The South is synonymous with slow-cooked, soulful food. As a Yankee transplanted to Tennessee by marriage, I was excited to learn more about all the dishes that constitute “home cooking” for my husband. And to him, nothing says “home” quite like barbecue.
The first time I went to meet his family in South Carolina, my future father-in-law was slaving away at slow-cooked, Low-Country barbecue–or an old-fashioned pig pickin,’ as they say. Being from Pennsylvania, I expected a tomato-based sauce to accompany my meal. Oh, how wrong I was!
It seems there are no fewer than five methods of saucing the smoky meat in the South–six, if you count the devotees of dry rubs and non-saucing. Those five are: Memphis-style heavy tomato (what I had imagined for the pig pickin’); a white, mayonnaise-based sauce from northern Alabama (the hubs is not a fan); light tomato (think ketchup) in North Carolina and Georgia; mustard-based in South Carolina (tangy and sweet); and the vinegar-based staple for eastern South Carolina and Kentucky.
My husband has implored me to note (out of respect–seriously) that both Texas and Kansas City have variations of the heavy tomato sauce. It should also be said that my father-in-law has developed a well-guarded vinegar-based sauce over several decades. Only my brother-in-law Tim has inherited the recipe. Yes, really.
Had I been introduced to the nuances of barbecue often covered in magazines, such as Garden & Gun, 10 years ago, I could have saved myself from some serious teasing at the hands of my in-laws. Besides breaking down “the sauce question,” there’s also a guide to the best barbecue sandwiches in the South. While tradition is soundly respected here, there are also breakout stars. Take the spicy Korean pork sandwich from the Heirloom Market in Atlanta, described as a “gutsy alliance of Southern pit-smoking techniques and Korean flavors.” Yum.
Even I have begun to develop my own version of barbecue; using pulled chicken makes me feel infinitely less guilty about serving it up more regularly. I’d spill all my recipe secrets, but I’ll probably will them to my daughters. After all, here in the South, barbecue is like currency.