A rundown of the major styles of BBQ and regional sauces and what they are good for.
I love being asked what my style of BBQ is, for a couple reasons. I find it an opportunity to gauge how much that person really understands styles, and why it matters (or doesn’t).
To be candid, if I had to pick a style that most matched my cooking, it is likely Carolina. First I love the pig. Second, I like vinegar in my sauces. So between the two, it naturally lands me in the style of “Carolina BBQ.” That said, I think it’s important to express local in any style. Local meat, local flavor and local wood.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, there really isn’t a regional style as rooted as say Texas, Memphis or the Carolina’s (just Google it and you’ll see a lot of random hits). However, using the approach of local, I do love a few aspects of being in the PAC NW that makes me think there really is an emerging style, if not as mature as other parts of the country. But maybe first a little background, to give you a base to understand each regional style. And because I love geeking out on this stuff. This is all at a high level as even within the regions you will find different approaches.
Different Styles of BBQ and Sauces
Carolina Style(s) BBQ
Rooted in pork, the Carolina BBQ is all about ribs, pork butts and whole hog. What I love about the Carolina style is how much regional variation there is. From clear vinegar based sauces, to the mustard sauce, it shows that even with a general style, there is so much that is fiercely local. Because I feel vinegar complements the flavor of pork and acts as a great acid for slow cooking, I’ve been drawn to this style since I started. The wood I see most often is some kind of fruit wood, making a nice sweet and balanced smoke flavor (versus campfire).
If you think Texas, you should be thinking cattle. So clearly beef is the protein and of course beef brisket is king. Brisket is a crazy piece of meat that I both love and hate. This is because great brisket is amazing, anything less than great is, well, not very good. I find that most Texas style joints focus on mesquite or post oak wood and a tomato based sauce (if using a sauce at all). Dry rubs can also be varied, but simple salt and pepper is common. As you get closer to the border of Mexico you may see other influences in the rub.
Memphis Style BBQ
When I think Memphis I think ribs. And when I think ribs I think of dry ribs and wet ribs. Dry ribs are just that, dry rub and oil on the rib and the flavor and tenderness cooked into the meat. The wet rib is doused in sauce before, during, and after the cooking process. Sauces, from what I have seen, are driven by flavor of molasses and tomato paste being reduced (with other ingredients) giving a rich dark texture.
Kansas City Style BBQ
Kansas City style for me starts with the sauce (remember this is my own opinion). Think ketchup meets brown sugar and molasses, plus flavor and then reduced. A much thicker and tomato base than the others IMO. Plus I find the meats to be more balanced between pork and the other animals. From burnt ends (Brisket) to chicken and ribs, I see a lot of variety but the sauces keep me grounded in the KC style of BBQ.
Pacific Northwest Style BBQ
(According to yours truly)
So like I said, there is not a whole lot of consensus on Pacific Northwest, but this is why I love being creative. We respect the regions where BBQ originated and combine that with the local favors of the Pacific Northwest. So first, the wood here is plentiful and it is typically cherry or apple. Throw in a little grape vine on top of that and you see a sweeter style smoke from fruit woods.
Next, we have a lot of lamb, pork, salmon and trout, and coincidentally I love cooking all of those above all else. Finally, for sauces I like to follow the seasons. So in the later spring and early summer we have berry’s everywhere.
I love to take a Carolina style vinegar sauce and meld it with a berry jam for either my sauce or glaze. Later in the year you get apples and pears, so reducing those down is such a great compliment for pork especially. So in the end, I love the variety and creativity that comes from living here and building upon such great styles of BBQ from other regions in the US. And is doesn’t stop in the US, internationally there are also other styles to keep an eye out for too.
Want Some BBQ Sauce Recipes?
- Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce
- Mustard Based BBQ Sauce
- Easy KC (Kansas City Style) BBQ Sauce
- Pinot Noir BBQ Sauce
- Spicy Mango Jalapeño BBQ Sauce (no sugar added)
- Cherry Chipotle BBQ Glaze (great for chicken)
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