From the Oceans to the Rivers
The most traditional barbecue is found in an area called the Barbecue Belt, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. As you travel farther out of the South, leaner meats than pork are used and the variations increase. Even the components of barbecue vary within the Barbecue Belt. To sort out the complicated world of barbecue for the off-duty trucker, we’ve provided a breakdown of how it varies throughout the country.
Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana – The barbecue is mostly pulled and chopped pork and slabs of ribs with spicy, red sauces. It is typically served with baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad.
Tennessee – Memphis, Tenn., is the center of the pulled-pork region, which serves pork that is slow cooked, shredded by hand into threads of meat, doused with a sweet tomato sauce, flavored with pepper and molasses and then served with coleslaw, cornbread and sometimes French fries. Ribs that are basted with sauce or rubbed with a mixture of spices are also very popular in this region.
North Carolina – The meat is chopped or sliced pig, but the sauces vary. The east coast serves thin peppery vinegar sauce, while the western side uses rich tomato and vinegar sauce. Side dishes are coleslaw, hushpuppies, bread and Brunswick stew, a stew made with vegetables and chicken.
Georgia/South Carolina – The pig is still chopped or sliced, but it’s served with a yellow mustard-based sauce. Side dishes are bread, coleslaw, hash (stewed organ meats) and Brunswick stew. Tomato-based, ketchup-based and vinegar-based sauces are also served throughout Georgia.
Arkansas – On the Western side, beef barbecue is more prevalent because of the proximity to Texas, and pork becomes more common in the east. It is served with coleslaw, baked beans and potato chips.
Missouri – In Kansas City, Mo., barbecue is a big tradition, and all kinds of meat are welcome in the pit. Beef, pork, sausage, ribs and chicken are dominant meats and are usually slow smoked. The sauce is the most recognizable sauce style because it is the type sold in most grocery stores. The “KC” in the name of KC’s Masterpiece BBQ sauce, a thick, spicy and sweet sauce, stands for Kansas City. This style of sauce is the most marketable because it tastes good with just about any meat cooked on a grill.
Texas – In Texas, barbecue is what others call “hot smoking” – cooking with both smoke and low heat for hours over woods such as oak, mesquite or pecan. Barbecue prepared in Texas often has a red tinge when fully cooked and a pink smoke ring around the edges of the meat. The sauce consists of tomatoes with a vinegar base. It can be sweet or spicy and thick or thin, depending on the chef. Texas-style sauces might include vinegar, ketchup, chili powder, paprika and cumin.
Kentucky – Mutton, pork, beef, chicken and ribs have been smoked for years in Kentucky. Mutton is the most notable specialty in most of western Kentucky, where there were once large populations of sheep that were slaughtered for the mutton. A vinegar- and tomato-based sauce with a mixture of spicy and sweet is traditionally served with the meat. Tabasco, ground cloves and ground nutmeg are common sauce ingredients.
Other States – Most meat-to-grill contact in other states is done through direct heat in the fast process called grilling. However, many barbecue restaurants and competitions that use the low-n-slow method still occur throughout these regions, enabling anyone, especially drivers passing through, to enjoy authentic barbecue anywhere in the country.
Find a BBQ Destinaton Anywhere
Barbecue is a trucker-friendly food because you can find an authentic barbecue restaurant just about anywhere in the country. Yet not all barbecue is created equal. The best way to find a worthy barbecue joint is to go online to a barbecue association website. Most associations have restaurant recommendations and reviews listed online. Start at the National Barbecue Association’s website, www.nbbqa.org, and search for a more area-specific association. For example, there’s the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association or the Kansas City Barbecue Association. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be on your way to hog heaven.
To get you started, we’ve selected some of the top barbecue restaurants, all of which have won awards or gained a reputation as having some of the best barbecue in the area.