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A member of the Airpork Crew barbecue team prepares pork shoulder at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
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A barbecue on a trailer at a block party in Kansas City
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A barbecue on a trailer at a block party in Kansas City Pans on the top shelf hold hamburgers and hot dogs that were grilled earlier when the coals were hot. The lower grill is now being used to slowly cook pork ribs and "drunken chicken"

Barbecue, (also spelled barbeque, or abbreviated BBQ) is a method of cooking food with the radiant heat and/or hot gasses of a fire, the cooking of food in a sauce that includes vinegar, the end-result of cooking by one of these methods, or a party that includes such food. Barbecue is usually cooked in a covered environment heated by an outdoor open flame of wood, charcoal, natural gas or propane. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens specially designed for that purpose.

In the South and Midwest of the U.S., many consider "barbecuing" to include only relatively indirect methods of cooking, with the more direct high-heat methods to be called "grilling". In the parts of the U.S. where slow, Southern or Midwestern-style barbecue is not to be found, barbecuing is grilling, and grilling is barbecuing except when it means double-sided frying with something like a sandwich toaster or George Foreman Grill.

The word "barbecue" is often used to refer to a casual party, usually outdoors or with an outdoor theme and usually with food that has been grilled. For this reason many people consider any outdoor cooking, including grilling, as barbecue, which is frowned upon by purists in some areas. The device used for cooking barbecue can usually be used for both barbecuing and grilling and is often called a "Barbecue grill" by those unaccustomed to slow barbecue, thereby adding to the confusion.

For those that distinguish the terms, grilling is almost always a fast process over high heat and barbecue is almost always a slow process using indirect heat or hot smoke. For example, in a typical home grill, grilled foods are cooked on a grate directly over hot charcoal; while if barbecuing, the coals are dispersed to the sides or at significant distance from the grate. Alternately, an apparatus called a smoker with a separate fire box may be used. Hot smoke is drawn past the meat by convection for very slow cooking. This is essentially how barbecue is cooked in most genuine "barbecue" restaurants, but nevertheless many consider this to be a distinct cooking process called smoking. Regardless of the method, the meat should be turned several times to ensure complete cooking.

The slower methods of cooking break down the collagen in meat and turn tougher cuts into easy eating.


Regional variations

Barbecue has a lot of regional variations, based on several factors:

  • the type of meat used
  • the sauce or other flavoring added to the meat
  • when the flavoring is added during preparation
  • the role that smoke plays in preparation
  • the equipment and fuel used to cook the meat
  • how much time is spent cooking the meat

At its most generic, any source of protein may be used, including beef, pork, poultry, and fish. The meat could be ground, as with hamburger, processed into sausage or kabobs, and/or accompanied by vegetables. Sometimes the cut of meat (e.g. brisket or ribs) matters; sometimes the cut is irrelevant. Even vegetarian alternatives to meat, such as soyburgers can be barbecued. The meat may be marinaded or rubbed with spices before cooking, basted with a sauce or oil before and/or during cooking, and/or flavored in numerous ways after removed from the heat. Typically meat is covered with barbecue sauce which can be tomato or vinegar based. Vinegar-base sauce is typical of Southern barbecue while tomato-based sauce is Western style.

Many forms of barbecuing involve tough cuts of meat that require hours of cooking over low heat that barely exceeds the boiling point of water. Some forms of barbecue use rapid cooking over high heat, being barely distinguishable from grilled meats to those who would make such a distinction. With high heat barbecuing (often called grilling), the food is placed directly above the flame or other source of heat. With low heat barbecuing, the food is off to the side and almost always under a cover, frequently with added smoke for additional flavor.

Sometimes an open flame is required, with the fuel source irrelevant. In other cases, the fuel source is critical to the end result, as when wood chips from particular kinds of trees are used as fuel.


