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Can I get an example of each major regional style of American BBQ?

I'm a self-admitted newbie when it comes to American-style BBQ.

I like what I like, but that's about the extent of my American BBQ IQ.

That said, I would like to ask if the 'hounds can provide an example of each style of American BBQ. Doesn't have to be the best LA has to offer, or even necessarily very good, just an example.

Of the different major regional styles of American BBQ I can think of, here's my list thus far ...

- St. Louis

- Memphis

- North Carolina

- South Carolina

- Texas

- Kansas City

Are there other major regional styles of American BBQ I am missing?

Anyhow, thanks for any suggestions.

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  1. Gus's in South Pas offers most of those. The BBQ has been merely OK on my several visits. Nice-sounding drinks, but they're so weak you could give them to a colicky baby. The burger is better, and the Fosselman's for dessert is outstanding.

    Lucille's also cooks up several styles -- less than OK. If forced to go there, I generally get the catfish. The sides are better.

    Zeke's in Montrose (I've heard negatives about the other location) is much better than the two above, and it offers numerous styles.

    Big Mista, of course, is best of all. Go to a real Texan for your brisket and other beefy needs, not to mention outstanding pork, mac n cheese, etc.

    1. There's a Missouri style also. I can't give you specifics but the differences have to do with whether they use a sauce or a spice rub. Another factor is whether or not the meat is smoked.

      17 Replies
      1. re: mucho gordo

        Wouldn't that be classified as KC BBQ since it is in Missouri.

        To OP: There is also Santa Maria style which is cooked on a special grill and is a unique blend of spices.

        Bludso's is Texas BBQ with a sweeter sauce.
        JayBee's is a example of Memphis BBQ which is all about the pork.
        Oinkster is more Carolina style BBQ with a vinegar based sauce.

          1. re: A5 KOBE

            You may be correct, A5 Kobe, although I've seen places that advertise KC and some Missouri. Whether or not they're both the same is beyond my paltry knowledge of bbq

            1. re: A5 KOBE

              Might be also referred to as St. Louis, depending on which part of Missouri you are from!
              Original post did not mention Santa Maria, which is its own category as well.

              1. re: A5 KOBE

                I like Bludso's a lot, Kobe, but after living in Texas for a dozen years or so I can say that I've never had brisket sliced that thin in the Lone Star State. Good as it is, their beef reminds me of Arthur Bryant's in KC, not Texas

                1. re: hnsbmg

                  You won't find brisket cut thin in Texas because they like their brisket better done, and it will simply fall apart in thinner slices- doesn't always do so well in thick slices, either. I've found myself liking my brisket a bit chewier lately, as I've been using Wagyu briskets, and that means thinner slices, perhaps even without the steaming often done in Texas in the foil. If you don't use foil, the outside of the brisket dessicates as the interior cooks, it takes longer, it gets smokier, but it's chewier and the slices hold together better. The steaming part is the only thing that can soften a really tough brisket, but since I'm using Wagyu, no need. Don't know about Bludso's, but slicing favors a chewier, slighly less done brisket than is typical in Texas.

                  1. re: hnsbmg


                    Kevin Bludso claims his BBQ is Texan style and has even has a menu item called the Texas sampler (which I get every time). Not only that, the man is from Texas and has been doing BBQ there. Just because he slices his brisket thinner does not make it a different style.


                    1. re: A5 KOBE

                      Kobe, the key point is that thin slicing and the cooking technique that makes it possible give the brisket a different character from the usual Texas BBQ.

                      I guess it's conceivable that somebody in Texas sells thin-sliced beef, but Bludso's claim that his delicious brisket is "Texas style" leads the unsuspecting to think this is what they'll get when they visit the Lone Star State. It's not. If you like Bludso's style (and I do), then head north to Arthur Bryant's in KC (and I will, many times more ;-).

                      Wouldn't you object if Fab Hot Dog opened a branch in Chicago and sold its delicious New Jersey Ripper under the name "Los Angeles-Style Dog," leading Chicagoans to believe that most Angelenos eat their hot dogs deep-fried?

