Regional BBQ Styles in the US

August 04, 2020 8 min read

The diversity in the United States can be seen through the country’s barbecue. With each region having its own unique and preferred methods of barbecue, smoked and grilled meats have been deeply ingrained into the American BBQ culture. This traditional cooking method dates back generations, and with the introduction of new cooking tools and methods, cooking BBQ has never been more easy and convenient.

Whether a beginner with the grill or a professional grill master, The MeatStick was made to make your job easier. Spending more time with friends and family while being able to monitor your cook allows you to not only achieve a perfect cook every time but to also be able to spend more time with your friends and family while doing so.

Texas BBQ Style

One of the most famous things about Texas is its BBQ. With a long history dating back to the 19th century, smoked meats that were originally sold by German and Czech settlers made its way into the heart of Texans, who developed their own unique spin on this BBQ. There are four different kinds:

  • East Texas-style: Slow & Low is the motto. Usually, the meat is cooked until it can be drawn softly apart from the bone. Hickory wood alongside a sweet, tomato-based sauce is granting this BBQ its characteristic flavor.
  • Central Texas-style: Salt and pepper are the main ingredients of the rub used in this BBQ style. Central Texans don’t need sauce but cook their meats over indirect heat from pecan wood, oak, or mesquite adding a hint of sweetness through it.
  • West Texas-style: In West Texas, it's more popular to grill instead of smoking therefore mesquite wood ensures a strong and characteristic flavor.
  • South Texas-style: Covered in a thick molasses-like sauce, the meat-liquids inside will keep it fresh and tender.

Even with all these different BBQ styles, the tender smoked brisket is by far an all-time-favorite on Texas grills. With a rich beef flavor and unmatched tender texture, it is no wonder why this is one of the most popular BBQs in Texas.

Texas BBQ Style

Texas BBQ Sauce: Tomato, Beef, and Co.

Although sauces are not the main component in traditional Texas BBQ, sauces can easily elevate the flavor of any BBQ.

With a combination of sweet honey and tart vinegar, this all-round sauce can serve as a dip or a rub for all your meats. It combines the sweetness of honey, the acidic taste of ketchup and vinegar, and mustard with butter to produce a delicious and thick sauce that pairs especially well with pork ribs or sausages.

Memphis BBQ Style

BBQ in Memphis is centered mostly on pork and is one of the four predominant BBQ variations in the US. Smoked over Hickory hardwood, the pork develops a sweet and smoky flavor thanks to Hickory hardwood. Hickory hardwood is especially popular with pork, adding a depth of flavor only achieved through Hickory hardwood and its pungent smoke.

There are two methods that work best depending on the cut of meat:

  • Dry”: This means that the meat is rubbed with salt, pepper, and a spice-mix before cooking and is usually served without sauce.
    or
  • Wet”: This means that the meat is rubbed with sauce before, during, and after cooking, covering it in a caramelized crust multiple times.

Memphis holds a long tradition of BBQ, making it one of the most popular and renowned places for BBQ. In fact, over 100,000 BBQ enthusiasts flock to Memphis for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, Memphis holds the Guinness World record for hosting the world’s biggest pork BBQ contest. From smoked ribs to smoked sausages, Memphis is definitely one of America’s central hubs for all things BBQ in the United States.

Memphis BBQ Sauce: Tangy and Sweet

With ketchup as its base, Memphis BBQ sauce combines both tangy and sweet with the addition of mustard, cayenne, vinegar, and brown sugar to make a sauce that is both thick and light to satisfy your tastebuds. Tangy, tart, and with a hint of sweetness, this flavor profile best describes the most popular BBQ sauce in Memphis.

California (Santa Maria) BBQ Style

An all-time-favorite in the state of California just might be the Santa Maria Style of BBQ, located on the central coast of California. With roots dating back to the 19th century, the style of BBQ along with the beef tri-tip is definitely a state favorite.

Seasoned with black pepper, salt, and garlic, the meat is then grilled over a native coast live oak that brings out a special flavor unique to Santa Maria-style BBQ. The meat is then usually served with a side of fresh salsa, green salad, grilled French bread, or pinquito beans.

California Style BBQ

California (Santa Maria) BBQ Sauce: Dry Rub no Sauce

Santa Maria-style BBQ usually does not include a sauce because it overlaps with the natural flavors of the meat. The salsa that is usually served on the side works as a delicious substitute for the sauce.

A wonderful way to add depth to brisket is by using a Santa Maria-style Dry Rub that consists of black pepper, garlic -and onion powder, brown sugar, and a generous amount of oregano. Cook the meat over low heat, will prevent the different spices from burning, and allow the rub to develop into a unique and supreme tasting firework for your taste buds.

Carolina BBQ Style

Much like Memphis, Carolina loves pork. Pulled, shredded, or sliced, you name it, Carolina has it. With so many different styles of BBQ in the state, the perfect BBQ is often open to interpretation.

For example, The northern part of Carolina is divided between two methods that differ in pork preparation. However, all of them use either Hickory or Oak for their grilling sessions:

  • Eastern North Carolina: Is known for its “whole hog”, barbecuing a whole pig and cutting it into pieces afterward. Before and after the pork gets rubbed with a thin sauce which we will take a closer look later.
  • Western North Carolina: In this area, people mainly use pork shoulders.
    This dark meat also gets rubbed with the vinegar sauce and is served at big BBQ events such as the Lexington Barbecue Festival.

The south of Carolina is characterized by its popular sauce which is also called “Carolina Gold”.

Carolina BBQ Sauce: Rich and Thick

Northern Carolina enjoys a vinegar-based sauce, while the South enjoys a more versatile apple cider vinegar-based sauce with yellow mustard. This sauce goes well with shredded, pulled, or chopped pork.

