Barbecue: An American South Culinary Tradition

Foods & DrinksFood

  • Author Jessica Vandelay
  • Published August 26, 2009
  • Word count 435

Barbecue, also known as barbeque, is one of the most popular dishes and way of cooking meat in the American Southern states. The term barbecue can refer to the method, apparatus, dish and even social gathering.

Barbecue, the cooking method, is cooking food with the heat and hot gases of a fire, smoking wood, charcoal or a propane gas grill. Pork, ribs, beef, chicken and mutton are the types of meat most often barbecued. Barbecuing also includes brushing the meat with a marinade, spice rub, or sauce to the meat.

Each Southern state—including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and others--has its own particular variety of barbecue, particularly concerning the sauce. Barbecue sauces include marinades and spice rubs and are predominately vinegar-based, ketchup-based or mayonnaise-based. Reading regional magazines is a great way to determine the style of barbecue each state is best known.

Lexington, North Carolina boasts of being "The Barbecue Capital of the World" and the city reports having more than one barbecue restaurants per 1,000 residents. The city hosts a barbecue festival each October that includes the food, entertainment and an arts and crafts fair.

Memphis, TN is perhaps the most well-known place in Tennessee to eat barbecue. Most of the barbecue in Memphis is prepared with a dry sauce as opposed to a wet sauce; the meat is rubbed with a dry rub and smoked over hickory wood without sauce; barbecue sauce is often provided as a dipping sauce on the side. Find the best Memphis barbecue restaurants in Taste of the South, Memphis magazine and Southern Living magazine.

The most popular barbecue of Alabama and Georgia is pork served with a sweet tomato-based sauce but chicken and ribs are also largely served. Alabama is well-known for its distinctive mayonnaise-and vinegar-based sauce used predominantly on chicken and pork. Pulled-pork barbecue sandwiches are popular throughout the Southern states; pulled-pork sandwiches served on a bun and often topped with cole slaw.

In Kentucky, the preferred barbecue meat is mutton. This kind of mutton barbecue is often used in communal events in Kentucky, such as political rallies, county fairs and church fundraising events.

As the other states, Texas barbecue varies by region. In East Texas, barbecue is similar to that found in the other Southern states but in West Texas barbecue is much more influenced by Southwest and Mexican flavors such as mesquite.

Popular side dishes to barbecue include cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, bread and corn. For a guide to what to serve with barbecue, read food magazines like Cooking Light, Taste of Home, Cooking with Paula Deen and Simple and Delicious magazines.

For more food magazines featuring barbecue, visit

Jessica Vandelay is a freelance writer in New York City.

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