Other than sports teams, nothing can stimulate regional rivalries like barbecue. The meaty dish varies widely from region to region throughout the US, and all of the distinctive styles garner rabid fans. And the rivalry is not only between states but within states as well. Because Texas is such a large state with a diverse population, barbeque in Austin is completely different from barbeque in Dallas, for instance.
There are four main styles of barbeque in the US – Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, and Texas styles. Memphis barbeque is usually limited to two main dishes, but these ribs and barbeque sandwiches have a bevy of fans. Ribs can be served either wet, with sauce, or dry and rubbed with spices. The sandwiches usually consist of chopped pork, sauce, and cole slaw. In Kansas City, the barbeque emphasis is on the sauce. A wide variety of meats are rubbed with spices and smoked. Sauce is served on the side, and traditional Kansas City barbecue sauce is sweet, made with tomatoes and molasses. In the Carolinas, barbecue is focused on pork, which can be chopped, pulled, or shredded. It is served with a vinegar-based sauce.
In Texas alone, barbecue is divided into three regions – Central Texas, West Texas, and East Texas. Central Texas includes Austin and the surrounding towns, and East Texas includes barbecue in Dallas and Houston. Central Texas was settled by a large German and Czech population, and those original settlers influenced the culinary development of the area. They would smoke leftover pieces of pork and beef at high heat using oak and pecan wood. In this region, the meat takes precedence over the sauce and side dishes. Sauce is usually thin and vinegar based, and sandwiches are rarely served. It is not uncommon, however, to find diners accompanying their meat with slices of packaged white bread.
In West Texas, the emphasis is also on the meat, and an unusual variety of meat can be found, including mutton and goat, as well as the more common beef. The meat is smoked over high heat, usually with mesquite wood. South Texas barbeque is influenced by Mexican cuisine, and cow’s head, or barbacoa, is one of the signature barbecue dishes in that region.
East Texas style, which includes barbecue Dallas area, Fort Worth, and Houston, was brought into the region by black cooks from the South, and is heavily influenced by barbecue from that region. Beef and pork are the two most common meats, and the sweet, thick sauce usually takes center stage. The biggest difference between barbecue in Dallas and barbecue in Memphis is that sandwiches in East Texas are not usually topped with coleslaw.
You may already have a favorite style of barbecue, but you should try to hold off judgment until you’ve tried them all. You may even find that you like the smoky, un-sauced barbecue of Austin just as much as you like the sweet, heavily sauced barbecue of Dallas.
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