Pairing wines with the country's best barbecue
I’ve mentioned previously that you can get a close approximation to barbecue on a grill, using indirect heat and the light smokiness the grill provides, boosted by some smoldering chunks of wood if desired, to give you that barbecue flavor. Ultimately, though, it’s just that, a close approximation. True ‘cue needs to be slow-smoked, and for that you really do need a smoker. But all is not lost!
While the texture and flavor of your meat depends on the type of cooking you subject it to, you can always add the finishing touch of true barbecue to any recipe by simply using the right sauce or dry rub. The myriad regional barbecue sauces that make up the pantheon of true ‘cue are one of the culinary treasures of this country. The Carolinas alone have four distinct styles of saucing, each one bringing something unique and intriguing to the table.
But ‘cue is not built on saucing alone. The use of dry rubs also serves to distinguish regional style of barbecuing, with the Memphis and Texas styles being most closely associated with this method of preparation. I love using a dry rub when I barbecue, preferring it to more heavily sauced preparations, but I hope you are inspired by the ideas presented here to find your own style of barbecue.
To kick things off though, lets start with a classic Memphis Dry Rub preparation.
Smoky, spicy, and just a little sweet, dry rub ribs don’t really need sauce to taste great, though I am partial to pairing them with something akin to the classic eastern Carolina barbecue sauce for some added depth of meaty flavor and a little acidic bite. Petite sirah, with it’s juicy acidity and robust, if simple fruit flavors is my go to wine for memphis style ribs.
Try: Girard Petite Sirah
Click here to find more regional barbecue and wine pairings.
— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth
A whole-hog guide to the history and legacy of Carolina barbecue sauces
While we certainly don't mean to insult the great barbecue of Texas, Memphis and Kansas City, the Carolina region of the South holds the title for both the most traditional, and most regionally-specific styles and sauces. And nothing is more divisive in the Carolinas than barbecue sauce. Read on for a guide to the three key sauces of the region.
The technique of cooking whole animals low and slow over a flame — otherwise known as barbecue — is well-documented as a Native American cooking technique however, the use of regionally specific sauces is a relatively modern phenomenon. It wasn't until commercialized barbecue stands and restaurants began opening up across the South in the early 20th century that those crucial differentiators packaged in squeeze bottles started to appear. Today, there is nowhere that these particular sauces are more important than in the Carolinas.
As food historian Robert Moss writes in his book, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, regional barbecue specialties started to become codified during the turn of the 20th century. As more Americans began moving to cities, restaurants and food stands began popping up to help feed a more mobile workforce. For those in the barbecue business, it made good economic sense to cook and serve the livestock and produce that was cheapest and most readily available. And because at this time, refrigeration wasn't widely available, barbecue cooks needed to limit menus to that which could be cooked and sold within a short time frame. This meant that while 19th century barbecues tended toward large, rambling, potluck-style affairs, burgeoning barbecue restaurants stuck to a few simple specialties — one whole hog cooked per weekend and a couple of sides. These dishes and techniques became, over time, characteristic of that one restaurant or region. The sauces served alongside followed suit.
There are four distinct sauces (well, five, if you count the ketchup-mustard blend known as "rust gravy") served with barbecue throughout the Carolinas — vinegar and pepper, mustard, light tomato and heavy tomato — but it's really the first three that are most important to the region. We'll leave heavy tomato to Kansas City and call it a day.
Vinegar and Pepper
This tangy, spicy sauce most frequently seen at barbecue restaurants in Eastern Carolina and South Carolina's northern coast (or Pee Dee region) is the mostly closely akin to the first barbecue sauces and mops used by Native Americans. These early sauces — made most frequently from butter, vinegar, salt and pepper — were used to baste the whole animals cooked over pits for traditional barbecue. In the Caribbean, where colonizers recorded the first such evidence of barbecue cooking styles, meat was basted with both vinegar and spicy pepper. As early as 1700, Moss has found evidence of colonists and their enslaved African cooks doing the same they'd use a salty, vinegary basting sauce to keep the meat moist as it cooks, but would serve it sans sauce.
As barbecue became popular in the British colonies and, later, the United States, this same tangy, salty basting sauce was used fairly consistently. Early cookbooks, such as Lettice Bryan's Kentucky Housewife (1839) and Annabella Hill's Mrs. Hill's New Cook Book (1872), describe barbecue basted with this simple sauce and dressed very simply, with either lemon and butter (in the case of Bryan) or a little extra sauce (for Hill).
The earliest commercial pioneers of vinegar and pepper sauce were Adam Scott, of Goldsboro, and Bob Melton, of Rocky Mount. Both opened up in the decade after World War II, serving finely chopped whole hog barbecue dressed with a sauce made only from vinegar, salt and red and black pepper. These two men came to define the Eastern Carolina style and had lasting influence on the region. Scott's barbecue sauce is still sold today online and in grocery stores throughout the region, and Melton was named the "King of Southern barbecue" by life magazine in 1958. His restaurant remained open until 2005.
Light Tomato or Lexington-Style
The defining Piedmont and Western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce, which basically takes an Eastern-style sauce and adds just enough ketchup (or ketchup-like ingredients) for a little sweetness and body, came into use after the Heinz company began mass-producing what we today know of as American-style ketchup around the turn of the 20th century. Most writers and historians credit German influence for this sauce German immigrants were influential in the region and preferred to cook with pork shoulders over whole hogs (another defining feature of Lexington-style barbecue), and they are said to have created the sauce to mimic the sweet and sour flavor of dishes from Germany.
