A Brief History of BBQ Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Barbecue, no matter how you slice it, always means a hunk of meat cooked painfully slowly over a low flame. It’s a stubborn old art form that won’t be rushed by the hungry masses in our instant-gratification society.
It’s ready when it’s ready. It’s gone when it’s gone.
And Southeners — known for deliberating over their food — are experts at this ever-evolving art form. The Mississippi-based Southern Foodways Alliance has pages and pages devoted to barbecue, they’ve created a barbecue trail and done oral histories with old pitmasters from here to Carolina.
According to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s barbecue primer, the craft can be dated back to the Caribbean when the Europeans landed on their shores and tasted their spiced meats dried over a smoky fire. That technique was combined with the British practices of basting and buttering to keep the meat moist while cooking.
“But it was in Virginia and in the Carolinas that barbecue as we know it would begin to evolve. In Virginia, British colonists observed the Native American method of drying meat on a grill of green sticks over a smoking fire and soon married this method to their own interest in spit-cooking hogs and other small animals,” said the Foodways Alliance’s primer.
The method of cooking a whole hog is still practiced all over the country, but it’s a tradition based largely in the Carolinas. There they also stick to the methods of adding vinegar and mustard sauces to flavor the meat. When the Germans arrived, they brought sweet and spicy cole slaw, and it quickly became an accepted accompaniment.
Today, each region primarily has a specialty, though the methods are merging, “The whole-hog style that developed along the Atlantic seaboard has drifted into western Tennessee, and the Piedmont style, with some variations, can be uncovered in northeast Alabama and, with American-style coleslaw, in Memphis. Mustard-based barbecue, though still centered in South Carolina, can be found as well in Georgia and eastern Alabama, where one can also find an orange sauce that combines mustard and tomato-based sauces, as if to say, Does one really have to choose?
“Of course, Kentucky has its barbecue mutton and its burgoo, which resembles Georgia’s own Brunswick Stew, a traditional barbecue accompaniment. In Texas, German settlers in a cattle-friendly land developed barbecue sausage and the holy brisket, where today Mexican influence directs the emergence of barbacoa and other delicacies.”
Today, these cooking styles and flavors have integrated themselves into restaurants across the South. And it continues to transform with cultural influences shaping sauces and smoking methods in ways both subtle and overt.
“There are still new barbecue plates being dreamed up by the hungry and the resourceful. How about north Alabama’s white-sauce chicken, northwest Mississippi’s taste for goat, or the barbecued gator that turns up in Louisiana and Florida?” says the SFA.
The only way you can experience it all is to travel — or maybe have bottles of red and gold sauce delivered to your door. But ideally you’d take the barbecue trail set out by the Foodways Alliance, or hit the road and create your own using our restaurant guide. It’s a noble venture for only the stout of heart and stomach, but completely worth undertaking.
Breakdown of Regional Styles
Barbecue … or is it BBQ? No, wait it’s Bar-B-Q.
No matter how many vowels you include, the South is one big, saucy barbecue family, and though we may argue and fight around the dinner table, ultimately, we love each other.
Yes, if America is a melting pot of culture, the South is a fiery pit of meat. Each region has its own approach to ‘cue. Over in the Carolinas, they revere their mustard as much as their Kansas City kin adore their ketchup, and somewhere in between there’s barbecue cousins kissing in the Kentucky burgoo.
So, break out the genealogy book, and get ready for a virtual barbecue tour of our family tree.
We’re not actual historians, but the first in this family is arguably the eldest child of barbecue: Memphis. If it’s not the first-born, it’s definitely the squeakiest wheel. The city boasts one of the biggest barbecue competitions around. Memphis in May showcases hundreds of teams and almost as many different styles, but pork shoulder rules this town. Slow smoked and smothered in a sweet and thick sauce it is not hard to find great sandwiches and pulled pork. Thick, dry-rubbed ribs are also a Memphis specialty. The city’s getting innovative with menu items like barbecue spaghetti. Well, innovative, or maybe a poor-man’s way of extending the caloric value of the meat. Either way, we approve. Barbecue spaghetti is exactly how it sounds: pulled meats and noodles drizzled with barbecue sauce. When in Memphis, these dishes are can’t-miss items, and all you need to round out the meal is a dab of slaw. Ignore the purists, and put it on your sandwich. It’s right and proper.
