In the US, barbecue means different things to different people. In Texas, it’s brisket. In Memphis, ribs. But in Alabama, particularly the north of the state, barbecue is all about slathering pit-roasted chicken in a seemingly ungodly, mayonnaise-based ‘white sauce’.
To the uninitiated, hot mayonnaise may seem like a terrible idea, but it somehow manages to permeate the meat, adding a rich tang unlike that found in typical tomato- or vinegar-based barbecue sauces. Typically a combination of mayo, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and horseradish, the original recipe is said to have been created by ‘Big Bob’ Gibson, a railway worker turned pitmaster. As legend has it, he’d coat pork in a Carolina-style vinegar sauce, but would baste chicken with mayonnaise — the sauce’s fattiness presumably preventing the poultry from drying out. Over the years other chefs and pitmasters have added their own spins, be it adding mustard or a splash of pickle juice, and in northern Alabama, white sauce isn’t reserved for chicken — you’ll also find it topping turkey, salads and fries.
Memphis-style barbecue is all about pork ribs — served two ways, ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. Wet ribs are basted and slathered in a tomato-based barbecue sauce, whereas dry ribs are coated in a seasoning rub full of spices and herbs including garlic powder, paprika and oregano.
3. North Carolina
A barbecue battle splits the state. To the east, in the Atlantic coastal region, it’s whole hogs, cooked over coals, chopped and mixed with a vinegar-based chilli sauce. In the west, Lexington-style uses only the pork shoulder, which is, similarly, slow-cooked over coals, chopped and served with a sauce that blends vinegar, ketchup and chilli.
4. South Carolina
According to local legend – or at least the official South Carolina Barbecue Association – South Carolina is where American-style barbecue was invented. Pork is the meat of choice, largely whole hogs cooked over hardwood coals. In the centre of the state, pitmasters douse meat in ‘Carolina gold’, a tangy condiment of yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, cayenne and a touch of honey, molasses or brown sugar for sweetness.
5. Kansas City
Located largely in Missouri rather than neighbouring Kansas (the city is named for the river that splits the two states), the self-titled ‘World Capital of Barbecue’ is home to some 100 barbecue joints. Unusually, the city has no particular protein or technique that dominates. Instead, Southern barbecue styles unite under a thick tomato-and-molasses sauce. The must-try is burnt ends: double-smoked, deeply caramelised chunks of fatty, charred brisket.
Back in the 1800s, the wool industry dominated western Kentucky, so sheep became a staple on the dinner table — often the older animals. To tenderise the mutton, farmers smoked it over hickory and basted it with water, vinegar, salt and hot peppers. Today, that’s still the preferred choice of barbecue in the state, although the cut is usually just from the shoulder, and the likes of Worcestershire sauce and garlic have made their way into the sauce.
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