This style of barbecue was commercialized in 1919, with the opening of two stands by Jess Swicegood and the two-man team of Sid Weaver and George Ridenhour, both in Lexington, North Carolina. This barbecue was, again, made entirely from pork shoulder, so it is a bit fattier and juicier than its Eastern counterparts. It is also typically much more coarsely chopped or even sliced, which may actually be a better explanation for the thicker sauce than anything else. Thin, vinegary sauces have a tendency to slough right off of large hunks of pulled or chopped pork that little extra thickness from ketchup gives it just the body it needs to stay firmly in place on the pork. (But this is just one person's speculation!)
The most contentious of all the Carolina barbecue sauces, yellow mustard sauce is a hyper-regional mixture native to the midlands region of South Carolina. While today you can find it popping up in other places in the South (B's Cracklin' in Atlanta serves a peach-mustard sauce), it has historically been a central South Carolina thing, and that alone.
Its history isn't well-documented some give credit, again, to German immigrants (pork and mustard!) while others claim it was the creation of the now-infamous Bessinger family. Regardless, it was Maurice Bessinger, a devout white supremacist, who first commercialized the sauce and was responsible for its popularity in the region. By the late 1970s, it had spread from Newberry County (west of Columbia) east to Charleston, and north to Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Moss reports that he has found mustard sauce as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, and today, it's been slowly making its way further afield, but regardless of where you find it, mustard sauce is still neon yellow and tossed with chopped or pulled pork.
Whichever sauce is your preference, know that with every pulled pork sandwich, you're taking a big bite of Southern history.
Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America&rsquos Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook&rsquos Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.
THE ONLY REGIONAL BARBECUE GUIDE YOU’LL EVER NEED – Thrillist
There’s only one thing more American than apple pie: barbecue. And it’s not just American because it represents hard work and dubious healthfulness. It’s also American because nobody can quite agree on how it’s supposed to be done. For as long as there’s been slow-cooked meat, there have been arguments over which regional style is best. Texans know brisket, but you can’t deny Eastern North Carolina hog, or Alabama white sauce. We put together an impartial breakdown of the major styles. It’s on you to hit the road and form some hotly contested opinions.
Memphis has given us so much music — Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, and Justin Timberlake — but the true soul of its city might still be its smoked meat. The first player was Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q, founded by Thomas Jefferson “Bozo” Williams (no, not that Thomas Jefferson). He set up his Mason shop in 1923, a half an hour outside Memphis, and the joint’s still open despite being called Bozo’s (it was also a filming location for the Cash biopic Walk the Line).
The meat: Pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches are classic Memphis, but don’t be surprised if yours comes with a local twist: slaw. German immigrant Leonard Heuberger of the now iconic Leonard’s Pit Barbecue launched his mustard and vinegar-based cabbage slaw as a way to “stretch” supplies one afternoon when the meat ran low. The combo’s so good, it rivals peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, spaghetti and meatballs — you get it. It’s tasty.
The sauce: Actually isn’t always sauce. The city prides itself on dry rub, arguably one of the most distinct aspects of Memphis-style ’cue according Memphian Clint Cantwell, of Grillocracy fame. Every joint will have its own recipe, but common ingredients in a rub include salt, pepper, garlic, and paprika. While there are “wet ribs” in Memphis, slathered with sauce, many (including Cantwell) believe dry rub really truly lets the meat shine through.
The old school icons: Heuberger of Leonard’s Pit Barbecue, without a doubt. Then there’s Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos, who opened his doors in 1948, turning a coal chute into a barbecue pit that still fuels the city’s most widely known smoked meat establishment.
The new school favorites: Memphis-style is so well liked, it’s becoming available all over the country. Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis is just one of the joints throwing down Memphis-style in the Midwest. And you might assume that Memphis Barbecue Co. is… in Memphis, but World BBQ Champion Melissa Cookston has three locations, and not a single one is in Tennessee: Horn Lake, Mississippi, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and the monster suburb of Dunwoody, Georgia.
EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
Eastern NC does barbecue extremely old school. Whole hogs, vinegar, pepper, and spices. That’s why John Shelton Reed, author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, prefers it to the state’s western style. “This is what barbecue was 200 years ago,” he says of the Caribbean-rooted cooking practice. Because tomatoes weren’t popular or easily accessible back then, they weren’t used in the sauce. And because they weren’t used back then, true to tradition, Eastern NC doesn’t use ’em now.
The meat: It’s whole hog or bust in Eastern North Carolina.
The sauce: Stir in the vinegar with cayenne, black pepper, red pepper, salt, and sometimes water. Or just drink the water because you’ll be sweating your (Boston) butt off in front of that pit.
The old school icons: Pete Jones, who opened Skylight Inn BBQ in 1947. The restaurant remains a regional standard today. And B’s Barbecue, which, like many BBQ joints, closes for the day when it runs out of food. Until B’s recently got a phone, the only way to know it was closed would be a sign on the door — though theoretically whoever showed up hungry right after you could skip the sign and just read the disappointment on your face.