Tennessee’s barbecue twin, born roughly one minute after its older sibling is west toward the Smokey Mountains in Nashville. It’s one of the hottest food cities in the South, and with heavy-hitters like Tyler Brown, Sean Brock, and Philip Krajeck, you’d better believe this brother is serious about his barbecue. Nashville seems to incorporate a little bit from the region’s various styles, but when in Music City, you’ve got to have the Boston butts. The sauce here is sweet but not as sticky as Memphis. Nashville barbecue shops excel at their sides, so get a “pick three” with granny-style green beans, mac and cheese, and a soft yeast roll.
Further north, the crazy uncle of the barbecue family lives in Louisville. Crazy uncle Louie. The city has no real barbecue specialty — you can get ribs, brisket, and definitely pork — but Louisville is all about a very special side dish called Kentucky burgoo. It’s an epic mix of chicken or pork, and always has tomatoes and okra. In Crazy Uncle Louie’s town, dig into a plate of smoked chicken and a big bowl of burgoo. If you’re in the right spot, you can even find burgoo made with trimmings from the barbecue, which is a taste of heaven.
Heading east to the coast are the parents of barbecue: The Carolinas. We find whole hog dominating the South Carolina scene. Roadside shacks that have homemade pits filled with two to three hogs are a common sight here. There’s hardly anything here but pork, and the area is also widely known for its sauce. Thin, vinegar-based peppery sauces, or mustard-based mixes, the goal here is not to mask the pork but kick the flavor up. When in the Carolinas, dine on pulled pork shoulder with mustard sauce and brown beans and slaw. Another Carolina oddity: They like to put barbecue on a buffet. It’s an interesting take, and probably a welcome idea for those who can’t decide on a side — or a sauce for that matter. Just eat them all! Few other restaurants in the country take that approach, but it’s probably just the area’s parental, hospitable way of making sure hungry travelers get enough to eat.
Since we’ve hit the coast, let’s take a plane back west to Kansas City. This town is barbecue’s aunt. Maternal. Peerless. She’s a pillar of the family who always remembers your birthday, sending you a card with $5 and a bottle of Masterpiece. Aunt KC has a long history of storied barbecue shops and also lays claim to one of the most solid barbecue sauces in history. Kansas City smokes many different cuts but holds true to one thing — the sauce. It’s tomato-based and made thick with molasses and brown sugar. When visiting this devoted aunt, try the baby back ribs. Your aunt KC is basting them with sauce while cooking to give them “that bark.” The crispy bark is a big part of KC barbecue, and with these ribs all you need is a cold beer. Kansas City has one more specialty — the burnt ends. It’s the spiced, charred fatty ends of brisket that are typically used to flavor baked beans. They’re a delicacy, and truly a must in this city.
Further south is the home of your black sheep brother with his barbecue cry, “You can have my beef brisket when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” Texas brisket has everything that is sacred about barbecue. When it’s done right, a delicious cap of fat brisket is as wonderful as pork — we might be a little biased. Yet, brisket in the capital city of Austin is a really simple affair. Usually rubbed with nothing but salt and pepper, it is all about low and slow, and Austin has mastered this technique in the Texas barbecue landscape. On the menu here is moist smoked brisket, German-style potato salad, brown beans, Shiner Bock, and a thick slice of honey-wheat bread. Simple, no frills and delicious. We’d brave the heat and the Texas gun-ownership for a taste. Those are the pillars of the family.
