VISITORS TO HAWAI‘I ARE ALWAYS IN FOR A SHOCK WHEN THEY SAMPLE LOCAL BARBECUE FOR THE FIRST TIME. Any beach barbecue is likely to have meat that had basked in some shoyu-based marinade. That Asian influence differs from the rest of America, where lovers of grilled meat melded flavors more sweet and tangy rather than salty.
To enjoy the range of barbecue as experienced on the continent is to take a road trip across the Southern states from East to West to follow the evolution of taste preferences.
We start in the East where the practice of slow cooking meat over wood grills was based on the babacots tradition of the Arawak, an indigenous people living in Florida at the time of Spanish colonization that began with the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus. Spaniards translated this cooking method as “barbacoa,” which eventually became anglicized as “barbecue.”
Plantation slaves in the 18th century adopted the cooking techniques and are credited for dressing meat with sauces made from lime or lemon juice and hot peppers.
Over time, people of different regions learned to appreciate other sauces influenced by the introduction of new cuisines that came with different ethnic groups that arrived in this country. Therefore, the distinctive barbecue styles and flavors that are the pride of each state today can be credited to immigrants.
EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
Before Henry J. Heinz perfected the art of bottling ketchup in 1876, North Carolinians used a tart combination of vinegar and spices to flavor their pork. They also had a taste for fire, including a combination of chili peppers and black pepper in a thin, watery wash also brushed over the meat as it cooks over a flame.
PIEDMONT OR LEXINGTON-STYLE
The introduction of Heinz ketchup set the history of barbecue sauce nation- wide, but in North Carolina it started the centuries-old battle over Eastern-style or Piedmont-style barbecue sauce of central North Carolina where pork is dressed with a tangy, vinegar-based sauce reddened and sweetened with ketchup. This style of sauce ie attributed to German influence, based on Bavarian practices of serving pork with a sweet and vinegary sauce accompanied by red slaw.
The state shares the same barbecue traditions of its northern counterpart, with the difference of its regional signature mustard sauce. German immigrants are also credited for introducing this condiment that Carolinians thinned with vine- gar and spiked with spices to cut some of the fatty flavor of pork.
Differing from its saucy neighbors, Memphis, Tenn., is famous for using a dry rub to flavor pork. The flavorful spice and herb blends typically incorporate garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder and brown sugar to hit all the right flavor notes. The dry rub helps to seal in moisture while it works its magic as it seeps into the meat. No sauce needed.
While much of the South went for the while hog, beef is the meat of choice in the Lone Star State, and to go with it came a savory “mop” sauce, so named because a mop was needed to glaze and moisten large slabs of meat while it cooked. The savory sauce started with beef stock, and the addition of vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and spices.
But no doubt you’d start an argument in Texas by making the case for one style of barbecue. European meat smoking techniques came to Central Texas via German and Czech butchers from the early to mid 1800s, introducing smoked sausages in addition to traditional cuts of meat. So in some places, you won’t find sauce at all, but smoked brisket in a salt and pepper crust.
Kansas City, Mo., is home to the thick, sweet, and tangy sauces that are at top of mind in the American consciousness. This style of sauce is typically found in non-specialty restaurants across the country. The real thing starts with ketchup and molasses that give the sauce a heavy consistency, with dashes of Worcestershire, sugar, vinegar and spices.