The new school favorites: Just last year Sam Jones, grandson of Pete, opened Sam Jones’ BBQ to help preserve the Eastern NC tradition. Wyatt Dickson of Picnic (Durham) is breaking it. He’s got his whole hogs down so perfectly, he’s free to experiment with other items like soft-shell crab sandwiches, not to mention on-fleek social media.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
The style, also known as Lexington or Piedmont, focuses on pork shoulder, and originated during World War I for one simple reason: whole hogs are really freakin’ heavy — upwards of 200lbs, about 72 percent being “dressed weight” or “carcass weight,” aka “edible”. Basically, barbecue was sold on the street in pop-up stands, and nobody wanted to schlep around 144lbs of pig.
The meat: Unlike whole hog, pork shoulder cooks faster and soaks up more flavor, allowing for more hungry mouths to be fed faster. “Red slaw” or “barbecue slaw” is also a staple of Lexington-style ’cue. Swapping out mayo for ketchup also means it doesn’t need to be refrigerated too quickly.
The sauce: Vinegar, salt, red pepper, and dare we say… ketchup or tomato makes up the sauce in Western NC. It maybe be less refined, according to some eastern neighbors, but you can’t have red slaw without it.
The old school icons: Lexington Barbecue, aka “The Honey Monk,” was founded in 1962 by Wayne Monk and is the birthplace of the style. How Wayne got the nickname “Honey” is definitely something you should inquire about when you order.
The new school favorites: Little Richard’s (Winston-Salem slogan: “Eat mo’ pig”) isn’t exactly new it was founded in 1991. But we were talking about World War I a second ago, so…
When it comes to South Carolina ’cue, it’s all about the mustard — a practice given to us by the German immigrants whose names still ring through the town today, as restaurants like Bessinger’s, Shealy’s, and Hite’s continue to serve up “Carolina Gold” on succulent meat.
The meat: Whole hog, pit-smoked, chopped up, and sauced.
The sauce: While in parts of South Carolina you can find a peppery, tomato, or ketchup-based sauce or just a simple vinegar and pepper concoction, the region is known for its aforementioned mustard mix. Carolina Gold is mixed with vinegar, brown sugar, and other spices.
The old school icons: Maurice Bessinger, who practically invented the mustard sauce Jackie Hite’s Bar-B-Que (Leesville)
The new school favorites: With three locations (Sullivans Island, West Ashley, and Downtown), Home Team BBQ is quickly becoming an institution in SC, with creativity in the kitchen setting it apart from others. In 2007 Alabama white sauce wings were incorporated into the menu, and the chefs continually experiment with pastrami, charcuterie, and even smoked seafood. Meanwhile, Lewis Barbecue is making a huge name for itself in Charleston, where native Texan John Lewis relocated to pursue his love of smoked pork (there’s still beef brisket on the menu though — you can take the pitmaster out of Texas…).
While Texas is known for its brisket and Alabama for its white sauce, Kansas City ’cue doesn’t focus on just one thing. It’s inclusive, and this practice can be traced back to its founding father Henry Perry. Known as “Father of Kansas City Barbecue,” he began smoking meats in 1907 and nothing was off limits opossum, woodchuck, and raccoon were all available in addition to beef, and came wrapped in newspaper for just 25 cents. And he shared his smoking secrets with the next generation so barbecue in Kansas could live on long after he passed.
The meat: You won’t find much raccoon being smoked over oak and hickory anymore, but Kansas City doesn’t discriminate when it comes to meat and sides. Brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, chicken, and most importantly, burnt ends, make up just some of the mains. And don’t forget the sides like baked beans, fries, and of course, slaw.
The sauce: The most famous sauce in the city was developed by Arthur Bryant. The restaurateur began working for Perry and eventually took over the business in 1946, after Perry’s death and Arthur’s brother Charlie’s retirement. The vinegar-based sauce is so tart and tangy, no one’s been able to recreate it. The grainy texture is thanks to curry, cumin, cayenne, pit drippings, and god knows what else (anything that tastes that good, who cares).
The old school icons: Perry and the Bryant bros put the town on the map, but don’t dismiss Gates Bar-B-Q (multiple locations). Around the same time the younger Bryant took over, Arthur Pinkard (who also worked under Perry) joined forces with George Gates and opened Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q. Today, its multiple locations — and iconic sauce — are a reminder of the city’s storied past.
The new school favorites: National barbecue champ Rob Magee’s Q39 is just toddler-aged, but his 30-plus years as a classically-trained chef shine through in every plate. It’s upscale as far as ’cue goes, but who says it can’t be? (Well, some people do, but no matter.) Mike Nickle is the young pitmaster at BB’s Lawnside Bar-B-Que, where the burnt ends come with a side of live blues. The joint also serves up “BBQ sundaes” with slaw, pulled pork, sauce, and more (let’s skip the whipped cream and sprinkles though…).
Just one weathered pit connects the two biggest names in Central Texas ’cue. When John Mueller, heir to the Louie Mueller barbecue dynasty, was forced to close his short-lived John Muellers B-B-Q in 2006, word spread that his 1,400lb pit was left in the backyard. His old employee, Aaron Franklin, bought it for $1,000 and soon became one of the biggest names in the Lone Star State — and the world.
The meat: Brisket, brisket, brisket — but pork ribs and beef ribs are popular, too.
