The Other, Other Southern Religion

Baptist, Methodist, BBQ, and football. If you were to ask most people in the southern US about the most common religions (not denominations, because then you start getting ACC, SEC, and those tossed in) practiced in the region, those would probably be the top four. (Outside of Louisiana. They’re . . . different.) Bar-b-que, BBQ, bar-be-que, however you spell it, it involves meat, heat, and sauce. Bar-b-que is not smoked meat, although there is a lot of overlap. Or perhaps smoked meat is not bbq.

For those not familiar with the food of the gods, BBQ is beef or pork (or very rarely chicken) cooked over slow heat, with or without wood smoke, and treated with a variety or rubs or sauce or marinade or yes. How it is made, with which meat, varies from place to place. There are roughly four major types of bbq – Carolina, deep south, Texas, and Kansas City (MO). Or vinegar, mustard, tomato, and sweet tomato sauces. Wood for smoking also varies depending on regional availability.

There is also an Alabama “white” bbq that comes from a very small region of that state, and is used on chicken. Most people have never heard of it, and consider it something other than bbq. I’ve also heard it credited to Kentucky.

Smoked meat, if done properly, is not served with any bbq sauce. At least not in public. What you do in the privacy of your own home is your business. The emphasis is on the flavor and texture of the meat. There are often pre-smoking rubs with all sorts of spices and brown sugar in them. The meat is then exposed to wood smoke and low heat for 6-12 hours or longer, depending on how much meat and what cuts are being used. The result is flavorful, tender, and rich.

So, the sauce varies in proportion of vinegar, mustard and tomato. The farther east you are, the more vinegar and mustard sauces you find, hickory for the smoking wood, and more pork. Pigs were far more common in the east. Vinegar cuts the fat, tenderizes the meat, and keeps well. Eastern sauces also include more mustard in the mustard-vinegar-tomato base, and are not as sweet. Some places will use a more vinegar sauce for the first treatment and as a mop during cooking, and serve the meat with a more mustardy sauce. To me, eastern sauces are “sharper” than Texas and KC sauces.

The farther west one travels, the more beef one encounters, and the more tomato in the sauce. Texas sauces tend to start with tomato sauce or catsup, then add some mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. I like a tiny pinch of chipotle pepper, but I’m odd. For smoking meat, mesquite, pecan, and other regional woods dominate. Mesquite burns very hot, and has to be handled carefully. Put it at the far end of your smoke box from the meat. Trust me on this.

Kansas City sauces to me are the sweetest. There are hot KC sauces, sweet KC sauces, spicy KC sauces, but all of them taste sweeter to me than the comparable Texas, Carolina, and southern varieties. You have both beef and pork, including sausages, although not as much beef brisket as you see in Texas and Louisiana and Oklahoma. Ribs, beef and pork, are well known, and some places just do ribs and nothing but ribs. Kansas City also has “burnt ends,” the skinny part of the brisket that people complained “looked burnt.” Some of us prefer that part.

Texas bbq favors beef – brisket, ribs, chopped beef, and so on. Pork ribs and sausage and pulled pork are found as well, but beef is the basic meat. This means longer cooking and heavier sauces, generally. Do you cook it with the sauce, or add sauce after cooking? Well, before you ask that question, I’d recommend confiscating all cooking knives, because the argument can get intense. Those who put sauce on during cooking tend to use lighter, less sweet sauces so the sugars caramelize but don’t scorch. The after-cooking people argue that the meat needs to cook on its own, and the sauce is an accent, not to hide cooking errors. I don’t really have a dog in the fight, since when I do ‘que, I do it in the oven indoors with beefed up [pun intended] commercial sauce bases. I’m not a purist, and I don’t have a smoker or grill. I’d like to have a smoker, but that requires time, attention, and space, none of which I have at the moment.

Can you do kosher BBQ? Yes, you can. It does take a little work, and of course never includes pork, but kosher BBQ does exist.

Grilling is not bbq. Grilling can include bbq sauces, but it is not bbq. Grilling is too fast, includes veggies, fish, and the like, and is not bbq. Grilled food is good, but it is not the same as bbq. No one bar-b-ques hamburger patties. Trust me on this. You don’t bar-b-que steaks. You grill them.

Now, I realize that a war might break out in the comments section. As long as no one gets stabbed with a meat fork, and y’all clean up any mess y’all make, go for it. 🙂



20 thoughts on “The Other, Other Southern Religion

  1. Brisket is too good and filling. Last time I had Texas brisket was about ten years back, great barbeque place near Grapevine. The sort where one cooker at a time comes out of service for cleaning and maintenance, like industrial furnaces. Got brisket, sausage, and some ribs, couple sides, for a party of six (included three college-age guys with appetites). At the end, we had one small piece of brisket and some slaw left. No one would take the last piece; not politeness, but too full from meat. We planned the next-day work for the conference in the morning; finally I understood why the lions sprawl like that from a meat coma.

  2. Where’s my popcorn! I want popcorn when watching a “fight”. [Crazy Grin]

  3. There’s also a West Kentucky style, where they use mutton. it’s a very small region, only a few counties, and well off the beaten path.

    I’d argue that there’s also a Tennessee-style sauce, that’s significantly sweeter than KC.

    • I have an excuse for asking this. What would a vampire who has naturalized to Kentucky consider to be proper BBQ?

      Is there such school of BBQ as Colorado?

      • Good question on Colorado. I’ve never heard of one. I’d suspect that it leans toward Texas in terms of flavor, given the ranches in the eastern part of the state. There’s some sheep in the mountains and western slope.

        Not sure about a Kentucky vampire. Horse-meat with bourbon-infused sauce? *ducks and runs*

      • I’m not sure about the vampire aspect, but pulled pork tends to be more common than ribs. Sauce added after cooking.

        The sauce tends to be a bit on the thinner side, with a tomato base, some of the vinegar replaced with hard alcohol, and some heat.
        This is a good representative of the type:
        (Although ones made at the joints themselves will be higher proof )

        • So the sauce they use is not based in … wine.

          OTOH, Japan in the middle of a political crisis/civil war means BBQ for thanksgiving will take some thinking on the logistics.


    • I would concur that there is definitely a Tennessee/Northern Alabama variant that has a sweeter sauce but with a strong acid component and some heat. Tends to Pork (Boston Butt/Ribs). I experienced it in Huntsville at a little joint that one of the folks I was working with took us to. Run by an 80-90+ African American gent, his 65+ year old son and their family. Excellent food, learned to like Collard greens with burnt ends as well as dirty rice. When you walked in you were treated like family even if you were rather pale like myself :-). That was mid 90’s so the patriarch is likely long gone and even his son is probably gone. Who knows if it still exists and I doubt I could find it even though it was right off the main highway.

      • That sounds like the Old Original Greenbrier, at a crossroads on the old main road west of Huntsville. Still going quite well 3-4 years ago. They had 3 grades of their own sauce, hot, sweet and savory, for heaped plates. Delicious.

        • No Psychokitteh, I’m pretty certain it was not the Greenbrier. Went there too it was good, but this was better. This one was like an exit past the Huntsville NASA site towards Tennessee, Greenbrier was back to the south closer to the airport/Madison.

  4. I’m told that law students become very familiar with the phrase “except in Louisiana.” Louisiana was first colonized by the French, whose law is based on Roman law, not English customary law like the rest of the states. So there are a number of generalizations that apply everywhere in the US except in Louisiana.

    • Some elements of Louisiana law also came from the Code Napoleon. If you got a law degree at Tulane or other Louisiana law schools, you had to take extra training to pass the bar in other states. The reverse was also true. I don’t know if that has changed since ’05 or not.

      • Someone told me once that the Code Napoleon was not about the rights of the individual but ease and clarity in governing a populace.

  5. Colorado does Texas style, and no, you don’t put the sauce on brisket while cooking. That’ll get you lynched in most parts of Texas! And 10 hours is about the minimum for a good brisket.

  6. My dad says (went to college in TX) that you put the mop sauce on the brisket while it’s in the smoker. If he was smoking we stayed clear. (Been about five or six years since he last had the energy. The smoker fortunately does dual duty as a grill. Even if someone else wanted to smoke, no one wants the nitpicking.)

    As far as a kid-approved quick and easy sauce, roughly one part soy sauce and two parts ketchup work well. Goes on pulled pork, baked chicken, whatever.

    • When I did briskets-n-ribs for a twice-a-year fund raiser, we did a rub on the meat before cooking, then pulled the ribs off and reloaded them every six hours, and gave the brisket twelve hours. No sauce. We were doing over 50 briskets and 100 racks of ribs at a go, so messing with the meat during cooking wasn’t really in the cards.

      As an aside, you know you are hard-core with a group when you volunteer for the midnight and six AM shifts, as well as the six PM shift, for five years in a row! Or you are a crazy, young, night owl.

  7. Off Topic.

    Alma, I sent you an email today. Let me know if you got it.

  8. I live in Colorado and used to work with a guy who was a volunteer BBQ judge at contests.

    I wouldn’t say Colorado has any one style. It’s a mix and anything goes. We do seem to prefer hotter spices.

  9. BBQ is my VFD’s annual fundraiser, pull out the rigs, seating in the bays, smokers out back.. Usually sausage links and chicken plates as well, in much smaller quantities, however commie flu mitigation measures made it more complicated so our last fundraiser in November we dispensed with choices. Brisket only and drive thru only. Interestingly it was one of our best fundraisers, sold more plates than ever, ran out of Brisket much earlier, and had higher net $$ than recent years.

    One thing I have not figured out in Texas: BBQ is one of the holies, everybody does it, and there’s a large market for bbq pits/smokers. I would think there would be some inexpensive versions, but no. Every dang one of the things costs an arm and a leg, no matter how crudely built and rusty. We (VFD) borrow most of the ones we use, have made one out of a found tank, and purchased a very small one for a princely sum that normally gets used for chicken.

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