BarbecueBible.com. jpeg file. 2019.
The winter of 2020 was a tough one, to say the least. Cold weather, quarantining, and being away from friends and loved ones. But things are looking up! The COVID-19 vaccine is here, the snow is melting, and it’s almost time for the darling of warm weather food: barbeque! Let’s take a deep dive into the world of barbeque- from sauces, to meat, to vegetables. We’ll also hear from expert John Matthews of the legendary Pappy’s Smokehouse, and take a look at the history of this deeply American comfort food.
Barbeque is a child of the South, and there are distinct ways of making it throughout the region. So before you start building your barbeque menu, first take a look at its different styles. Then you can pick the one that best fits your tastes!
Hansen, Sara. “The Different Regional Barbecue Styles in America.” 2019. JPEG file.
Each area has its own preference on what type of meat and cut should be used, which cooking method, all the way down to the sauce and rub. Each of them are delicious, and have been perfected over generations. I spoke to John Matthews of St. Louis’ hugely popular “Pappy’s Smokehouse”, and a true barbeque master. John founded Pappy’s with Mike Emerson in 2008. They had fallen out of barbeque after having a successful run in national barbeque competitions such as Memphis in May’s World Champion Barbeque Cooking Contest and Kansas City’s American Royal Barbeque Contest. “[Mike] and I were having a couple beers after work…and thankfully, the conversation evolved from ‘I had a terrible day today’ to ‘But what about the barbeque?’ I thought we could sell that. And that’s where we started,” John explained. Since then, Pappy’s has become a household name, and The Food Network has even dubbed Pappy’s ribs the #1 ribs in America.
If you love ribs and pulled pork, this is the style for you. In Memphis, Tennessee, barbeque is mostly made with smoked pork. Specifically, it’s made in the form of everyone’s favorite sandwich stuffer, pulled pork, as well as the classic barbeque staple- slabs of rib. Rather than relying on sauces, this method focuses on the quality of the pork and the wood used to smoke it. Pappy’s specializes in this style, and it’s become their signature.
“We just gained an affection for the Memphis style, because basically it’s the rub you put on the meat, [and] the wood you use, for example, cherry wood, but mostly apple wood. It has a much mellower, milder smoke flavor,” John described. Memphis prides itself on its dry barbeque technique. This process is a long one, but well worth the wait. The result is extremely tender and flavorful, without the use of sauces or rubs. The smoking process adds most of the flavor. To make your own Memphis-style barbeque at home, use a charcoal grill or, better yet, a smoker.
Rendezvous, Charlie Vergos. 2019. Jpeg file.
A dry rub is a mixture of ground-up spices. Memphis dry rubs usually contain a wide variety of delicious spices like ground garlic, paprika, onions, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and dry mustard, among others. This mixture is rubbed onto the meat before smoking. The result is delicious, and also less messy than meat cooked with barbeque sauce.
Not sure what kinds of rubs go well with which meats? John shared some golden nuggets about the logic behind Pappy’s rub-and-meat pairings: “For our brisket, it’s pretty simple… I’ll disclose a major secret. It’s basically salt, pepper, sugar, and garlic- something you can pair well with beef. Our rubs for our poultry is a pretty salty rub, so a little bit goes a long way. Those are milder meats, so that pairs together. For our ribs, we use kind of a Mediterranean blend of a rub. Part of the character of the ribs is that we rub them down with brown sugar, which produces caramelization [and a] nice glaze…it’s like a candied meat.”
For those who just can’t go without sauce, Memphis has its own take on that as well. It’s made with a tomato or vinegar base, sometimes both, and is known for being thin and zesty, with a bit of sweetness. Most Memphis sauces start with tomato sauce and vinegar (heavy on the vinegar), then molasses or brown sugar is added for sweetness. Memphis sauces are too thin to be used as marinade. It’s usually used as a dipping sauce for smoked ribs, or poured over pulled pork.
John shared Pappy’s sauces, and what they go well with: “We’ve got three sauces that are tomato based, which is a St. Louis thing. And we also have a Carolina vinegar sauce. Those are our four sauces. Sweet and Smoky, and then the other Pappy’s Original, which has a little more black pepper to it. And then our Hoodoo sauce, which is a pretty spicy sauce. That would go well with chicken or pork. Then the Carolina sauce is just basically cayenne taco seasoning and vinegar. That’s good for chicken and pork as well.”
If the idea of making your own sauces sounds a bit daunting, you can take a shortcut and order them straight from Pappy’s!