The sauce: Depends on where you go. At Louie Mueller’s it’s a simple blend of ketchup, margarine, onion, salt, pepper, and water Cooper’s (Llano) does it a little differently with ketchup, vinegar, black pepper, water, lard, and brisket drippings.
The old school icons: Louie Mueller (Taylor) has the smoker going all day every day — so much so that its skylight is completely blackened as a result. It’s been open since 1949 and was the first BBQ joint to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation.
The new school favorites: Franklin’s (Austin) has quickly risen to the top of the ’cue kingdom. Franklin is a James Beard winner, an author, and has even served President Obama — who bought lunch for the entire, infamous line after he expedited his own order back in 2014.
“Texas barbecue is a feisty mutt,” Robb Walsh writes in his book, Legends of Texas Barbecue. It’s a misconception that it’s just brisket, just beef. East Texans love pork ribs, sausage — meat. And they sure as hell know how to smoke it they’ve been serving it up just as long as any other region with just as much skill, fervor, and flavor.
The meat: Tender beef and pork (chopped instead of sliced and often served on a bun), pork sausage, and beef hot links.
The sauce: Heavy on the hot sauce. Barbecue in East Texas was brought by the Southern African-American community, and smoking the meats — and slathering them with tangy hot sauce — disguised the more affordable, less desirable cuts of the animal.
The old school icons: You can’t talk East Texas ’cue without mentioning Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q (Tyler). It’s been serving the community for over 50 years, but since taking over in 2006, Nick and Jen Pencis have made welcome changes including adding dinner service, installing a full bar, and providing live music. Pat Gee’s (Tyler), named after its late founder, Mack Henry “Pat” Gee, opened in the early ‘60s. Now operated by his sons, Billy Walker and Arthur Gee, it’s still a town favorite. You’ll sweat its iconic sauce (a tomato-based vinegar mix) out of your pores while trying to guess the secret ingredient in the potato salad.
The new school favorites: Young pitmaster Jordan Jackson stepped up to resurrect Longview establishment Bodacious Bar-B-Q in 2015 after his father, original founder Ronald Lindsey, fell ill in the years prior. It’s been a hugely successful passing of the pit.
Every state on this list loves its ’cue, but it’s possible Alabama loves it… a little bit more. 2015 was declared the “Year of Alabama Barbecue” by the state’s department of tourism, and for 365 days locals celebrated BBQ chicken, hogs, and white sauce. (Not like they didn’t already, but this made it official.)
The meat: Pork shoulder and pork ribs, but chicken tastes the best with the famous white BBQ sauce.
The sauce: You can’t leave Alabama before tasting white sauce on smoked chicken. You just can’t. It dates back to 1925 when “Big Bob” Gibson opened his joint in Decatur. Mayonnaise, vinegar, and pepper originally, today variations can include apple juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, and even horseradish. And nearly everyone in Alabama spreads it on well… nearly everything.
The old school icons: “Big Bob” Gibson, clearly. Today world champion pitmaster Chris Lilly is keeping Big Bob Gibson BBQ as popular as ever. And, open since 1984, Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q (Birmingham) is a must-stop for moist chicken, green beans, slaw, and more. But save room for dessert we hear the banana pudding is some of the best ever.
The new school favorites: Saw’s BBQ (Homewood) does Southern cooking done simple. Since 2009, owner Mike Wilson has been drawing a crowd from all over the nation. His non-denominational menu features items from all different ’cue styles.
The Ultimate Healthy Summer Barbecue Guide
Memorial Day has passed, school’s out for some and almost done for others, and soon enough summer will be in full swing, which means it’s time for fun with family and friends at backyard barbecues! I don’t know about you, but I love summer cookouts – what’s better than enjoying nice weather while relaxing with friends?! And of course all those delicious summertime eats and drinks we look forward to all winter long.
But beware – all that deliciousness also comes with a lot of added calories and less than healthy eating behaviors as we munch mindlessly poolside and eat more fatty meats – and more overall – than usual. No need to worry though – I’ve got you covered. Before you head out to barbecue after barbecue, check out this ultimate healthy summer barbecue guide so you can enjoy all the summer cookouts without sacrificing fun or flavor!
Fresh Start Appetizers
First up, appetizers. No cookout is complete without something yummy to munch on before the main course. But snack foods like chips and cheesy or creamy dips are typically pretty high in fat and calories. Instead of filling up on chips and queso, start with a glass of water, focus on socializing with friends instead of the food, and follow these tips to make it to dinner without consuming half a day’s worth of calories.
- Dip wisely: Dip raw veggies (instead of chips) in hummus or salsa (try the watermelon salsa pictured above). Veggies add filling fiber with little fat to keep. Guacamole is also a healthy option, but can be high in calories if you eat too much. Which brings us to…
- Watch your portions: A serving of chips is about 15 chips, and keep your dip to about 1/4 cup to keep calories in check. Grab a small plate and sit down at a table instead of grazing at the buffet to help you keep track of how much you’re eating. Besides, you don’t want to spoil your dinner!
Recipes to Try
Main Course Meats
Next, let’s talk main dishes, which usually consist of a variety of grilled meats. Lean meats are a great source of protein and are extra delicious on the grill, just be sure to use these tips to navigate main dish choices wisely.
- Keep ’em lean. Grill up skinless chicken breasts (either on the bone or cutlets), London broil, beef tenderloin, extra-lean ground beef patties, lean turkey burgers, salmon, or tuna.
