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When it comes to barbecued food, it seems almost every person thinks theirs is the best. We’re fiercely loyal to our barbecue traditions. And it’s funny how this one method of dining establishes our identity like nothing else.
We have the Spanish to thank for starting the barbecue tradition. Without the pigs and cattle they brought to the New World in the 1500’s, the whole idea might never have gotten off the ground. The native bison and wild turkeys weren’t the best candidates for grilling. Thankfully, the pigs thrived on the corn in the south and cattle drives turned places like Kansas City and Omaha into cow towns. And the rest, as they say, is history.
If you were to eat your way around the States, you’d find that pork—mostly ribs and pulled pork—still dominates the barbecue menu in the Southeast. And the sauce is distinctive. It’s thin, heavy on the vinegar, and often tomato-free—maybe because hundreds of years ago tomatoes didn’t naturally grow in the humid Southern climate.
Head into Louisiana, and the Cajun and Creole influences will have you feelin’ the heat. Sauces there can be really spicy.
As you eat your way west—say, towards Kansas City or Austin—you’re more likely to lose the pork in favor of beef brisket, and it’ll be coated with a sweeter, thicker sauce. Travel to Kentucky and it wouldn’t be unusual to find mutton (grown-up lamb) on the menu.
By the time you make your way to the West Coast, it’s a free-for-all that reflects our lack of local traditions and a total melting pot of cuisines. Fresh fish, giant mushrooms, tofu and pizza all get the barbecue treatment out here. We’d probably like to lay claim to the clever ‘beer can chicken’ technique, too, but it’s probably safe to say that just about any region of the country could declare it their own—if they wanted to.