The second-cousins and twice-removed extended kin can be found across the South in Louisiana, where they spice and smoke gator, and Mississippi, where they’ve developed a taste for barbecued goat. Other step-children in this family include Alabama, with a mayo-based white sauce that they smear on chicken. The vinegary, peppery, horseradish-y sauce was invented by a man named Big Bob Gibson, who has restaurants operating under his name in Decatur. Over in Georgia, Atlanta is a haven when it comes to barbecue, welcoming and incorporating the styles of surrounding states with gusto. Yes, the South is a strange barbecue brood, but as they say, you can’t pick your family. It’s heated, it’s contentious and it’s our tribe. And in the end, we would all agree, sauce is thicker than water.
Now that you’ve met the whole family, here’s a handy-dandy list of the must-try places in the South. Don’t forget your wet wipes.
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
219 W. Louisiana St., Marianna
A side trip off of Interstate 40, South of Forrest City, is Jones Bar-B-Q, which was declared a national treasure by the James Beard Foundation back in 2012. The only thing on the menu: pork. Sides include chips or slaw. It’s all to-go and it’s usually gone by the afternoon.
15 W. Walnut, De Valls Bluff
Located in a shack south of Interstate 40, the smoky pork topped with a mild sauce and sweet slaw with apples make a fine pairing for the hungry traveler. There’s also beef, chicken, ribs and polish sausage on the menu.
2415 S. Broadway, Little Rock
Serving barbecue since 1937, Sims has pulled pork down to a science, along with its spicy, thin, vinegary sauce and only white bread to accompany your meats, it’s practically a legend. Don’t miss the greens and cornbread.
McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant
505 Albert Pike Road, Hot Springs
Famous for begin a favorite of Arkansas native President Bill Clinton, McClard’s has a complex, tomato-based sauce that’s bottled and sold on Natural State shelves. If you go, try the pork sandwich or tamales.
Lindsey’s Hospitality House
207 Curtis Sykes Drive, North Little Rock
The hospitality here is certainly top-notch, but so are the St. Louis-style ribs, cooked to melt-in-your-mouth consistency and doused in the house sauce. It’s a family business and an institution “serving up a tradition of delicious.”
Old Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q
338 Washington Ave, Owensboro
Slow-cooked meat, specializing in chopped pork and mutton. Meals come with raw onions and pickles. And if you’re in Kentucky, you have to try the burgoo.
Mark’s Feed Store
11422 Shelbyville Road, Louisville
(502) 244-0140 Great wings and baby back ribs. They tend to give away bottles of barbecue sauce to first-timers. Try the fried corn on the cob an the buttermilk pie.
Pop’s Southern Style BBQ
110 Hwy 801, Morehead
Cooking up pounds and pounds of pork shoulder and pairing them with fried green tomatoes and fried moon pies. What’s not to like?
Big Bubba Buck’s Belly Bustin’ BBQ Bliss
1802 Main St., Munfordville
(270) 524-3333 A great name that will compel travelers off the interstate and through the doors to sample fried cornbread, ribs, banana pudding and cobbler.
Pig in a Poke
341 University Drive, Prestonsburg
Great barbecue sliders, sweet potato fries and pretty good brisket — for Kentucky. Can’t go wrong with ribs and wings.
Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse
127 W. Main St., Louisville
Named a Best New Barbecue Restaurant by Food & Wine magazine, the place is run by Vietnamese brothers who grew up in Texas and gained cooking experience in North Carolina.
128 W 21st Ave, Covington
Best known for barbecue beef poboys. You’re in Louisiana. Don’t question it. Just go and get one.
501 Texas St., Natchitoches
Ribs are in the name, so you best go with that. And since you’re in Louisiana, better get it all with the dirty rice. It’s what they do best. (And if you see Natchitoches meat pies on the menu anywhere, order those.)
Van’s Pig Stand
717 E. Highland St., Shawnee
Two locations in Shawnee, and is known for pork ribs, beef brisket and Carolina-style barbecue. Also makes a mean smoked turkey.
2233 W Memorial Road, OKC
With three other locations, one in a huge, shiny red barn, Swadley’s is almost chain-like in its demeanor. They’re not afraid of the heat with a spicy barbecue sauce and jalapeno-infused sides of beans.
