A guide to barbecue in America

Dry or wet? Beef or pork? Ribs or brisket? Sliced or chopped?

Dry or wet? Beef or pork? Ribs or brisket? Sliced or chopped? Fastest way to lose your food and get disavowed is giving a barbecue enthusiast the wrong answer in the wrong part of town.

Yes, if you were wondering, there is a difference in grilled versus barbecue. Grilled meats are quickly cooked over heat with an open lid. Think hot dogs, burgers, steaks and kebabs. Whereas barbecue is a long and slow process that could take up to 18 hours. This includes brisket, pork and ribs. If you're ordering or cooking wet that means your meat is being cooked in a sauce. If it's dry it means the meat has been rubbed and will be cooked just with a seasoning mix. The pit master is the person who makes your barbecue dreams come true. And you mop your meat by brushing a vinegar-based sauce on a piece of meat.

Barbecue can be described from what type of wood it's cooked over to how it's cut. The process of slow cooking meat was already smoldering in western hemisphere by the time the Europeans got to the Americas. Tribes would make barbacoa, beef or lamb slow-cooked, over an open fire or underground with a cover of aloe leaves. That tradition worked its way up to America's Deep South, whose communities host town barbecues.

Although there are many variations of barbecue, there are four distinctive regions known for their pit skills: Kansas City, Memphis, the Carolinas and Texas.

1. Texas

In Texas, barbecue is predominantly beef or pork. Chicken is the second tier guest in the smoker. Barbecue in East Texas is served chopped and heavily sauced. East Texans don't serve coleslaw along with the meat. Central Texas barbecue is heavily influenced by the German and Czech settlers of the 1800s. Meat is rubbed in a seasoning and then smoked over pecan, hickory or mesquite for several hours. Your brisket is normally served with coleslaw, beans, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese.

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2. North Carolina

There are two different styles here. Let's say you decided to go on a road trip in North Carolina. Then you stop, let say in central North Carolina. That barbecue is served Lexington style. You would be feasting on the pork shoulders and ribs. On the side, you're eating hushpuppies and probably a Lexington slaw, which coleslaw made with a Lexington sauce made of spice, ketchup. Go a few miles east and you'll get the whole pig minus the squeal. Both versions are served with a spice and vinegar based sauce.

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3. South Carolina

Pork is the prominent meat here too. The difference is in the sauces. If it's a sauce that's meant for barbecue, it's a-okay here. Mustard-based, vinegar-based, and light and heavy tomato-based sauces are all served throughout the state. A popular option is the Carolina Gold sauce, a vinaigrette with a mustard and brown sugar base, is served with or on the meat in the west. In central South Carolina, a spicy, peppery sauce is made.

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4. Memphis, TN

If it ain't pork, it ain't' barbecue in Elvis's hometown. Memphis is known for smoking pork over a low hickory fire until the meat practically falls off the bone. There are two popular dishes: ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, both served up with coleslaw. Rubs are paprika based and sauce is a tomato-based vinaigrette. Memphis takes its barbecue so seriously that it holds an annual The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. And Memphians practically put pull pork on like everything.

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5. Kansas City

Kansas City doesn't discriminate when it comes to meat. Chicken, pork and beef are all fair game. What makes Kansas City barbecue different is the dry-rubbed meat topped with a tomato-molasses sauce. A Kansas City special is a sandwich of the charred tips of meat. Kansas's history in barbecue is directly related to the being a meatpacking city. Henry Perry opened a barbecue stand in downtown Kansas. He served it with a sauce described as peppery and harsh. Arthur Bryant bought Perry's business and his secret sauce. To sweeten things up, Bryant added molasses to the tomato-based sauce.

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Do you have the meat sweats yet?


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