For most Americans, when they hear the word “barbecue,” they instantly picture North Carolina, Texas, Memphis, 0r Kansas City — four regions that have put American barbecue on the map. Hands down, these four styles are tasty, and nothing is as appealing as a well-cooked plate of ribs or chicken. But the U.S. doesn’t exactly have the barbecue world cornered. You’d be surprised by how popular barbecue cooking is around the world. Take a food tour with us and learn about barbecue traditions from around the world.
Of course, we might as well start in our own back yard. Americans’ love affair with barbecue can trace its origins to the East Coast, specifically North Carolina, and farther south. While most people only think about the four styles we mentioned in our introduction for American barbecue, the reality is there are countless variations depending on your region. And usually, those distinctions come down to the sauce — or absence of it since many barbecue styles focus on dry rubs. Regardless of sauce or rub preference, American barbecue takes its cue from the indigenous Arawak, who originally lived in the Caribbean and Florida. They cooked meats over an open flame for hours. So no matter where you are in the U.S., true barbecue is always slow-cooked.
If the idea of waiting hours to eat isn’t appealing, then visit Korea, which also has its twist on barbecue. In Korea, most meals are family-style affairs, and barbecue is no different. With Korean barbecue, you grill meat and vegetables at your table over a small grill. The grill is usually built into the table or it’s portable. As is typical with Korean cuisine, Korean barbecue is accompanied by multiple side dishes (known as “banchan”) and various sauces for dipping meats. Meats can range from pork, beef, chicken, or even seafood. Unlike the U.S., though, many Korean barbecue meat cuts aren’t seasoned since that’s why “banchan” and sauces are served — for flavor.
Unlike in the U.S., many countries view barbecued food as a great option for street food or sides rather than the main event. In Japan, barbecued food is usually known as “yakitori,” and it refers to small bites that are grilled on skewers. “Yakitori” can range from vegetarian options like scallions and mushrooms to shrimp, sausages and other cuts of meat. If you’re not a fan of eating from carts, look for an “izakaya” (Japanese style pub) in your town, and you’ll be sure to find “yakitori” on the appetizer menu.
Anyone who’s ever eaten at a Brazilian barbecue restaurant is intimately aware that this country knows how to cook and season meat. For most people, “churrasco” (Brazilian barbecue) is synonymous with a restaurant that acts like Thanksgiving for meat lovers, in which you eat to the point that you have to unbutton your pants. While you literally can enjoy an all-you-can-eat experience, the land of the Samba is specifically known for these cuts and styles of “churrasco”: “picanha” (top sirloin seasoned with garlic and salt), “fraldinha” (bottom sirloin featuring fat marbling), “chuleta” (ribeye), and filet mignon.
North Carolina isn’t the only place that roasts a whole pig. If you prefer savory to smoky, you’ll want to take a trip to the Philippines for a bite of “lechón.” If that name sounds Spanish, that’s because it’s a dish that was imported during the island nation’s Spanish occupation. However, it’s been embraced as one of the nation’s signature dishes. “Lechón” is a dish for which a whole pig is roasted over an open flame, with various spices and seasonings stuffed inside to fully infuse the meat with flavor. In truth, you can find a variation of “lechon” in almost any country that was ruled by Spain. And if the idea of roasting a whole pig is intimidating, you can cheat and try your hand at a Puerto Rican variation, “pernil" (roast pork shoulder).
Indian Tandoori Cuisine
You might be wondering why tandoori cooking would make the list. While technically, the tandoor is a clay oven, many barbecue-style dishes can be made with this unique cooking method. The tandoor is a diverse cooking tool that can reach and maintain extremely high temperatures. Because of its design, you can cook multiple dishes at once, such as savory butter “naan” along the wall of the oven while you also cook skewers of meat. Meats are seasoned before being placed directly over an open flame. And that signature smoky flavor comes from the fats dripping off the meat and into the flame.