Episode 41: Barbecue

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 41: Barbecue

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Barbecue has several meanings in American English, and it can be a noun or a verb. For this podcast, I will only speak about the noun form that means, “meat that is slow-cooked outdoors using a low fire or smoke”. The word barbecue also has several different spellings, but the pronunciation is always the same. For this podcast transcript, I will use the most common spelling of barbecue.

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Barbecue is a popular food in America, and many regions have evolved their own type. It is a popular choice for holiday parties, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Often, barbecue is cooked in a pit, especially by restaurants. Pits can be a very large brick ovens or even holes dug in the ground and lined with bricks. People also use smokers, which are usually metal. Smokers can be large or small and can be on wheels to make them portable. If you are anywhere near a barbecue pit or smoker, you will know it from the delicious smell.

There are many types of barbecue in the USA. The main differences are

  1. Type and cut of meat: pork and beef are most common; chicken, mutton, turkey or sausage are also included.
  2. Type of seasoning before cooking: dry rub or wet rub. A rub is a combination of spices applied to the meat before cooking. Dry rubs are made of dried spices; wet rubs have an additional liquid ingredient such as oil, whiskey, Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce. Rubs often contain hot, spicy chili peppers.
  3. Type of sauce used during and/or after cooking: Barbecue sauces can be vinegar-based, tomato- or ketchup-based, mustard-based, or even mayonnaise-based. Sauces usually have varying amounts of chili peppers for heat, although you can find many that do not.

Now I will talk about some of the main types of barbecue in the USA. Keep in mind that there are endless variations to each of these. There are no strict rules or categories. Although barbecue originated in the Southeast, wherever you visit in the States, you will find a somewhat different version of barbecue.

Every cook has his or her own personal recipe for a rub or sauce, plus you have the choice of dozens of rubs and sauces in the supermarket. Here is a broad overview:

Alabama/Georgia Barbecue

Meat used is pork ribs or “butt”, which is actually the shoulder. There is no specific rub, and the sauce is a sweet, tomato-based or a white, mayo-based one. Pork butt is often shredded, or “pulled” after cooking to make sandwiches.

North Carolina Barbecue

Meat is whole pig or pork butt with no specific rub. The sauce is vinegar-based.

South Carolina Barbecue

Meat is whole pig or pork butt without a specific rub. The sauce is mustard-based with vinegar.

Memphis Barbecue

Meat is pork ribs with usually no rub because the meat is very high quality. Sauce is tomato-based, slightly sweet and served on the side.

Kansas City (KC) Barbecue

Meat can be any kind: pork, beef, chicken, turkey, sausage, etc. There is no specific rub, and the sauce is sweet, tomato- or ketchup-based, very thick and sticky, and often contains molasses or honey. Hickory wood is usually used for smoking. Note: There are two Kansas Cities in the USA, one in Missouri, the other in Kansas. KC barbecue refers to Missouri.

St. Louis Barbecue

Meat is pork ribs cut and trimmed to a rectangle with usually a dry rub. The menu item “St. Louis ribs” refers to the cut of the ribs, not a seasoning, sauce or cooking method.

Texas Barbecue

Meat is beef, of course, with no specific rub or sauce. The flavor depends on the type of wood used for smoking; south Texas barbecue has a heavy Mexican influence.

Hawaiian Barbecue

Meat is pork with no specific rub. If there is a sauce, it is a light, tropical-fruit-based, sweet sauce. Hawaii is famous for slow-roasting a whole pig in a pit underground.

Although any side dish can be served with barbecue, restaurants usually serve French fries. At homes, popular sides are slaw made from cabbage, corn on the cob, potato salad, or baked beans. At outdoor parties and some casual restaurants, barbecue is eaten on paper plates with plastic forks. And cold beer is usually the preferred drink.

That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.