Although any time is a good time for a great BBQ, the summer season brings us plenty of opportunities to cook outdoors and then use our hands to enjoy a saucy creation. In theory, barbecuing seems simple enough — cook your meat, add some sauce, and you’re good to go. But using the best cooking method for your chosen cut of meat and adding just the right sauce to enhance the flavor can be trickier than you think. Since people take their BBQ very seriously, we’re sharing our BBQ tips for beginners to make sure you’re well prepared to get cooking.
Best Meats for BBQ
Pork, beef, and chicken are go-to meats for many BBQ dishes. No matter which you prefer, preparing the perfect BBQ starts with a great cut of meat.
Pork ribs — Ribs are a BBQ staple. They are sold in slabs, which typically have 11-14 ribs per slab. You have two choices when it comes to pork ribs. You can use spare ribs, which are from the side of the pig. They are generally larger and meatier. Additionally, you can use the back ribs, also called loin ribs which are more tender and will cook faster.
Pulled pork — Pulled pork is another crowd-pleasing BBQ dish. When cooking pulled pork, you’ll want to start with pork shoulder or pork butt, also called a Boston butt. The butt is actually located nowhere near the rear end of the pig. It sits high above the shoulder blade. No matter which cut of meat you choose, the secret to great pulled pork is to cook it low and slow until the meat falls apart.
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Beef brisket — Brisket is perfect for the low and slow cooking method used in barbecuing. Brisket is breast meat and is known to be the toughest part of the cow. But, as it cooks, the tissue breaks down and tenderizes which naturally marinates the meat.
Beef ribs — Beef ribs are very similar to pork ribs. However, they tend to be meatier, fattier, and not as tender.
Beef clod — Also called a shoulder clod, this thick cut of meat cooks a little quicker than brisket or ribs. It also tends to be leaner and has a beefier flavor.
Chicken quarters — This piece of chicken includes a little less than a quarter of the meat on a chicken. It includes the thigh, drumstick, and part of the back.
Know Your BBQ Sauce Styles
There is nothing that divides regional lines and heats up debates like BBQ sauce. Many regions of the south have their own types of sauce and they all claim that they make the best. The good news is, if you don’t have a strong loyalty to any one area, you’re free to sample them all!
Here’s a breakdown of the most popular types of BBQ sauces you can use to top off your BBQ dish.
Eastern North Carolina
- Vinegar-based sauce that typically uses a cider vinegar
- Does not include any tomatoes
- Contains spices like cayenne, black pepper, red pepper, hot sauce, salt, and a pinch of sugar
- Originally used for whole hog BBQ as a thin wash that soaks into the pork as it cooks
Lexington / Piedmont (Western North Carolina)
- Often called Lexington or Piedmont dip
- Marks the introduction of tomatoes into Carolina sauces — adds the sweetness of ketchup and brown sugar to a tangy vinegar sauce
- Influenced by German settlers in this region.
- Best used when serving pork shoulder
- Mustard-based sauce (plain mustard is best)
- Mustard is thinned with cider vinegar and includes spices like hot sauce, garlic, onion powder, sugar, salt, and pepper
- Also created from the German influence in this region
- Commonly served on pulled chicken, pulled pork, and other pork cuts
- Referred to as “mop sauce” because pitmasters use BBQ mops to apply the sauce to meat
- Used as a thin glaze that keeps the meat moist and adds flavor
- Includes beef stock, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and garlic
- Best used when cooking beef brisket
- Typically what you’ll find in your grocery store and is what most people across the country recognize as BBQ sauce
- Ketchup and molasses mixed with a vinegar-based sauce creates a thick, sweet, and tangy product
- Usually added to meat after cooking
- A great sauce for ribs or burnt ends
You may also see these alternatives to Kansas City BBQ sauce:
- Memphis — tomato-based, thinner than Kansas City sauce, tangy and somewhat sweet
- St. Louis — tomato and vinegar-based, mildly spicy but less sweet than Kansas City sauce
- Also called “white BBQ sauce”
- Mayo-based sauce with vinegar, pepper, apple juice, and lemon
- Can be made thick and creamy or thin and milky — whatever your preference
- Often served on smoked chicken and pork
Whether you smoke it, grill it, or braise it — you’re well on your way to preparing the perfect BBQ!