Barbecue Basics

A guide to all the finger-licking terminology.

An assortment of riches. Clockwise from top: smoked sausage, spareribs, wings, buttermilk broccoli salad, pickles, beet salad and coleslaw.
An assortment of riches. Clockwise from top: smoked sausage, spareribs, wings, buttermilk broccoli salad, pickles, beet salad and coleslaw.
Photo by Jason Varney

Meats

Baby-Back Ribs: The top third of the pork rib, nearest the spine. Less fatty than the rest of the rib, but less flavorful, many chefs say.

Bark: The savory crust that forms when spice rub melts into the outer layer of smoked meat. Considered a hallmark of accomplished barbecuing.

Brisket: A cut of beef from the pectoral muscle. Tough and sinewy, it softens when smoked many hours. Slices from the fatty side, known as the deckle or point, are often dubbed moist, in contrast to lean pieces from the larger, flat part of the cut.

Burnt Ends: The charred edges of the whole brisket. Considered a delicacy because of their intense flavor and relative scarcity (only two per slab).

Pulled Pork: Smoked “butt” (actually from the shoulder) pulled apart into strands.

Spareribs: The lower two-thirds of the pork rib, thick with well-marbled meat.

St. Louis Ribs: Spareribs with the gristly ends cleaved off, producing a flat, rectangular rack that cooks evenly.

Spice and Sauces

Alabama White: A mayonnaise dressing made with salt, pepper and vinegar or lemon juice. Often served with chicken or turkey, sometimes with pork.

Dry Rub: Spices massaged onto meat before cooking. Often contains salt and sugar, plus varying ratios of paprika, cayenne and other peppers. Onion and garlic are also common, in powdered form.

Carolina Vinegar: Mostly white vinegar and pepper flakes. Considered the oldest barbecue sauce, with a history stretching back hundreds of years. Also known as “mop sauce.” Usually served with pulled pork. A variation is…

Carolina Tomato Vinegar: Vinegar sauce softened with tomato paste or ketchup. Popular in the western Carolinas.

Carolina Mustard: Most popular in South Carolina’s Mustard Belt, settled in the 1700s by German immigrants. Usually made from vinegar, salt, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and, of course, mustard.

Kansas City Sweet Tomato: The thick sauce most familiar to Americans. Molasses or brown sugar sweetens the tang of the vinegar.

Kentucky Black: Dark, spicy, Worcestershire-based sauce, a specialty of Western Kentucky, where it tames the gaminess of regional favorite mutton.

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