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.