8 Regional BBQ Styles That Will Make Texans Faint

Regional BBQ Styles (Besides Texas)

Cheapism / Ernesto Andrade (CC BY-ND) / Jeremy A. / Yelp / Robin J. / Yelp

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Regional BBQ Styles (Besides Texas)
Cheapism / Ernesto Andrade (CC BY-ND) / Jeremy A. / Yelp / Robin J. / Yelp

Smokin' Delicious

People are territorial about their barbecue. There's a vast array of low-and-slow meat styles across America, and people are fiercely loyal to their favorites. Unfortunately, like all great food debates, that means many often dismiss whole regions of amazing food. Why on earth would anyone reject mouthwatering smoked meat?

Once you get past any BBQ biases you may have — we're looking at you, Texans — there's plenty of regional barbecue styles to explore. Here are some of the most distinct that might surprise you with their uniqueness. 

Barbecue Ribs, Rendezvous in Memphis, Tennessee

1. Memphis

Iconic BBQ joints: Rendezvous

Pork ribs are king in Memphis, where they're prepared two different ways: wet or dry. Dry ribs are smoked with only a dry rub for seasoning, while wet ribs are basted during smoking and then coated in barbecue sauce that's usually thick and tomato-based. Pulled pork shoulder is also on just about every barbecue joint's menu, and it's paired with the same tangy BBQ sauce. 

Memphis also has a tradition of experimentation, so you'll see plenty of smoked meat-studded dishes on menus as well, like pulled pork nachos, barbecue spaghetti, and pizza.

Related: The Best Barbecue Ribs in Every State

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q smoked chicken white sauce yelp
Mike W. / Yelp

2. Alabama

Iconic BBQ jointsBig Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q

Alabama's main claim to BBQ fame is its distinctive white barbecue sauce, which was created at Big Bob Gibson's. It's made with mayonnaise, vinegar for plenty of tang, and spices to round it all out. You'll most often see it as a sauce for smoked chicken, which is prevalent around here. Beyond chicken, all types of smoked meat are popular in Alabama, especially pork and turkey, which goes well with the white sauce.

Related: Holy Smokes! Bucket-List Barbecue in Every State

Skylight Inn BBQ whole hog yelp
Jacqueline T. / Yelp

3. Eastern Carolinas

Iconic BBQ joints: Skylight Inn BBQ, Scott's BBQ

Both North and South Carolina have a plethora of barbecue styles which could be broken down into countless tiny regions. But in general, Eastern Carolinas barbecue means whole hog. The pig is king here, and pitmasters slow smoke it whole. Once it's falling apart (and with crunchy, crackling skin that's often served along with it), it's generally chopped into a heavenly pile of meat. 

In eastern North Carolina, chopped pork is served with a vinegar-based sauce that's thin and full of pepper — no tomatoes here. In South Carolina, a thick mustard-based sauce, dubbed "Carolina Gold", is the go-to. 

Lexington Barbecue chopped pork yelp
Jacqueline T. / Yelp

4. Western Carolinas

Iconic BBQ joints: Lexington Barbecue

Also called Piedmont or Lexington style barbecue, Western Carolinas 'que is also focused on the pig. It's primarily pulled pork shoulder instead of whole hog, but it's also chopped finely (some joints will give you "coarse chop" if you ask). The farther west you go, the more tomato you're going to get in your barbecue sauce, though it's still got plenty of vinegar tartness everywhere. Interestingly, you'll also find red slaw served with barbecue in Lexington, which is vinegar- and ketchup-based instead of creamy.

Related: Taste Test: Which Store-Bought BBQ Sauce Is the Best?

Arthur Bryant's burnt ends yelp
Robin J. / Yelp

5. Kansas City

Iconic BBQ jointsArthur Bryant's

Whereas most regions specialize in one particular meat, Kansas City loves to smoke them all. There's ribs, chicken, brisket, and sausage. But if there's one thing that KC does better than everywhere else, it's burnt ends. They're the chopped, fatty end of the brisket with a thick layer of bark for extra flavor. No matter what meat you get here, it'll be smothered in KC's signature sauce, which is super thick and sweet thanks to ingredients like ketchup and molasses. 

Old Hickory Bar-B-Que mutton yelp
Jeremy A. / Yelp

6. Kentucky

Iconic BBQ joints: Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

You can find many versions of barbecue throughout Kentucky, but one stands out for its uniqueness. In Owensboro in the western part of the state, mutton (a.k.a. sheep) is the smoked meat of choice. You can usually get it chopped, sliced, or in rib form, and often from a buffet. The sauce on it and served on the side is a rich blend that's heavy on the worcestershire, lending it its dark color.

Helena's Hawaiian food kalua pork yelp
Makoto C. / Yelp

7. Hawaii

Iconic BBQ joints: Helena's Hawaiian Food

Though you might not think of Hawaii when you think of American barbecue, the state has a long tradition of low-and-slow-cooked meat. Whole pigs are cooked in underground ovens called imus with lava rocks, wood, and banana leaves, resulting in kalua pork, the specialty of luaus and celebrations. Beyond that, an interesting mix of of cultures has led to kalbi short ribs, teriyaki beef, and char sui chicken. Rice and mayo-heavy macaroni salad are musts on the side.

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Tri-tip by Ernesto Andrade (CC BY-ND)

8. Central California

Iconic BBQ jointsThe Hitching Post

California is probably not the first place you think of when you think of barbecue, but the central coastal area of the Santa Maria Valley has a long tradition of smoking meat. The cut of choice is tri-tip, something you might not even find outside the state, though prime rib and sirloin are also used. The beef is spit- or grate-roasted over a hardwood pit until it's tender and juicy. Beans, salsa, and tortillas were the original sides, though today you can get it with everything from shrimp cocktail to garlic bread.

Related: You're Not a True Californian Unless You've Tried These 11 Foods