As part of its recent “Barbecue Week” coverage, Eater, the New York-based online food site, published “The American Barbecue Regional Style Guide: Everything you need to know about sauce, meat, fat, and smoke from sea to shining sea.”
Ambitious subtitle aside, it’s actually a good delineation of the main barbecue styles in the United States, particular when you consider it was compiled by New Yorkers. It goes well beyond the reductive summary you see in most such pieces, which tend to claim, inexplicably, that there are just four main barbecue styles in the United States—Carolina, Texas, Memphis, and Kansas City. The Eater piece parses the differences between eastern-style and Piedmont-style barbecue in North Carolina, and it addresses South Carolina mustard sauce and Alabama white sauce along with mutton in Kentucky and burnt ends in Kansas City.
I was skimming along quite happily through the discussion of Arkansas and Oklahoma . . . and then I came to the heading for the state of Georgia. Here’s every single word that Eater has to say on barbecue in the Peach State:
“Georgia has a long and rich barbecue tradition, but paradoxically no distinct style of its own. Barbecue in Georgia tends to incorporate elements from its surrounding neighbors, with pork being the most popular meat.”
Reading this got me so agitated I had to go lay down in a dark room with a cool washcloth on my forehead.
“No distinct style of its own?” Anyone who would make such an assertion has never been to Georgia to eat barbecue—or, perhaps, they just never made it outside of Atlanta.
Just take a look at these photographs from a selection of old-school Georgia barbecue joints. Notice anything similar about them?
That, for me, is the distinct Georgia style of barbecue: a chopped barbecue pork sandwich dressed in a red tomato-based sauce with a bowl of Brunswick stew alongside. Unlike the versions made in other parts of the country, that Brunswick stew tends to be more of a thick, rich stew than a thin barbecue-laced soup—a slow-simmered treat that is a cousin to the hash served in South Carolina, though with corn and perhaps a few other vegetables mixed in.
Within these broad parameters, of course, Georgia barbecue has many different sub-variations. Some pitmasters use pork in their Brunswick stew while others use chicken or beef or any combination of the three. That red sauce can vary greatly in sweetness, heat, and thickness, and a sizable number of Georgia restaurants feature mustard-based barbecue sauce, too. Most restaurants serve barbecued ribs and chicken alongside their pork, and in and around Athens there’s a delightful regional specialty known as chicken mull, too.
The estimable Grant Goggans has spent years sampling the various sub-styles of barbecue within the state of Georgia, and he offers a comprehensive survey of them in a recent post on his Marie Let’s Eat blog. Anyone interested in the rich diversity and truly distinct style of barbecue to be found in Georgia should check it out. And that includes the good folks over at Eater.