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Regional Styles of BBQ

regional styles of bbq

When you barbecue, you’re cooking meat with indirect heat, usually low and slow, and getting some delicious results. You may not stop to wonder about the different styles of BBQ out there while you’re diving into a plate of ribs or setting up your smoker, but it’s worth exploring for any BBQ aficionado.

Discover the regional styles of BBQ, and you can find new cooking methods and mouthwatering flavors that you may not have experienced in other forms of barbecue. Open your mind — and your grill — to the possibilities out there to find the best BBQ style in America, or at least what you think is the best.

The History of American BBQ

We think of barbecue as an American tradition as iconic as apple pie, but you may not know how it all began. The history of BBQ in America spurred what would eventually branch off into regional styles of BBQ, so it’s important to know how American barbecue got its start:

  • Spanish conquistadors encountered a style of cooking on the island Hispaniola that they called barbacoa.
  • The indigenous people of Hispaniola would cook meat on an indirect flame and use green wood to prevent anything from burning.
  • The conquistadors traveled north and brought the indirect cooking method of barbacoa with them. Eventually, it became known as barbecue or barbeque.
  • In present-day Mississippi, the Chicksaw tribe cooked with the barbacoa method, which then made its way as far north as Virginia.
  • British colonists later brought the idea of basting meat with sauce, which represents vinegar-based sauces you’ll see in American regions.
  • French and German immigrants influenced mustard-based barbecue sauces, which again you’ll see in certain American regions.

Many of the regional styles of BBQ you’ll see below began based on what was available in the area, such as beef in Texas barbecue or pork in the Carolinas. From there, access expanded to different ingredients and technology changed cooking methods, but the traditions remained.

carolina style bbq

Carolina Style BBQ

North and South Carolina are home to several of America’s oldest and most revered regional barbecue styles. Given the split of two states, you’ll find a few subsets of Carolina barbecue, but they all use pork. The differences come in how they prepare it, what parts of the pig they use and how they serve it. Choose any style, and you’re sure to end up with something delicious on your plate.

Eastern North Carolina Style BBQ

From the pine forests of eastern North Carolina comes this old-school BBQ style, which uses the entirety of a smoked hog served with hush puppies and coleslaw (considered by many to be the quintessential BBQ sides). The smoked meat gets a treatment with a thin sauce that consists of vinegar and some form of heat. Cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes are popular, and apple cider vinegar can give this acidic sauce a sweeter twist. That heat and acidity cut through fatty cuts of pork to create a perfect balance.

You’ll also find pork shoulder specifically in Eastern Carolina preparations among the whole hog style of cooking. To create fall-apart, mouthwatering pulled pork shoulder, this style of BBQ:

  • Seasons with a dry rub
  • Smokes for anywhere between eight and 12 hours
  • Gives the same sauce and serve treatment as above

This preparation and the preparation of an entire hog are similar to the other Carolina styles of BBQ, but don’t be mistaken — there are differences that some pitmasters will probably consider major.

South Carolina BBQ

In South Carolina, they barbecue an entire pig, as well, with a difference. First, they smoke the hog for up to 20 hours, developing rich flavors and a fall-apart texture. After shredding the meat, they add something that is unique to South Carolina BBQ — a mustard sauce.

If you’ve ever made your own BBQ sauce or read the ingredients on a typical bottle, odds are ketchup is a main ingredient. Not in South Carolina sauces, though. They toss shredded meat from the smoked hog in a sauce of mustard and vinegar for serving it up on a bun. The result is a unique color and flavor that may make you swap from the ketchup-based concoctions you used to use. If you want to try this South Carolina specialty, check out our Gold N Bold sauce with a tangy, mustard base.

Add Some BBQ Flavor

Lexington Style BBQ

Lexington style BBQ is a part of Carolina BBQ, with a special focus. The area of Lexington, located in central-western North Carolina and known as the barbecue capital of the world, focuses on:

  • Pork shoulder
  • Smoked pork ribs

You won’t be as likely to find a whole hog barbecuing when you’re in search of Lexington style BBQ. While barbecue fans will undoubtedly dig into some pork ribs, a pulled pork sandwich is iconic in this part of the state. In contrast to South Carolina, Lexington style BBQ uses ketchup as their sauce base and exclusively pork shoulder for the meat. This style diverges, this time from Eastern Carolina style, and serves pork shoulder on a bun instead of with hush puppies and coleslaw.