3631 N Kelley Ave., Oklahoma City
(405) 424-5367 Housed in an old gas station, Leo’s gained even more fame when the Food Network’s Guy Fieri visited on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and had the ribs. Also notable: Fried bologna
4130 S Peoria Ave., Tulsa
Best known for the Badwich, a sandwich with hot link sausage, chopped beef and bologna on the bottom. Everyone raves about it. Seems legit.
The Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint
7501 Hwy 57, Ocean Springs
and 15094 Mills Road, Gulfport
Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the barbecue and blues joint has lots of personality as well as fine baby back ribs and live music. Regulars are called Shed Heads. Maybe.
616 N State St, Clarksdale
A legend dating back to 1924, Abe’s makes an honestly good double-decker pork sandwich. Also tamales, because it’s what they do in those parts.
1111 Bailey Ave, Jackson
One of those hole-in-the-wall joints with inexpensive plates. It’s an institution. Try the super hot links, the wings and barbecue sauce on the fries.
Leatha’s BBQ Inn
6374 U S Hwy 98, Hattiesburg
Easily the most beloved barbecue place in Mississippi because they concentrate on cooking. Try the mustard-based slaw, sweet sauce and tender ribs.
901 W College St, Florence
Very simple menu. Probably best known for the sandwiches and hot dogs with sauce and hot slaw. Seriously. Go hot slaw or go home.
Price’s Barbecue House
345 S. College St, Auburn
Pretty good barbecue, but the sides of Brunswick Stew and Que Stew steal the show. Also has spectacular breakfast.
Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que
New Orrville Road, Selma
The place was featured by Garden and Gun as a “secret south” spot known only to locals. The dark barbecue sauce is sold by the bottle.
5535 15th Ave., Tuscaloosa
A chain based in Tuscaloosa, it’s a legend, a place that must be visited at least once. Bang-up ribs and sausage. And they sell banana pudding by the pint.
Heirloom Market BBQ
2243 Akers Mill Rd SE, Atlanta
Not enough space because it’s so popular. It has some Korean-fusion barbecue with great brisket and mac and cheese. It’s a dive, but nobody can stay away.
3605 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville
This place was named the best in the state by Atlanta magazine. Best with smoke-flavored pulled pork and brisket, the smallish dining room makes for intimate seating.
Southern Soul Barbecue
2020 Demere Road, St. Simons
Great ribs. Kool-Aid is on the menu here. Along with fried green beans. And fried Oreos. Are we there yet?
Swallow at the Hollow
1072 Green St, Roswell
(678) 352-1975 Made the top three of Atlanta magazine’s best barbecue issue back in 2010. Swallow has three different sauces — mustard, vinegar and hot — and they put chocolate chip cookies in the banana pudding.
108 Alabama St, Carrollton
Purveyors of Memphis-style barbecue in Georgia, with sweet cornbread, collard greens and a spicy mustard-based sauce.
4944 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta
Best at pork and brisket — good enough to make Texas smile — and has two house sauces — a thin, vinegary North Carolina Sauce and a sweet, smoky Kansas City version.
1361 Clairmont Road, Decatur
Everyone raves about the mac and cheese. You can also get your meats on a kitchen sink salad, which is nice.
Jackie Hite’s Bar-B-Que
467 W Church St, Batesburg-Leesville
Jackie Hite has served people through politics and pork, according to one website. He’s into the German tradition of cooking meat. You can get it wet or dry from the buffet. Just get it.
480 N Brooks St, Manning
Unassuming little joint with pitchers of sweet tea, vinegar-based sauce and velvety sweet potatoes. Excels at pulled pork. Bring cash.
Music Man’s Bar-B-Que
112 E. Railroad Avenue, Moncks Corner
It’s a barbecue buffet with ribs, chicken and pulled pork with a mustard-based sauce and a kicky vinegar one. Try the mac and cheese, hash and yams.
2734 Hemingway Highway, Hemingway
Southern Living says the “whole hog, ordered with a side of skins, is second to none in South Carolina.” Try the kettle-fried skins and homemade sauce.
