What Distinguishes Carolina BBQ?

Pulled Pork Sandwich and Cole Slaw

Photo credit: Leigh Goessl

Barbecue is a popular style of food in the United States, although not all regions define “barbecue” in the same fashion. There are several styles including, Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Carolina, Alabama and St. Louis, to name a few. Carolina barbecue has certain distinguishing attributes that set it different from other styles. Most notable perhaps is that the emphasis is on the meat, not the spices and sauces.  

What Distinguishes Carolina BBQ?

North Carolina style barbecue is associated with pork. According to North Carolina Travels, this dates back to the 16th century, quoting Bob Garner, of Guide To North Carolina Barbecue.

“From the very beginning,” Garner writes, “barbecue in North Carolina meant pork. During the 1500s, the Spanish introduced pigs to the southeastern part of America. Whereas cattle tended to fare poorly in the region, swine flourished, nowhere more so than in North Carolina.”

He describes the pork being roasted over an open fire and seasoned with vinegar, salt, red and black pepper and oyster juice. This blend is still the foundation of what Carolina style barbecue is based on today, which is very different than the thick red and brown sauces often present in other style barbecues.

North Carolina BBQ notes that the pork is cooked for approximately 16-18 hours at very minimum at a low temperature, no higher than 300 degrees.  It is served in small chunks, never sliced.

Eastern Carolina Style

Eastern Carolina barbecue has a distinct vinegar taste and is often served with cole slaw, hush puppies and sweet tea. A dash of hot pepper is added in to give it some additional zest. This type of barbecue uses all cuts of pork, not just certain types.

Western Carolina Style

Also sometimes referred to as “Lexington” style, Western Carolina barbecue is similar to the East’s version, but there are two differences, according to NC-BBQ. In the western region of the state, the pork only includes meat from the shoulder, not the whole pig. The other distinctive difference is the seasoning is thicker, in the form of a sauce, with tomato/ketchup and a splash of sugar added. 

In making barbecue, the methods of cooking, style of flavoring and the seasonings used vary dramatically from the various corners of the United States. While some of the styles have similar flavorings, what distinguishes Carolina BBQ is that it has a taste it can truly call its own.

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