Kansas City’s distinct style began in the early 1900’s with a man named Henry Perry, often referred to as the barbeque king of Kansas City. Originally from Memphis, Perry made his way to Kansas City working at restaurants on steamboats. He arrived in Kansas City and established himself as a master of barbeque, selling meat from a stand that later turned into Kansas City’s first barbeque restaurant. Perry wasn’t picky about what meats he used for barbeque. He was known to have opossum and raccoon on his barbeque menu, which were commonly eaten at the time. No matter what type of meat, Perry slow-cooked it over hickory and oak wood, and served it with a strong, peppery sauce.
Kansas City Sun. Dec. 22, 1917. Jpeg file.
Since then, Kansas City barbeque has evolved, but Perry’s style is still at its foundation. It still uses a wide variety of meats. Chicken, beef, pork, fish, sausage, and even turkey are all part of the KC barbeque arsenal, so there’s something for everyone.
The most well-known Kansas City barbeque dish is “Burnt Ends”. This refers to the tasty end pieces of a brisket that are much thinner than the middle section. As the brisket is barbequed, these end pieces cook much faster, and become caramelized and charred. They are snipped off and made into sandwiches, or used in macaroni and cheese, poutine, and even eggs! No matter what barbeque style you use to make your brisket, never throw away your burnt ends. Put them to good use!
Dinner at the Zoo. “Burnt Ends Recipe”. 2019. Jpeg file.
Kansas City sauce:
Kansas City is all about the sauce. Henry Perry’s peppery barbeque sauce has become sweeter and thicker through the years, with a tomato and molasses base. Usually brown sugar and liquid smoke are added as well. This delicious sauce is used across the country at many chain restaurants and famous eateries. It’s one of the most well known barbeque sauces. Unlike the Memphis style sauce, this sauce is cooked into the meat or swiped onto it right after cooking.
Texas is a huge state, and each section has its own spin on barbeque. South Texas specializes in barbacoa, which is the barbeque of the Arawak and Taino indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. All American barbeque styles originate from barbacoa. Then there’s West Texas barbeque, which uses more direct heat to cook, and East Texas barbeque, which focuses on chopped beef. However, the most widespread, well-known style is that of Central Texas.
In Central Texas, beef brisket is king. So if you want to cook brisket, this is the barbeque style for you. In Central Texas, it’s an absolute must on any barbeque menu. This is mostly because of the booming cattle business that the state was built on. There is also an assortment of essential add-ons: slices of white bread, pickles, and onions. These have been traditional Central Texas barbeque sides going back to the 1800’s!
Another distinctive Texas barbeque trait is the use of wood to cook meat instead of charcoal or gas. If you want to create true Texas barbeque, get post oak wood, but mesquite and hickory are sometimes used as well. It’s also characteristic of Central Texas to cook the meat slowly, over a low heat for many hours. If you’re a bit new to barbeque, Central Texas barbeque is a good style to try first because of its simplicity. It uses a basic dry rub of just salt and pepper, to pump up the flavor of the meat itself without adding other flavors. In this same spirit, sauce is actually frowned upon here. Much like ordering a steak well done, saucing a Central Texas brisket is a culinary faux pas.
Another unique item on a Texas barbeque menu is the sausage. Throughout Texas’s history, there have been a large number of Czech and German immigrants. They brought their cuisine with them, and their sausages have been incorporated into the state’s barbeque style. These sausages are almost always made up of beef, with just pepper and salt, staying true to the Texas style.
In 1882, a butcher named William T. Moon popularized barbeque sausages throughout Texas. He sold his meat door-to-door, and if there was any left over that he couldn’t sell, he didn’t have refrigeration to store it. To keep the meat from going bad, he would smoke it, and turn the leftovers into spicy sausage that later came to be known as “hot guts”. While it may not have an appealing name, it has become an essential, and mouth-watering, part of Central Texas barbeque. These are a bit labor intensive to make, but it can be a fun project if you’re up for it! You can also always buy them straight from the source.
Texas barbeque likes to lay their sauce on thick. It’s used to marinate or baste the meat, instead of as a dipping sauce. It’s laid on so heavily that it’s also referred to as “mop sauce”, since it’s often literally applied with a mop! The sauce itself is thin and tangy. Common ingredients are beef stock (that’s right, beef is in everything here), vinegar, and Worcestershire, and uses spices like salt, pepper, and garlic. If you want to marinate your barbeque, this kind of sauce is a great option!
