Carolina BBQ – Two Ways

North_Carolina_MapWhen BBQ afficionados recall their favorite kind of BBQ, its name usually is tied to its place of origin: KC-style, Memphis-style, St. Louis-style, Texas-style.

But when talking about the beloved Carolina barbecue, you have to clarify which of the two distinct styles. No, it’s not North Carolina (where the Carolina Panthers, playing in this week’s Super Bowl, are based) vs. South Carolina.

Carolina BBQ comes in two distinct types of barbecue that have developed over the last few hundred years: Lexington style and Eastern style. Both kinds are pork-based barbecues but differ in the cuts of pork used and the sauces they are served with.

East vs West: what do you love best?

Lexington (sometimes also called Piedmont) style BBQ is made exclusively with pork shoulder, and uses a “red” sauce that is seasoned with ketchup, vinegar, and pepper, along with other spices that make each chef’s recipe unique. (Basic recipe is here). The Piedmont BBQ sauce also serves as the seasoning base for “red slaw” (also called “barbecue slaw”), which is coleslaw made by using Lexington-style barbecue sauce (or similar) in place of mayonnaise.

Carolina Panthers, competing in Super Bowl 50, are based in Charlotte, NC, which is home to “Eastern-style” Carolina BBQ.

Go whole hog. Eastern-style Carolina BBQ is a whole-hog style of barbecue, often said to use “every part of the hog except the squeal.” The distinctive Eastern-style BBQ sauce is vinegar- and pepper-based, with no tomato whatsoever. With Eastern Carolina slaws, the ketchup disappears, and the mayonnaise (or whipped salad dressing, ew) is almost universal. This whole-hog form of BBQ is sometimes done as a “Pig Pickin'” — cooking a whole pig, and guests come pick the meat from the smoker.

A trait that both styles of Carolina BBQ have in common is that they are traditional, slow-cooked barbecue. Barbecuing (vs grilling) is a slower process that uses lower heat; often the food is cooked by the heat of the smoke itself, rather than directly by the heat of the burning wood.