1427 Eutaw Road, Holly Hill
Widely regarded as some of the best barbecue in South Carolina, it’s a destination spot that’s maybe gone downhill since it changed hands. Decide for yourself, I guess.
101 W Center Street Extension, Lexington
Southern Living named it the best barbecue in North Carolina — quite the honor — for its sauce-free pork shoulder, the red barbecue slaw and the side of ketchup-y sauce.
Skylight Inn BBQ
4618 S Lee St, Ayden
Situated under a faux-capitol dome, the chopped pork plates come with a thin cornbread topping and sweet slaw. Arguably one of the best barbecue places in America.
The Pit Authentic Barbecue
328 W Davie St, Raleigh
Whole-hog, pit-cooked ‘cue with stellar hush puppies and honey butter, tender smoked meats and even decent tofu, if you’re into that sort of thing. This place stays so busy, you might need reservations.
4172 U.S. 70, Goldsboro
Venerable old Eastern N.C. barbecue place with vinegar-based dip. It’s seasoned with apple cider vinegar and red chile flakes, according to Southern Living, and it’s “the perfect indulgence.”
12 Bones Smoke House
5 Riverside Drive, Asheville
(Second location in Arden)
Best known for slow-cooked baby back ribs, and when doused in blueberry chipotle sauce it’s a taste of heaven. Prepare to wait in long, long lines.
127 N King St., Windsor
Iconic Eastern North Carolina barbecue place with good portions and great prices. Famous for the cornbread sandwich.
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
2000 East Dixon Blvd., Shelby
Pit-cooked meats cooked overnight on coals, owned and operated mainly by women. Ask for it white or brown, the brown gives it a smoky flavor — perfect for connoisseurs.
751 B’s Barbecue Road, Greenville
An institution. Vinegar-based, house-made sauce in a small shack that always runs out of food. A top contender for the best barbecue in N.C.
1802 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis
Smoky, dry-rubbed rib tips and the chopped pork sandwich with a dollop of slaw on top.
1762 Lamar Ave, Memphis
Excellent pulled pork sandwich with mustard-based slaw on top. It’s a mess of delicious. Great fried bologna sandwich, too.
745 N. Parkway, Memphis
Try the ribs and rib tips but the smoked Cornish hen with crispy skin and a tangy sauce is the house specialty, according Southern Living.
2265 S. Third St., Memphis
Crowds flock for the ‘cue and the “big as hell” smoked sausage. They’ve also got barbecue spaghetti on the menu, which makes sense.
147 E. Butler Ave., Memphis
The pulled pork sandwiches with creamy slaw are worth the trip alone, but also try the barbecue nachos on house-made chips.
115 27th Ave., Nashville
Small little place with great barbecue selections, but also makes a pulled chicken sandwich with white sauce.
B&C Melrose BBQ
2617 Franklin Pike, Nashville
Smoking delectable ribs as well as things like salmon with an Alabama-style white sauce. Known for a rotating menu of grits, from pizza to cheesy to Buffalo chicken.
2706 South 12th Avenue, Nashville
Usually a wait for this place with stellar pulled pork and bang-up mac and cheese and cornbread. Brisket quesadillas are also a hit.
10880 Highway 412 W, Lexington
Hickory-smoked whole hogs are the specialty here. No chicken or sausage. The sauce is spicy and vinegary. And they have fried pies. So, there’s that.
Papa Kayjoe’s Bar-B-Que
119 W. Ward St., Centerville
Garden and Gun named it one of the 21 finest barbecue sandwiches in the South for swaddling some boston butt in between corn-cakes. Looks delicious.
4 Rivers Smokehouse
1600 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
Always a long line at this establishment, for good reason. Get the pulled pork or burnt brisket ends and the cheese grits. One online reviewer summed it up best: If you’re fat you will love this place If you’re skinny you will love this place If you are a pretentious asshole nothing will make you happy not even GODLIKE bbq.
