Regional variations on barbecue have grown up in different areas of the country based on the meat and produce most commonly available during the early years of Q, and refined by the cultural influences of the region. The four best known styles are Texas, Carolina, Memphis and Kansas City. Happily, you will find all of those and more as you follow your nose from one end of the state to the other.
For the uninitiated, here’s a simple glossary of common barbecue terms that might help you in your quest for your own favorite Q.
Baby back ribs: These are always pork; usually about two pounds per slab.
Barbecue (barbeque): Cooking it outdoors on a grill doesn’t make it barbecue. True barbecue is meat cooked “low and slow,” meaning cooked sloooowwwly over hardwood or charcoal at 200 to 375 degrees.
Bark: A tasty crust that develops on the outside of the meat as a result of heat and seasoning.
Carolina BBQ: Traditional Carolina BBQ is pork, chopped or pulled. Western Carolina style has tomato in the sauce, while the more common eastern Carolina sauce is vinegar-based with proprietary blends of peppers, onion, garlic, brown sugar, whiskey and other spices. A South Carolina variation includes mustard in the sauce, the contribution of early German settlers.
Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational: Each year in October, teams arrive in Lynchburg ready to smoke at “The Jack.” Fifty American teams take on grand champions from around the world in eight categories. Music, distillery tours, crafts and games round out the fun.
Kansas City BBQ: Where south meets west, and pork meets beef, Kansas City style is a combination of generous seasoning with spices, rubs and sweet sauces and hours of careful cooking in a hickory pit.
Memphis BBQ: It’s all about pork ribs in Memphis, usually marinated with a rub made of herbs and spices and basted during the cooking. Other pork cuts are cooked the same way. Rubs can be wet or dry, mild, spicy or sweet, with or without mopping sauces applied periodically.
Memphis’ World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest: The “Granddaddy of Grilling” is part of the spectacular Memphis in May celebration. Hundreds of teams, more than $90,000 in prize money, and contests for beef, pork, chicken, three kinds of sauces, side dishes and more. Enough to make a Q addict weep for joy. And since it’s Memphis, you can count on great music and hilarious booth competitions.
Pit: True barbecue is cooked in a “pit,” which can be any closed cooking unit, from a brick container to a hole in the ground.
Rub: Sometimes called dry marinade, a rub is the chef’s own special mix of spices and herbs. Sprinkled on or rubbed in, the rub helps form a crust during cooking and enhances the natural flavor of the meat.
Sauce, Basting Sauce: A spicy liquid, usually tomato-based, added to the meat toward the end of the cooking time. Sometimes served as a condiment rather than added to the meat. Sauce adds flavor and keeps the outside of the meat tender and moist while the inside cooks slowly. The best sauces are blended with seasoning and flavors to suit the meat. Oils are often added to meat with little or no fat, while pork requires no oils. Some sauces are meant for basting, while others are served as a condiment.
Smoke ring: A thin ribbon of pink running along the edge of the meat (or throughout a thin piece such as pork ribs). A smoke ring is a happy sign of well-smoked meat.
Smoking: This is the true essence of Q, the time-consuming process of cooking the meat slowly with indirect heat, using wood smoke for flavor, not grilled in direct contact with the flame.
SunDrop Country BBQ Cookoff: A state championship event sanctioned by the state legislature and the Kansas City BBQ Society, the SunDrop, in Pulaski, “pits” both professional and amateur teams from several states. Bring on the barbecue, and help some local charities while you’re at it.
Sweet tea: It’s what you drink with Q.
Tennessee State BBQ Cookoff Championship: Come to Lawrenceburg in June for the AT&T state championship and get the best of chicken, ribs, pork, brisket, sauce and dessert. It’s sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and sure to please even the pickiest palate.
Texas BBQ: Beef, beef brisket, beef ribs, cooked “naked” or with a tomato sauce thinned with Worcestershire or vinegar, the least sweet of the tomato-based sauces. Some rubs are just a blend of salt and pepper.
Wood, wood chips: Wood chips that have been soaked in water are used to add flavor to meat. Texas style beef BBQ is usually smoked in mesquite, hickory or post oak, while Carolina BBQ is usually smoked with hickory. Fruit woods are especially common with pork, adding a sweet flavor. Making sure the wood has dried reduces smoke and gives the pit master more control over the cooking process.
“Aye, there’s the rub.”William Shakespeare