A Couple of Thoughts About Barbecue

So while I’m on the topic of pulled pork barbecue, I thought I’d address the topic of what’s what.

Personally, I like Eastern Carolina style. It’s dressed with a spicy, vinegar-based sauce. It’s thin, liquidy, and dresses the meat in a visually subtle manner, though it packs a lot of flavor.

Go westward through Carolina and you’ll find a tomato-based sauce. I’ve only had this a couple of times, but to me it seems much more like the kind of barbecue sauce you’d get from the store: thick and red, with a standard, unsurprising flavor.

Don’t even get me started on South Carolina: they put mustard in their barbecue. It’s a travesty and it ought to be a crime (along the lines of putting tomatoes in clam chowder, which is rightfully outlawed in Massachusetts).

Kansas City barbecue is a strange phenomenon. You get the meat, and then the restaurant has a wall full of sauces and you can choose what you will to dress your own sandwich. I suppose a bit of variety can be a nice thing to have, but when I go to a restaurant, I like when they prepare my food for me, and that includes tossing the shredded meat with the sauce to evenly coat it. They’ve got the advantage of having large bowls in which they can toss the meat, whereas when they give it to you to dress yoursel, your stuck having to pour it over the top–whereby half the meat gets loads of sauce and the other half is still nude. I’d much rather they serve me a fully-prepared meal.

I’ve only been to Texas once. Houston. I hated it. Too many highways, too much sprawl, too many Texans. I may have been remiss in not having barbecue while I was there, but I was also stuck without automotive transportation in a non-walkable city, so my options were few. Nonetheless, I’m unable to offer an opinion on Texas barbecue except to say that I can’t imagine any barbecue good enough to lure me back to that hellhole of a state.

13 Responses to “A Couple of Thoughts About Barbecue”

  1. Patrick Says:


    I’m a northern yankee, but having in-laws in the Austin area has given me a certain appreciation of the state and its cuisine. So much so that the rehearsal dinner for our wedding was Texas Barbecue. I think that you’ll find that Texas style focuses on a wider variety of meat and typically eschews the whole pig thing for combinations of brisket, sausage, and shredded pork. The sauces tend to be thicker than eastern style and have a sweet but spicy flavor to them. It takes a little getting used to, but it certainly is good, and if you ever make it to Austin (a fairly sane city), I’d recommend checking out Pok-e-jos for a good experience. At least, that’s where we always good.

    There’s also this curious phenomenon of eating sausage with thick sweet sauces on white bread that I can’t quite figure out. But I’ll save that for another day.

  2. intheyearofthepig Says:

    As a current resident of North Carolina, a born and raised Texan, and a lowly linecook, it fascinates me that a chef as yourself would so flippantly dismiss regional barbecue styles.

    I don’t know where you went in Western NC but I have never had a thick sauce. Tomatoes yes, but never thick like Texas or KC.

    Also re: Houston, you missed out on a great opportunity to eat some incredible Vietnamese, Cajun, Mexican, and even Texan food. True public transportation is hell in Houston, but once in a neighborhood, there are plenty of places to walk.

    I am from Austin, by the way, and my girlfriend was born and raised in Pittsburgh (that’s how I found your blog, looking for Pittsburgh in food blogs). I like your blog, what you write, and your opinions are yours, just seems hasty and arrogant to dismiss states and cuisines, sorry you had such a bad experience.

    I avoid Pok-e-jos like a barbecue plague, I hate it. But my brother and cousin love it. I like Louis Mueller’s son’s place, Iron Works, Artz Ribs, Sam’s BBQ (for some mean BBQ mutton), and Blacks and Smitty’s (or Kreuz’s) in Lockhart, not 45 minutes away. And I love barbecued smoked sausage from Elgin with lots of sauce (Texas BBQ sauce is not always sweet either by the way) fresh pico de gallo, and on white bread. Eating barbecue is the only way I will touch the stuff. No accounting for taste I suppose..

  3. intheyearofthepig Says:

    oh my name is Aaron. I didn’t mean to make an anonymous post.

  4. Jim Says:

    I agree with Patrick on Austin. Never been to Houston; don’t want to. Been to Dallas; only place I ever saw two guys get into a demolition derby in a parking lot (it was outside a bar). Been to Austin a couple times on business; I remember very positively a trip to a barbecue restaurant (wish I could remember its name).

  5. courtney Says:

    I think people tend to think of “barbecue” as what they were raised on, and NOTHING else. It is one of those things where there is no room for interpretation. Everybody has their opion of what’s the “right” way, and everything else is blasphemy.

    I personally like a red tomato based sauce that is sweet with a little kick too it. But the stuff in the supermarket doesn’t do it for me, I have never found one that I like, and I have tried most of them. I think most of it tastes like ketchup + A1 + sweeteners (probably HFC’s).

  6. betty Says:

    We “discovered” Eastern NC barbecue for the first time when we moved to NC a year ago. The vinegar-based sauce compliments the slow-cooked pork perfectly. There’s nothing else like it. It’s the only bbq where the pork (not the sauce) is the star of the plate.