                      1. re: hnsbmg

                        So you are basically calling him a liar.

                        I am sure he can slice it thicker if he wants to.

                        1. re: A5 KOBE

                          "I am sure he can slice it thicker if he wants to." Houston, we have agreement!

                          "So you are basically calling him a liar." You think Kevin Bludso can't be wrong without being a liar? Nah. Think it through again.

                          1. re: hnsbmg

                            Obvious sarcasm. There are 4 different styles and maybe even more in Texas alone. I would classify Bludso's as Rural Black BBQ. The thicker sliced brisket that are a bit tougher is notoriously known as Market Style BBQ (German immigrants)

                            Rural Black
                            South Texas "Barbocoa"
                            East Texas
                            Central Texas (market style)



                  2. re: A5 KOBE

                    So, if my preference is for a spice rub, I should be looking at Santa Maria style only or are there others that do a rub only?

                    1. re: mucho gordo

                      In San Luis Obispo, many of the Santa Maria style bbq places do not put sauce directly on the meat. The tri tip is usually that staple of Santa Maria bbq along with beef ribs. I have to say that the Santa Maria style beef ribs are my favorite because they have a simple rub with more emphasis on the flavor of the meat.

                      Also the Texas Market style bbq is an option, although they emphasize the flavor and texture of the meat and sometimes have sauce simply because patrons ask for them.

                      I believe that there is an argument in Memphis to the dry and wet bbq discussion. Some places only do dry rub while others drench there que in sauce. I forget the name of the place but in Memphis they smoke the ribs and then put a dry rub on after they are cooked.

                      There could be bbq styles that emphasize rub but these ones really stand out to me.

                      1. re: A5 KOBE

                        No sauce at all for Santa Maria style.
                        "Rub"if you want to call it that is black pepper and garlic salt. .

                        1. re: A5 KOBE

                          is rendezvous the place you're thinking of?

                          gordo, you can ask for "sauce on the side" at most decent bbq places here. the best are bludso's and bigmista's, with pinkie's a very distant third. phillips makes great seasoned-but-not-dry-rubbed bbq.

                    2. re: mucho gordo

                      Memphis is only place I'm familiar with that obsesses over dry-rub vs. wet ribs.

                      1. re: hnsbmg

                        My personal preference is for a dry rub as most sauces overshadow, rather than enhance, the taste of the meat.

                    3. Jaybee's is related to the Neely family of Memphis, so their ribs are in that city's style.

                      Bigmista grew up in Texas, but his BBQ isn't what I'd call a traditional central TX style. Many places in central TX cook in a very austere style, seasoning their meat only with salt, black pepper and smoke, and no sauce on premises. Bigmista's seasonings are a little more involved than that.

                      There isn't a place in L.A. that does a true Carolina style pulled pork, to my knowledge. Whole hog or whole pork shoulder is typically cooked directly over embers, rather than in a pit with an offset firebox more common in TX. Dripping fat adds its own smoke flavors when meat is cooked over the coals, The BBQ in the Carolinas is pure pig with differences in the mops and sauces to flavor the meat with.

                      St. Louis doesn't have a distinct BBQ style. "St. Louis style ribs" are a way that pork spareribs are trimmed prior to cooking - rib tips and flap meat removed from the rack - rather than a way that meat is cooked or flavored.

                      There's a slim swath of Alabama with a preference for a white, mayo based sauce. Big Bob Gibson is the restaurant that made it famous. You can buy Big Bob Gibson sauces locally at BBQ Galore, but no local restaurant makes that style.

                      Mutton is a popular BBQ meat in Kentucky, but again, not represented in L.A.

                      As noted above, Santa Maria style tri tip is a California only style. So is the earth pit BBQ found in Bakersfield, where Basque sheepherders influenced the local food culture. You can find Santa Maria style tri tip in LA, but not the Basque earth pit style, as far as I know.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Professor Salt

                        Hey, that's very helpful. Thanks Prof.

