The Ultimate Guide To BBQ Styles Across The United States And Around The World
The art of grilling meat has been practised ever since man first invented fire and over the ages, the methods have become more complex and varied.
If you want to find out more about the different styles of BBQ from across the United States and the rest of the world, we have the full list below. From the regional BBQ of the Carolinas and the Deep South to styles from Texas, St Louis and California, explore how every corner of the United States likes to grill their meat.
Then read on how barbecue is done from Brazil to Australia to South Africa, South Korea and Georgia!
Styles of BBQ from across the United States
The United States is best known for its variety and richness of different BBQ styles ranging from the famous southern barbecue styles of the Carolinas and Alabama to different ways of doing BBQ in Texas, Kentucky and Kansas City.
Here is the list of the main regional BBQ styles from across the United States.
North Carolina – Eastern Style
Ask anyone where the home of BBQ is and you're likely to hear North Carolina mentioned. North Carolina has two main BBQ styles – Eastern Style and Lexington Style.
The Eastern Style method originates from the way African slaves would cook whole hogs when they were first brought over to the United States a few centuries ago.
The marinade is made from a cider vinegar base with a mix of American and African spices including cayenne, black pepper, red pepper and mixed spice sauces. Unlike other similar recipes, the Eastern Style North Carolina BBQ style does not use any tomato.
The result is a very acidic and sharp mix which can be diluted with water depending on your taste buds.
The whole hog is brushed with and soaked in the sauce which breaks down the tough skin and penetrates the meat before the hog is cooked whole in a pit barbecue.
Signature dish: Whole Hog Eastern Style
Where to try: Waynesville in the Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina
North Carolina – Lexington Style
There are a few key differences between Eastern Style and Lexington Style BBQ cooking. Both use pork as the meat of choice, but instead of cooking the pig whole, Lexington Style BBQ takes the tougher parts such as the shoulder and ribs and slow cooks them for a long period to get the most out of the meat.
The key difference between the two styles is that the Lexington way of doing barbecue adds tomato ketchup to the recipe.
Inspired by a group of German immigrants who settled in North Carolina, this bbq style is also known as the Piedmont – named after a region in North Italy. European Alpine recipes for pork shoulder were traditionally sweet at the time and so the Lexington style of bbq was born.
Sometimes known as the Lexington Dip, the meat is often served with the sauce on the side so you can add it or dip your meat as you go.
Signature dish: Slow cooked pork shoulder
Where to try: Lexington! Where else?
South Carolina's Mustard BBQ style
The South Carolina variety of barbecue is similar to the Lexington style but adds one major difference – the addition of the mustard-based sauce that is served with the meat.
The meat used is still pork and this is another recipe that owes its origination to German roots.
The sauce can be added before cooking or after the pork is ready to be served and includes vinegar and brown sugar which together with the mustard produces a uniquely rich taste.
Try the South Carolina pork butt that perfectly combines a juicier piece of meat with the sharp mustard-based sauce.
Signature dish: Pork butt with mustard sauce
Where to try: Charleston, South Carolina
Kansas City BBQ style
Kansas City style of BBQ has given the world the thick brown sauce that is today best known as the definitive BBQ sauce flavor all over the world.
The sauce that you buy in supermarkets and that gets served at McDonald's are all based on the Kansas City recipe that includes molasses and rich tomato sauce.
The good varieties will stick to everything including your fingers requiring fine efforts to get it off.
If you ever come across it, try the liquid smoke variety of Kansas City sauce - these add spices and flavor that taste like your meat just came out of a backyard Kansas smoker - a great way to get a taste for the style without getting the grill ready.
Signature dish: Full rack of ribs with thick molasses sauce
Where to try: erm... Kansas City!
Central Texas Dry Rub
Central Texas style of doing barbecue is a little different to other southern styles. The core principle here is to use a dry rub which in a lot of cases will not involve any liquid at all.
The rub has a salt and muscovado sugar (or other thick brown sugar) base. A mix of paprika, cayenne, various kinds of red pepper, white pepper, black pepper and garlic are then added.
The preferred cooking method is in a smoker - a large vertical barrel with coals at the bottom is the perfect choice.
This cooking method is best for large pieces of tough meat, so brisket is a great choice as are large back ribs.
