What is North Carolina Barbeque?

Cathy Rogers

In North Carolina, people take their barbeque seriously. It’s most likely pit-cooked pork, although a few variations exist. Some North Carolina barbeque involves cooking the whole hog, while other North Carolina barbeque consists of smoking only the pork shoulder. Regional differences affect both the meat and the sauce. Barbeque tends to be a more important part of the cuisine in the Piedmont and Eastern Carolina regions.

Pigs are common in North Carolina, so they are often used in barbeque.
Pigs are common in North Carolina, so they are often used in barbeque.

Eastern North Carolina barbeque is likely to be basted in a thin, sharp, vinegary, peppery sauce, more likely called a moistening agent, while the sauce on Western North Carolina barbeque is likely to have a milder sauce containing some tomato. Western North Carolina barbeque, also known as Lexington-style, consists of dark meat, which is richer, moister and contains more fat. This barbeque version is likely to be basted in a sauce that also contains tomatoes or ketchup.

The original barbeque was cooked over an open fire and seasoned with a mixture of vinegar, pepper, oyster juice and salt.
The original barbeque was cooked over an open fire and seasoned with a mixture of vinegar, pepper, oyster juice and salt.

Most North Carolina barbeque is chopped pork, although it may also be pulled pork. Sliced barbeque is not very common in North Carolina. The barbeque is cooked very slowly, most likely 16-18 hours over a heat of 250-300 degrees.

North Carolina barbeque typically shuns dry rubs in favor of bold sauces.
North Carolina barbeque typically shuns dry rubs in favor of bold sauces.

Common side dishes served with North Carolina barbeque include coleslaw, which may be served as a side or as part of the sandwich, and hushpuppies. A hushpuppy is a small ball, or nugget, of deep-fried seasoned cornmeal.

Most likely, the Spanish introduced pigs to Southeastern America in the 1500s. Although cattle did not fare well in this area, swine did, especially in North Carolina. The original barbeque was cooked over an open fire and seasoned with a mixture of vinegar, pepper, oyster juice and salt. Other than the oyster juice, present day barbecue is seasoned with a similar mixture.

As many continued to barbeque an entire hog, a couple of entrepreneurs in Lexington, North Carolina, decided to cook some pigs over an open pit on the weekends in the town square. They sold the prepared meat as individual servings and ultimately invented the modern barbeque joint.

How zesty a barbeque sauce should be differs between eastern North Carolina and western North Carolina.
How zesty a barbeque sauce should be differs between eastern North Carolina and western North Carolina.

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