Dr. Glenn Keiper’s Favorite BBQ styles from Across the Country

There are few culinary topics that are more hotly debated around the country than Barbecue. The American Barbecue tradition is akin to varietal wine making in France. Each region has their own favorite styles and techniques, and within each region every cook has their own secret recipe that they secretly (or not so secretly) feel is better than anything you can find in restaurants or stores. Pit Masters debate everything from spice rubs and sauce bases, to heat control and what kind of wood produces the perfect Barbecue. Dr. Glenn Keiper has tried almost every style of Barbecue on offer in this Nation, and here are a few styles that he feels have definitive regional identities.

Whether you fancy the Sweet and Tangy glazed style that comes from Kansas City, or the Tangy and Spicy fare that comes from the Carolinas, chances are there’s a Q for you somewhere out there. Whether you prefer beef, pork, or chicken and no matter what sides are your personal favorites the one fact remains; For Glenn L. Kieper Jr., Barbecue is as American as apple pie and the dishes are as many and varied as the people who cook them.

Memphis

No matter what part of the country you hail from, it’s a good bet that you’ve heard of Memphis Barbecue. Among all the famous regional Barbecue styles available what makes Memphis special is the Dry Rub.

Spice Rubs

Spice Rubs in Memphis are an artform and every cook has their own secret recipe. There is no hard and fast rule as to what has to go in your spice rub but a few mainstay ingredients that most include in their Barbecue are Paprika, Salt, Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Cayenne Pepper, and Chili Powder, and both Brown and White Sugar. The magic is in what you do with them. Cooks will use different proportions of these ingredients, bloom their garlic and onion powder before use, add spicier peppers, the sky’s literally the limit.

The Meats

When it comes to meats, Memphian’s are all about their pork. The two most popular options are a Slab of Ribs or Pulled pork shoulder. Then there’s the sauce. I mean what is Barbecue without the sauce right? Well Memphis Barbecue sauce is a little different from what you’re used to seeing in the stores. First of all its quite a bit thinner than anything that comes out of a bottle, and generally its served on the side of your meal so you can casually squirt some on your meat if you so choose. It’s a tomato based sauce thinned with vinegar, then spiced and sugared to cut some of the tang. Being an Ohio native Memphis Style is Glenn L. Kieper Jr.’s favorite style.

The Carolina’s

Heading East over the Appalachian’s we enter a whole new territory of Barbecue goodness. There is a big difference in philosophy of how your meat should be cooked as well. Where the Memphians spice rub and marinate their meat before smoking, Carolinians prefer to baste the flavor into their Barbecue.

The Meats

A typical technique is to brush the meat with a mixture of vinegar and spices while cooking. Their signature dish is Pork whether it is Chopped, Pulled, sliced or whole Hog. The sauces are where the Carolinas truly show their regional flair.

The Sauces

There are 5 distinct Sauce styles to choose from. Eastern North Carolina uses a sauce that’s basically just vinegar and Cayenne Pepper, while Western North Carolina adds varying amounts of tomato to liven things up. Western South Carolina utilizes a Ketchup based Sauce, while the Piedmont area tends to use the vinegar and spice method. Central South Carolina is where the famous Carolina Gold sauce comes from which is a mustard base.

Texas

Admit it, this was probably the first State you thought of when you thought of Barbecue. Texas is a huge state and Texas has an absolutely huge appetite for Barbecue. The usual Barbecue suspects can all be found in the Lone Star state, pulled pork, pork shoulder, chicken, but what Texas pit masters are the most proud of is their brisket.

The Meats

The meat is the true star of Texas Barbecue to the point where Texans actually use the drippings from their smoked meats in that smoky, savory Texas Barbecue Sauce everyone loves. True Texas Barbecue is not the saucy mess you’d expect.

The Sauces

Sauce is generally served on the side so that you can add as little or as much as you’d like. Wood is also a major factor in the flavor of real Texas Barbecue. Traditionally Pecan or Oak wood are what gives Texas Barbecue its unique flavor. Also expect a spicier sauce thanks to all of the amazing southwest inspired ingredients like cumin, chili powder, hot sauce and even Worcestershire.

Missouri

There are two main hubs for Barbecue in the Midwest and they both exist in the Show Me state. Kansas City and St. Louis are two of the biggest Barbecue rivals in the country, and it’s easy to see why.

The Sauces

When most people think of Barbecue Sauce, Kansas City Style Sauce is probably what they have in mind. It’s a thick, sweet, tangy sauce made from Tomato or Ketchup base and utilizing brown sugar or molasses as a sweeter. The high sugar content is what makes that pretty glaze that most people expect when they’re about to rip into a slab of ribs. When it comes to meats in Missouri nothing is out of bounds (mostly due to the Kansas city area being a traditional meat packing hub).

The Meats

Missourian’s enjoy Beef, pork shoulder, pulled pork, ribs, or chicken with equal zeal. The only real difference between the two is whether you want your sauce sweet or tangy. The tangy zip comes in once you cross over to St. Louis. They add vinegar to the sauce, cutting some of the sweetness, and St. Louis generally kicks up the spice quite a bit. Still they prefer to glaze their meats with the sticky sauce rather than serve it on the side as in other areas.

With so many options available to the Barbecue enthusiast, there’s something out there for everyone. Whether you want, sweet, spicy, smoky, tangy, or anything in between. While Dr. Glen Kieper may be an all-star neurosurgeon on the west coast, his Midwest roots have given him a true love for this American tradition.

Founder of KeiperSpine and the Spine Surgery Center