BBQIn my house barbequing always referred to one of two things:  the almost year round practice of my father firing up the Weber and nursing the coals with a cold beer in hand OR the sizzling slab of baby-back ribs at Chili’s. (I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…go ahead and sing along, you know you want to.) As an adult I’ve discovered my fair share of “authentic” rib joints and pulled pork sandwiches but I’ve always assumed that all barbeque was created equal. Until now.  At, we’ve decided to track down the true meaning of BBQ in all its various forms and flavors. It’s a messy job, but we stocked up on wet naps and dove in to bring you this up close look at Q. So tuck in your napkins, this edition of FirstBites is about to get saucy.

What comes to mind when you hear the word barbeque? For some, the word conjures up images of round charcoal grills and hot coals, or a picture of your 10-burner propane dream grill. But these images have little to do with what barbeque actually is. Barbeque, barbecue or BBQ comes from the Caribbean or West Indies word barbacoa, which refers to the process of slow cooking meat over or in a fire pit. In the United States we often interchange the terms grilling and barbequing, but the two are actually very different. Grilling is the process of quickly cooking food on a metal grill over high heat. Barbequing is a much slower process of cooking meat using lower temperatures, smoke and indirect heat generally over a period of many hours.

Starting now, erase all associations of BBQ or barbequing with your summer cookout stars like hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken breasts. True barbequed meat is succulently tender. It literally falls off the bone when you take a bite and can be shredded with almost no effort. The flavors are rich and smoky with subtle hints of wood like hickory or maple…and that’s without any sauce at all. Hungry yet?

Barbeque Around the Country
While the slow cooking barbeque technique is similar no matter where you go, the flavor and sauce style differs greatly by location. There are 4 regions known for their distinct BBQ styles and residents of each will staunchly defend theirs as “real ‘cue.”

Memphis – Memphis BBQ uses primarily pork ribs and shoulders. You’ll find both “dry” and “wet” barbeque here. Dry ribs are covered in a mixture of salt and seasonings before slow roasted and are usually served without sauce. Wet ribs are brushed with sauce before, during and after cooking. Memphis is famous for it’s pulled pork, which is usually served on a bun and topped with cold slaw. However, locals love skipping the bread and using this delicious meat as a topping for anything from nachos to pizza.

The Carolinas – Carolina barbeque is also usually pork and served pulled, shredded or chopped, but sometimes sliced.

North Carolina – parts of North Carolina roast an entire pig and combine the meat with a very thin vinegar and pepper sauce. Other regions, primarily western parts of the state, use only the darker meat from the pork shoulder and add varying amounts of tomato to the spicy vinegar sauce.

South Carolina – Western parts of the state feature a peppery tomato or ketchup-based sauce, whereas the central part of the state boasts a unique “Carolina Gold” sauce made with yellow mustard, vinegar, brown sugar and other spices. Along the coast barbeque uses the entire pig and a thin vinegar pepper sauce similar to some North Carolina regions.

Texas – There’s almost no limit to the different barbeque styles you’ll find in Texas. In the east, beef is slow cooked over hickory wood and marinated in a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Central Texas ‘cue is dry rubbed with spices and cooked with indirect heat using pecan or oak wood. West Texas BBQ is more bitter than other styles because it is cooked over mesquite wood whereas Southerners use a thick molasses-like sauce that tends to keep the meat incredibly moist.

Kansas City – Kansas City is all about the sauce. A wide variety of meats are slow cooked for KC BBQ and the finish product is slathered in a thick tomato-based sauce that is sweet, spicy and tangy. Kansas City style BBQ sauce is most similar to the sauces you’re probably used to buying from your local grocery store. Burnt Ends are unique to KC ‘cue; they’re the flavorful tips of meat cut from the ends of beef or pork brisket.

No matter what cut or sauce is your favorite, there’s no denying that BBQ has a special place in the hearts and on the plates of Americans around the country. So get out there and try a different variety, you might discover a new national treasure with your next order of ribs. Just don’t forget the wet naps.

What’s your favorite BBQ style or dish? We’d love a little inspiration, so share it below!

FirstBites shares pictures, thoughts and advice about the foods and flavors you’ve always wanted to try. Hungry for more? Check out our guides to tapassushiIndian food, brunch, Irish food, Mexican food and Ethiopian food!