Some people like Eastern, while other people prefer Lexington. Wondering what I’m talking about? North Carolina barbecue. This tasty food has had a longstanding history in the Tarheel State that dates back to colonial times.
According to historians, barbecue, in general, was first introduced in the Caribbean. During the 1500s, there would be island barbecues with meat, such as lizard and alligator. Shortly after, the Spanish brought hogs to the Caribbean and southeastern United States. This is when pork became the favorite meat for barbecue. As for North Carolina, influences came from the original settlers and African-Americans on plantations. Today, many people associate barbecue with their favorite style and you can’t have barbecue without a sauce.
Main Types of Barbecue:
It is said that Eastern-style barbecue (vinegar-based) was the first style in the state. It wasn’t until Heinz created ketchup and introduced it to the public at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, that we began seeing a difference in barbecue styles. During World War I, Lexington-style barbecue was created in Lexington, North Carolina.
Eastern-stylebarbecue is a vinegar and pepper based style with no tomato. All parts of the hog are used. There is a common saying associated with this style, which is that “every part of the hog except the squeal is used.” Originally, lemon juice was used in the base. However, since this juice was hard to find in many southern states when barbecue started gaining popularity, vinegar was substituted. Eastern-style barbecue has more of a spicy-tartness and focuses more on the actual meat than the sauce. As for Eastern-style slaw, it matches the tangy taste of the barbecue and includes vinegar. This style is mostly famous along the east coast of North Carolina.
Lexington-style barbecue (my favorite) is all about the tomato. This style is commonly referred to as Piedmont or Western style. It uses a red sauce, made up of ketchup, vinegar, and pepper and has a smokier taste compared to Eastern. The slaw mimics the tomato sauce, as well, and is called “red slaw” or “barbecue slaw.” Lexington-style barbecue is more well-known in the Piedmont and western parts of the state.
Most people are only familiar with North Carolina barbecue as being Eastern or Lexington. However, another, lesser known style involves pork ribs. The Baby Back Ribs, also called top loin ribs, are cut from the center section of the loin and are a favorite among many. Another type of pork ribs is spareribs. This style is a larger and longer rib and more flavorful than Baby Back Ribs. This style of barbecue can be found at many festivals and competitions throughout the year, including the Twin City RibFest.
Lastly, throughout North Carolina, pork meat isn’t the only type of barbecue a person can find. Chicken and beef are also favorites to serve up. In addition, there are influences from Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Jamaica.
The most traditional way to cook barbecue is pit style. According to historians, this technique has been used for thousands of years. A pit barbecue is an enclosed, above-ground “pit” that cooks the meat slowly over different types of wood. Some popular varieties of wood are hickory, mesquite, and oak. The smells and smoke of the wood drift up into the meat and flavor it. Also, pit style is known for producing very tender meat. An example of pit style cooking is smoking barbecue or using a smoker. There are many various ways on how to use this style, as well as types of equipment needed. The most common types are cold smoking and hot smoking. Cold smoking is used to flavor the meat and hot smoking can be defined as the meat’s cooking time.
Barbecuing versus Grilling
Yes, there is a different between barbecuing and grilling. Barbecuing can be defined as a slower process that uses lower heat than grilling, and the food is cooked by the heat of the smoke. In grilling, dry heat is used and is applied to the food being cooked.
Barbecue has been a longstanding staple in North Carolina. Most people, from a young age, find their favorite style and it stays with them for the rest of their lives. Summer has just begun and what better time is there to have a barbecue with your family and friends?
Originally written for Forsyth Woman Magazine, June 2018.