Regional Barbecue Guide

Adding some regional flair to your favorite grilled meats doesn't turn them into barbecue, but it's close!


I’ve mentioned previously that while you can get a close approximation to barbecue on a grill, using indirect heat and the light smokiness the grill provides, boosted by some smoldering chunks of wood if desired, to give you that barbecue flavor. Ultimately though it’s just that, a close approximation. True ‘cue needs to be slow smoked, and for that you really do need a smoker. But all is not lost!
While the texture and flavor of your meat depends on the type of cooking you subject it too, you can always add the finishing touch of true barbecue to any recipe by simply using the right sauce or dry rub. The myriad regional barbecue sauces that make up the pantheon of true ‘cue are one of the culinary treasures of this country. The Carolinas alone have four distinct styles of saucing, each one bringing something unique and intriguing to the table.

Memphis-Style Ribs

But ‘cue is not built on saucing alone. The use of dry rubs also serves to distinguish regional style of barbecuing, with the Memphis and Texas styles being most closely associated with this method of preparation.  I love using a dry rub when I barbecue, preferring it to more heavily sauced preparations, but I hope you are inspired by the ideas presented here to find your own style of barbecue. 
Smoky, spicy, and just a little sweet, dry rub ribs don’t really need sauce to taste great, though i am partial to pairing them with something akin to the classic eastern Carolina barbecue sauce for some added depth of meaty flavor and a little acidic bite. Petite Sirah, with it’s juicy acidity and robust, if simple fruit flavors is my go to wine for memphis style ribs.

Texas Dry Rub

While Memphis is famed for it’s ribs, barbecue in Texas is more beef based, with plenty of brisket and beef ribs. The style of preparation is similar, though in texas the dry rubs tend to be spicier with more of a south of the border influence seen in the extensive use of chilies and chili powder. This added kick of heat along with the richer flavors of beef make for a more intense finished product, which in turns calls for a more intense wine pairing.  Something powerful and peppery is an ideal match, look to Australia and one of their great Shiraz for a winning combination.

Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sauce

A Land of Sauces
Most of the rest of the distinctions between styles of barbecue relate to the cut of meat used and the style of sauce served alongside it. There are some subtle distinctions made here but if you live in one of these regions you identify very closely with your local sauce so to keep the peace, it’s best to respect the sauce!
Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sauce: A vinegar and pepper based sauce that is typically served with pork butt. Tart and spicy, look for a wine with similar attributes like a Zweigelt from Austria.

Western Carolina

Western Carolina Barbecue Sauce: Eastern Carolina sauce with the addition of ketchup typically served with pork shoulder. Sweet and a bit fruity, a simple wine would be a good choice here. Something along the lines of a Bonarda from Argentina would be a great choice. 

South Carolina

South Carolina Barbecue Sauce: Eastern Carolina sauce with the addition of yellow mustard typically served with whole hog pulled pork. Spicy and savory, you might want to choose a white wine to pair with the piquant flavor of all the mustard, but make it a rich. powerful style. Pinot Gris from Alsace is perfect, powerful and spicy in its own right.

Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky-Style Barbecue Sauce: A tomato, pepper and typically vinegar based sauce served with the local specialty of barbecued mutton. Mutton, complex savory flavors and a bit of spice. Put them in a bag and shake it all up and i bet you’ll end thinking that a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend from Australia would be the perfect match, and you’d be right! 


Tennessee Basting Sauce: A complex blend of herbs, spices, mustard, ketchup, and vinegar that is close to what we typically think of as BBQ sauce. Mostly seen on pork ribs. This is what we think of when we say Barbecue goes so well with Zinfandel. While we don’t want to screw with a good thing, a Zinfandel with some extra omph is warranted here, something field blendy.

Kansas City

Classic Kansas City Barbecue Sauce: based on ketchup, mustard, vinegar and pepper, this traditional sauce gets a nice pop for the use of lemon juice and celery seeds. It’s an all purpose sauce but it’s particularly well suited to brisket. Herbal and meaty, rich and powerful. That a perfect description of Mourvedre, just add in tons of dark berry fruit and you’ll have a great match.

northern Alabama

White Barbecue Sauce: This specialty of northern Alabama relies on mayonnaise for its base, and includes mustard, garlic and horseradish. It’s a classic partner for barbecued chicken. The vegetal spice of horseradish can be a problem when pairing a dish with wine. Ideally you’ll want something a bit sweet here, but at the same time you’ll need a wine with assertive acidity to help keep everything well balanced. For that you’ll probably need to find a blend that includes some Gewurztraminer, along with other grapes that can make-up for the low acid typical of this variety. 
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    Jun 14, 2013 at 2:31 PM

  • Snooth User: AJetson
    135480 1

    I am from Lexington, NC, the home of Western North Carolina style BBQ. I have probably eaten a thousand pounds of the stuff, so speak from experience. There is ketchup in the sauce (or "dip" as we call it), but it is not the least bit sweet or fruity. The primary tastes are vinegar and red pepper. It might be good with a Bonardo, but aficionados know that the preferred drink with Lexington BBQ is sweet tea or a Cheerwine.

    Jun 14, 2013 at 9:47 PM

  • Snooth User: 1206gene
    1298826 51

    Although a native of Eastern North Carolina with a distinct preference for our "Eastern-Style" 'cue, my tastes in barbecue are somewhat catholic ( small "c" ) and if it tastes good, I'll eat it quite happily. But I will certainly second the motion from the gentleman in Lexington about beverages of choice with barbecue. Pairing wine with barbecue strikes me as a silly exercise at best in spire of my intense love of good wines. Much more frustrating for me is the fact that in just about every barbecue joint in North Carolina, East or West, it is virtually impossible to find a real hot sauce to enhance it. They all seem to have on the tables only a concoction called "Texas Pete Hot Sauce," which has all the heat of a Coca-Cola! The mark of real class in a barbecue joint would be to find something such as Tabasco Sauce for those with a more asbestos-lined palate who would like a true hot sauce. Of course, Texas Pete is a North Carolina product.......

    Jun 18, 2013 at 9:42 AM

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