for. If I were forced to pick, I would probably lean more towards the Memphis style of BBQ. I think it has more to do with my obsession for a nice rack of pork ribs, served either dry or slathered with a sauce to provide that extra layer of flavor.

No matter what style you choose, you cannot go wrong. So, what is your favorite?

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