This is my personal favourite style of BBQ and one I do at home all the time!
Signature dish: Full brisket cooked low and slow
Where to try: Austin, Texas
East Texas Barbecue Style
East Texas style of BBQ is a lot more similar to other southern styles than that of Central Texas.
The meat of choice is either beef or pork (or both!) and instead of slicing, you will typically have the meat chopped. The chopped meat first has more of the sauce added in and then served between buns.
Be prepared for the sauce to be literally mopped onto the meat to create a thick glaze on the outside before cooking!
To add more flavor and make the dish more juicy, mac and cheese can be added to the sandwich as a condiment. It might sound odd, but you've got to try it to know it!
Signature dish: Brisket Mac and Cheese sandwich
Where to try: Tyler or Long View, east Texas
The mix of BBQ styles in Alabama
The defining feature of the Alabama BBQ style is the unique white sauce that is added to everything.
The meat choice is more broad than a lot of other barbecue varieties - pork and chicken are the two most popular options here with chicken mostly coked on the bone.
The special white sauce is a mix of vinegar and mayonnaise with different added spices depending on the area and restaurant.
Sandwiches will come with the white sauce splattered over the meat and BBQ chicken will have the sauce served on the side - get your napkin ready as this stuff will get everywhere!
Signature dish: Chicken on the bone with white sauce
Where to try: Birmingham, Alabama
Memphis BBQ style
Memphis is a real hotbed of southern BBQ food and here it's all about the pork.
The pork will be cooked in large pit-style barbecues and the rub is similar to the dry rub used in Texas with a mix of strong spices.
Instead of the white sauce served in Alabama, you will get a red sauce on the side which can be on the hot side! Add it to your pulled pork and combine with sides of beans and slaw.
You will find that the locals will put pulled pork into almost any other kind of food from salads to pizza. In addition to the pulled pork, you can try pork ribs that come in the same dry rub style or a special wet BBQ style where the sauce is added before cooking as well as after.
Signature dish: Pulled pork and slaw
Where to try: Memphis of course!
St Louis BBQ almost always means slow cooked ribs!
Unlike other BBQ styles, St Louis ribs are a special cut creating a thinner and more rectangular shaped rack which is better for cooking and eating.
The ribs are smothered in rich thick sauce that will stick to your hands for days and cooked on higher heat over the flames rather than smoked. Fear not though - the ribs come out tender with amazing flavor that you absolutely must try.
St Louis might not be in the south and is a lot closer to Chicago than Montgomery, but this is the city that eats the most BBQ per person in the United States. If they say that this is the best way to cook ribs, it probably is!
Signature dish: Spare ribs, St Louis style
Where to try: St Louis, Missouri
BBQ the Kentucky way
The Kentucky BBQ style is probably the slowest method of cooking meat I have ever heard of. The local method will pick some of the toughest parts of pork such as the shoulder.
The temperature will be kept low - often sitting as low as 180 degrees (80 in Celcius) and the cook will take at least 12 hours.
Kentucky is the kind of place where people will actually put the cook on at noon on Friday for the meal on Saturday night!
The sauce is usually based on vinegar with a range of different spices. Due to the long cook time, the outside of the meat will often form a thick bark. This will keep the juices in the meat and creates phenomenal taste, but the sauce helps break up the bark when you're eating it.
Signature dish: Slow cooked chopped pork
Where to try: Louisville, Kentucky
California – Santa Maria barbecue style
A lot of people think that real barbecue only happens in the deep south and up the Mississippi river, but Californians might well disagree.
The Santa Maria barbecue style focuses on one specific cut of beef - the tri-tip which is a triangular piece cut out of the loin butt.
The tri-tip is coated in a simple dry rub using salt, sugar, pepper and garlic to create a thick outer layer. The cooking is done on an open fire, unlike most barbecue styles using closed setups and the grill typically uses thick iron bars that accelerate the formation of the outer bark.
This style of cooking has spread to Japan where tri-tip cuts of wagyu beef slow cooked on coal has become a popular dish.
Signature dish: Tri-tip with salsa
Where to try: Santa Maria, California
Barbecue styles from around the world
You might know that BBQ is big in the United States, but there are a lot of countries around the world that have their own distinct and amazing barbecue styles from Asia to Europe to Africa and South America.
