In all fairness, it’s easy to get a little confused when it comes to the nuanced world of barbecue. Every single southern state in the U.S., and more than a few of their Yankee counterparts have BBQ variations unique to each region. Add in the insane work being done in the Caribbean, Europe, and by the grill masters in Japan and India, and you’ve got a plateful of delicious meats and sauces that are all barbecue, yet worlds apart. Learning to understand each of these takes a master class in culinary arts, or the ability to read the rest of this article on every one of the 21 BBQ styles you’re likely to find.
Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay/Asado
Meat that has been stretched out, usually whole, and smoked over an open fire mark the Asado style of cooking. They’ll be served with chimichurri for dipping, along with various grilled vegetables and lots of booze.
A more basic grilling style that refers to any grilled meat, the Churrasco method of BBQ tends to involve skewering meat then laying it across a grill or flame. The skewers are then used to lift and serve the meat at various churrascarias by shaving parts off. This is different from kebabs in that the meat portions are larger and are shaved off the skewer rather than plucked off and eaten.
China has perhaps the broadest BBQ in the entire world. Largely devoted to street food where carts sear all manner of meats in a huge range of sauces, the only real through line is the slight teriyaki or sweet and sour tang that accompanies Chinese barbecue. Sometimes served with sauces or spices on the side, there’s a bottomless well here from which to draw.
A Tandoor is a buried clay oven where Indians do their barbecuing. As with most Indian food it’s deadly spicy which is why most tandoori dishes come with naan bread, rice, and Raita – a yogurt sauce that is somewhat similar to creamy salsa.
Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore/Ikan & Ayam Bakar
Sometimes made with chicken, but more often fish or stingray, Ikan Bakar and Ayam Bakar use white hot sambal sauce over the meats before grilling, infusing the entire dish with eye-watering heat. All of it is grilled on banana leaves which gives a bit of a tropical flavor.
Waves of food that run the gamut from chicken to beef sausages to ribs, Al Haesh (on the fire) cuisine is not marked as much by the sauces or cooking methods as the Hebrew method of preparing the meat in advance for kosher eating; and by the quartered pita bread that comes with the food. A wide array of dips is used in this BBQ style that hit spicy, creamy, and sweet, sometimes in the same bowl.
Thinly sliced meats that are extremely greasy, Gogigui is cooked on a small grill placed atop a table then served with all the sides you could possibly want.
Japan has a whole handful of grilling styles: Yakitori, hibachi, and Irori are the best known, but robotayaki, sumibiyaki, teppanyakibinchotan, and yakiniku are starting to make their way west, along with the countless other variations. All of them are made in similar fashion over binchotan, an oak charcoal that uses infrared to cook the meat on the inside as flames sear the outside to a charred delight.
Middle East & Asia/Mangal
Turkey, Russia, Mongolia, Romania, Syria, and anywhere from eastern Europe to Asia’s furthest coast have some variation of this. Mangal refers mostly to kebab-style cooking where everything is put onto a spit and grilled over a Mangal, which is both a style and the type of grill used. There’s endless variations on this as well, with the most notable being the Russian Shashliks, which are mostly kebabs that have been given a heavy marinade in acidic sauces.
Pacific & New Zealand/Hāngi
Though this style is commonly associated with Hawaii, it’s really a broad-reaching cooking method throughout the Pacific islands, extending deep into kiwi territory. This is when meats, vegetables, and sauces are put under heated volcanic stones and cooked through added pressure that gives each bite a distinct flavor.
Whole suckling pig, or at least pig parts served up with gravy, this is either done by roasting an entire animal over an open fire or pan-frying pieces and parts to be eaten off skewers.
Very similar to grilling done anywhere, the only difference between Braai and backyard barbecue is that pineapple juice and vinegar play a big role in the cooking process, which makes the food far more acidic than the smoky taste we’re used to in the United States.
Smoking meats – typically pork – over hickory, pecan, or oak is how Alabama does its BBQ. Then they’ll often pull it and serve it on a roll with loads of sauce and slaw, or slather it with the Alabama white sauce that’s hot and creamy enough to kill you or revive you.
Though lumping the two Carolinas together often sends them into fits of apoplexy, the two are exceedingly similar. Both tend to focus most heavily on pork that is very dry and covered in sauces that have tangy vinegar and black pepper as their main ingredient. The big difference between North and South is that the South also favors a lot of mustard in their sauces and dips.
Links and ribs smoked in a huge hardwood smoker make up the majority of Chicago’s barbecue fare. These items are then hit with a lot of sweet and spicy sauce meant to get everywhere.
Smoked fish, mostly mullet, is the backbone of Floridian BBQ. They use mostly oak to smoke the fish and then consume it with alcohol. You’ll also find a lot of pulled pork here as part of the influx of Cubano culture.
Tomato-based sauces that go heavy on the sweetness or slap you with pepper are what makes KC meats so delectable. Any kind of meat works, so long as you have sauce on top, sauce on the side, sauce covering the beans, and a bottle of backup sauce in case you run low on sauce.
If you’re grilling up some mutton – sheep meat – or using a “black sauce” then you’re doing BBQ the Kentucky way. Greasy and peppery with a unique texture, there’s little in the world like true Kentucky cooking.
Extreme slow smoking that uses a lot of dry rubs is how they do things in Tennessee. Many consider this dry style to be the only true way to eat BBQ, though adherents to wet style point to the vinegar and tomato Memphis sauce as a reason to get damp.
Caramelization is the word to watch in Missouri, as their meats get a healthy helping of sauces before, during, and after the cooking process. Their sauce is usually a sweet tomato-based affair that often has more than a little horseradish on the backend, all thinned out with vinegar.
Anyone who’s been there knows that Texas is actually a few states mushed together. On the eastern side you’ll see hot sauce and buns everywhere, focusing on heat, dressing, and mixing your meat with sides and carbs. Jump to the central or western side, where the Southern influence is lighter and the focus is much more on the meat itself. Sauces and sides can be seen as an insult to well grilled beef, and be careful asking for much seasoning. The focus is on raising the best cattle to produce the best meat, not on dressing it up and down with other nonsense.