                        1. re: Professor Salt

                          Your BBQ team partner Big Mista does use unusually complex seasoning on his brisket, but, more importantly, he (and you, too, I'm sure) knows how to cook tender and juicy brisket. Sadly, many places even in Texas nowadays overlook the importance of juice and serve dry, unappealing beef that is overwhelmed with smoke. A couple of years ago I revisited numerous favorite places from the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ ranking and found no reason to return to many of them, because of the dry, tough meat. I found out about Big Mista right after that and was very happy to change my mind about Southern California BBQ.

                          1. re: hnsbmg

                            I hear Big Mista also does burnt ends, KC-BBQ style? If so, I'm definitely making a trip.

                            1. re: odub

                              Big Mista does burnt ends but if you get there too early, there won't have been any ends to have been burnt. Or something.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: odub

                                I don't recall burnt ends at Big Mista -- at least not in the style of, say, the great LC's in Kansas City -- but I'm usually so focused on the brisket and ribs that I might have overlooked something. Send Neil an email and ask him! EDIT: Thanks, Mr Taster -- now I understand why I haven't seen them.

                            2. re: Professor Salt

                              are there any restaurants that serve this "earth pit BBQ" in bakersfield, or is a special occasion thing? never seen it at any of the basque joints.

                              1. re: linus

                                I've never seen it in restaurants. I learned about this from BBQ contest cooks who do this at home, or at public parks where brick lined earth pits are available for the public to use.

                                1. re: linus

                                  El Borrego de Oro in East LA serves freshly slaughtered farm-raised lamb barbacoa in the Hidalgo style. It is slow-cooked for 8-10 hours in a stone-lined earth pit, buried below ground, with hardwoods and mesquite covered with Maguey cactus leaves. The result is seriously delicious, despite not having the intense smoke flavor that some equate with good barbeque. Incredibly tender, juicy and flavorful. This is “barbacoa estilo Hidalgo” and its subtle savoriness is as it should be – authentic and traditional.

                                  Great mix of lean, fat and gristle with a typical order, however you can request any particular cut that you prefer. You can even get whole cabezas (heads). They also make a very good consommé (soup) to accompany the barbacoa, made from the juices that fall off the lamb as it cooks.

                                  The owners raise sheep on a farm in Chino, CA, where the actual preparation takes place. Freshly prepared barbacoa is delivered to the two restaurants daily. I prefer the ambience and service at the original #1 location on Whittier Blvd, although parking can be a challenge.


                                  El Borrego de Oro #1
                                  2403 Whittier Blvd.
                                  Los Angeles, CA 90023
                                  (323) 780-4213

                                  El Borrego de Oro #2
                                  2808 E. Washington Blvd.
                                  Los Angeles, CA 90023
                                  (323) 780-1132

                                  1. re: linus

                                    I've been on a quest for this. Read the last entry in this thread:
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/553937 (Glick's Meat market in Visalia


                                    Next time I'm down that way, I plan to check it out. Last real deep-pit I had was at a community celebration in Idyllwild, CA, and it was great. Taft will have their Oildorado celebration this year, and they reportedly serve it there. There used to be a takeout place in a bad neighborhood in Bakersfield that had it, but that was decades ago.

                                    But back to the main subject, isn't there also an "Oakland Style" BBQ? Any examples of this in L.A.?

                                    1. re: Steve Green

                                      Hey, Steve!

                                      Glad to aide in your quest. Hope you get a chance to try EBdO soon.

                                      As for "“Oakland Style" BBQ", yours is the first mention of it that I’ve heard of. A Google search (supported by Yelp) revealed that it may have originated at Flint’s BBQ in Oakland (now closed) and brought to the BBQ House in Reno, NV by BBQ House’s owner. It apparently refers to a style of barbeque that is cooked using a mix of cherry and apple woods (so far so good), then served completely drenched in a cloyingly sweet sauce (oops, just lost me!).

                                2. Yo, ipse!

                                  I could literally write you a book on the subject of American barbeque (as I prefer to spell it). There’s no need, it’s already been done many times by many qualified scholars and authors. One of my favorites is Smokestack Lightening by Lolis Elie and Frank Stewart. Another is Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe. They will afford you a vicarious taste of regional differences in barbeque across the US.

