BBQ. The word alone says America. Barbecuing is part of our heritage. Through our nation's history many factors have played their part. There are regional differences that have played a major role in the barbecue revolution as well. The types of meat, the way they're cooked, spices, sauces, and even side dishes have played a role in the development of the art of barbecue. Not to be confused with grilling. Grilling is cooking fast and hot over a direct flame or direct heat. Barbecue is cooking low and slow over indirect heat. Usually smoking with wood but some people do use charcoal or a combination of both on charcoal grills or in BBQ smokers. Barbecuing is just a way to make a tough piece of meat, taste great!

The history of this national pastime started in the south where pigs were plentiful. The hog meat was separated. The "good meat" was kept for the plantation owners and their families, and the rest was given to the slaves to do with as they pleased. They were usually given the ribs and the pork shoulders, that can be tough. But cooked properly, they rendered wonderful, flavorful, delectable meals. Being hot and sultry in the south, many meals were cooked outside so as to keep the heat from cooking, outside of the house. This is where the BBQ pit played a substantial role. Pits were dug and wood fires were started in the pits and the meat was slow cooked over the smoke and coals.

Americans love to grill. We love summer picnics, baseball, hot dogs and burgers cooked on a grill, and apple pie. We also have barbecue, which is steeped in our rich history and the mixed cultures that make us who we are. Today, there are 4 major regions of barbecue. North Carolina, Texas, Memphis, and Kansas City. Each of these regions have their own nuances and have added major contributions to the evolution of our American tradition.

The North Carolina region got it's start with the slave population as discussed above. Today it is still primarily pork products. There are ribs, but the pork shoulder plays a key role here. It is an inexpensive cut of meat, and does not dry out quickly when smoked. The dish that comes from this wonderful piece of meat is chopped or pulled pork that can be served on sandwiches. Some places actually use the whole hog to make the chopped pork. Using the whole hog, you have different flavors and textures that when mixed all together make a wonderful meal. Some people prefer sauce, but with pulled or chopped pork you want the sauce to enhance the flavor of the meat, not cover it up. Usually a thin sauce is used here. A combination of vinegar, salt, pepper, ketchup, and water, though all sauces vary. A nice added flavor and texture to this sandwich, is putting cole slaw right on top.

After the Civil War many of the freed slaves, moved to more urban areas looking for work and places to live. The art of barbecue came with them. One such city was Memphis. There were not a lot of restaurants to eat in and with such a sudden, large influx of people, a demand needed to be met. Lots of other kinds of meat were and still are barbecued there, but rib racks took precedent. Ribs took up less room and cooked quicker, thereby producing a larger amount of food to feed the hungry masses. The Memphis rib joints were born. Memphis ribs come wet or dry. The wet ribs are cooked and toward the end, slathered or basted typically with a thick, gooey sauce. Sauce is also served on the side. Dry ribs are cooked and then coated with a thin vinegar based mop. Then they are coated with a dry rub seasoning. Sauce is still served on the side. Wet or dry, the best way to tell if your ribs are done: if you pick up a rack and it is still stiff, it's not done. If it bends, it's done. If you pick it up and it falls apart, they're over done. Some people like them that way, but any real pit master will tell you that those ribs are just too far gone.

So we have already visited the pork based barbecue region of North Carolina and the rib joints of Memphis. Next we will visit Texas and then follow the cattle north to Kansas City.

When you think of Texas, you think of Longhorns, beef, cowboys and BBQ. Cattle was a great industry with a huge population of bovine roaming the Texas range. Where the other southern states had pigs, Texas had beef. Cowboys had to eat. You ate what you had. Cowboys ate beef. You can get steaks, roasts, sausages and any other cut of beef that you want in Texas, but when it comes to barbecue, the most well known cut of beef, is brisket. A tough piece of meat but when cooked properly will melt in your mouth. Real brisket has a thick fat cap on it, not like the trimmed down versions that you find in the grocery store. Brisket is cooked low and slow, with the fat cap up so that the fat melts over the meat as it cooks. Drip pans are placed under the meat to collect the drippings. Any sauce that is made for the brisket starts with those drippings. (I prefer mine naked, or without sauce). The brisket is sliced and served with or without bread. Any left over bits are chopped and made into chopped beef sandwiches. Again with or without sauce, your preference. Mesquite was readily available in Texas. Again, you use what is available to you. The prominent smoke used in Texas was, and still is, mesquite.

The market was sated in Texas with the over abundance of cattle, but the price for beef was high in the north and the east. Sturdy men took it upon themselves to move the hardy Longhorns on cattle drives north to the railways and on to market. The largest hubs for the end of the cattle drives were in Kansas and Missouri. Therefore eventually bringing barbecue to Kansas City. Kansas City is an area where all of the barbecue traditions now come together. Given Kansas City's proximity to the railways and the amount of meat packing houses that were located there, the variety of meat available was greater than the other areas. These meats included pork, beef, chicken, sausage, and turkey. (There are even a few places BBQ joints that have expanded to include smoked fish and lamb). The area also had a large source of hickory trees, so hickory smoke is more associated with Kansas City barbecue than other regions.

In the early 1900's a man named Henry Perry moved from an area outside of Memphis to the Kansas City area and opened up shop. He served slow cooked ribs with sauce. The style of Kansas City and Memphis barbecue are very similar, although Kansas City prides itself on it's sauce. Either thick and tomato based or thin and vinegar based. With over 100 barbecue joints and restaurants in the area, these shops needed something to make them stand out from the each other. Almost every barbecue place in Kansas City has it's own sauce. Some of them are so secret the recipes are kept under lock and key.

Barbecue has now started to spread throughout our grand country and even outside of it. Many of us have a grill, but not every one has a BBQ smoker or pit. It takes a very trained, skilled, and patient person to perfect the art of BBQ on a propane grill. Smoking comes a little easier with a charcoal grill in that you can put wood chunks right in with the charcoal, but not all charcoal grills can stand up to the long hours of heat that true barbecue entails. Luckily for the rest of us that do not have the equipment, the talent, or live in one of the BBQ regions of our great nation, there is now probably a BBQ joint in a town near you.

Jenifer Whelan is the owner of The Deep Fryer Depot. your online frying headquarters. For your next tailgate party, fish fry, or backyard cookout, check out our selection of conventional deep fryers, one of our safer fryers or our bbq smokers and grills.