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If You Ask Me: America’s Best BBQ. Period.


a blogumn by Travis Randall

bestbbq-Fox Magrathea CirceA question I get a lot is “What is the best style of BBQ?” That’s hard to answer because there are so many sub categories of BBQ. People around this country can’t even decide which spelling is the right one [BBQ, Bar-B-Q, Barbecue, etc].

BBQ [my preferred spelling] styles are broken up by region. Entire books have been written on the specific breakdowns of styles so I am going to generalize BBQ into broad categories.  These styles are: California [Santa Maria Style], Hawaiian Style, Missouri Style [I am lumping together St. Louis & Kansas City Styles], Texas Style, Tennessee Style [Memphis Style is most prominent], and Southern Style [Carolina, Georgia, Alabama].

The easiest way to pick a winner is to pick the losers out first. Let me say that all of these styles are really good and if done correctly I am pleased as a pickle to be eating any of them, but for the sake of your taste buds I will pick the best.

First let me tell you what BBQ is. Purists define it as meat cooked by indirect heat using hardwoods for fuel as well as for flavor. Traditional BBQ in this country was once considered slave food. Slave owners would often give the undesirable cuts of meat to the slaves and they developed it into a delicious cuisine. Another factor I sometimes take into consideration is side dishes.

Right off the bat I will eliminate California and Hawaiian styles from the running.

California’s Tri-Tip fits in somewhere between grilling and BBQing. It is cooked over a flame, higher and cooler than grilling but still not BBQ. Hawaiians do up the pit pigs but this isn’t truly the American way and most of their BBQ, and other cuisine for that matter, is pieced together from other cultures and styles.

Next on my chopping block is the Missouri styles. It is generally served with a tangy sweet sauce. For me the meat is a bit too sweet and saucy. I feel like their flavoring overpowers the meat and it almost turns it into dessert. The sauce is like fancy ketchup. They are famous for being the region that brought you KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce and they have a nationally recognized BBQ restaurant in Arthur Bryant’s BBQ.

Next to go is Tennessee style. One of my favorite BBQ items is Memphis Dry Ribs. The East is big on pork and they do a mean pulled pork in these parts. Their sauces are sweetened with molasses and parts of the state use a slightly spicier or higher vinegar variation of their standard ketchup based sauce. The sides aren’t super exciting but they make good beans here. Generally you get fries, mayo-mustard based tater salad, or creamy coleslaw as a side. Memphis is host to the BBQ World Championship each year.

It’s getting hard now…I have to let Texas go. I just spent the last week in Texas and I ate amazing BBQ. I ate lunch in Lockhart three times in three hours and that ain’t no joke. Texas isn’t big on sauce or complex rubs. It isn’t uncommon to have a Texas style brisket rubbed with just salt and pepper. They let the meat and the smoke do the talking. They love hickory and pecan wood and so do I. The saying “Everything Is Bigger In Texas” is true with their BBQ. They sell it buy the pound at most old school places. A popular item in Texas is breakfast tacos made with the previous days BBQ and egg in a small tortilla.

Brisket is king in Texas but they like their pigs too. They make excellent smoked sausage in central Texas which shows off their German influences. Sides aren’t a big emphasis in Texas they are all about the meat…big juicy piles of it. On the side you usually get white bread, crackers, pickles, and onions. The Mexican influence on southern Texas BBQ is seen near the border. Mexican farm hands helped develop the style here much like the African American slaves did in the South. Ranchers took the less desirable cuts and passed them on to their workers who added their own flavors and made delicious food of it. In Texas there is a Mexican BBQ’d treat that is awesome. It’s called Barbacoa. They wrap and bury a cows head to slow cook it with hot coals until they can peel the meat off easily and make tacos.

Trust me, it’s awesome.

You probably figured it out by now that my #1 favorite is Southern style [specifically I like South Carolina style]. This is where BBQ as we know it was developed. The sauces are thin and strong with mustard and vinegar which add a great acidity to the meat. They specialize in pork and as we all know pork fat is one of the tastiest things on earth. Pulled or chopped pork is all the rage down south. Sides like Brunswick stew and hush puppies are popular. Most sides are soul foods favorites and I love soul food, too.

From top to bottom Southern BBQ reigns supreme. It has heritage, flavor, and delicate as well as bold flavors. Another great side to Southern BBQ is Southern hospitality. I am stereotyping here but a lot of people in the south have a laid back friendly demeanor that makes dining there all the better.

I am a sucker for an old lady calling me “honey”…sue me.

. photo credit: Fox Magrathea Circe
Travis just got back from SXSW and he’s fixing to start podcasting on April 1!!! Read all about it at his regular blog Rock And Roll BBQ