Nothing is better than a good ole fashioned American BBQ! It’s not surprising though that just as America is a melting pot of cultures, the types of BBQ vary across the USA. So how many barbeque styles are there? The simple answer is there are 4 major BBQ styles in the US: Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis.
While there are countless variations, these are considered the foundational types of BBQ. We’ve also included St. Louis and Kentucky to introduce some other popular and unique methods!
Read on for a breakdown of each style of BBQ for you to recreate or add to your food-lover bucket list:
The foundation of Texas BBQ is slow cooked brisket, pork ribs, and sausage links. These meats are sometimes referred to as Texas BBQ’s “holy trinity”. Pitmasters in Texas cook brisket to a heavy “bark” (blackened outer layer) which takes up to 18 hours! The result is a juicy, tender brisket sliced and served on butcher paper.
A unique facet of Texas BBQ is the tendency to serve with the sauce on the side. This ensures that the sauce doesn’t distract anything from the meat favors. Texas style sauce varies but it generally consists of chili powder, garlic, cumin, hot sauce, and Worcestershire. Typically Texans use a thin glaze of the mop sauce to enhance the flavor but do so carefully to ensure it doesn’t overpower the natural meat flavors.
Before we move on, Texas is a giant state spanning over 260,000 square miles and home to almost 30 million people. In a vast, diverse state like Texas, there are countless local practices each with their own flare. So if you find yourself traveling through Texas be sure to stop at a few BBQ pits along the way!
Carolina BBQ style is focused on one of America’s oldest methods of cooking meat – whole hog barbeque. This is the iconic apple in the pig’s mouth over a pit of coals. It’s not surprising that Carolina’s style is centered around pork. Both of the dominant styles here, Eastern and Lexington, have pork front and center.
Eastern style involves the whole hog method served with a vinegar-based sauce with red pepper flakes, served with white cole slaw.
Lexington style pitmasters often choose the pork shoulder to slow cook. Both Lexington and Eastern use vinegar-based sauce but Lexington BBQ adds a red tomato sauce to the mix. A Lexington style pulled pork sandwich is served with a side of “red slaw”; a combination of white cole slaw with the distinct red sauce.
No meats are off limits when it comes to Kansas City BBQ! You’ll find a wide variety of pork, beef, chicken, and others at a Kansas City smokehouse. Pitmasters here apply a dry rub to the meat before slow-smoking over a variety of woods.
Most notable Kansas City differs from others by the sweet(er) sauce served with each meal. The sauce starts with a tomato base but the sweet flavor is achieved by adding molasses and brown sugar to the mix. If you like BBQ sauce, Kansas City is your place with meats being served layered in the sweet BBQ goodness.
Don’t forget to grab a side of baked beans! Burnt Ends, fatty but flavorful pieces of brisket, are cooked into the bold flavored KC beans.
Memphis, Tennessee is home to the fall-off-the-bone pork ribs. A variety of meats are included in Memphis BBQ, however, pitmasters focus on pork ribs and shoulder with tender pork ribs being the vanguard. Ribs are served either wet or dry. Wet ribs are brushed with sauce before, during and after smoking. Dry ribs are covered with a dry rub, smoked, and served without sauce letting their true flavor shine.
Memphis tomato-based sauce combines brown sugar, vinegar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire, and cayenne pepper resulting in a unique tangy flavor. We’d be remiss if we skip the defining flavor of Memphis’ spice rub with some recipes totaling up to 40 herbs and spices!
For the full Memphis experience load up on a plate of barbecue spaghetti. Yes, you heard that right. Memphis pitmasters in the 1970s created a spaghetti side. The spaghetti sauce is half marinara and half BBQ sauce topped with pulled pork.
While not considered in the “four major regional styles of barbecue”, St. Louis and Kentucky styles are worthy of any list! See those below:
Spare ribs are king on St. Louis grills. Ribs are cut so the sternum bone, cartilage, and rib tips are removed. The result is a well shaped rectangular rack of ribs for a picture perfect presentation. This cut of ribs was even formalized by the USDA as “Pork Ribs, St. Louis Style”.
Rather than slow-smoking with indirect heat like other styles, St Louis pitmasters grill spare ribs that are heavily (and we mean heavily) sauced. It’s said that St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce than any other US city! The popular sweet sauce is tomato based with molasses, similar to Kansas City, but with minor acidic notes.
Famous for its mutton (sheep) barbecue served with a Worcestershire-based sauce for dipping. While the mutton BBQ grabs your attention, pork is a significant meat for the Kentucky style. Slow-smoked pork shoulder is popular among Kentucky BBQ. Pork is served with a vinegar-based sauce similar to what you’d find in North Carolina.
No matter the style, nothing beats American BBQ!
What are the types of BBQ?
The are four main types of US BBQ are Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis.