The Great American Barbecue Debate: Southern Smoke vs. Northern Flame

April 15, 2024
1 min read
Person Holding Grilled Cheese Burger
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When you talk about barbecue in the South, it’s like discussing fine art or classical music—it’s serious business, rich with tradition and fiercely regional. Contrast this with the Northern interpretation of barbecue, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a good-natured culinary rivalry.

What’s Cooking?

In the South, “barbecue” isn’t just a method of cooking; it’s practically a lifestyle. It involves meticulously smoking meats—mostly pork—over various woods that lend their own subtle flavors. A Southern barbecue pitmaster is part chef, part craftsman, devoting hours (even days) to the art of perfect meat.

Travel up North and the definition loosens considerably. Here, barbecue often refers to grilling rather than the slow-and-low method revered in the South. If it cooks over a flame and happens outdoors, it’s likely to be labeled barbecue, whether it’s brisket, burgers, or even tofu. To a Southerner, that’s akin to calling a pauper’s shack in the woods a “mansion.”

Sauce Sagas

Dive into the topic of barbecue sauces, and the differences get even spicier. Southerners are passionate about their regional sauce varieties. Whether it’s the vinegar-based tang of North Carolina or the thick, sweet concoctions favored in Kansas City, each sauce has its place and purpose, none of which is taken lightly.

Head North and you’ll find a more laissez-faire attitude towards sauce. Anything goes from bottled varieties to hybrid sauces that mix different styles. While innovation is celebrated, to a Southerner, this approach might seem like using ketchup on fine steak.

Barbecue as an Event

In the South, barbecue isn’t an event in and of itself, but it is often the centerpiece of family reunions, community gatherings, and historical celebrations. It involves not just eating, but socializing—where stories are told and bonds are strengthened over plates of slow-cooked meats and homemade sides.

Conversely, in the North, barbecues tend to be more casual affairs. They’re often impromptu, tied more to the pleasure of sunny days and quick meals than to the deep-rooted traditions of their Southern counterparts.

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