American Barbecue Styles Across the U.S.

A look at American barbecue styles across the U.S., including southern barbecue, western barbecue, midwest barbecue and all-American backyard barbecue recipes.

| July/August 1988

A look at American barbecue styles across the United States.  

American Barbecue Styles Across the U.S.

According to the archaeological evidence, human beings have been cooking meat over hot coals for half a million years. Before we baked, boiled, fried or broiled, we barbecued.

After 500,000 years, people tend to become set in their ways. Although Americans share a love of good barbecue, they feud over what to cook, how to cook it, how to season it, how (or whether) to sauce it and what to serve with it. The differences from region to region and from cook to cook may be major or minor, but they are always considered vital and worth defending at length. An Arizonian and an Alabamian may think as one about God, sex and the Democratic party; they will disagree about barbecue.

Some differences clearly evolved because of a diversity of available resources. The wood that provides the “proper” smoke flavor generally grows in the surrounding forests; the meat that “belongs” on the grill has probably been the mainstay of local farmers for generations; the “right” sauce varies with regional vegetables and ethnic traditions. But even a cursory survey of American barbecue suggests that other quirks result from nothing more than people's relentless, cantankerous, joyous determination to do things their own way.

The South: Southern Barbecue

“Somebody who thinks barbecue is beef is not a Southerner. (Texans think barbecue is beef.) Somebody who thinks of barbecue in terms of ribs only is not a Southerner, either. (This person is probably from the Midwest and wears rubbers on his or her shoes.) But somebody who knows damn well barbecue is pork and the best way to eat it is sliced or chopped and put inside two pieces of bread is damn well a Southerner.” — Lewis Grizzard 

Long before Europeans set foot on the North American continent, southeastern Native Americans cooked fish and game over hot coals on a frame they constructed of green wood. The early Spanish explorers called the framework barbacoa, which eventually became barbecue.  

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