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An assortment of meats with a pickle and side of coleslaw in Austin, Texas

Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama

Rivalries Bring Together U.S. Barbecue Lovers

By: Katrina Woznicki

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  • States:
    Texas
    South Carolina
    North Carolina
    Alabama

Barbecue in the USA is a subculture all its own.

Sometimes families, regions and states are so particular about barbecue that the topic becomes as heated as hot sauce.

Passions Behind Barbecue in the USA

"Regional flavors and styles run long and deep among barbecue enthusiasts," said Linda Orrison, president of the National Barbecue Association, whose family owns and operates the Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. "Most say to 'avoid an argument, don’t talk politics or religion.' I do believe that barbecue should be an added category."

Across the "barbecue belt" of the USA, longstanding rivalries are fired up regularly with "pitmasters" showing off their talents on reality TV shows and at festivals and competitions.

Sometimes, the environment isn’t so controlled. To give you a better understanding of the passions behind barbecue in the USA, check out these three regional rivalries.

Tasty dinner in Birmingham, Alabama, in the "barbecue belt" of the USA

Tasty dinner in Birmingham, Alabama, in the "barbecue belt" of the USA
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Food Fight in Lockhart, Texas

In 1999, the Texas Legislature officially named the small town of Lockhart (population about 13,000) the "Barbecue Capital of Texas." Located about 55 kilometers south of Austin, Lockhart has earned its title with savory meats from the likes of Kreuz Market, Smitty's Market, Black's Barbecue and Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q.

That same year, a family quarrel made headlines when barbecue restaurant scions Rick and Don Schmidt and their sister, Nina Sells, had a dispute that led Schmidt to move Kreuz Market to a new building and his sister to launch a new barbecue restaurant called Smitty's Market in Kreuz’s former space. The families have since reconciled, and relatives of both Sells and Schmidt have opened a Schmidt Family Barbecue just outside Austin in Bee Cave. Now it’s barbecue lovers who argue about which of the Texas barbecue restaurants they like to eat at most.

Smitty's has one interpretation of oak-smoked beef brisket and sausage, whereas Kreuz, Chisholm Trail and Black's have other takes on the signature Texas barbecue. How long you smoke the meat and secrets to family sausage recipes vary from family to family and from restaurant to restaurant.

"Everybody cooks their barbecue a bit different, but it's worth trying it all," said Kent Black, owner and pitmaster of Black's Barbecue, the restaurant founded by his grandfather in 1932.

While these family-run restaurant rivalries date back several decades, Black added, folks have put the past behind them.

"Being a small town, we know everyone and some of us are related through marriages, and we all think we cook the best barbecue," he said.

Smoked sausages and other meats cooking to perfection in Austin, Texas

Smoked sausages and other meats cooking to perfection in Austin, Texas
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Dueling Carolina Barbecue

Pulled pork forms the base of both eastern and western Carolina barbecue. It's been said that the barbecue battle lines in North Carolina and South Carolina date back to colonial times, with the most vocal argument being between eastern and western styles of barbecue in North Carolina. Folks there refer to the "Gnat Line," an imagined boundary running through Raleigh separating the eastern coastal part of North  Carolina from the western mountainous part of the state where you'll find Lexington, the unofficial barbecue capital of North Carolina.

Historically, barbecue camps between east and west have been tense. The StarNews newspaper in Wilmington in eastern North Carolina took heat from a reader originally from Lexington after an editorial belittled Lexington-style barbecue as being "hickory-smoked pork shoulders tainted with ketchup, sugar and possibly even Worcestershire sauce. You can call that ‘barbecue’ if you want to." Other reports claim a man who opened an eastern-style barbecue place in Lexington was dubbed a "heretic" by the local news outlets.

If you’re looking to sample both sides of the rivalry, Lexington has two famous restaurants worth trying: Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center, both of which specialize in vinegar- and ketchup-based sauces drizzled over pork shoulders.

Freshly cooked ribs smothered in sauce

Freshly cooked ribs smothered in sauce
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Passions Heat Up in Alabama

Alabama has developed its own unique twist on barbecue: chicken and white sauce, a seasoned mayonnaise-based concoction. But even across Alabama, differences exist between Bridgeport, in the northeast corner of the state, and Mobile, along the Gulf of Mexico.

People are passionate about Alabama’s own take on barbecue, so much so that the state launched a campaign declaring "war against average barbecue." Favorite barbecue spots in Alabama include Saw's BBQ in Homewood, and Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, a legend on the U.S. barbecue circuit.

Smoke and battle cries aside, Chris Lilly, owner of Big Bob's, said Alabamans really just care about the craft of barbecue. "Barbecue the way we know it today was born in America," he said. And even if it's competitive or contentious, cooking still brings "people together, and barbecue really is about community."

Juicy pork sandwich in Bessemer, Alabama

Juicy pork sandwich in Bessemer, Alabama
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