                                  Wikipedia and the Internet (via Google) contain a world of information on the subject. In fact, our beloved BigMista gleaned the basics of his trade through said resources. Start here:

                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbecue for a global overview. Then look here:

                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbecue... for a US overview.

                                  It is easy to point you down the information highway. Unfortunately pointing you to specific establishments serving authentic, or even representative, regional barbeque is not an easy task. There’s no place that offers them all. Most offer, at best, an adulteration of a particular style or a homologation of different styles, even when the very name of the establishment indicates otherwise. To fully appreciate regional differences in American barbeque, ipsedixit, you would need to visit each region and sample the wares of establishments therein.

                                  Professor Salt, himself an authority, is right-on in his reply and commentary. As for me, I have virtually given up concerning myself with whether a particular “Q” is Northeastern or Northwestern Carolina or Memphis versus Kansas City style or whatever. Yeah, it remains in the back of my head, but all that I really want to know now is:

                                  "Is it good?"

                                  … And please, if possible, give me the sauce on the side.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: degustateur


                                    Thanks for the references.

                                    I (sort of) understand the differences and nuances of each style. What I'm looking for is to sample some of those styles here in LA.

                                    I completely understand that no one place would have a selection of all the styles, nor would I expect such a place.

                                    What I'd like to know is one restaurant that serves a representative style of each major regional style of b-a-r-b-e-q-u-e!

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      I've never been but a native of Santa Maria says Santa Maria Barbecue Company is alright for Santa Maria style.

                                      Santa Maria Barbeque Company
                                      9552 Washington Blvd
                                      Culver City, CA 90232

                                      Representative pics of Santa Maria style (pics) from Jocko's in Nipomo. Pork chops are 1 pound each.

                                      Santa Maria Barbeque
                                      9552 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                                  2. Johnny Rebs advertises that it serves North Carolina pulled pork. I am not going to debate whether it is good, authentic, or not. All I can offer is that it pretty much recalled what I ate in Chapel Hill when I attended UNC many years ago.

                                    Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse
                                    4663 Long Beach Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90805

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: mlgb

                                      While, I haven't had Johnny Reb's , I am skeptical. I have found that most places here that claim to Carolina-style Pork BBQ (which Carolina-style, I ask), are severely lacking. I wonder if it's because they tend to use the wrong part of the pig (pork shoulder vs. the butt). That said, I have found Oinkster and Gus's to be lacking, not only as North Carolina -style, but as pulled pork in general. Seriously, get yourself a plane ticket to RDU and head to Allen & Sons in Durham, NC.

                                      2005 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

                                      Gus's Barbeque
                                      808 Fair Oaks Ave, South Pasadena, CA 91030

                                      1. re: inlikeflt

                                        but pork butt is from the shoulder...

                                        1. re: linus

                                          True, linus. Pork shoulder and pork butt are from the same section of the hog. The difference is in the cut or portion. The shoulder is the cut of pork that includes the front leg and the portion at the top part of the leg. It is generally more tender and flavorful due to its slightly higher fat content. The pork butt is the top most part of the shoulder that includes the blade, available either boneless or bone-in. Both are lower cost cuts that lend themselves very well to low and slow cooking methods such as smoking and braising. The butt is typically preferred for producing pulled pork, i.e. Carolina style, barbeque. It is also the choice cut for Mexican carnitas.

                                    2. At county fairs(LA and OC), I've seen places serving Carolina style pork BBQ. Never having been to Carolina, I have no idea how representative these places are. I'll be going to the OC Fair next week so I'll sniff around a bit. :)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: huaqiao

                                        I think you’ve hit on something, huaqiao. Many barbeque participants at county fairs hail from major regional barbeque centers across the US, especially Texas, Memphis and the Carolinas. They set-up their rigs and showcase highly representative examples of “Q” from their home locales, and they do so with great pride and tradition.