The Carolinas have several different types of barbeque, so let’s break them down:
In North Carolina, there are Eastern and Western styles. The Eastern North Carolina style uses the “whole hog”. This means an entire pig is barbequed all at once. Then all the pieces are chopped up and mixed together. The barbeque sauce of this region is thought to be the oldest American barbeque sauce, the sauce from which all other sauces were derived . It can be traced back several centuries! It has an acidic, spicy flavor profile that reflects its Carribean roots.
Savory Spice. “Carolina Whole Hog Recipe”. 2020. Jpeg file.
Western North Carolina is known as “Lexington” style barbeque. It’s named after Lexington, NC, where it originates from. This style is more specific about barbeque meat, and only uses pork shoulder. Its creators were of German descent, and got their inspiration from a Bavarian dish of pork shoulder served with a sweet and sour sauce. Lexington barbeque sauce differentiated itself when Heinz ketchup was created in 1876. Lexington barbeque masters incorporated a little bit of the new tomato sauce into their vinegary, tangy barbeque sauce, just enough to sweeten it slightly and give it a distinctive, reddish color. It makes a great dipping sauce!
Food Network. “Pulled Pork Shoulder with Lexington Style Dipping Sauce.” 2020. Jpeg file.
Like Eastern North Carolina, barbeque in this state uses whole hog pork. The most distinctive aspect of this state’s barbeque is its variety of sauces, all of which contain mustard. This is also thanks to German immigrants, who brought mustard with them when they arrived in the state. If you love mustard, these sauces from the “Mustard Belt” belong on your barbeque menu. There are two styles, based on region. In the Midlands, the center of the state, “Carolina Gold” mustard sauce is the standard. The mustard base is thinned out with vinegar and amplified with spices. It’s great to pour over pulled pork or other cuts of pork. The sharp flavor is perfect for cutting through the rich, fatty flavor of pork, so if that’s the meat you’ve chosen for your barbeque menu, Carolina Gold sauce is a great pairing for it.
Ransom, James. “Giddy Swamp, South Carolina Barbeque Sauce.” Food52. 2013. Jpeg file.
In the coastal region, also known as “Pee Dee”, barbeque masters cook their whole hogs in open pits. The sauce of choice here is spicy but simple: vinegar base, salt, pepper, and red pepper. It’s typically mopped over the meat at the very end of the long cooking process (up to 12 hours!). The meat is cooked with the skin side facing up, right until the end. Then it is flipped and doused in sauce. Don’t worry, you don’t need a pit in your backyard for this type of barbeque. It can also be done on a grill, and is great for feeding a large group of people.
Vegetarians don’t need to feel left out at the barbeque. All kinds of vegetables make amazing additions to any barbeque menu! Okra, corn, asparagus, zucchini, squash, sweet potato, and bell peppers can all be added to the grill and cooked in any barbeque style of your choice. Not only will they naturally become more flavorful and smoky as they char, but they can be marinated just like meat as well. Just be sure to oil them before cooking, or they will dry out. Here a few vegetable ideas for your barbeque menu:
- Elote: This classic Mexican street corn can be made by grilling corn and topping it with cotija cheese, lime, chile powder, and a bit of mayonnaise. It’s tangy, creamy, messy, and every bit as good as barbecued meat!
Immaculate Bites. “Succotash”. 2021 jpeg file.
- Portobello Mushroom Burgers: Swap out a beef patty with a grilled and marinated portobello mushroom to make an easy veggie hamburger.
- Grilled Eggplant and Corn Romesco Napoleons: This smoky eggplant and corn dish is hearty enough to be a main dish for veggie-eating friends.
Southern Living. 2020. Jpeg file.
Barbeque sides often get sidelined by the main event, but they are just as important. Make sure to balance out your menu with plenty of killer sides!
- Red Slaw: This Southern spin on coleslaw is satisfyingly crunchy and acidic, and goes perfectly on pulled pork sandwiches or as a side to a pork main.
- Hash and Rice: If you’re barbecuing South Carolina style, this side is a must. Originating from SC, this side consists of a stew-like mixture of pork, onions, potatoes, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. It’s served over rice or grits, and is absolutely addictive.
A&M Brown’s BBQ Hash. “Where to Find Hash in Eastern South Carolina”. 2020. Jpeg file.
- Collard Greens: This famous Southern side is well known and well loved. Collard greens are a type of dark leafy green. They are best cooked on low heat over a long period in a Dutch oven or a stockpot, and it’s well worth the wait!
After coming out of a time of isolation, barbeque is a great way to celebrate the coming of spring and better times ahead. It’s comforting, communal, and celebratory, best eaten with friends and family you haven’t been able to see in a long time. Get vaccinated, and then get barbecuing! And if you’re lucky enough to be in St. Louis, check out Pappy’s Smokehouse!