Blu Que Island Grill
149 Avenida Messina, Sarasota
Beef brisket with goat cheese? We’re not in Kansas City anymore. But it’s barbecue fusion, and people love it. Pig roasting is on Sundays.
Main Street, Bell
Maybe one of the best places to get barbecue in north-central Florida. A few sauces to choose from, including a mustardy Carolina sauce.
28001 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead
They’ve been smoking meat over a pit for 50 years, serving up pulled pork, brisket, ribs and chicken. They’ve got a sweeter sauce than most.
15400 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
It was named one of the 10 best new barbecue joints in the nation by Bon Apetit. It’s a little more upscale than most, with Carolina-style barbecue.
9200 S. Dixie Hwy, Miami
The old standard by which everything else in Florida is measured. Two sauces — one sweet, one vinegar — that you can take home in bottle.
900 E. 11th St., Austin
A fairly young establishment, operating since 2009, Franklin Barbecue was named the best barbecue establishment by Texas Monthly magazine for its perfectly smoked brisket and espresso sauce. It’s a thing of beauty.
920 S. Harwood, Dallas
Opened in 2010 this purveyor of succulent, mesquite-smoked meats and hand-stuffed pork links in a food court.
516 Main, Lexington
It was named the best barbecue place in Texas in 2008 by Texas Monthly, and it’s renowned for its velvety brisket and transcendent pork steak.
Louie Mueller Barbecue
206 W. Second St., Taylor
This place has been in business for 64 years, according to Texas Monthly, and has huge beef ribs that are worth their weight in gold.
John Mueller Meat Co
2500 E. Sixth, Austin
A large pit, tables and a food truck make up this eatery. The pork shoulder is best, but the sauce will make you cry tears of joy.
Fargo’s Pit BBQ
720 N. Texas Ave., Bryan
Thick spare ribs, crispy, moist chicken and fatty brisket with a generous smoke ring.
2202 Jefferson Ave, Richmond
Barbecue platters with brisket, ribs and sides like jalapeno macaroni and cheese. The Alamo sauce is the stuff of dreams. Only outdoor seating.
102 Martinsburg Ave., Gordonsville
A little out of the way, but most good barbecue places will require a drive. Beef brisket, pork and Carolina gold mustard sauce make it worth the trip.
2077 Walmart Way, Midlothian
Pulled barbecue style meat with the trophies to prove it’s legit. Also known for legendary, home style collard greens and the pineapple hot dish.
Saucy’s Walk-Up BBQ
Bollingbrook St & 5th St. Petersburg
Located in a reclaimed shipping container, it was named one of the best by Southern Living. Try the mustard-jalapeno sauce.
The Galax Smokehouse
101 N Main St, Galax
Memphis-style barbecue and St. Louis-style ribs with a variety of sauces. Sets itself apart with smoked mashed potatoes.
Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Q
447 E Rochambeau Dr, Williamsburg
The sauce recipe goes back 80 years. They’re serving up pulled chicken and pork, ribs, collards, corn bread and more.
3205 Main St., Kansas City
Burnt ends sandwich, anyone? Spicy sauce and fatty meats. Be prepared for some yelling.
1727 Brooklyn Ave, Kansas City
Famous. Famous. Famous. A hole-in-the-wall, but a necessary stop on any Kansas City barbecue tour.
Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ & Catering
3002 W 47th Ave., Kansas City
Much-loved by everyone, including Mr. Anthony Bourdain himself, it’s in an old gas station and may not be much to look at, but it’s the best at pulled pork, burnt ends and brisket.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
13441 Holmes Road, Kansas City
A more upscale barbecue experience. Best with burnt ends, cheesy corn and stacked onion rings.
Danny Edwards BBQ
2900 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for the Old Smokey brisket sandwich.
5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, Mo.
Smokey meat. You’ll leave smelling like a smoker, which is just fine with us. Great brisket with the bark still attached.
B.B’s Lawnside BBQ
1205 E 85th St., Kansas City, Mo.
Blues and barbecue spot pairing smoked meats, battered fries, and Cajun-style foods like boudin balls.
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