Chicago BBQ Style

One of the most unique BBQ cultures in the U.S. can be found in Chicago. With its own unique BBQ philosophy and BBQ style, Chicago’s BBQ style is unlike any other due to its inspiration from African, Native American, and European style BBQ. However, one thing that Chicago BBQ is known for are ribs. Dry rubbed and smoked over red oak, Chicago is known for flavor-packed ribs smoked for around three hours and served with french fries and bread.

Chicago BBQ Sauce: Funky and Spicy

This unconventional but very tasty Chicago style sauce combines sweet and tangy elements to satisfy your taste buds. Often used in small joints across Chicago, this sauce is a Chicago favorite and one you should definitely give a shot.

St. Louis BBQ Style

In St. Louis, the more sauce, the better. BBQ from St. Louis means dipping meat throughout the entire cooking process, from marinating, cooking, and right up to the point of eating! This can explain why St. Louis consumes more BBQ-Sauce than any other city in the US.

BBQ in St. Louis is so much more than BBQ sauce. Their specialty includes special rectangle-shaped spare ribs that are grilled instead of smoked to cook the ribs in a shorter time. This is then served with a St. Louis special sauce. When it comes to wood types, pitmasters in St. Louis love using Hickory, Apple, and Cherry to achieve a more sweet taste with their BBQ.

St. Louis Style BBQ

St. Louis BBQ Sauce: The Cousin of Kansas City

Sauce in St. Louis consists mostly of a ketchup base underlined by sugar, apple vinegar, and yellow mustard. These ingredients put together to form a more dense sauce that is perfect for grilling on the grill, forming a crust that is slightly sweet and savory. With dense sauces and slightly sweet flavors, St. Louis BBQ is definitely a staple in American BBQ. This St. Louis BBQ sauce is one to try.

Alabama BBQ Style

The Southern BBQ belt consists of Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. These states have their own unique BBQ culture inspired from all regions of the world. In Alabama, smoking pork with hickory, oak, or pecan wood would be a usual BBQ style in the state. Pork can be found as a pulled version served in a bun, combined with pickled cucumber or coleslaw. Another state special includes whole smoked chicken covered in BBQ sauce unique to Alabama.

Alabama BBQ Sauce: White Sauce

A special type of BBQ Sauce found in Alabama is an Alabama White Sauce with a mayonnaise base. This rich and creamy sauce pairs well with grilled chicken, and is a staple in Alabama BBQ cuisine.

Georgia BBQ Style

Outside of Atlanta, you will find the true Georgian BBQ which is not only known for its broad range of meats but also for its unique side dishes and tasty sauces. Georgia loves pork but you will also find places that offer chicken or other poultry.

A popular addition to Georgia style BBQ is Brunswick Stew. Vegetables and meat simmered for hours and finished with tomato and corn, this sticky, rich, and thick soup is a state favorite. Brunswick Stew is one of the tastiest traditional BBQ sides out there and is synonymous with Georgia style BBQ.

On Georgian BBQs, you will encounter the usage of two wood types in combination. Oak and Hickory have a long history of use and are one of the compounds of Georgia's BBQ signature.

Georgia BBQ Sauce: Mustard Sensation

Mustard is Georgia's favorite. You can see this by looking at their BBQ sauces. Usually, they are based on mustard and depending on whether you're in the North or South, you will find sauces that are either sweet, spicy, or aromatic. This Georgian BBQ sauce is definitely one to try at home.

Kentucky BBQ Style

People in Kentucky love to BBQ lamb or mutton. This kind of meat has a unique and distinct flavor popular in Kentucky, along with pork. Every event that features BBQ will contain lamb, mutton, or pork, and is served with a signature Kentucky BBQ sauce. The main wood type used at BBQ here is hickory, great for long smoking sessions, and adds a unique flavor to the smoked meats.

Kentucky BBQ Sauce: Worcestershire at its finest

Kentucky's BBQ sauce is based on Worcestershire sauce, making it a distinctive but also very tasty and tangy experience. The sweetness of the brown sugar matches perfectly with the acid of the vinegar and the spices of pepper and garlic, perfect with mutton, lamb, or pork.

Kansas City BBQ Style

Kansas City barbecue is characterized by its use of a wide variety of meats: pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, sausage, and sometimes even fish. Kansas City barbecue is rubbed with spices, slow-smoked over a variety of woods, and served with a thick barbecue sauce, a very important component to Kansas City BBQ. You can easily find restaurants in Kansas with sweet, spicy, and tangy flavor profiles, but the staple sauce tends to be sweet from molasses.

Kansas City BBQ Sauce: Loaded with Molasses

Kansas City BBQ sauce combines with sweet and spicy flavor profiles to satisfy your taste buds. Easy to prepare and able to be stored for up to 2 weeks, this recipe will provide instructions on how to create this molasses-based sauce.

The MeatStick: Your Best Helper When BBQing

Although the BBQ styles and methods across the United States are different, the love for barbecue is the same. BBQ is a way to celebrate and come together, no matter what barbecue sauces or dry rubs are preferred. From the barbecue sauces of St. Louis to the California Santa Maria dry rub, these different methods of BBQ are what make the BBQ styles of the United States so special. Here at The MeatStick, we share a common appreciation and love for all types of BBQ, and are always on the lookout for the best barbecue! The MeatStick was made with an idea in mind- to be able to monitor your cook through your mobile device and achieve a perfect cook every time while being able to spend more time with friends and family during your cook. Convenient, compact, and easy to use, The MeatStick is ready for any kind of BBQ style.


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