  7. Robert Says:

    Another “New England is the center of the Universe” myopic Yankee?

  8. jwsharrard Says:

    When it comes to barbecue, New England is a backwater.

  9. Rebekah Says:

    My absolute favorite barbeque in Austin is at County Line, not the least because it is on the water and you can feed the turtles.

    I was raised on Texas BBQ, and there are wonderful, wonderful places, with wonderful brisket and beans, and then I moved to South Carolina, where, I agree with Jesse, that mustard sauce should be outlawed. However, the people here lurve their BBQ, and think I have lost my mind when I say that brisket and sausage are BBQ. (They also think macaroni and cheese is a vegetable here.)

    The worst part of it, though, is that Maurice Bessinger makes the best mustard-based BBQ I have had, but Maurice Bessinger also formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People in the 1950s, and sells books and pamphlets in his restaurant with titles like “Why the North Was Wrong” and “The Emancipation Proclaimation was Invalid Because Lincoln was a Communist” so I don’t give my money to him. Oh well.

  10. Aurora Says:

    I’ve had both Eastern and Western NC barbeque and think it’s pretty hard to compare the two. I was raised on the western stuff and have been trying to take Jesse to Lexington BBQ / the Monk for years. Every time we’re near there, it’s been closed though, so he hasn’t had true exposure to the best of western NC barbeque. If you’re driving through, it’s certainly worth the trip. However, I must admit that I’m a big fan of Parker’s, in eastern NC also.

  11. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Solution to the Barbecue Dilemma Says:

    [...] I’m visiting my wife’s family for the holidays and we went out today for a look-see at the town where they live, including a stop at a local Kansas City-style barbecue joint for lunch.  I’ve written before about my qualm with KC barbecue: when I go to a restaurant, I like when they prepare my food for me, and that includes tossing the shredded meat with the sauce to evenly coat it. They’ve got the advantage of having large bowls in which they can toss the meat, whereas when they give it to you to dress yourself, you’re stuck having to pour it over the top–whereby half the meat gets loads of sauce and the other half is still nude. [...]

  12. Thom Says:

    I’m from Oregon…not exactly the Q capital of the world, but there are a few good spots here and there.

    I have a Traeger and Q’ed a pork shoulder over the weekend. Used a nice rub followed by putting on mustard as a marinate overnite. I think I read where you don’t like mustard. I couldn’t decipher whether it was used as a marinate or used as a dipping sauce. I would agree it would be terrible as a dipper.

    As I was cooking the pork I sprayed it, not mopped with a combo of orange juice and vinegar….turned out nice.

    Best to you!

  13. BBQ Bob Says:

    I’m a fan of the thin sauces, too. Although I have to say that I’ve enjoyed a couple thick sauces in my day. It’s too bad that your Houston stay was so awful. I used to live there, and yes the city itself is a hell hole, and I fled after only 2 years But there is a barbecue joint there called Goode Company. Back in ‘81 - ‘82 it was one little place on Kirby. It had wonderful bbq’d meat and a thin, brown, unique sauce. The sauce was so good I tried for years to duplicate it. To this day I have to say it is the finest bbq sauce I have ever tasted. Judging from your blog, I think you’d like it too. Had you had the chance to get to Goode Company while in Houston, your opinion of the place might be slightly better. As much as I dislike Houston, I’d be willing to go back there just to have a big plate of bbq at Goode Company. I hope they haven’t changed anything.

    Back in ‘03 I opened up my own bbq joint near Tampa FL, called Hog Wild Bar-B-Q. I began with my signature “thin” sauce - the product of 20 years of reverse-engineering the old Goode Company sauce from memory. I loved it and thought all my customers would too. But after a couple weeks I was hearing complaints and was told by my employees that I needed to thicken up the sauce. I did. I caved. Around here people are hugely influenced by marketing. Chain restaurants flourish while great mom & pop places whither and die. If you run a restaurant and try to depart from the norm, you’ll likely perish.

    And I understand your point about the restaurant dressing the meat for the customer. I did at Hog Wild. I offered only 2 sauces: regular and hot, and I applied it in the kitchen rather than provide a squeeze bottle for the customers. (I had some sanitary concerns too). I rarely, if ever, go to one of those build-it-yourself eateries. I am more interested to taste the meal the way the chef has decided it should be prepared. Same for BBQ. If they dress it with light vinegar sauce, then that is the way I want it. If they slather thick tomatoey sauce on it, then that is the way I want it. Once in Chicago I went to a very upscale, well know steak house. I was told that I could pick out my own steak from the meat counter and then, if I wanted, take it over to a grill in the middle of the dining room and grill it myself! Although my dinner companions did just that, I told the waiter that I trusted this high-end Chicago steak house had nothing but good cuts of meat, and that the cooks in the back were far better at preparing a steak than I. Later I told my companions that they had to bus the table and wash the dishes too!

    Happy ‘Qing

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