Barbecue might be the beating heart of American cuisine. Although there are countless ways to barbecue, the result is almost always something tangy, tender, and truly patriotic. Barbecue as we know it originated on the East Coast with the Arawak indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida, but the tradition quickly seasoned the meat of American culture. According to Robert Moss, author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, politicians of the 1800’s used large barbecues as a way of uniting people during election campaigns, and from there it took off becoming America’s first version of fast food – even McDonalds started out selling barbecue. But, like any American tradition, each region of the U.S. celebrates its own signature style of barbecue.
Dry Rub or Marinade?
The first question you might ask yourself when planning a big cookout is whether to do a dry rub or a marinade, and they each have their own advantages. A dry rub consists of a spice blend usually including brown sugar, salt, paprika, and cumin. For maximum flavor, you should apply a rub to the outside of your protein roughly an hour before the cooking process. A good dry rub adds texture and a variety of flavors from sweet and tangy to spicy and savory.
Rubs work well on all sorts of smoked and grilled foods from brisket and ribs to fish and veggies, but it’s important to look at the flavor profiles to find which rub is best for you and your protein. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re probably looking for something with brown sugar, or if you want some kick, find something with cayenne or red pepper. Bad Byron’s Butt Rub Barbecue Seasoning is one of the most versatile rubs out there. It’s used by professional chefs across the country to give their food a robust, rich flavor.
A marinade is similar to a rub since it mostly consists of spices, but a marinade incorporates an acidic liquid like vinegar, citrus, or wine. Marinades serve the dual-purpose of tenderizing the meat and imbuing it with sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. This tenderness comes at a cost, however. Substantial meats like brisket, ribs, and steak should sit marinate between 12-24 hours, but seafood and veggies only take about an hour or so.
And don’t throw out your leftover marinade when you’re done, because you can reduce it in a pan for the perfect sauce or use it to baste your food throughout the cooking process and keep your barbecue perfectly moist. No matter how you prepare your barbecue, Bill’s Best Original BBQ sauce is a great addition to any meat. This crowd-pleasing certified organic, and high-fructose-free original family recipe delivers sweet and tangy flavor with just enough heat to keep you coming back for seconds.
In the US, the way you barbecue is a matter of local pride, and you don’t need to look much further than the Carolina’s to see the variety of American barbecue. eastern Carolina style barbecue is considered the oldest and mother of all barbecues. It relies heavily on vinegar like apple cider vinegar and spices like cayenne, black pepper, red pepper, and hot sauce (Texas Pete’s) to give it a tangy, spicy flavor. The invention of Heinz Tomato Ketchup revolutionized barbecue in the US, and it created a barbecue rift between eastern and western Carolina. The western part of the state developed a sweeter, red sauce using vinegar, ketchup and other spices. This style of barbecue is now known as the “Piedmont-style” or the “Lexington Dip.” And down in South Carolina, pitmasters are whipping up a zingy, mustard-based sauce so rich it’s called “Carolina Gold.”
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that certainly might be the case with their barbecue. In Texas, beef brisket is king, and it’s common to slather brisket in a “mop sauce,” earning its name because it’s actually applied with a mop. This beef-stock, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and garlic sauce is actually more of a glaze that keeps the meat moist and soaks in the flavor during the smoking process, according to The Barbecue Bible author Steven Raichlen. But not every Texan barbecues the same way. A traditional Central Texas dry rub is focused on creating a sweet, peppery crust. South Texas uses molasses to lock in moisture, and West Texas barbecues their meat right over an open mesquite flame.
Kansas City Vs. Memphis
When you think of the sweet, viscous barbecue sauce common to chain-restaurants and kitchens across the country, you are probably thinking of Kansas City sauce. This sugary, tangy sauce is America’s baseline for barbecue flavor, and it’s used to add sweet spice to everything from baby back ribs to roasted cauliflower. Ketchup and molasses give it the syrupy, heavy texture and liquid smoke adds the flavor of glowing coals. Kansas City sauce often contains Worcestershire, brown sugar, vinegar, and even soy sauce, so it’s packed with plenty of savory and sweet flavor. While similar to Kansas City barbecue, Memphis barbecue tends to go lighter on their sauce and use less pepper, letting the slow-roasted meat speak for itself.
The anomaly in American barbecue sauces is Alabama’s white sauce. Invented by northern Alabama barbecue legend, Bob Gibson, Alabama white sauce is a thick, creamy concoction with mayonnaise, vinegar, and black pepper. Throw this sauce on some smoked chicken or a pulled-pork sandwich, and you’ll understand why it has a special place in the hearts of many pitmasters.
Although you probably don’t think of the West Coast when you think of barbecue, California has a unique style of barbecuing that emphasizes sweet and spicy sauces and rubs. They smoke cherry and applewood to impart unique fruity flavors in their meat, poultry, and fresh seafood. And BBQ chefs like Slab’s Burt Bakman and Bludso’s Kevin Bludso – who learned to “barbeque low and slow” from his granny, incorporate Texas traditions into their California barbeque creating a blended mix that keeps Southern Californians lining up for more.
And, while barbecue flavors taste different across the country, American’s are united by a common passion for the deep, rich, mouth-watering slow-cooked barbeque recipes they grew up on as much as for the ones they’ll try next.