NC Barbeque is Unique – Pork with a Vinegar Based Sauce
North Carolina BBQ is chopped pork on a bun in contrast to most barbecues across the country which would be beef or other meats served as a main course. Barbeque in North Carolina is, of course, more complicated than that, but that’s a good starting point.
Barbecue is a Noun
Like folks from Kansas, North Carolinians do not barbecue. They eat barbecue. Barbecue is a noun and not a verb. Putting food on the grill is called grilling. Slow smoking meat is making barbecue. You do not barbecue hot dogs, burgers, or steak in North Carolina. You grill those. In fact, you do not barbecue anything. That’s just wrong.
Low and Slow Over Smoke
It’s not real barbecue in North Carolina, unless the pork is cooked at low temperatures for many hours and over a wood fire. If you go behind the BBQ joint and don’t see a wood pile, then it’s not really NC que. If there are spider webs on the woodpile, then you’ve been snookered too. Ideally, you’ll see smoke coming out of the smoke house, although meat is not cooked around the clock. Still, you should smell that distinct wood smoke in the air.
In eastern North Carolina, the smoked meat is whole hog. In other words, they cook the entire pig. In the piedmont where most barbecue is called Lexington-style, shoulders are cooked down (and sometimes Boston Butts). That’s called eating high on the hog – or the better pig meat, although many will argue that the mixture with more fat and skin is better.
Geography – A Few Miles – They Make a Difference
Speaking of eastern and western North Carolina, it really is a matter of miles. Don’t confuse western NC in terms of barbecue with the mountains where you get goodness-knows-what called barbecue. When people from North Carolina talk about eastern and western on BBQ, they are not including the western half of the state. They mean the beach area and the piedmont.
The Secret is in the Sauce
The biggest bone of contention in North Carolina is when it comes to the barbeque sauce. Again, it’s along geographic lines. Eastern NC has vinegar sauce while the piedmont has vinegar based sauce with various levels of tomato or ketchup added. Any hint of tomato is scorned by easterners.
In either case, you have a very thin barbecue sauce very unlike Kansas barbecue sauce which is ketchup based. Both areas add a kick with pepper seeds, so the BBQ sauce is generally spicier than what you see bottled in the store.
Who Wins The Carolina Barbecue Contest?
Residents of North Carolina are quite vocal about defending the local barbecue styles. It’s kind of like football. You root for your team – no matter what.
For those outside the area, it may all be Greek or so different that the subtleties are lost. There’s great barbecue both on the eastern side of the state and in the middle. There are also imitations, and those are not so wonderful. Just follow the smoke and see for yourself.