Chow down on the cheap: the backpacker’s guide to authentic barbecue

Posted on 29 March 2016

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© Copyrights: Krista

Serious business: authentic barbecue isn’t just delicious, it’s cheap too

Europe’s big cities are having a love affair with American chow-down food. Like fried chicken and burgers, barbecue has been transformed into a restaurant dish served up in fashionable neighbourhoods, accompanied by cocktails and eaten with proper cutlery. Prices, of course, have risen to match.

The irony, as anyone who has backpacked around the US will tell you, is that authentic American barbecue needed no reinvention – it’s the gold standard when it comes to pure flavour and outstanding value for money. And Americans take their barbecue incredibly seriously. From the tricks of slow cooking to the secrets of homemade barbecue sauce, the art has been practised and argued over since the colonial era.

Whether you’re headed to a city-centre hostel in New York or a downtown hostel in Memphis, you’re guaranteed to find a good (and cheap) authentic barbecue place nearby. But if you’re used to the one-size-fits-all BBQ restaurants you find in Europe, you might be surprised at the regional variation you’ll find Stateside. Here’s a quick primer on what to expect, and where to eat it…

New York City – the host with the most

Many barbecue experts in other regions insist that the modern-day New York barbecue has nothing do with the authentic American BBQ. However, this is a notion that the people of Brooklyn would passionately refute. Residents and visitors here can experience many types of regional American barbecue without even having to venture into Manhattan, let alone the rest of the country.

Whether it's hot, dry-rub Texas-style brisket at Hill Country restaurant, succulent wet-rub St-Louis Pork Ribs at Fette Sau, or equally delicious Memphis-inspired ribs at Virgil's, this buzzing neighbourhood is a melting pot of authentic American barbecue.

Texas – spicy dry rub, 50-50 pork/beef

Texans are so devoted to their smoked meats that they've dedicated brisket as the state dish. Venues like Black's Barbecue in Lockhart always rub the meat liberally ('Dalmatian rub') to ensure it's packed with flavour, and many other establishments marinate their pork and/or beef in salt, black pepper, chilli, cumin seeds, and herbs for several hours or overnight.

Deep South – wet rub with rich sauces

South Carolina is noted for its German-inspired 'whole hog', which is typically accompanied with a robust mustard sauce known as the Carolina Gold. In Alabama, meanwhile, you'll find many establishments have a preference for pulled pork, which is frequently served with delicious home-made coleslaw – something of a local delicacy.

The people of Kentucky are also renowned for their tasty Worcestershire-style sauce, which is perfect with a large portion of mutton. Likewise, restaurateurs in Memphis prefer to apply the dry rub after the meat is smoked, and guests are free to choose between sprinkling their basted or dry-rub pork with spices, or smothering it in a sweet, wholesome tomato and vinegar sauce.

The Midwest –  the wonders of slow-cooking

In St. Louis, Missouri, discover the Midwestern barbecue tradition of slow-cooked barbecue that's infused with ruby red tonic for a truly regal taste, a speciality at Pappy's Smokehouse in Midtown.

In Chicago, try the 'old-school' barbecue technique that focuses on the texture of the meat, which locals believe must 'fall off the bone'. Like New York City, restaurants here also embrace other regional styles and make them their own. For instance, the 'yuppie barbecue' concept, which originated in the last decade, involves a fusion of Southern and Midwestern barbecue, and an appetising choice of mustard- and tomato-based sauces.