In Australia and New Zealand, barbecues are a popular summer pastime. Coin-operated public barbecues are common in city parks. Australasian barbecues do not involve the smoking or sugary sauces of an American barbecue. Instead plain or marinaded meat is grilled over the open fire. The barbecuing of prawns ('shrimp' in the USA) was virtually unknown before being popularised by an American TV commercial featuring Australian actor Paul Hogan. However seafood barbecuing is increasingly popular, especially as an outdoor Christmas meal, more luxurious than meat barbecue, and more appropriate to the Southern Hemisphere summer than a "traditional" roast turkey cooked indoors.


Jamaican jerk chicken is an example of barbecue.

Hong Kong

Outdoor barbecues (usually known simply as BBQ) are popular among Hong Kong residents on short trips to the countryside. These are invariably coal-fired, with meat (usually beef, pork, sausage, or chicken wing) simply marinated with honey, then cooked using long, hand-held forks.


Bulgogi (불고기) is thinly sliced beef (and sometimes pork) marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and chilli pepper, cooked on a grill at the table. It is a main course, and is therefore served with rice and side dishes. Bulgogi literally means "fire beef" and is often called "Korean BBQ."

South Africa

The braai (abbreviation of braaivleis, Afrikaans "meat grill") started out as a major social tradition amongst the Afrikaner people of Southern Africa, though the tradition has since been adopted by South Africans of all ethnic backgrounds.

United States

Although differences in barbecue are blurring as are many aspects of U.S. regional culture, variations still exist.


In Alabama, barbecue most often consists of pork ribs or pork shoulder, slow cooked over hickory smoke. Pork shoulder may be served either chopped or sliced; some diners also specify a preference for either "inside" or "outside" meat. Alabama barbeque is typically served with a spicy, tomato-based sauce.

Alabama is home to Dreamland (, which serves what many people consider some of the best ribs in the world. In the original restaurant in Tuscaloosa, there are no side dishes, only ribs, bread, and sauce.

Alabama is also home to Big Bob Gibson's BBQ in Decatur. The people from Big Bob's have won many world championships in pork and chicken as well as for sauces. They are particularly famous for their unique "white" sauce with a mayonnaise and vinegar base.


Both pork and seafood are barbecued in Florida, with butter and lemon or lime juice as the base for the sauce.


In general, it can be said that Georgia barbecue is based on slow-cooked pork, with a sauce based on ketchup. The reality, however, is that Georgia barbecue is more of an amalgam of other states' recipes. In northwest and central Georgia, including Atlanta, Columbus and Macon, Alabama-styled barbecue is the most popular, with slow-cooked pork and thick, tomato-based sauce most common on tables. In 2001, the venerable Alabama franchise Dreamland successfully opened restaurants around Atlanta, and the Alabama-born Williamson Brothers have several locations in the area. Columbus shares many restaurants with nearby Phenix City, Alabama, where Mike & Ed's Barbecue challenges Country's for the most popular in the city. Between Atlanta and Columbus, in the town of Newnan, Sprayberry's Barbecue has become a destination for barbecue lovers. It was the favorite restaurant of the writer Lewis Grizzard, who often referenced it in his newspaper columns.

South Georgia barbecue is very much like that found in South Carolina. Mustard-based sauces are very popular in Augusta, Savannah and Statesboro. Georgia's principal contribution to barbecue culture may come from Brunswick stew. Many Georgians believe that the stew comes from the city of Brunswick, although a wider-held view claims it was first concocted in Brunswick County, Virginia.

Northeast Georgia barbecue, centered around the city of Athens and its neighboring counties, has much in common with eastern North Carolina barbecue. Most restaurants in the region serve a more finely-chopped pork with thinner, vinegar-based sauce. Many also serve hash instead of Brunswick stew. Some of the more popular barbecue joints in this region include Carrither's in Athens, Paul's in Lexington, and Zeb Dean's in Danielsville.


