Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina
Barbecue: An American Culinary Art Form
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Barbecue is served across the USA, with many delicious regional varieties to enjoy.
Nearly everyone you ask has a preference — some a near-religious fervor — for the type of barbecue they prefer.
Matching Style with Your Taste
Eat like a cowboy at a Chuck wagon dinner.
The basic definition — meat smoked slowly over fire — is generally accepted, but in areas of the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest (namely Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; North and South Carolina; and Texas), the type of meat and method of cooking sparks debate and competitions.
In many Southeast and Western states, barbecue is an art form. From saucy to dry-rubbed, there are plenty of varieties to discover!
In fact, a competitive barbecue circuit buzzes in these “barbecue capitals,” and some of the most successful teams have established popular restaurants, such as The BBQ Shack in Kansas City, Pecan Lodge in Dallas, Texas, and Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Seek out these places, ask a local for his or her personal favorite or let sensory cues guide you: a column of smoke, soot-stained walls and, oh — that delicious aroma.
Meats smoked to perfection
Visiting the Barbecue Capitals
In Kansas City, which straddles the states of Kansas and Missouri, barbecue means beef brisket smoked over fruit- or hardwood, and the “burnt ends” that remain once it’s sliced. (These are the outer pieces of skin that’s charred and made intensely flavorful by the cooking process.) You’ll also find plenty of pork in the form of ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches. While meat selections vary in Kansas City barbecue establishments, the sauce is typically a sweet, spicy, tangy blend of vinegar and tomato.
Texas barbecue tips a cowboy hat to the state’s ranching culture, emphasizing meat over sauce. By the time the meat reaches your plate, it has been slow-cooked over native wood until it falls off the bone. And it’s no surprise that Texas’ proximity to Mexico has long influenced food traditions here: Chopped or sliced beef brisket might share the menu with smoked beef sausage that’s been hand-stuffed with jalapeños and cheddar.
Throughout North and South Carolina, chefs traditionally prep their pork by slow-cooking it in pits lined with hardwoods like pecan and oak. Your region ultimately determines the sauce: You'll find your meal doused with a sweet tomato concoction in western North Carolina, peppery vinegar sauce in eastern North Carolina or a mustard-based sauce in South Carolina. Coleslaw may top the meat or sit beside it.
Pork is also the standard in Memphis, Tennessee, and although you can order platters of ribs (as everyone does at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, where the ribs are broiled over charcoal), you'll have to try a pork sandwich, available at any of the hundred or so barbecue establishments in town. Here, standout restaurants pile soft sandwich rolls high with pulled or chopped smoked pork, studded with bits of crispy outer skin (called bark), sweet tomato sauce and coleslaw.
Brisket with delicious side dishes
Find Delicious BBQ as You Travel the USA
- Explore the Southern Foodways Alliance Southern BBQ Trail to discover barbecue institutions across the South.
- Attend the World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City's Stockyards District (September and October) to enjoy barbecue from local vendors and watch 500 teams compete.
- Line up at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas, and rub elbows with pitmen delivering legendary brisket and sausage from the smoker.