As a rule I attempt to be unbiased in my writings on this blog. When I express a controversial opinion I try to balance it out with a contrasting opinion. The advice I give on serving comes solely from my experience, testing, and observation. Opinions just convolute the message and make it less applicable for the reader. Today however I do not think I can be objective. I was made fortunate through the grace of whatever power you believe controls this universe to have been born in Kansas City, the greatest Barbeque city on the planet.
Wherever you are from is no doubt a wonderful place too. I am sure you do many things as well or better than we do here in KC. Barbeque simply isn’t one of them. There are some regions that would dispute that though. In an effort to be fair, I will address their styles too. Each of the main barbeques regions has a different style that lead to a very unique taste. Knowing what style of barbeque you prefer will help you easily pick the restaurants serving that style.
Before we breakdown the regional styles of barbeque, a glossary of BBQ terms is probably in order:
Wet: Sauce is added to the meat as it is being cooked.
Dry: No sauce is added until after the meat is cooked.
Rub: A variety of herbs and seasonings rubbed on the meat prior to cooking.
Indirect Heat: Cooked in such a way that the flame does not actually touch the meat.
Smoking: A slow process by which wood is burned in an enclosed grill and the resulting heat and smoke are responsible for the cooking.
The difficulty in breaking down the styles by region is that most styles use a combination of these techniques. Each region is famous for a particular type of meat, but the preparation generally borrows from a number of different regions. In addition to the differences in meats, the flavor of sauces varies widely. What may pass as sauce in one region would be considered ketchup in a different region. Even the method by which the sauces are used varies widely. While no region is unique in any of these factors, the combination each employees produces a vide variety of outcomes.
Here are some basic descriptions of the four main barbeque styles:
Carolina Style: In Carolina, pork is king. They primarily focus on pork “butt” (actually the shoulder) rather than ribs. This is the home of the pulled pork sandwich. The barbeque is basted during cooking with a vinegar and spice blend that forms the base of the sauce. Carolinians often will cook the whole pig and blend the meats. Sauces vary by region, but are seasoned primarily by the vinegar and spice blend referred to before. South Carolina adds mustard to the blend. Eastern North Carolina will serve this vinegar blend as the sauce whereas Western North Carolina with thicken and sweeten it with ketchup.
Memphis Style: In Memphis, it is all about the ribs. Memphis style ribs are almost always baby back ribs as opposed to “St Louis Style Ribs” which indicate they are spare ribs. Memphis cooks their ribs over indirect heat with a tangy and sweet dry rub. Memphis style sauce is sweet and light. The sauce is usually served on the side and intended for dipping. The rub is sprinkled upon the dry ribs before serving.
Texas Style: Texas introduces an entirely different meat to the process: beef. This is the home of some of the tastiest beef brisket that side of KC. Texans smoke their meat using only a dry rub. It is rarely sauced or “mopped” during cooking. The sauce is tomato based, but tends to be spicier than other styles. Texas is also the home of the beef rib. This is the much larger and less meaty form of the pork ribs featured in other regions.
Now that I have discussed the other types, time to bring it back home to KC. Optional soundtrack provided by local legend Tech N9ne. Yeah, we write songs about our BBQ because it is that good.
Kansas City Style: It’s all about the smoke. Smoked meats of all sorts are what KC is known for. The key to great KC BBQ is slow cooking rubbed meat. The ribs are primarily pork, but some beef ribs are to be found. The unique feature of KC BBQ is the burnt ends. After slow smoking the edges of the pork butt or brisket become firm and flavorful. Once cut off and given away to guest in line, these are now a local culinary specialty. The sauce is tomato based and sweet. Most of the restaurants in town will offer a spicier version as well. The sauces are served in bottles on the table and are intended to be applied liberally. The list of legendary BBQ joints in town is known around the country. KC Masterpiece, Gates, Arthur Bryants, Jack Stack, and others are hot spots for tourists, but the locals know the best stuff comes from the back half of a gas station convenience store called Oklahoma Joes.
I’ve done my share of traveling. I have had pig off a spit on the beach in Charleston. Watch great local blues over a plate of ribs in Memphis. Tucked my shirt in for beef brisket in Texas. Each region has spots that are outstanding. None of them happen to be as good as a handful of my favorite BBQ joints in KC. I suppose what you are raised on is what always tastes right. Sure I have my opinion, but I will leave the comment section open for yours.