Beef, pork and chicken are dominant meats and are usually slow smoked. Throughout the eastern half of the state the sauces and styles resemble those found in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. A barbecue competition and contest is held in Lenexa, a suburb of Kansas City.


In Kentucky, barbecue also has a long and rich tradition and history. Mutton, Pork, Beef, Chicken, and Ribs have been smoked for years in the state. Mutton is one of the most notable specialties in most of Western Kentucky, where there were once large populations of sheep that were slaughtered for the mutton. However, mutton is virtually unknown in The Purchase of the extreme west, where pork shoulder is the canonical meat. A vinegar and tomato based sauce with a mixture of spice and sweet is the traditionally served with the meat, though not always used in cooking. The Moonlight Inn in Owensboro is the most famous of Kentucky BBQ places and Owensboro hosts a International BBQ Festival every year in the spring. Western Kentucky BBQ (more specifically, Purchase-area BBQ) has also been transplanted to Lexington by way of Billy's BBQ near downtown, a favorite among University of Kentucky basketball and football fans.


Beef is the dominant meat for barbecue especially in St. Louis and the Ozarks. Often the beef is sliced and a tomato-based sauce is added after cooking. About half of the supply of charcoal briquets in the USA is produced from Ozark forests (e.g., Kingsford brand), with hickory "flavor" being very popular.

In Kansas City in particular, barbeque is extremely popular Kansas City Bar-B-Q Connection ( Backyard barbeques and tailgating are considered pastimes in the city and its surrounding area. Almost every type of barbeque is popular including beef, chicken, pork, sausage, ham and ribs.

Kansas City is the home of famous barbecue restaurants such as Arthur Bryant's, Gates, Rosedale, BB's Lawnside, Zarda, and many others. There is usually a restaurant every few square miles. The area also hosts numerous barbeque competitions such as The American Royal.

Kansas City is particularly well known for its sauce. Typical KC BBQ is basted heavily in sauce during and after cooking. KC BBQ Sauce usually is rather rich, tangy and spicy. KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce was invented in the city by Rich Davis. However, KC Masterpiece is thicker, sweeter and darker in color than most Kansas City sauces. It is also important to note that Dry Rub is used extensively as well. The Kansas City style is also found in Missouri communities of Columbia, St. Joseph and Warrensburg.

St. Louis barbecue sauce is typically sweeter and thinner than its Kansas City cousin, with less vinegar taste. It somewhat resembles the Memphis style sauce.

A quick and easy Missouri-style barbecue sauce can be made from mostly ketchup, some brown sugar, a little mustard, and a dash of Worcestorshire sauce.


The city of Sparks plays host each Labor Day weekend to the Best of the West Rib Cook-off in Victorian Square. To denizens of the Reno/Sparks area, this is an event of quasi-religious significance and proves that when it comes to BBQ in Nevada, ribs are king.

North Carolina

Within North Carolina, there are multiple regional traditions, all based on the slow-cooking of pulled or chopped pork. On the east coast, the dominant ingredients to the sauce are vinegar and hot peppers. Proceeding west into the Piedmont (as in Lexington), the sauce becomes more tomato- or ketchup-based, but never as thick as commercial (Texas-style) sauces.

In the eastern part of the state, the whole hog is typically used; in the west, sometimes only pork shoulders are used for barbecue.

In general, a hog half is placed in a "hog cooker" over wood coals and cooked slowly, usually overnight. What wood to use is subject to some debate (often oak or hickory; never pine). In modern times, gas, electric, or charcoal heat are often used for sake of convenience, although most will agree that the long exposure to hardwood smoke improves the flavor of the final product and is generally preferred.

Other variations include cooking times, turning during cooking, and how finely the meat is chopped after cooking.


