Cheap Eats 2014: Guide to Regional BBQ Styles

How do you tell your Memphis ribs from a Kansas City rack? Check out our cheat sheet.

Photographs by Found Image Press/Corbis.

Regional Style: Memphis

The enduring image: a rack of ribs thickly painted with a tomato sauce that nearly balances tangy and sweet. Of all the sauces, it lends itself best to broad application—one reason you tend to see Memphis-style at rib chains.

Meat to look for: Ribs

Where to taste them in these parts: Red Hot & Blue, 677 Main St., Laurel; 301-953-1943

Photographs by Found Image Press/Corbis.

Regional Style: North Carolina

The most distinctive feature of East Carolina ’cue is the vinegar in its sauce. Tomato sauce enters the mix in progressively larger concentrations as you move west, as if to anticipate—and bridge the gap with—Memphis barbecue. Either way, the idiom attains perfection when each tangy, smoky bite is flecked with the charred bark of the pork.

Meat to look for: Pulled pork

Where to taste them in these parts: Blues BBQ Co., 5822 Urbana Pike, Frederick; 240-674-5805

Photograph by Heritage Image Partnership/Alamy.

Regional Style: Texas

The German immigrants who flocked to central Texas in the 19th century helped define the style. Beef, not pork, predominates, and everyone in the state competes to produce the best brisket, whose flavor comes from long, slow smoking—sauce is considered an abomination.

Meat to look for: Brisket

Where to taste them in these parts: Hill Country, 410 Seventh St., NW; 202-556-2050

Photographs by Found Image Press/Corbis.

Regional style: Kansas City

The sauce on KC barbecue is darker and stickier than Memphis, owing to the presence of molasses, and its flavor is more concentrated. Pit masters aim for a conspicuous bark on the spice-rubbed exterior of their ribs. The better the bark, the more dramatic the textural contrast with the tender pink interior.

Meat to look for: Ribs

Where to taste them in these parts: We’re deficient in this category. Go to KC for the real thing: Our favorite—Oklahoma Joe’s.

See more Cheap Eats >>

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.