BBQ By Region: What’s Your Style?
The dining table is a great microcosm of life. It has a way of bringing people together. It’s where families and friends gather to share fond memories or even the mundane events of the day. The dining table also is a place for heated debates over heavy topics like religion, politics and barbecue.
Yes, like the rich smell of hickory smoke, barbecue permeates the fabric of our culture. It’s a patchwork quilt of regional flavors, spices and aromas. Everyone has his or her own opinions, and everyone is right.
Even the definition of barbecue is up for debate. Carolyn Huggins is a local caterer and used to operate a restaurant called The Flying Pig in Shreveport. She takes a very broad view of what barbecue is.
“Cooking hot dogs is still a barbecue,” she said. “I call everything a barbecue. With the smoke, you let it linger. I prefer grilling and smoking, but it’s all barbecue.”
While most barbecue debates center around beef versus pork, Huggins believes there are other meats that should not be forgotten.
“I think one thing people forget is chicken and poultry,” she said. “I make a sweet tea with honey and lemon that I brine my chicken in. Poultry is a delicious thing to smoke. People around here eat a lot of chicken wings. I guarantee if you brine them and smoke them, you’ll never fry them again.”
Huggins said the wood used to cook the meat makes a huge difference, too. She starts with pecan wood for bitterness and finishes with hickory to draw out more flavor.
“You can’t replicate another region’s barbecue because of the trees,” she said. “It makes such a difference. Pecan gives bitterness. It burns fast and hot. For the long smoke, use hickory. It slows it down because it’s so dense. It slows down the cook time.”
When meat cooks slowly, the fat is rendered out of the meat. That is what gives the meat its moisture. “You need that long, slow smoke at the end,” Huggins said. “You can’t raise the heat. You lose the moisture and juiciness of the meat.”
Patrick Netherton is the radio announcer for Northwestern State University sports. He’s also a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judge. He has a narrower view of barbecue. He admits he does not cook barbecue, but he believes it isn’t barbecue unless it’s cooked “low and slow.”
“I don’t have patience for it,” he said. “I’ll grill a steak or chicken. But I have no patience to wait five, six or 12 hours for something. That’s why I am fascinated by people who do.”
Whether you cook the meat low and slow or hot and fast, the definition of barbecue doesn’t stop there. It gets downright saucy at times, and even a bit spicy. Huggins and Netherton share their thoughts on some of the more common styles of barbecue, as well some insight about their personal preferences.
- Netherton: “Texas barbecue is the trinity — ribs, brisket and sausage. Texas is much more known for beef than pork. No place else does beef like Texas. It’s hit or miss if you get brisket anywhere other than Texas. Even within Texas are multiple styles. East is different than central, which is different than Austin.”
- Huggins: “Texas barbecue is very brisket oriented and rib oriented. It’s more of a beef barbecue. The sauce is a thinner sauce, not as sweet as Kansas City sauce. It’s a very red sauce. In Texas, most of it is mesquite and hickory smoke. It gives it a sharper smoke.”
KANSAS CITY BARBECUE
- Netherton: “Kansas City is different in that it’s typically more sauce oriented. That’s not bad. Kansas City sauces are tremendous. Go to Gates and get a platter, and it’s almost drowning in the stuff. They have burnt ends. That’s where they were invented. I love Kansas City barbecue. I think it’s pretty awesome. Typically, it’s a little more vinegar based than sweet.”
- Huggins: “I am not an expert on Kansas City barbecue. I do make a Kansas City red sauce. It’s a thicker sauce, darker. I put renderings in it to give it a smoky taste to the sauce. It’s a traditional barbecue, the way they do the ribs. Kansas City is more what you visualize barbecue as. It’s more of a savory sauce. It’s still sweet, it’s just not the heavy molasses sauce you taste other places.”
- Huggins: “Alabama barbecue has mayo-based sauce. The Alabama and Georgia barbecue is more pork based. When you think of Texas, you think longhorns. As you start getting into Alabama, you think white sauce and pigs being cooked.” Huggins adds that Georgia has a distinct style of barbecue. “I lived in Georgia for a while. It’s a red sauce, but more of a vinegar-based sauce. In Alabama, it’s all about the white sauce.”
- Netherton: “That’s the one I really haven’t gotten to experience. I know it’s chicken and white sauce, but I haven’t had the experience. I did have some Dreamland ribs once. But I always shudder to base what my thoughts are on a satellite location. So, until I can get to Tuscaloosa, I will reserve judgement.”
- Huggins: “Carolina has a gold sauce. It’s the best sauce. It’s mayo based, and it’s really good. Carolina barbecue is a lot more pork and ribs.” Huggins said she has enjoyed a lifelong affection for Carolina barbecue. “I lived there as a kid,” she said. “I remember my dad used to drive us down some old dirt roads to a little shack where they would cook outside, and we’d get this pork and pour this beautiful gold sauce over it. Those are some of my fondest memories.”
- Netherton: “I have had a little Carolina barbecue. It’s pretty distinct. It’s different. Either the sauce is really sweet or very vinegary. It doesn’t seem like there is a middle ground. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. You need to spend a week just eating at 10 different places in Carolina. It’s interesting because there is no middle ground.”
ST. LOUIS BARBECUE
Both barbecue aficionados acknowledged St. Louis has its unique style of barbecue as well. But neither one has much experience with it.
- Huggins: “I didn’t eat barbecue when I was there. It is its own style. People in St. Louis probably would stab you if you said they made Kansas City barbecue. It’s sort of a hybrid between Kansas City and Texas. It’s sweeter than Kansas City, but not as sweet as Texas. It’s a little bit of everything.
- Netherton: “That’s another one I really haven’t gotten to. When I go to St. Louis, I do Italian.”