- Watch those dogs. Regular hot dogs may not be super high in calories (
180 per hot dog), but they are full of sodium and saturated fat (
Recipes to Try
Simple Sides & Toppings
BBQ side dishes can be delicious, nutrition-packed accompaniments for your grilled protein of choice, but they can also quickly become a nutrition nightmare. Keep it healthy with these simple rules of thumb.
- Load up on veggies: Fill half of your plate with veggies such as a green salad or grilled veggies like summer squash and portobello mushrooms!
- Ditch the mayo: Many prepared side salads like potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw are made with tons of mayonnaise, meaning they can pack up to 22 grams of fat (usually saturated) per cup! Make your own version and swap nonfat plain Greek yogurt for mayo, or try a mustard- or vinegar-based dressing.
- Pay attention to toppings: Toppings can quickly take a burger from a sensible meal to a calorie and fat bomb, so top wisely. Fresh veggies, mustard, pickles, salsa, and avocado are all tasty and healthy choices.
Recipes to Try
The Sweet Stuff
Every great cookout comes with dessert! Don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of something sweet, just steer clear of the heavy treats and follow these tips instead.
- Go for fruit: Grilled fruit is one of the best ways to enjoy the natural sweetness of summer! Or enjoy a fruit salad with fresh mint for a light and refreshing dessert.
- Try a frozen treat: Ice pops made with fresh or frozen fruit and frozen yogurt are both delicious ways to cool down after dinner on a hot summer evening without racking up the calories.
Recipes to Try
No healthy summer barbecue guide is complete without the drinks! It’s perfectly fine to unwind with a beverage or two at a weekend cookout. These tips can help you sip smartly.
- Hydrate first: Make sure you stay hydrated with calorie-free water or unsweetened iced tea. Sparkling water with lime is a refreshing way to increase your fluid intake too. And always alternate alcoholic beverages with water.
- Avoid sugary mixed drinks: Frozen drinks and sugary cocktails add up fast! Just one frozen margarita can have up to 500 calories! Calories from sugary mixers like soda and even fruit juice also add up quickly. Stick with water or add club soda and lime to your spirit of choice, or choose light beer or wine. And don’t forget to keep it to a healthy serving (that’s one drink for women and two for men).
Recipes to Try
That’s not too painful, right? You definitely don’t have to give up your weekend cookouts to stay healthy this summer, just choose wisely and you’ll stay on track and have fun! Happy Grilling!
Want even more recipes for your healthier summer BBQ? Check out our roundup of 70+ Healthy & Delicious Backyard BBQ Recipes or this Memorial Day Roundup for more inspiration!
Like Carolina barbecue, Texas barbecue consists of several different styles of cooking—as many as four, in fact, depending on how one counts. But unlike Carolina barbecue, in Texas, it's all about the beef.
Probably the most classic Texas barbecue is the so-called Central Texas style, which at one time dominated a broad region west and southwest of Dallas-Ft. Worth, but which now transcends any precise geographical boundaries.
And in Central Texas barbecue, brisket is king. The brisket in Central Texas is seasoned with a dry rub, often consisting only of salt and black pepper, smoked over oak and otherwise prepared with little to no sauce whatsoever. The meat is served sliced with sides of pinto beans, pickles, potato salad and white bread.
Another Central Texas fixture is hot gut sausages, made from beef, seasoned salt, pepper and plenty of cayenne pepper and stuffed in a natural pork casing then smoked, and finally grilled.
The next main variant is East Texas barbecue, which more closely resembles Carolina barbecue in its style in that it involves smoked meat, usually beef but sometimes pork as well, which is chopped, tossed in a sweet tomato-based sauce and served on a bun. And as in the Carolinas, pork ribs are widely available in East Texas as well.
West Texas barbecue features dry-rubbed beef brisket and beef ribs smoked with mesquite and is sometimes referred to as "cowboy barbecue."
There's also a South Texas variant which, because of its proximity to Mexico, goes by the Spanish name barbacoa, and traditionally called for wrapping a cow's head in agave leaves, cooking it slowly in a pit of coals and serving the meat in tacos. Today barbacoa is prepared in a smoker and oven with equally succulent results.
Signature dish: Dry-rubbed smoked brisket and hot gut sausages
NYC Barbecue Guide: The Best Urban Cue In The United States
When 18 legendary pitmasters from around the country descended upon Madison Square Park in June for the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, there was a sense that they were delivering smoky goodness to the residents of Gotham like some sort of Peace Corps of Pork aid program. But in truth, when they departed at the end of the weekend, they left behind some mighty fine barbecue for New York City residents to enjoy year-round.
Danny Meyer and Kenny Callahan spearhead the annual Block Party, but they also run one of the best barbecue joints in town at Blue Smoke. Together, with the hip Jazz Standard downstairs, Blue Smoke is your one-stop shop for both smokin’ meat and music.
With two locations, Flatiron and Battery Park City, Blue Smoke offers excellent representations of regional barbecue styles along with some upscale goofs on traditional dishes like deviled eggs and salt and vinegar pork rinds. Thanks to their association with Mike “The Legend” Mills of 17 th Street Bar and Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois, Blue Smoke’s baby back ribs benefit from a liberal application of Mills’s Magic Dust seasoning. Even more spectacular are the Texas beef ribs that are seasoned as simply as imaginable with just salt and black pepper. You can save your secret rub recipes for barbecue competitions. Simpler is better when it comes to allowing the flavor of the meat come through, and Callahan clearly understands the concept of less is more with these delicious ribs.