Oklahoman barbeque reflects Oklahoma's geographic location. Located south of Kansas City, north of Texas and west of Memphis, Oklahomans like the beef brisket favored by their neighbors in Texas, the sweet spicy sauce typical of Kansas City and the pork ribs that are found in Memphis. However, Oklahoman barbeque also includes pork, chicken, sausage, and bologna. In Oklahoma, barbecue refers to meat that has been slowly cooked over wood smoke at a very low temperature, for a very long time. The woods most commonly used for smoking meat include hickory, oak, and pecan. Some of the most popular barbeque joints in Oklahoma include Bad Brad's in Stillwater & Pawhuska, Elmer's in Tulsa, Head Country in Ponca City, and Earl's Rib Palace in Oklahoma City.

South Carolina

While the meat used in South Carolina is consistent throughout the state, slow-cooked pulled pork, three regional sauce variants can be found. In the Pee Dee and Lowcountry coastal region, a vinegar and pepper sauce is prevalent. In the Midlands area around Columbia, a mustard-based sauce sometimes referred to as "Carolina Gold" is the predominant style. Maurice Bessinger's "Piggy Park" gold sauce is made from mustard, apple juice, pear juice, and other ingredients. In the Upstate, or Piedmont region, it shares a ketchup-based sauce also seen in North Carolina.


Memphis is known for

  • wet ribs, made with a mild, sweet barbecue sauce that's basted on the ribs before and after smoking;
  • dry-rub ribs, made with a spice rub applied during or right after they've been cooked; and
  • pulled or chopped pork sandwich topped with sweet, finely chopped coleslaw and served on inexpensive hamburger buns, which some locals insist is Memphis barbecue's highest form.

For people who simply can't get enough barbecue, there's also barbecue spaghetti, barbecue pizza, and barbecue nachos.

Memphis is also home to the "Memphis in May" World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (WCBCC), an annual event which regularly draws over 90,000 pork lovers from around the globe. The title of "the largest pork barbecue cooking contest in the world" was bestowed on the WCBCC in the 1990 Guinness Book of World Records.

It is also home to over 100 barbecue restaurants, including Corky's (, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (, the Germantown Commissary (, Leonard's (, Pig-N-Whistle (, Central BBQ (, the Bar-B-Q Shop (, Hog Wild Barbecue (, Neely's (, Gridley's, Three Little Pigs, Tops Barbecue, and Cozy Corner. Several have been so successful that they have branches dedicated to shipping barbecue overnight via Federal Express.

While Memphis dominates the culture of Tennessee barbecue, some other restaurants in other cities have achieved some notoriety outside of their local markets. Jack's Barbecue in Nashville is a popular destination for tourists, and Sticky Fingers, a chain based in Chattanooga, has overcome the stigma that hardcore barbecue fans tend to attach to chains and is widely regarded throughout the southeast for its ribs.


Sliced brisket, sausage, and pork ribs are the most popular meats in Texas barbecue. Central Texans often refer to these three meats as The Holy Trinity. Chicken, beef ribs, and chopped beef are also often found. Even more exotic variants such as turkey, pork loin, pork chops, prime rib, mutton, and cabrito are sometimes available.

In Texas, barbecueing refers to what others call "hot smoking"—cooking with both smoke and low heat for hours over woods such as oak, mesquite, or pecan. Cooking with direct heat, such as a propane-fueled flame, is not referred to as barbecueing, but is instead known as grilling. Meat prepared by Texas barbecue often has a red tinge even when fully cooked, and a pink smoke ring around the edges of the meat. This is caused by between myoglobin in the meat reacting with carbon monoxide in the smoke to form a heat stable pigment.

If used, traditional sauce consists of tomatoes with a vinegar base. It can be sweet or spicy and thick or thin, depending on the chef. At barbecue cookoffs in Texas, however, meat is generally judged without sauce, as sauce can cover up for poor-quality meats and cooking. Commercially available sauces usually bear little resemblance to traditional barbecue sauce, and are frequently made from tomatoes and corn syrup.