Texas Style BBQ

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the list of BBQ styles in the state is no exception. In fact, Texas offers even more regional styles than the Carolinas do, but instead of focusing on pork, beef is the star of the show. Remember your history of BBQ in America, and it will only make sense that a state with so much land to cultivate cattle would lean toward beef in barbecuing. 

Experience the iconic flavors for yourself with a visit to one of the many BBQ competitions and events that happen throughout Texas like BBQ Austin, the TTHA Bucks and BBQ Cookoff in San Antonio and plenty more depending on what style you want to sample.

texas style bbq

Central Texas Style BBQ

Central Texas is known, hands down, for brisket. The region keeps it simple with brisket that is:

  • Treated with a dry rub, typically with just salt and pepper
  • Smoked with pecan or oak wood pellets
  • Cooked and served with little to no sauce
  • Served sliced with sides like white bread, potato salad, pickles and pinto beans

Along with brisket, Central Texas smokes and grills beef in a pork casing with cayenne pepper to make hot gut sausages. Go after that Central Texas favorite if you can take the heat, but if you prefer meat-forward flavors, the brisket is for you. If you want to recreate Central Texas brisket, check out our guide on how to trim the cut of meat for the best results.

East Texas Style BBQ

Similar to Carolina BBQ, East Texas chops up smoked meat like beef or pork. The sauce is tomato-based and sweet, and everything goes on a bun, again similar to Carolina style. East Texas smokes meats often over hickory wood until it is fall-off-the-bone delicious. You can also find pork ribs if that’s your jam. East Texas style BBQ is a great option for those who can’t decide between beef and pork or anyone who wants to experience different types of BBQ in one place.

West Texas Style BBQ

Head to a West Texas BBQ joint, and you’ll most likely find mouth-watering brisket with a dry rub. You can also find hearty beef ribs, also prepped with a dry rub, but no matter the cut you choose, it’ll probably be smoked over mesquite wood. That flavor brings out iconic tastes in what is often called “cowboy barbecue.”

South Texas Style BBQ

South Texas style BBQ takes it back to historical methods, thanks to its close location to Mexico. The traditional Mexican-style barbecue preparation in this region involves a cow’s head that’s wrapped in agave leaves. That is then cooked slowly in a pit of hot coals for more of a direct heat method, and the meat gets served up in tacos. Today, things are a bit different, but no matter where the meat comes from, it’ll likely be:

  • Prepared or served with thick sauces
  • Called barbacoa
  • Made in a smoker or oven

If you are interested in the history of BBQ in America, you should take a visit to South Texas to see how they barbecue there or try it out in your backyard with your favorite beef recipe and some changes to the sauce.

memphis style bbq characteristics

Memphis Style BBQ

Like Carolina style, Memphis barbecue puts an emphasis on pork. You can find pork shoulder in this region’s barbecue as you can with others, but in Memphis it’s typically served dry. Sometimes, you’ll get a sauce and more spices on the side to jazz up your pulled pork sandwich, but if you want to get adventurous and authentic, eat pork the way they do in Memphis — on just about everything. You can find pulled pork nachos, pizza and other creative combos that bring the smoky, savory flavor of BBQ pork to other dishes.

While that all sounds delicious, you’ll want to save room for ribs if you’re in the mood for Memphis style BBQ. It’s most well-known for its ribs that can have two different treatments, and you’ll want to try both.

Memphis Style BBQ Wet Ribs

Pitmasters mop a sauce with a vinegar and tomato base throughout the entire cooking process. The wet ribs get the sauce before and while they cook and are even finished off with some sauce before serving. You’re going to want some extra napkins while digging into these delicious ribs!