We've got these covered with different kinds of BBQ from every corner of the planet!
Korean BBQ style
Korean BBQ has spread around the world as a popular way of cooking and eating meat.
The majority of Korean BBQ is done with beef. The most popular dish is the beef bulgogi made with thinly sliced pieces of prime beef cuts.
The beef is marinated in a mix that includes key BBQ ingredients such as sugar, garlic and different kinds of pepper with Korean influence in the form of soy sauce and sesame oil.
The most common way to cook it as at the dining table over a grill that is placed on top of or built into the table. This makes the whole occasion a lot more sociable and the thinly cut beef helps with the cooking times.
Signature dish: Beef bulgogi with banchan
Where to try: Seoul, Korea
Mexican BBQ – the Barbacoa
The Barbacoa is a special kind of BBQ and one that has expanded across the border into parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The Barbacoa might sound similar to the word barbecue, but the way it is cooked is quite different.
Instead of cooking the meat directly over the flames or smoke, the meat will be wrapped in leaves and sometimes cooked in a pot.
Everything else about the cooking process is the same - the best way to cook a barbacoa is to go low and slow. Low temperature over a few hours gets the best results and the meat has a strong BBQ style flavor when it's ready.
Signature dish: Slow cooked goat
Where to try: Central Mexico
Brazil barbecue style – the Churrasco
The Brazilian churrasco is an entire experience rather than just a BBQ style on its own.
The Churrasco will typically cook a variety of different meats that are cooked on wood or metal skewers or in enclosures over hot smoke or coals. The brazillian picanha beef cut produces a long piece of beef which is unbelievably juicy when cooked.
The concept is that the meal or party will start at the same time as the cook rather than waiting for the meat to be ready. The meat is served as and when it's ready - some cuts might come soon while you might have to wait an hour or two for others!
The traditional way of cooking will have the different meat varieties surrounding a fire pit and the purists will tell you that it has to be cooked on specific types of wood but this does differ between different regions.
Signature dish: Picanha beef cut with sea salt crust
Where to try: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Argentinian Asado BBQ style
Argentina is known around the world for its beef and the Argentinian Asado is the way the locals prefer it cooked.
The Asado is traditionally cooked with large chunks of meat over embers. The meat choice is free as long as it includes the ribs!
The most popular choice is the tira de asado - an Argentinian Short Rib cut that produces quite a flat piece of beef.
There are two secrets to making the perfect Asado - the cooking process takes time and you generally should try to not interfere with the meat or the coals.
Argentinians apparently eat more beef per person than any other country, so expect huge portions of meat. You should also not argue with their way of cooking. Well done is the earliest stage at which the beef comes off the coals - the tradition doesn't hold much love for pink meat.
Signature dish: Tira de asado with picadas
Where to try: Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Lechon BBQ from the Philippines
The Lechon is a classic BBQ style from the Phillippines and is particularly popular at festivities and special events.
The lechon usually involves cooking pork as a whole. There are are two competing varieties. The traditional Luzon lechon seasons the meat with only salt and pepper but adds the lechon sauce made using mashed liver. The Visayan lechon doesn't use the sauce but adds spices, onions and lemongrass or citrus flavors.
The pig is cooked on a giant bamboo spit and the cooking process takes several hours. The salt and pepper ensure the skin forms a great crust.
Once the cook is done, the different parts of the pig are split into separate dishes and even the head and feet are used in a special dish of their own!
Signature dish: The Luzon lechon
Where to try: Manila, Philippines
The Indian Tandoori BBQ style with a difference
The Tandoori chicken is a unique way of cooking that originates in the Punjab region of India.
Chicken is marinated in yoghurt with added spices that include cayenne pepper and red chili powder. The mix gives the chicken its unique red color when it is cooked.
The cook happens in a tandoor - a special oven with curved walls that is powered by thick charcoal giving the meat a smoky flavor.
Often the chicken will be cooked as a whole or split into a few parts. During the cook, a lot of the side dishes and various types of bread will all also be cooked in the tandoor, often sticking naan and paratha breads to the sides of the tandoor.
Signature dish: Tandoori Murgh chicken with naan
Where to try: Ludhiana, Punjab, India
Braai BBQ style in South Africa
Ask a South African what they are doing this coming weekend and the answer is going to be a Braai.