Other New Yorkers swear by the ‘cue at Daisy May’s, another operation that pays homage to different barbecue styles from around the country at their cafeteria-style dining room and carry-out store at the corner of 11 th Avenue and 46 th Street. Daisy May’s also takes their show on the road with mobile BBQ carts to feed the teeming masses of Manhattan who can’t make it to Clinton for lunch.
Head chef Adam Perry Lang has shared some of his barbecue knowledge in his book BBQ 25: The World’s Most Flavorful Recipes Now Made Foolproof. This “BBQ survival guide” is even printed on heavy board paper guaranteed to survive any sauce or beer spills, so you’ll feel comfortable bringing it out to the grill or smoker while you work.
In the restaurant, Lang creates a menu that represents styles from North Carolina to Texas, with stops in Kansas City and Memphis along the way. Indeed, a tasting menu features geographic variety from Kansas City sweet and sticky ribs to Memphis-style dry rub ribs, Tennessee beer can chicken, Oklahoma beef ribs, Texas beef brisket and a helping of Carolina pulled pork. Served with the obligatory slab of spicy cornbread and three sides (called “fixins’” on the menu in a quaint nod to the more agrarian regions), this meal is like a $30 tour of the heartland for hungry New Yorkers.
At Virgil’s Real Barbecue, Artie Cutler decided to take that sort of tour himself before even starting up the restaurant. Chronicled in the old school placemats in the form of a map of Barbecutopia, Cutler took his management team on a pilgrimage through the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas to discover the best in regional barbecue styles to add to their new menu. After his neo-roadhouse opened in the heart of Times Square in 1994, Cutler began to share his version of Southern hospitality to tourists and locals alike.
From an Oklahoma “Flat Dog” to brisket, ribs and pulled pork, Virgil’s offers solid representations of the food he and his staff discovered during their sojourn. With fried chicken and catfish, chicken fried steak and sides like collard greens stewed with ham hocks on the menu, Virgil’s is a great place for homesick Southerners to get a little taste of home while being held prisoner of war on the bustling island. Take the placemat home with you as a good start to planning your own journey into the smoky underbelly of America.
John Stage makes no pretense of having any sort of the South in him. A straight-up Yankee from upstate New York, Stage started smoking meat in a 55-gallon drum he’d cut in half to create a mobile concession stand for gatherings of Harley riders that he was already attending as a motorcycle enthusiast back in 1983. It turns out that bikers love them some good barbecue, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was born.
After opening brick and mortar locations in several towns in the northern part of New York State, Stage finally set his sights on the big city in 2004. Recently, Dinosaur’s Harlem location was forced to move a few blocks from 125 th St. to 131 st St to make room for an expansion of Columbia University, but in the truly resourceful fashion of a man who got his start cooking in a recycled oil drum, Stage only closed the restaurant for three days to make the move.
Dinosaur fans enjoy massive racks of St. Louis cut ribs that would satisfy Fred Flintstone and a slow-smoked shoulder dish known descriptively and accurately as the “Big Ass Pork Plate.” Stage reaches out beyond just the traditional American styles with Korean beef ribs, a chicken steak served churrasco-style and even seafood options like Drunken Shrimp and BBQ Jerked Salmon.
Elizabeth Karmel is a rarity in the male-dominated barbecue industry, a female pitmistress who is regarded as one of the country’s experts on grilling and smoking, regardless of gender. The author of numerous cookbooks and a frequent contributor to cooking magazine and television shows, Karmel has even been invited to grill at the James Beard House. Fortunately, New Yorkers don’t need to try to wrangle an invitation to Jimmy Beard’s bungalow to experience her cooking thanks to her gig as Executive Chef at Hill Country, Marc Glosserman’s restaurant dedicated to Austin, the barbecue and live music capital of Central Texas.
The custom meat-smoking room at Hill Country is filled with brisket, sausage and ribs being slow smoked over Texas post oak to create the most authentic experience possible outside of the Lone Star state. Served in the traditional butcher-style on sheets of paper and sold by the pound just like old-fashioned Texas meat markets, meat is served straight from the pit after being carved by professional pitmasters. Diners pay by the pound after making their choice of bread or crackers to use as a palette for Hill Country’s smoky masterpieces.
Karmel has also developed an outstanding menu of side dishes and desserts that feature other Texas regional favorites like Kreuz Market sausage, Big Red soda and Blue Bell ice cream. Add in a bar filled with longneck beers, bourbon and tequila, and a stage populated with the best in American roots rockers, and a visit to Hill Country is like a trip to Austin without having to mess with LaGuardia. Drop in for a Shiner Bock and a pound of sliced brisket.
116 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
Drink: John Wilson's top tips to find the best value party wines
Christmas is coming and the party season is getting into full swing. If you are working on a budget, holding a party, or catering for large numbers of friends and relations over Christmas, buying wine can be a real challenge.
Most of the time, I tend to avoid writing about the very least expensive wines in this column. Part of my job, as I see it, is to tempt you to try something a little different and hopefully more exciting than your usual weekly purchase.
