Dear New York,
We’ve got a bone to pick with you. See we’ve been here a while, and we’ve seen some things. Some things that you call barbecue. But we’re here to inform you that BBQ as you know it is, for the most part, not BBQ at all. And, dear misinformed New York, you are missing out on so much.
Let’s start with the word itself. Early on, we realized that when New Yorkers talked about “going to a barbecue” they were not talking about the events of our childhood. A barbecue in New York is a completely different beast than a barbecue in the South. Allow us to clear one thing up, for your own personal edification.
“Barbecue” is not throwing a few burgers and hot dogs on the grill and calling it a day. That is a cook-out. What you’ve been passing off as barbecuing? That’s called grilling, bless your heart, and doesn’t come close to the culinary heights of true BBQ.
See barbecue, real barbecue, is the slow smoking of some form of meat; our personal preference is for pork, but mutton and beef are also acceptable. If you’re inviting us to a barbecue, there best be a pit or a smoker in sight. Anything else is just false advertising on your part. We’re not trying to shame you — you didn’t know any better, bless your yankee heart — but we’ve been burned before. So really this lesson is for your benefit, and for ours.
Now that we’ve got the broad strokes straight, let’s break it down. Barbecue in the United States is not one homogenous entity. It is a broad culinary genre that encompasses four major categories. Further hybrid and sub-categories abound, but you’ve gotta crawl before you can run, so we’ll stick to the basics here: Carolina, Memphis, Texas, and Kansas City.
Carolina Style: North Carolina takes its barbecue very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it’s become a political issue, with a constant battle raging over which approach should be considered the “official” state style of barbecue. There’s the Lexington or Piedmont Style, which generally uses pork shoulder with a vinegar-based sauce seasoned with ketchup and pepper. On the other side, you have Eastern Style, which uses the whole hog and a vinegar sauce that excludes any sort of tomato product (Zelda’s on their side with this one. If she had her druthers, ketchup would be banned altogether. From the world.). Both factions are adamant that their style is superior, with loyalties running as red hot as sports team allegiances. (South Carolina gets even more complicated, with three separate styles distinguished by their sauces, from Pee Dee to Carolina Gold. But that’s a lesson for another day.)
Memphis Style: Memphis style also consists of two varieties: wet and dry. Meat-wise, either style usually consists of ribs or pork shoulder. The dry style is covered in a rub, pit smoked, and then eaten without sauce. The wet style, as the name might suggest, is all about that sauce, with the meat generously brushed before, during, and after cooking (cue the hand wipes). Memphis is also big on barbecue sandwiches, and they even go so far as to include the smoked stuff on everything from pizza to nachos.
Texas Style: The great and giant state of Texas has its substyles as well, generally divided into East, West, South and Central Texas. While most disciples of Carolina and Memphis style will maintain that barbecue is a pork-only affair, Texas is less concerned about the meat, and more about the smoke. Beef, pork, sheep — pretty much anything goes. They are, however, quite picky about what wood they smoke that meat over. East Texas is hickory-smoked, Central Texas uses pecan or oak, and West Texas is over mesquite. South Texas is the wild child; their signature move is a thick, molasses-like sauce that keeps the meat nice and juicy.
Kansas City Style: Kansas City is single minded in their style, and a little less picky than their Carolina and Memphis counterparts. Brought to Missouri by Memphis-native Henry Perry in the early 1900’s, Kansas City style barbecue encompasses a wide variety of meats, dry rubbed and slow-smoked over a variety of woods. But no matter the meat, KC barbecue always includes a thick, sweet tomato and molasses based sauce, served on the side.
Now New York, you may be asking yourself: “Why did they just tell me about all these delicious slow-cooked meats when their birthplaces are thousands of miles away? Does Seamless deliver from Raleigh?” Not to fear, luckily there are other barbecue enthusiasts who have decamped to your fair boroughs: passionate believers, like us, in the beauty of a well-roasted hog. So don’t just take our word for it. You can find all of these styles of barbecue within your borders.
For Carolina Style, try Arrogant Swine in Bushwick. 73 Morgan Ave. (Morgan or Montrose stop on the L), open Tues.-Sun., arrogantswine.com
For Memphis Style, try Southern Hospitality in Hell’s Kitchen (Yes, it was co-created by Justin Timberlake. What can we say, Memphis boy knows his BBQ!) 645 9th Ave. (42nd St. stop on the ACE, or like eight other trains), open every day, southernhospitalitybbq.com
For Texas Style, try BrisketTown in Williamsburg. 359 Bedford Ave. (Bedford stop on the L or Marcy Av. stop on the JMZ), open Wed.-Sun., delaneybbq.com
For Kansas City Style, try John Brown’s Smokehouse in Long Island City. 10-43 44th Drive (Court Sq. stop on the E, M, 7, or G), open every day, johnbrownseriousbbq.com
Zelda is particularly partial to the Memphis and Kansas City styles, having resided in both towns during her formative years. But if you’re feeling really adventurous, our personal NYC favorite is the Oklahoma City Style at Mable’s Smokehouse & Banquet Hall in Williamsburg. Their sides are equally awesome, and the friendly staff gives it a very homey vibe. Or maybe it’s just our Louisvillian hearts recognized a fellow transplant‘s touches. Namely the excellent (correctly made) mint juleps. 44 Berry Street (Bedford Ave Stop on the L, Nassau Ave on the G), open every day, mablessmokehouse.com
Now go forth, darlings, and sample widely. You can thank us later.
Zelda & Scout
I had to test my Dallas-born husband after reading this and asked him what’s the “right” wood to use when smoking meat…instead of a straight answer, I got a lecture on allll the different types of wood, meat, rubs, and sauces that can be used throughout different regions of the South. Finally he landed on “Central/East Texas,” which I guess makes sense because his dad’s from central Texas.