                                        Ipse, one of your best bets for sampling regional barbeque locally may be at the LA and OC County fairs. At worst, you’ll at least be able to grab hold of a very savory smoked turkey leg. Yum! I enjoyed an amazing one at last year’s LA Fair – so good that I brought a couple home. There were at least two participants cooking up whole hogs over open pits, one of whom had an incredibly impressive ($$$$) semi-truck trailer rig. I didn’t get a chance to sample their wares but will make a point to next time. I already had a King Taco carne asada burrito, the aforementioned turkey leg, a roasted ear of chile corn, a funnel cake and a couple of $12 (yikes!) Newcastles under my expanding belt.

                                      2. the barbecue in los angeles is sort of a mess. everybody does it their own way. nobody does it quite the way they do it in the various regions of the south. like in other areas that don't have a barbecue tradition, there is a lot of unsmoked "barbecue", and there is a certain obligation to serve a little bit of everything.

                                        memphis: jay bee's represents interstate bbq, and the spare ribs at bludso's are the closest and best thing to the dry rub style i've found. pinkie's also does dry rub babybacks (no spare ribs), but it seems to me that the under seasoned rub is only applied after a brief smoking.

                                        north carolina: baby blue's makes a somewhat bland lexington dip, but the pulled pork is regrettable. some people are easily impressed by ciabatta rolls. nobody i know of has an eastern north carolina sauce or does whole hog.

                                        south carolina: haven't found any mustard sauce.

                                        texas: bludso's brisket and beef ribs fit the bill pretty well. the sauces are really good on pork, though sweeter than i'd like for beef.

                                        kansas city: haven't found anything. there are places around here that baste their barbecue with sweet, thick sauces, but as a general rule they don't smoke their meats.

                                        alabama white sauce: haven't found anybody, but easy enough to make yourself and apply to your favorite barbecued chicken; mine is the park's finest.

                                        santa maria: santa maria barbecue company! haven't been there, not planning on it either. doesn't sound like a good example, so this will have to wait for a trip north. aj's bbq pit uses the same cooking technique, but the texture is too much like a pork chop for me to really get into it.

                                        this is the blueprint of the quintessential los angeles barbecue:

                                        1. season meat with salt, maybe some black pepper and/or sugar.
                                        2. smoke it.
                                        3. cut most of it up and mix with sauce (mild, medium, and hot), saving the rest for customers who ask for sauce on the side (sometimes at extra charge).
                                        4. serve with two slices of bread (white or wheat) and a scoop of one or two sides. the menu should be simple and straightforward. lunch. dinner. sandwich. two meat combo. if the the combos on their menu have funky names, walk out the door!

                                        5 Replies
                                          1. re: raizans

                                            Yo, raizans!

                                            I couldn't agree with you more. If I apply the definition of each regional style to LA barbeque venues, I cannot accept with any degree of assurance that any of them adhere strictly to a given, or even professed, regional style. With perhaps very few exceptions (I know of none), any regional example that you find in LA will generally be a far cry from its original roots and would likely draw criticism from knowledgeable patrons of the original. LA is a neophyte when it comes to barbeque.

                                            As opposed to American barbeque’s major regional centers, LA (or all of California for that matter) does not have a long-established, deep-rooted cultural tradition of barbeque. In America’s major barbeque regions, cultural tradition promotes, even enforces, adherence and consistency in product and preparation. When you remove a cultural tradition from its roots and, say, transplant it in California (LA), it immediately begins to change, adapt, evolve, homogenize, dilute, and ultimately dissolve into the melting pot.

                                            1. re: degustateur

                                              yup! the upswing is that we get stuff like the park's finest filipino barbecue sauce and bigmista's dry rub.

                                              1. re: degustateur

                                                Are you saying that BBQ restaurants in each region, does things exactly the same? You are mistaken if they do. In Memphis, you can get BBQ smoked with hickory and others smoked with fruit woods. One place has a spicy rub the other has a sweeter rub. Which one is the true Memphis style BBQ? Rendezvous doesn't even smoke their ribs. They are cooked with charcoal.

