So, what barbecue rib type are you? Are you a dry dude or a saucy Suzie? Do big, beefy bones buckle your boots or do you prefer polite baby pleasers? Is it your choice to munch on firm, hard smoked meat, or let soft fall-off-the bone melt on your tongue?
Your selection of sauce might just reveal your true personality. Wimps like me dip into those laced thick with honey and brown sugar, whereas the “born to barbecue” group slather on tomato and vinegar bases; the hotter the better. Then there’s that unique fraternity of mustard sauce lovers, who shun tomato and sweet altogether.
To a Northerner the word Barbecue is a verb meaning “Let’s cook out” in the back yard, either over charcoal or a gas grill. To a Southerner, Barbecue is a noun that depicts cultural heritage. State by state, town by town and family all do it differently and all claim to be the ones who do it right. The only non-debatable ingredient is Pork. From Tennessee, North and South Carolina across Louisiana through Mississippi and Alabama to Georgia, the barbecue belt reigns supreme as a religion not to be tampered with. Texas is blatantly excluded because beef and mesquite are considered foreigners in the south. So is Kentucky because of their obsession with mutton and lamb.
In eastern North Carolina, the pork is chopped or sliced and the sauce is made from a pepper vinegar base. Traditional side dishes are coleslaw and hush puppies. Drive a little west of Raleigh and your pork will be doused in a rich vinegary tomato sauce. Western North Carolina prides itself on its side dish of Brunswick Stew, which was originally made with squirrel, but is now chicken or game. North Carolina’s also big on “Hash” with rice. In case you’re from another state, you should be told that hash is made from stewed organ meats.
Moving down to Georgia, the meat is covered in a yellow mustard-based sauce. For a real treat, you can order fried skin of the pig, which is completely different than those packaged pork rinds some folk claim Pres Bush scarfs down regularly.
As one travels further west, the meat is pulled instead of chopped. Pulled pork is slow-cooked and shredded by hand into succulent threads of meat before being doused with sauce. The pulled pork region is centered around Memphis, Tennessee, where the sauce is a sweet tomato base flavored with pepper and molasses. If you’re in Memphis, you will get a good helping of cornbread to sweeten your palate further. I save mine to eat for dessert if I can resist the peach cobbler and apple crisp.
Now comes the real test of your identity: Do you prefer elite baby back ribs from the center of the loin or large spare ribs from the rib belly section? How about country style cut from the blade, or St. Louis style ribs with the skirt meat still on? The pork brisket bones, or rib tips removed to make the St. Louis ribs, are small but really meaty. If you’re from Kansas City you’ll not be satisfied with anything other than the Colorado or Southside boneless variety with the point squared off, known as the KC cut.
The only real rule of barbecued ribs is to never, never eat them with a knife and fork. Licking your fingers is part of the ritual.