Barbecue in America is one of the most hotly debated food topics of contemporary times -- moreso than the viability of Cronuts, it's something that evokes strong feelings of pride, hunger, confusion, and annoyance with New York.
Over the years, the States have developed some loosely defined BBQ regions, which use similar cooking styles, meats, and sauces to achieve similar -- albeit wildly variant in quality -- results. You might have your favorite one, or you might not know where to even begin. So here's our primer on what you can expect when you're expecting... to stuff your face with BBQ'd meat across America.
What it is: This town's big on pork, whether it's in rib or pulled form, and usually uses a dry rub that includes garlic, paprika, and other spices. The meat's cooked in a big pit, and's typically served with a tangy, thin tomato-based sauce. How Marc Cohn still managed to sing that song about this city between bites of BBQ is truly remarkable.
Signature dish: Pulled pork
Some definitive purveyors: Rendezvous (Memphis), Germantown Commissary (Germantown), A&R BBQ (Memphis)
What it is: Divided between Lexington-style and Eastern-style, both camps agree that the meat (typically pork) should be brushed with a spice-and-vinegar mixture while cooking and served with a ketchup-based sauce. Eastern proponents use the entire pig when BBQing, and Lexington tends to use just the pork shoulder or ribs.
Signature dish: Pork shoulder or pork ribs
Some definitive purveyors: B's Barbecue (Greenville), Wilber's Barbecue (East Goldsboro), Lexington Barbecue (Lexington)
What it is: Pretty similar to the North Carolina style in terms of the meat used, except, in mid-state, the sauce is usually mustard-based, and includes brown sugar and vinegar.
Signature dish: Ham or pork butt
Some definitive purveyors: Scott's Bar-B-Que (Hemingway), RightOnQue (Charleston), Jackie Hite's Bar-B-Q (Leesville)
What it is: Kansas City goes for the gusto -- no meat is off-limits (owing to the city's status as a meatpacking hub), and it's all cooked super-slow and super-low, preferably over hickory wood. The sauce is most commonly a thick, sweet molasses-and-tomato concoction that sticks to ribs of both animal and man.
Signature dish: Burnt ends, the end of a cut of brisket that has a high fat content
Some definitive purveyors: Oklahoma Joe's (Kansas City), Gates Bar-B-Q (Multiple Locations), Arthur Bryant's Barbeque (Kansas City)
What it is: Highly influenced by Czech and German immigrants, Central Texas has a huge number of meat markets that serve heaping portions of brisket and ribs smoked over pecan or oak wood. Meat is king here, and sauce and sides are treated as secondary elements. Also, Kreuz Market popularized its sausage, which is considered the gold standard of sausage around the country. Sorry, Ron Jeremy.
Signature dish: Moist brisket
Some definitive purveyors: Franklin Barbecue (Austin), Kreuz Market (Lockhart), Louie Mueller BBQ (Taylor)
What it is: Composed of pretty much equal parts beef and pork, East Texas BBQ is chopped instead of sliced and served between two buns with a butt-ton of hot sauce. It's got more in common with other Southern BBQ styles than with Central Texas.
Signature dish: Chopped brisket sandwich
Some definitive purveyors: Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Que (Tyler), Pat Gee's (Tyler), Carter's Bar-B-Que (Longview)
What it is: A kind of between-the-extremes barbecue style influenced by both Texas and Carolina, Alabama tends to skew toward meaty sandwiches filled with pulled pork (or chicken) and cole slaw. The one true emblem of this style is the white sauce, a mayonnaise-and-vinegar mixture that can be found all over the state, and probably all over everyone's faces, too.
Signature dish: Pulled pork sandwich with white sauce
Some definitive purveyors: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur), Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q (Bessemer), The Brick Pit (Mobile)