                                                1. re: reality check

                                                  No, reality check, I am not saying that at all. My commentary is directed at LA barbeque. My reference to deep-rooted regional cultural tradition addresses the absence of such in LA. Over the past 50 years, I have eaten barbeque at well over a hundred establishments in a dozen states, encompassing nearly all of the major regions and their subs. Both within and across different regions, I have found barbeque that is similar, some that is quite different, yet very little that is truly unique. In contrast, I have not found any that is exactly the same.

                                                  Virtually everywhere, pit masters employ various tools, techniques and ingredients to differentiate their “Q” from their neighbors, i.e., competitors. Barbeque is not a commodity. Competition helps foster differentiation, even within a given region or neighborhood. This may be truer in LA due to its lack of an underlying barbeque culture. Furthermore, I feel that even the most fervent regional cultural traditions are breaking down in all but the most die-hard locales and establishments. Cross-pollination, information sharing and now, of course, the Internet are all contributors to this nationwide phenomenon.

                                                  I liken barbeque to cigars and wine. You can grow Cuban seed in the Dominican Republic but it will not produce a Habana. Likewise, you can import and grow French vines in California, but they will not produce French wine.

                                                  2930 Bristol St Ste A110, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                                            2. Down to the Bone in San Juan Capistrano, and Burell's in Santa Ana. Good Q.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: richoso12

                                                The name is Bad to the Bone but, in a sense, you are correct. Their "Q" is good all the way "down to the bone" (^_^).

                                                Bad to the Bone also has a location in San Clemente.

                                              2. In OC, you can get North Carolina BBQ at Burrell's Bar-B-Que Pit. I'm not a fan but Burrell's is the only place in LA/OC that you can get NC style bbq.

                                                KC BBQ Co. in North Hollywood is owned by a man who worked at some of the best BBQ restaurants in KC.

                                                Kevin Bludso, spent summers in Texas. He grew up and went to school in CA. I don't consider spending three months a year in Texas, as grew up in Texas.

                                                There are BBQ purist who do not consider Texas BBQ, real BBQ, since Texas BBQ cooking style is much like Santa Maria. More grilled than smoked.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: reality check

                                                  None of the pulled pork that I've had in LA comes close to the Carolina/Virginia versions -- Lexington #1, of course, or that strange Bill's in Richmond, VA, which has both decent pulled pork and limeade in crushed ice. The California pork that I like -- e.g., Big Mista and, in Anaheim, Blake's -- are very good but don't resemble Carolina Q.

                                                2. Reviews are mixed, and I think it's OK, but there is also Oklahoma style BBQ at Pecos Bill's in Glendale on Victory. Limited hours, just a shack, and ribs only on weekends I believe, but if you are wanting to try another branch of the BBQ chain, you might be interested.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                    Hey, PommeDeGuerre!

                                                    Great call! Screw the reviews. I’m a 40-year fan of Pecos Bill’s Okie Pork Sandwich – ever since high school. Never did care for their other versions or for the ribs. What a delicious mess. I still get a craving for one a few times a year and make the 80-mile r/t drive to chow two down and bring a few home – usually in conjunction with a trip to nearby Chili John’s.

                                                  2. I can guarantee you that if a BBQ Pit Boss associates his particular BBQ to anyone region, it's for marketing purposes only. Most of them will fall into 2 particular categories:

                                                    1. They have an inate sense of taste and are masters of combining ingredients and techniques to create unique flavors.

                                                    2. They recreate flavors from their childhood, i.e. "That's how Momma/Daddy/ Grandma/Uncle Bubba used to do it."

                                                    There is always some overlap but for the most part, that's how it is.

                                                    I think it's safe to say that the people at Black's don't cook like the people at Kreuz Market just because they are in Central Texas. The folks at Gates don't emulate Arthur Bryant's because they are both in Kansas City.

                                                    And with the advent of the Internet, there is so much overlap that nothing is truly regional anymore. You can get brisket in the Carolinas and you can get pulled pork in Texas.

                                                    Your best bet is to get out there and try it all and pick the restaurants you like and come back here and talk about them.

                                                    1 Reply