As the days get longer and the weather warmer, nothing has come to signify the lazy repose of a hot summer day like the smoky scent of slow-cooked barbecue. At its most basic, "barbecue" means meat, slow-cooked over an open flame. Beyond that, there are scores of variables -- and each one can spur a contentious battle over which way of 'cueing is the "best."
Start with the meat. The South favors pork, with styles ranging from the vinegary pulled pork shoulder in western North Carolina, whole hog in parts of South Carolina, Memphis-style pork ribs served without sauce, and so on. In cattle-country Texas, it's all about the beef brisket. Kansas City: Anything goes -- pork, beef, poultry, mutton, and even fish.
Differences only intensify from there. Depending on the region in Texas, beef is flavored with smoke from hickory, pecan, or oak wood, each of which imparts a unique flavor. In North Carolina, hickory predominates. In Georgia, hickory and oak. And then there's cooking style. Memphis prefers slow-cooking in a pit. West Texas "cowboy style" opts for direct heat from mesquite wood.
But the biggest difference may be in the sauce. Memphis ribs are served "dry" -- with a blend of spices like onion, garlic, cumin, and paprika -- or with a "wet" tomato and vinegar-based sauce. Vinegar-based marinades are most common in much of the Carolinas, with a sweet and acidic mustard-based "Carolina Gold" sauce in some regions. Kansas City is defined by the sweet and tangy tomato-based red sauce made with molasses.
And the side dishes... Never mind. Don't even get us started on sides.
However it's done, most barbecue has one thing in common: It's delicious! Here are our picks for the Top Ten BBQ joints around. Try not to fight over them.