Texas, Memphis, the Carolinas, and Kansas City are the four main hubs of BBQ that most people think of when the food comes to mind. While this is true, to think those are the only cities in which one can get good BBQ would be naive. Around the U.S., practically every state has its own take but there are some that are doing it better than others. And when it comes to magical spice rubs and BBQ sauces that could make a grown adult shed a tear, some lesser-known cities are even doing it better than entire states.
If you still don't know what we mean then let us explain it this way: You wouldn't expect fantastic brisket to come out of Chicago or a great pulled pork dish to come from California, right? In reality, that's wrong - because it does happen. These cities might be known for other foods but when it comes to BBQ, they're rocking it as well as any other barbecue hub.
St. Louis is known for one thing: ribs. While this is its trademark BBQ dish, it's more about the style in which the ribs are made which makes them 'St. Louis-style.' And, more so than ribs, St. Louis is known for its incredible sauce. While spare ribs are the ribs of choice for this city, it's the sweet and tangy sauce that tops them which has won over the hearts of BBQ lovers. And it's not just ribs that people come to St. Louis for - it's practically any cut of pork, including snouts and pork steaks, that really win over the hardcore crowd.
Georgia is known for pork, but it's not pulled pork or ribs. Rather, the BBQ made in this state, particularly in its major cities, is referred to as chopped pork. This gives the pork a tender texture that's a bit meatier than that of pulled pork and allows the sauce to pool perfectly in between all of its crevices. Speaking of sauce, Georgia's classic BBQ sauce, which has a mustard base, also adds to its charm. The state took a note from the Carolinas on this one and it works, especially when it's all piled onto a bun with a side of Brunswick stew.
Alabama's BBQ is truly like no other and it's one of the only styles to incorporate a white sauce, which tops almost all of its barbecued meat dishes. In this state, and in its major cities, foodies are likely to find pork shoulder and chicken that's been cooked low and slow over hickory wood. While these types of meats are delicious all on their own, they're even more delicious when topped with a tangy mayo, vinegar, and black pepper sauce. It sounds strange but gives the meat a hit of spice with a bit of tang to jazz things up, and somehow marries perfectly well with the smoke from the hickory chips. The exceptions to this sauce are those found in Tuscaloosa which favors a spicy mustard-based sauce, and the sweet and bold BBQ sauce of Birmingham.
In Central California, foodies will find a small haven of BBQ restaurants that take inspiration from Mexico and South America's Asado-style of cooking. There, the BBQ starts with beef tri-tips that are seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt. From there, the tips are grilled over oak wood for roughly two hours which is much shorter than the average low and slow BBQ times, but the result is mouthwatering. The tender meat is sliced and served with homemade salsa, and the beauty of this trademark dish lies in its simplicity.
Chicago's BBQ is quite unique and what makes it that way is the method in which it's cooked. Using something called 'aquarium smokers,' various types of meat - usually rib tips - are smoked in large steel cases with glass doors. The chimney in the top of these cases allows smoke to escape and oxygen to make its way in, creating a deliciously good flavor. A sweet BBQ sauce is added to the meat when it's finished, and the tomato base of the sauce blends beautifully with the hefty smoke from the aquarium smokers.
Hawaii's BBQ likely predates much of the BBQ in the U.S. and is done quite simply with the use of an underground pit. This method is done traditionally around many parts of the world and in Hawaii, it's still done for special occasions. The Kalua pig is the official state dish and requires a fairly intricate process of layering banana leaves and other vegetation so that no heat or smoke escapes. It's rare that many restaurants do this on the regular nowadays but when it does happen, it's nothing short of extraordinary.