Sadly most of these wines cost more to produce and are therefore always going to be more expensive. As was made very clear prior to the budget, we have the highest duty on wine of any EU country.
When you buy a bottle of wine selling for €6.99, you are handing €4.50 straight to the Government. That leaves around € 2.49 for the retailer and producer, once they have looked after warehousing, shipping and other incidentals. Little wonder that most taste so boring.
As outlined here before, it is now possible to make soft, vaguely fruity wines, usually with a healthy dose of residual sugar to hide any deficiencies. A few stand out as being better than the rest, and a few are completely undrinkable. But the vast majority fall somewhere in between.
I have been to tastings held by three of the five major supermarkets in recent weeks. I have tasted hundreds of wines. It seems the levels of residual sugar are on the increase, with some wines, including a few reds, distinctly sweet. I suspect these are aimed at a generation reared on sweet drinks. I find them undrinkable.
There has been a welcome move from some supermarkets to increase their range to include some more expensive wines. If you pay a few euro more, there are some good wines to be found. But much of the time, at a higher price level, you may be better off going to an off-licence or wine shop.
The multiples all offer the well-known names such as Sancerre, Marlborough Sauvignon and Chianti, usually at cheap prices. However, the best producers in classic regions can usually sell their wine at higher prices, so you are unlikely to get a bargain here.
If you are prepared to switch to a lesser-known name, a good independent wine retailer will have a range of superior wines at the same price. These offer far better value. Of the multiples, O’Briens and Marks & Spencer are the most adventurous, offering a range that goes beyond the well-known names. The same independents will usually offer a decent house wine.
Most of you will already have a favourite style of wine. I find the best options for white wines tend to be those that have not been oaked – good oak is expensive and most of these wines will have been flavoured with oak chips or planks rather than aged in a barrique, which can cost up to €1,000.
Look out for Sauvignon Blanc (from Chile, Bordeaux or the Loire valley are my preferred options) Semillon, and unoaked Chardonnay. I also find the white wines of south-west France and Sicily can offer the best value.
Spain is one of the few regions that can produce decent inexpensive red wines. I have recommended the Aldi Toro Loco Tempranillo 2013, but on this occasion I enjoyed their Ribera del Duero – see below. This is one of the poshest wine regions of Spain, where you would normally expect to pay at least twice the €8 price on this bottle. Tesco also has a very decent version, Mayor de Castilla, for €10.
Otherwise, the vast La Mancha region produces large quantities of very gluggable Tempranillo, usually at very competitive prices. Other than that, I find Merlot and Cabernet from Chile can offer very good value some of the less expensive wines have less oak and a nice purity of fruit.
In the past I have recommended some inexpensive Côtes du Rhônes, however any that I have tasted recently were distinctly unimpressive.
This Christmas I would look to the Languedoc in the south of France, or the south of Italy. As with the white wines, I try to steer clear of red wines that have been aged in oak. Cheap oak is simply nasty, especially if you are serving the wine without food at a party.
I would also suggest buying wines with lower alcohol levels preferably 13-13.5 per cent.
John Wilson’s new book Wilson on Wine 2015, the wines to drink this year, published by Irish Times Books, is in bookshops now, priced €12.99
Buy it now with free postage and packing in the Irish Times bookshop
Your complete barbecue guide
Do a thorough safety check before christening a new barbecue or firing a steak on old faithful. Charcoal and gas varieties both need more than a quick wipe-down before using.
Clean-up for charcoal barbecues is minimal. Wash the kettle inside and out with warm soapy water, then follow these three easy steps:
- Clean food grate with a wire grill brush. Wash with warm soapy water and rinse. Brush grate with vegetable oil.
- Discard ashes from bottom of kettle. Fill with fresh charcoal just before using.
- Wash ash-catcher – it’s the small circular tray just below the kettle.
There are a variety of styles of gas grills, but the clean-up is basically the same:
- Replace propane hose if there are any cracks or holes.
- Clean burner tubes – insects love to nest inside them, which often leads to ignition problems. Remove knobs and screws from control panel, then lift off panel. Pull out tubes and insert a pipe cleaner or long stiff wire brush to free any blockages.
- Clean food grate with a wire grill brush. Wash with warm soapy water and rinse. Oil grate. Wash warming rack.
- Scrape up and discard accumulated “gunk” from bottom tray. Clean or replace grease catcher. Never line barbecue with foil grease can get trapped in creases and become a fire hazard.
- Replace any broken briquettes.
- Wash lid and outside with warm soapy water. Never use oven cleaners outside or inside a barbecue. They’re packed with industrial chemicals that may remove paint and taint food during cooking.
Experts have argued that there are no significant differences in taste between charcoal and gas – insisting that smoky barbecue flavour comes from juices that drip down and create smoke. So depending on your lifestyle, choose your grill accordingly:
Now that you’re all fired up, here are some barbecue must-haves to ensure safe and successful grilling.
Wide metal spatulas Good for turning burgers and fish
Long-handled tongs Handy for turning chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks and veggies
Grill basket Perfect for grilling cut veggies and shrimp
Instant read thermometer A necessity for checking doneness of burgers and large roasts (both must be cooked to 160F/70C)
Sturdy brush Essential for basting and brushing on marinades and sauces
Long mitts and apron Vital for reaching over a hot grill and protection from saucy splashes
Water spritz-bottle Ideal for putting out sudden flare-ups
Chimney starter No-fail solution for firing up charcoal barbecues
Craving a juicy barbecued steak? Choosing the best one for the grill can be a daunting experience if you don’t know what you’re looking for or where to go. There are a wide variety of steaks on the market and all differ in price, taste and tenderness. And then there’s the lingo – supermarkets and butchers differ slightly in what they call a steak.
