If there's any one thing that distinguishes the barbecue style of one region from another, it's the sauce that's used to finish the meat. It's also the single element that barbecue fans argue most passionately about—what ingredients should go in it, whether it should be poured over the meat while its being chopped or pulled or added later at the table, or even whether it should be used at all.
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Of all the elements of American barbecue, rubs and basting sauces are where pit masters differ the most from each other, even within the same regional style. Some use complex rubs; others don't. Some baste the meat while it cooks; others leave it completely alone.
There's more to a pit master's choice of meat than their regional specialty. Skilled barbecue takes think about other factors: breed, fat, and how an animal is raised.
When it comes choosing their wood, barbecue cooks take into account the way that it burns and the flavors that it gives to meat. But there are more practical factors at play, too.
Gas-powered and gas-wood hybrid smokers offer a lot of advantages to the barbecue cook: they're faster, don't require tons of wood, and are far less physically demanding to operate. But do they make good barbecue? In the right hands, yes.
The rich variety of American barbecue can be attributed to many factors—the kind of wood used, the types of meat selected, and the way that meat is seasoned, cooked, and served. But the differences between one regional style and another begins long before the brisket or pork shoulder ever encounters smoke and heat, and that's with the design and construction of the barbecue pit itself.