Memphis Style BBQ Dry Ribs

For what many consider the most authentic version of Memphis style BBQ, go with a dry rub and no sauce. You might think that your ribs come out dry without a sauce, but the only thing dry about Memphis BBQ ribs is the rub. If you choose cuts of meat with enough fat and grill them low and slow, you’ll have moist and mouth watering ribs with a powerful flavor. That flavor comes from spices and flavoring in the dry rub, such as:

  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Sugar
  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper

If you want to create your own Memphis ribs, check out our baby back ribs recipe and serve them dry instead of with a sauce.

barbeque georgia style bbq

Georgia Style BBQ

You may need to go on the hunt for Georgia style BBQ if you’re visiting the state. Some believe that Georgia doesn’t have its own distinct barbecue style, but you just need to step outside Atlanta to find it. The city takes inspiration from barbecue all over the country, but outside of the city you’ll find some authentic Georgia BBQ.

Ironically, one of the most quintessential aspects of Georgia barbecue originated in Virginia. Brunswick stew may come from another state, but Georgia has adopted it as its own. The Peach State’s creation of this stew is a bit different from preparations that just use leftover BBQ, though:

  • They simmer the stew for hours to develop the texture and rich flavors.
  • It includes tomato, corn and other vegetables.
  • Those vegetables break down into a consistent overall texture that is hearty and thick.

Pair Brunswick stew with a sandwich of chopped pork shoulder that’s been smoked over oak or hickory wood. The sandwiches get a tomato-based sauce, but it’ll change in flavor and consistency depending on where you are in the state. Georgia style BBQ is a testament to how barbecue can evolve over time and state lines — or even within them. Plan a road trip all over the Peach State to see how BBQ can differ or check out the Rhythm & Ribs BBQ Festival and other events to taste the differences.

Other Regional Styles of BBQ

There are plenty more regions throughout the country that we can’t ignore. Some different styles of BBQ that are just as iconic as the ones above include:

  • Kansas City: While other styles of barbecue are known for specializing in one or two types of meat, Kansas City barbecue uses pork, beef, chicken, lamb and more. Ketchup, molasses and brown sugar create the quintessential Kansas City sauce that’s thick, tangy and sweet. Make some of our smoked baked beans to serve on the side (while making sure to save those brisket burnt ends), and you’ve got a Kansas City-style BBQ meal.
  • St. Louis: This city’s BBQ brings the focus back to pork with pork steak. Pitmasters thinly slice pork shoulder for this dish, adding a sauce that’s similar to Kansas City’s but thinned with vinegar. St. Louis makes its barbecue unique with the addition of slow-cooked pork snouts, something any adventurous eater should try.
  • Alabama: If you liked the mustard-based sauce of South Carolina, you might find Alabama’s unique sauce interesting too. Instead of ketchup, Alabama BBQ uses a creamy, mayonnaise-based white sauce that they serve over pulled pork or smoked chicken sandwiches.
  • Kentucky: If barbecued sheep sounds appealing, check out mutton from Kentucky. It’s smoked with hickory and served chopped on sandwiches with a Worcestershire-based sauce for a dark and tangy kick.

Travel around the BBQ world without leaving your backyard by recreating any of the dishes above that made your mouth water. Look through our recipes to make meals from what you think is the best BBQ region.

different regional styles of bbq on a grilla grill

Create Different Styles of BBQ With Grilla Grills

Replicate BBQ styles from around America with help from us at Grilla Grills. Whether you’re in the mood for Texas style brisket, Memphis ribs or Carolina pork shoulder, you need a high-quality smoker to recreate the quintessential BBQ flavors. 

At Grilla Grills, our grills serve up the quality you need at a value you may not expect. Smoking up your favorite regional BBQ style is as easy as grilling cookout favorites like burgers and hot dogs. Steaks and seafood? A Grilla Grill makes it astonishingly simple to get them just right.

Browse our grill options today to find what will help you take a road trip through different styles of BBQ all in your backyard. Stock up on fuel with flavors that will help you replicate the iconic regional tastes we’ve described above, and check out our other cool stuff. Join the Grilla Grills family, and you’ll be serving up the best BBQ styles in America without leaving home!

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