Democrats vs. Republicans. Duke vs. UNC. Tomato vs. Vinegar.
Even though North Carolina is a political “swing state” and the home to many opposing views, the great BBQ debate might actually be the most profound divide among Carolinians. You non-Southerners out there might be wondering: how on Earth could barbecue preferences actually be more important than a presidential election? Allow me to explain:
Lexington Style Barbecue (Tomato-based)
“Lexington” style barbecue (sometimes also known as “Piedmont” or “Western” style) uses a red sauce that is seasoned with ketchup, vinegar, and pepper, along with a variety of other spices. It is most common in the Piedmont (central) and western areas of North Carolina. This style uses only the pork shoulder section of the pig. As with other styles of barbecue, recipes vary widely and can include many different ingredients, ranging from slightly sweet to hot and spicy. The sauce also serves as the seasoning base for “red slaw” (also called “barbecue slaw”), which is simply coleslaw made by using Lexington-style barbecue sauce instead of mayonnaise.
Eastern Style Barbecue (Vinegar-based)
“Eastern” style barbecue is a whole-hog style of barbecue, sometimes said to use “everything but the squeal”. Eastern style sauce is vinegar- and pepper-based, with no tomato whatsoever. Contrasted with the aforementioned “red slaw”, Eastern slaw is more traditional and typically features mayonnaise (or whipped salad dressing) instead of ketchup.
So now that you understand the fundamental differences between the two main types of North Carolina barbecue, perhaps you are thinking to yourself: OK, I get it – but do they really matter? Yes!
The Politics of North Carolina Barbecue
A feud has always existed between the proponents of the two types of barbecue and while a degree of humor is involved, choice of barbecue type is a politically-charged topic. In 2006, NC House Bill 21 and NC Senate Bill 47 were introduced (and ultimately defeated), which would have made the Lexington Barbecue Festival the official barbecue festival of North Carolina. On the surface this might seem like no big deal, but the bills instantly sparked controversy among Eastern style fanatics, who claimed that the festival would effectively declare the Lexington style as the one “official” barbecue style of the state.
In an act of political compromise (that we can all be proud of), NC House Bill 433 was passed in 2007 which granted the Lexington Barbecue Festival the title of “Official Food Festival of the Piedmont Triad Region of the State of North Carolina”. This effectively bypassed any controversy regarding Eastern barbecue and the region, and prevented any confusion with the title creating a singular, official barbecue for the entire state.
So Which One Tastes Better?
When we boil it all down, the question becomes: which one actually tastes better?
I personally believe that the vinegar-based style is vastly superior to the tomato-based, however there are clear pros and cons to each depending upon the particular style of barbecue being prepared (i.e. pulled or chopped pork vs. ribs vs. brisket). Don’t worry, we’ll talk about all of this later.
But at the end of the day, as long as the pork itself is perfectly slow-cooked, it’s all delicious. And that’s what really matters anyways, right? Can’t we all just get along?
What is your favorite barbecue style? Let me know in the comments!