Carolina barbecue arrived in the Carolinas in the 17th century with Caribbean slaves. The island tradition of slow roasting pork over fire pits made good sense on Southern plantations, where wild hogs were prevalent. Carolina barbecue is still a whole hog affair resulting in what’s called “pulled pork”—tender meat that’s shredded away from the bone instead of carved. Sauces vary from the thin, pepper vinegar style of coastal regions to thicker tomato-based varieties of the Appalachians. Of course, any Carolina BBQ joint will offer some version of the signature “Carolina Gold” sauce—a sweet and tangy blend of mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, and spices.
Memphis barbecue evolved from the Carolina style to focus on what some consider the best portion of pig: the ribs. Memphis ribs can be prepared “wet” or “dry,” meaning they’re either basted with a thick tomato and molasses sauce before and after roasting, or they’re rubbed down with spices and left to smoke unslathered. The rest of the pig is served chopped on a bun and garnished with sticky sauce, pickles, and coleslaw. Memphians so love their unique barbecue blend that they’ll put it on anything—pizzas, nachos, and even burgers.
Believe it or not, Texas barbecue has European roots. The meat-smoking tradition reached the Longhorn State via German and Czech settlers who learned in their home countries how to smoke leftover meat to keep it from spoiling. As the cattle trade grew, these leftovers became the specialty of many Central Texas meat markets. In western parts of the state, cowboys adapted the traditional smoking style for campfire convenience, cooking goat, mutton, and beef directly over heat from mesquite fires. Of course, the secret to Texas barbecue isn’t in a sauce, style, or technique—it’s all about the meat.
Kansas City BBQ
Kansas City barbecue boasts a wide variety of meats, sauces, and dry rubs, all brought to the city by settlers heading west. The pit-roasting technique came from African Americans fleeing Jim Crow politics in the postbellum South; the use of beef came from Texas cattle ranchers moving north; and the thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce came from Southern travelers who favored Memphis cuisine. As a result, Kansas City barbecue joints became a microcosm of Kansas City itself, places where the rules of the East dissipated and all people of all classes, colors, and creeds were served equal portions from the same spit.
In California, the first barbecue pits were built by Native Americans long before the arrival of Spanish and American immigrants. When ranchers arrived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they adopted the practice for cooking meat that remained after cattle hides and tallow had been stripped for use and export. Santa Maria-style barbecue centers around beef tri-tip, seasoned only with black pepper, salt, and garlic salt, that is cooked over coals of native coast live oak. The meat is traditionally served with pico de gallo and pinquitos, a small pink bean native to the Santa Maria Valley.