Since creating proper barbecue requires considerable expense of money and time, in that one needs a specialized smoker and has to start smoking many hours before the meat is ready, most Texans simply visit a local restaurant known as a barbecue joint. Such establishments typically serve the meat in a no-frills manner, on a plastic tray and butcher paper with white bread or crackers, or, to-go, in a brown paper sack. Traditional side dishes include potato salad, coleslaw (mustard or vinegar), pinto beans, which are often spicy. Banana pudding, peach cobbler and Blue Bell ice cream are popular dessert options. However, they are not always available—the film Kreuz Market: No Sauce, No Sides, No Silverware ( depicts a popular barbecue joint in Lockhart that lacks the three items mentioned in the title.

Slight regional variations in Texas barbecue exist. In Central Texas barbecue is more likely to consist of leaner meats, while East Texans prefer more fatty cuts. It is possible, however, to find both kinds of meats all over the state.

In Texas, barbecue, and the best barbecue joints, are popular topics both in individual discussions and the media. The documentary film Barbecue: A Texas Love Story ( depicts the culture associated with Texas barbecue. Texas Monthly ( magazine periodically performs roundups where they rate scores of barbecue joints across the state. The most recent roundup ( was in 2003.



The choice and combination of woods burned result in different flavors imparted to the meat. Different types of wood burn at different temperatures. The heat also varies by the amount of wood and controlling the rate of burn through careful venting.


This generally begins with purchasing a commercial bag of processed charcoal briquets. A charcoal chimney starter is a traditional (but generally underused) method for getting a consistent heat from your coals. Alternatively, they can be lit in a pyramid directly inside the charcoal grill after presoaking with lighter fluid (or using pre-treated briquets). Once all coals are ashed-over (generally 15-25 minutes), they are spread around the perimeter of the grill, and the meat is placed in the center for indirect cooking. For additional flavor and attractive appearance, thicker cuts of meat may optionally be seared over direct heat (outer perimeter of grill) prior to indirect cooking in the center. Water-soaked wood chips (such as mesquite, hickory, or fruit trees) are often added atop the coals for an extra smoky flavor. As with wood barbecuing, the temperature of the grill is controlled by the amount and distribution of coal within the grill and through careful venting.

An alternate way of using charcoal briquets is used on Boy Scout campouts. Chicken quarters (legs and thighs) are placed into a Dutch oven (a large iron pot), and a 2-liter bottle of cola and a large bottle (32-40 ounces or about 1 kilogram) of ketchup are poured on top of the chicken. The lid is placed on the Dutch oven, and the hot coals are heaped around the base, sides, and on top of the lid. The ketchup-cola sauce carmelizes onto the meat, and about an hour later, everyone enjoys the barbecue.

Natural gas and propane

Gas grills are easy to light. The heat is easy to control (via knob-controlled gas valves on the burners), so the outcome is very predictable. They result in a very consistent and tasty result, although some charcoal purists argue it lacks the flavors available only from cooking with charcoal. Advocates of gas grills claim that gas cooking lets you "taste the meat, not the heat" because it is claimed that charcoal grills may deposit traces of coal tar on the food. Many grills are equipped with thermometers, further simplifying the barbecuing experience.

Gas grills are significantly more expensive due to their added complexity, and higher heat. They are also considered much cleaner as they do not result in ashes of which must be disposed, and also in terms of air pollution. Proper maintenance may further help reduce pollution.


The word varies in spelling; variations include barbeque, BBQ, and Bar-B-Q. Smoky Hale, author of The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual (ISBN 0936171030) traces the word back to its Caribbean roots in Ta�no (one of the Arawak family of languages). In one form, barabicoa, it indicates a wooden grill, a mesh of sticks; in another, barabicu, it is a sacred fire pit. Traditional barbacoa implies digging a hole in the ground putting some meat (goat is the best, usually the whole animal) on it with a pot underneath (to catch the concentrated juices, it makes a hearty broth), cover all with maguey (cactus) leaves then cover with coal and set it in fire. A few hours later it is ready.

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