Supermarket savvy A few years ago, a government-approved naming system for beef cuts was designed to make identifying different cuts easier for the consumer. So at the supermarket, you’ll find packaged steaks labeled with the cut of meat followed by the appropriate cooking method. Steaks are divided into three categories: grilling steaks, marinating steaks and simmering steaks. For barbecuing, choose grilling or marinating steaks.
Butcher smarts The major difference when shopping at the butcher is that the steak name will not include a cooking method. For example, a steak labeled “rib eye grilling steak” from the grocery store will be called a “rib eye” at the butcher. Butchers mainly carry grilling and marinating steaks during barbecue season. They will also cater to your personal needs – cut an extra-thick strip loin and answer any questions about differences in cattle breeds. Some even dispense valuable grilling tips or their favourite recipe!
Steak cuts Depending on the cut, some steaks are naturally tender while others need marinating. Both can be delicious and it’s fun to experiment with different tastes and textures. Whether you take a trip to the grocer or butcher, here’s what to look for:
Grilling steaks These require no marinating but can benefit from spice rubs or sauces for a different taste. The most flavourful, tender and juicy steaks are “marbled” with thin veins of ivory-coloured fat evenly running throughout the meat.
Marinating steaks These are usually less expensive than grilling steaks and not as naturally tender. Marinating helps tenderize the meat and gives a flavour boost, too.
The United States of BBQ: The Best Barbecue From Each of the 50 States
Three decades ago, one would have been hard-pressed to compile a list of the best barbecue in each of the 50 states. America’s low-and-slow tradition was a highly regionalized practice mainly found in the South. Back then, asking a person to track down a single barbecue restaurant in states with little spiritual connection to the wood-burning pit—Connecticut, say, or North Dakota—was sending him on a fool's errand.
But these days, the problem is narrowing down the list. Barbecue has now won over fans all across the country, driven first by cable television and then by social media, which popularized the idea of “destination barbecue.” This cultural exchange has blurred regional boundaries, inspiring Carolina pitmasters to try their hand at Texas-style brisket, and those down in Texas to tackle whole hog. (And don’t get us started about the six packs of different sauces found on the tables at the places our friend John Shelton Reed has dubbed “The International House of Barbecue.”
On the plus side, though, it is now possible to find really good barbecue no matter where your travels may take you. So, when First We Feast asked Daniel Vaughn and I to compile our picks for the best barbecue in each state, we pulled out our maps, scanned our sauce-stained eating logs, and decided, yes, we might actually be able to pull this thing off.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Quality barbecue is still not distributed equally throughout the country, and trying to pick just one “best” in barbecue-blessed states like Texas and North Carolina is bound to be arbitrary and capricious. For such states, we homed in on the joint that, in our minds, most completely encapsulates the unique style and traditions of its particular region—the style of cooking, the type of sauce, and the legacy the restaurant represents.
And then there are places like Alaska and Utah. It’s not for lack of trying, but even between the two of us we’ve not yet managed to canvass the barbecue in every single state in this big nation. So we leaned upon our a few trusted friends and fellow food writers for nominations for the more out-of-the-way corners of the country.
Local partisans, we are sure, will quibble with our picks, but that comes with the territory when you start ranking barbecue. We do feel confident about one thing, though: If you go and eat at any one of these spots, you’re bound to have a memorable meal.
Of course, actually cooking barbecue is only half the battle – it’s the marinades, sauces and other ingredients you pair with the main protein that make it stand out, particularly in Chinese barbecue. By far the most popular way of preparing Chinese barbecued pork is char siu from Hong Kong, which involves marinating cuts of belly, loin or shoulder in a bright red sauce made with honey, five-spice, soy, hoisin and fermented bean curds (you can also get very good ready-made marinades which save a lot of time when preparing char siu at home form companies such as Lee Kum Kee). Chicken is often served with a simple soy sauce or a combination of ginger and spring onions, while duck is cooked until crisp and (particularly in the West) served with hoisin sauce.
Generally speaking, shaokao skewers from northern and western parts of China will be marinated in light soy sauce, often with plenty of chilli and spices such as cumin to complement the smoked flavour of the meat. Further south – particularly in Cantonese cooking – sweeter and more umami flavours tend to replace the fiery heat of chilli. That means hoisin and oyster sauces are used to bring out the flavour of the meat and fish, with dark soy sauce adding a more prominent punch of saltiness.
These methods of amplifying the inherent flavour of barbecued meats aren’t just found in China they’re replicated across the world. In the US, low-and-slow barbecue often involves rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt, spices and brown sugar, and classic British choices like burgers and sausages are adorned with sweet and tangy ketchup or fiery mustard. As British home cooks start to experiment more and more with international flavours when barbecuing in their back gardens, ingredients like soy sauce, chilli oil, hoisin, oyster sauce and other Chinese standbys provide an easy way to incorporate the flavours of the country’s beloved barbecue with ease.