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Your American style BBQ guide is here!

A close up picture of American Style BBQ Ribs with an illustrated American flag and stars.

The United States of America is a catalytic cauldron of cultural creation. The home of contemporary democracy and human rights, the birthplace of the Internet and social media, we could go on. From Elvis and Nike to Warhol and Washington, the USA has transformed life on a global scale. Another famous export is American style BBQ. But forget about hamburgers and hotdogs. These are just commercial palate-pleasers. Authentic American style BBQ is a totally different animal with a rich history dating back to 1672 and even earlier.  Are you ready to journey into a smoky world of succulence? Thought so. Let’s go.

 

What is American style charcoal BBQ?

The ‘what?’ Is always a god place to start. Well American style BBQ is all about hot smoking. This is also known as cooking ‘Low n’ Slow’. Basically we take meat and cook it for anywhere between 4 to 24 hours over indirect heat in a smoke filled chamber. This methodology is perfect to cook larger and tougher joints of meat until they are falling off the bone. These cuts are smoked until tender and then served with all kinds if sauces from sweet and spicy to tangy and tart. There are different regional variations of American style BBQ and the most famous dishes are whole hog, beef brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork shoulder.

 

A quick historical recap of the American BBQ charcoal journey

As we already mentioned, American style BBQ has very old roots. Think pre Columbus discovering America. Now US BBQ was actually born in the Caribbean in the 1400s. The indigenous Taino tribe would cook animals over smoke and fire in a hole. In the Taino language this was known as ‘barabicu’ which means ‘sacred pit’ in English. Now the Taino were busy doing their thing until European explorers popped up and saw this fire cooking for themselves. It looked pretty nifty and delicious, so the Spaniards learnt the tricks of the trade and renamed it ‘Baracoa’ or ‘Barbacoa’. These curious and dedicated travellers eventually made their way to America. Barbacoa initially took hold in the south in areas such as Virgina, South Carolina and North Carolina. Once the recognised United Staes of America began to expand westwards, passing the Gulf of Mexico, and northwards along the Mississippi,  BBQ came along for the ride – morphing into different regional variations. Fast forward to today and the American BBQ epicentre  lies in the southeast region of the country – this is the area flanked by Texas and Oklahoma in the West  and Missouri, Virginia and Kentucky in the North.

 

A man slathering BBQ sauce on American style BBQ ribs in a smoker

 

How to grill American style BBQ? Meet the main meaty players.

Yes there are countless variations of American Style BBQ, however we can’t unthread such a complex tapestry in one blog. That being said, check out the four main regional American BBQ styles.

 

Don’t mess with Texas

Welcome to a place where Beef rules supreme. In Texas smoked brisket rules the BBQ roost. Brisket comes from the lower chest region of the cow. It is made up of both the chest and shoulder muscles. Now these muscles do a lot of work shifting a cow’s weight about, meaning they are tougher. The tougher the meat, the longer the cook. Therefore brisket is cooked for longer periods at low temperatures to ensure tenderness and taste. Forget sauces though peeps. In Texas it’s all about rubs. Basically leaving out the sauce allows the herbs, spices, seasoning meat and smoky flavours to shine.

 

Oh Carolina

Pork. Pork. And oh yes, more pork! In North and South Carolina, whole hog is defo a popularise people pleaser. The hog is split and cooked over wood log coals for 12 hours or more. Then the hog is shredded, chopped or pulled – finally served with a vinegar mop sauce.

 

Magnificent Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee is famous for it’s seriously sweet BBQ sauces. Picture tender pork ribs smothered and slathered in a thick and sweet BBQ sauce. Where does the sweetness come from? Molasses guys – a thick and dark syrup made from raw sugar.

 

There’s no place like home…AKA Kansas

Variety is the spec if BBQ life in Kansas. Here it’s all about killer combos and BBQ match making. All the regional styles blend and blur with pork, brisket, whole hog and more on offer.

 

A close up shot of American style BBQ brisket being carved up into pink tender pieces

 

Top tips for your American Style BBQ

Aha, we have tickled your tastebuds and your fancy enough to the point where you’re considering some BBQ Americana. Excellent stuff. There are so many different ways to go about it. So we thought we would identify the four key areas you need to understand. With this American BBQ knowledge you can then choose the right cooking technique and dishes for you.

 

1) Your mighty meat

First thing’s first, you will need to know about your meat cuts and what you want to cook. YOur choice of cut will ultimately determine your chosen style of American BBQ. Alternatively, you can hone in on a regional style first, and then choose the appropriate meat. Either way, you should get up to speed with your thicker tougher cuts, and know your brisket from your pork shoulder.

 

2) Cooking approach

Now that you have a rough idea on your meat and regional style, you need to decide on the best low and slow grilling approach t9o get you there. You have two main choices: hot smoking or smoke cooking. Let’s break these down.

 

Hot smoking

If you’re all about discovering and experiencing that super authentic American style BBQ experience, then we’d suggest that hot smoking is defo the way to go. Basically this is all about cooking your meat over (ideally) a wood fire with indirect heat at lower temperatures – think somewhere between 120°F and 180 °F (50 and 80 °C). This is proper low and slow. So you should expect cook times of anywhere between 4 to 18 hours depending on your meat, regional cooking style and of course, personal preference.  Yes it can be a long process, but that tender fall-off-the-bone feeling is worth it.

 

Smoke cooking

While hot smoking may sound like BBQ heaven to some, others might be looking for quick and easy results. Enter smoke cooking. You can think of smoke cooking as a light and lo-fi version of hot smoking. Essentially this methodology still delivers all that smoky American BBQ flavour – all within 2-4 hours.  Smoke cooking is basically all about cooking your meat over charcoal and adding wood chips to get that smoky goodness. You still are using indirect heat, just at higher temperatures of 250°F (121°C) ±50°F (±28°C). The approach is perfect for newbies to the grill arena, convenience kings and queens, plus anyone planning an American BBQ bash within a shorter time frame.

 

3) Your choice of wood

AS we’re sure you know by now, different woods posses different characteristics. And this means different smoke types leading to different flavours penetrating your meat.  It is this wood smoke that differentiates smoking from standard grilling.

Strong and smoky – grab some hard woods such as mesquite, hickory and oak.

Soft and sweet – Head for maple, pecan, alder and fruitwoods such as pear, apple or cherry.

In a summation nutshell, stronger flavoured woods pair perfectly with beef and pork dishes. Fish and poultry compliment slightly sweeter woods.

 

A man pressing American style BBQ burgers on a grill with a spatula

 

4 – Sauce, rub or marinade

Welcome to a world where variety really is the spice of life. You have so many delicious options and flavours to explore. Looking at American BBQ sauces, you can tuck into a plethora of choice, from  peppered vinegar and tomato-based, to molasses or mustard. Moving onto rubs, there are endless choices and infinite herb and spice blends.  Finally marinades and brines come in multiple forms and flavours, delivering different degrees of meat penetration. Sounds like too much choice? Relax! Explore our deep dive into rubsmarinades and BBQ sauce here.

Solid work peeps! We’ve given you the info – now it’s up top you to go out there and get your American charcoal grill style flowing. God luck and we wish you many delicious adventures.