With perfect weather all year round and a love of the outdoors, the Braai has become something of a cultural phenomenon.
There is no specific meat that makes the braai what it is, but the cook has to happen on a real fire using wood. Gas barbecues are seriously uncool and a major faux pas.
The fire will typically be kept going from the morning until long after the end of the party and is the focal point of the whole day. The cook is just one of the activities that takes place around the fire - drinking, sitting around and singing all take place here.
The locals love their braai so much they even have a public holiday on 24 September that is called Braai Day - take that the most BBQ loving country rankings!
Signature dish: Red wine and whatever is on the grill
Where to try: Cape Town, South Africa
The Australian barbie
Australia is probably the country most associated with an outdoors lifestyle that includes one major way of cooking - the Aussie barbie.
While a lot of things can end up on the grill, the most popular option here is the sausage. The simpler the better - a simple beef sausage that will char well is what the locals will pick.
The barbie is almost more of an experience than a style of BBQ cooking. Friends will gather and spend time outside with beers - it is an unwritten rule that you have to bring a case if you're a guest.
The Aussie barbie is so ingrained in the lifestyle that the entire country either hosts or attends one on Australia Day!
Signature dish: Beef sausages with onions cooked in beer (no, really!)
Where to try: Sydney (or pretty much anywhere else in Australia)!
Lebanese and Middle Eastern BBQ styles
The Middle East has given the world a whole new way to see BBQ so we just had to include it in this list.
A lot of traditional cooking styles cook meat in large chunks as they come after processing the animal. The old Middle Eastern culture has brought a different way to enjoy meat - by mincing and mixing it, sometimes with other meat cuts to make new richer meat flavors.
The kebab has spread around the world and has seemingly thousands different spellings - from small skewers to large spindles of doner kebab, it can come in every shape and size.
The traditional way of cooking is to place the meat vertically next to a hot fire pit and turn it frequently until cooked through - a process that can take a few hours.
For large occasions, the meat can be cooked on a hot fire and the outside of the meat continually served as it cooks. The meal can last hours with freshly cooked meat continuously on offer!
Signature dish: Shish kebab on flat bread with hummus
Where to try: Beirut, Lebanon or Amman, Jordan
The Russian Shashlik style of barbecue
Russian shashlik takes its origins from Central Asian and Middle Eastern meat grilling techniques, but has evolved into its own style of BBQ.
The shashlik is most commonly made from mutton although pork is also very popular. Large square cubes are put on metal skewers and typically divided by large onion chunks and peppers. The meat is usually marinated overnight in lemon juice to soften the meat and make it cook better the next day.
The meat skewers will then go onto a small brick stove until properly charred all around.
While there are a lot of restaurants serving shashlik all over Russia, the proper shashlik experience would have you sat fishing by a river bank while using a make shift fire to cook your meat.
Signature dish: Pork neck shashlik
Where to try: Astrakhan, Russia, although Moscow is also great!
Georgian BBQ style
Georgia may be a small country on the edge of Europe, but they might just have the biggest number of different traditional BBQ styles and dishes in the world.
Their unique recipes include pork that is marinated and cooked with pomegranate and a lot of dishes that first barbecue the meat and then use it to cook other dishes as ingredients! There are dozens of unique sauces that are specially made for different kinds of BBQ - green and red adjika are spicy sauces perfect for grilled lamb while the plum-based Tkemali goes well with poultry.
Two of the most famous examples of the Georgian BBQ style are the Chicken Tabaka and the Khachapuri.
The Chicken Tabaka is a way of grilling the chicken after completely flattening it and covering it in spices and sauces.
The Khachapuri is a common name for different kinds of dishes that primarily involve the traditional Sulguni cheese and Khacha (cheese curds).
One variety that is not well known, but I think might just be one of my favourite all time dishes is the khachapuri shampurze - large chunks of the cheese are threaded onto a skewer and surrounded by a layer of bread dough before going straight over the coals. This might be one of only two known cheese BBQs in the world (alongside grilled Halloumi) but it tastes like heaven.
Signature dish: Chicken Tabaka and Khachapuri Shampurze
Where to try: Tbilisi, Georgia