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Best Barbeque Towns in Texas?


nathanm
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I am making a map of regional barbeque styles. I want to mark the towns that are famous for barbeque

Here is my inital list for Texas

Lexington

Llano

Lockhart

Lulling

Taylor

I would appreciate any additions or comments.

Nathan

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Texas Monthly magazine, a few times a decade, publishes The Top 50 - a city by city list of Texas barbecue composed my the magazine's contributors. Registration (free) is required, but well worth the effort for anyone pursuing great Texas barbecue.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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Good start, to which I would add Elgin, but nb those are all essentially representing the same style of barbecue. While some argue that said style is essentially the apotheosis of the concept, there is a much wider diversity to be seen. If you go West, for example, you'll start seeing more mesquite. Go East, you'll start seeing more pork (especially as you approach and then cross I-45). Go south(ish) and there's more emphasis on sauce. I'm hardly an expert on bbq, or even Texas bbq, but there's definitely more to it than the Hill Country.

Andy Arrington

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Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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If the criteria is that the town have one good or very good place, I can recommend Wharton (Hinze's--there is also one in Schulenberg but I haven't been there) and there is a place in Huntsville that is highly regarded for its ribs but I haven't been there personally. I can't exactly offer anything resembling an exhaustive list and some of my favorite places aren't even famous. There used to be a place near College Station, about 4 miles west of town, that closed about 2-3 years ago. I adored the place but it never got any press, which is presumably why it shut down.

I think there is some decent bbq here in B/CS but I don't know if I would call it a "great town for bbq". Is there a distinction to be made? I think if you are talking about "Great towns for barbecue" then you are going to be in the Hill Country. If you are talking about "towns that have great barbecue" then you can go almost anywhere in the state I would think.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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The goal is to show the geographical places where great barbeque style comes from. The criteria is that I want to find towns that are famous for having the best barbeque in Texas, and/or helping set the standard for what great barbeque should be.

The Texas hill country towns are of course prominent - Lockhart and so forth. That is probably the philosophical home of Texas barbeque. However, if there is really great barbeque another place, I want to know about it which is why I am asking.

I looked at the Texas Monthly 50 best. I only took the top 10 places from that list, but that added a couple towns

Abilene

Harlingen

Nathan

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I have never heard of Abilene or Harlingen as being famous for barbecue. There are a lot of quibbles about those TM lists and the methodology used (and people who did the investigating).

As far as famous towns, you've got them all on your first list with the possible addition of Huntsville. Other than that it's like thirtyoneknots says, it's a question of an exceptional place in a town, not the town, and there are none that approach the acclaim of the ones included in your first list.

One way to break down the styles of Texas cue was proposed by Robb Walsh in his Legends of Texas Barbecue, considered by many the Bible on the subject. You might try to get a copy at least to read the opening chapter, I think it was (my copy seems to have been mislaid).

Walsh delineates 4 styles: the Central Texas Meat Market smoked meats style - it's referred to as Central Texas style, not Hill Country style. The Hill Country is west of Austin and only Llano on your list is in the HC (see the Wiki article). Most of these places started out as meat markets operated by German or Czech immigrants. They use post oak wood and the meats are cooked by indirect heat and heavily smoked and they are famous for being reluctant or downright determined not to offer sauce. These include Kreutz, Smitty's and Black's in Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, City Market in Luling, and Louis Mueller's in Taylor. Although they are not nearly as famous or acclaimed as these you might also include Gonzales Food Market in Gonzales and City Market in Giddings. I like Novosad's in Hallettsville and would include it; I think the one mentioned in Schulenburg would be City Market but I've never had cue there. Elgin is the official Sausage Capital of Texas and is famous for it's sausage, not barbecue, although many people think the places there are very good. All of the famous Central Texas palaces make their own sausage on site; it is coarse ground and with a natural casing, maybe just beef or beef and pork.

A second style is Cowboy style which features meats cooked over direct heat, wood embers. Cooper's in Llano is the most famous example of this style. I presume the other Cooper's locations also do. In Houston, Pizzitola's does cue this way.

A third style Walsh calls East Texas rural Black and urban Black barbecue and is closer to the barbecue of other southern states than to the Central Texas places except that beef is the preferred meat (due to easy availability) rather than pork. The smokiness of the meats is not as prominent in these places while the tenderness of the meats is important. A typical plate of beef brisket would not just be neat slices as at the CTex places but would include lots of 'debris' and sauce is usually served on the meats, some places being adamant about it. These places also often feature homemade sausage that is beef only, fine ground, in a synthetic casing, and with only salt, red and black pepper as seasonings. