BBQing is the standard modern American way of grilling and preparing food, mostly meat, for consumption on special holidays such as Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Summer. Fire and smoke are used to cook meat without hopefully drying it out or filling it with carcinogens.
The various regional variations of barbecue can be broadly categorized into those methods which use direct or indirect heating. Indirect barbecues are associated with North American cuisine, in which meat is heated by roasting or smoking over wood or charcoal. These methods of barbecue involve cooking using smoke at low temperatures and long cooking times (several hours). Elsewhere, barbecuing more commonly refers to the more direct application of heat, grilling of food over hot coals or gas. This technique is usually done over direct, dry heat or a hot fire for a few minutes. Within these broader categorizations are further national and regional differences.
According to estimates, prior to the American Civil War, Southerners ate around five pounds of pork for every pound of beef they consumed. Because of the effort to capture and cook these wild hogs, pig slaughtering became a time for celebration and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the largesse. In Louisiana Creole and Cajun culture, these feasts are called boucheries or "pig pickin's". The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings.
Each Southern locale has its own variety of barbecue, particularly sauces. South Carolina is the only state that traditionally includes all four recognized barbecue sauces, including mustard-based, vinegar-based, and light and heavy tomato-based sauces. North Carolina sauces vary by region; eastern North Carolina uses a vinegar-based sauce, the center of the state uses Lexington-style barbecue, with a combination of ketchup and vinegar as their base, and western North Carolina uses a heavier ketchup base. Memphis barbecue is best known for tomato- and vinegar-based sauces. In some Memphis establishments and in Kentucky, meat is rubbed with dry seasoning (dry rubs) and smoked over hickory wood without sauce. The finished barbecue is then served with barbecue sauce on the side.
The barbecue of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee is almost always pork, often served with a sweet tomato-based sauce. Several regional variations exist. Alabama is also known for its distinctive white sauce—a mayonnaise- and vinegar-based sauce originating in northern Alabama, used predominantly on chicken and pork. A popular item in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and often topped with coleslaw. Pulled pork is prepared by shredding the pork after it has been barbecued.
Kansas City-style barbecue is characterized by its use of different types of meat, including pulled pork, pork ribs, burnt ends, smoked sausage, beef brisket, beef ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish—a variety attributable to Kansas City's history as a center for meat packing. Hickory is the primary wood used for smoking in Kansas City, while the sauces are typically tomato based with sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors.
Pit beef prevails in Maryland and is often enjoyed at large outdoor "bull roasts", which are commonly fundraising events for clubs and associations. Maryland-style pit-beef is not the product of barbecue cookery in the strictest sense; the meat is not smoked but grilled over a high heat. The meat is typically served rare with a strong horseradish sauce as the preferred condiment.
The state of Kentucky, particularly Western Kentucky, is unusual in its barbecue cooking; the preferred meat is mutton. This kind of mutton barbecue is often used in communal events in Kentucky, such as political rallies, county fairs, and church fund-raising events.
Barbecuing encompasses multiple types of cooking techniques. The original technique is cooking using smoke at low temperatures—usually around 240–280 °F or 115–145 °C—and significantly longer cooking times (several hours), known as smoking.
Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire over 500 °F (260 °C) for a few minutes. Grilling may be done over wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity. The time difference between smoking and grilling is because of the temperature difference; at low temperatures used for smoking, meat takes several hours to reach the desired internal temperature.
Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, and/or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, nuts, and ingredients used to make beverages such as beer or smoked beer are also smoked.
Grilling is a form of cooking that involves a dry heat applied to the food, either from above or below. Grilling is an effective technique in order to cook meat or vegetables quickly since it involves a significant amount of direct, radiant heat. There are many methods of grilling, which involve a type of braising or roasting. This is one of the least common techniques when cooking classic barbecue foods.
The words "barbecue" and "grilling" are often used interchangeably, although food experts argue that barbecue is a type of grilling, and that grilling involves the use of a higher level of heat to sear the food, while barbecuing is a slower process over a low heat.