We Like Excuses To Eat: May is National Barbecue Month

ncbarbecueThe month for honoring mothers, recognizing college graduates and remembering fallen service men and women is drawing to a close. While these occasions – along with blooming flowers and blue skies – take the spotlight in May, we shouldn’t forget the month long celebration for National Barbecue Month!

Last year we told you the guidelines for North Carolina barbecue, as set forth by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, authors of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue. This got us thinking: while we have versions of barbecue, what constitutes barbecue for the rest of the United States?
Turns out, there are four styles of barbecue: Memphis and Carolina, both pork-based, and Kansas City and Texas, which use beef.

For Carolina barbecue, there are three variations that expand on the basic pork flavored with spices and vinegar. North Carolina hosts the friendly rivalry between Eastern and Western barbecue. In the east, the entire pig is cooked, with all the parts chopped, mixed together and seasoned with the traditional spice and vinegar mixture. Barbecue from Western North Carolina – also known as Lexington barbecue – comes from the pig’s shoulder and includes a tomato-based sauce. South Carolina barbecue is accompanied with a sweet and tangy yellow sauce based from mustard and brown sugar.

We know, this is a lot to take in. The good news is, the rest of the regions aren’t nearly as complicated as the ‘cue-loving Carolinas.

Kansas City barbecue is flavored with a thick, sweet sauce. You might recognize this sauce through its widely available version, KC Masterpiece.

In Memphis, slow-cooked pork ribs are served either wet or dry. Dry ribs are smothered with a spice rub. Wet ribs are cooked with a tomato sauce similar to what is found in the Carolinas.

Texas barbecue is divided in four regions: East, West, Central and South. East Texas serves chopped barbecue, which can be pork or beef. Central Texas barbecue is typically sliced beef brisket. In West Texas, the beef is slow cooked and sauce added at the end rather than during the cooking process. South Texas barbecue takes inspiration from the Mexican border.

Those are merely the major barbecue styles! Every region has its version of slow-cooked meat. As much as this may have answered questions about barbecue throughout the nation, we think the best way to learn about this culinary delight is with a hands-on approach! Napkins and sweet tea, of course, are recommended.

If you’re in the Triangle this weekend, the Got To Be NC Festival is running through Sunday, May 23 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. With a food and wine exposition and our two favorite words (“Free Admission”), this festival might be the perfect way to celebrate National Barbecue Month, North Carolina style!


bbq photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

For additional reading on food from the South, check out these books: