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. 🙂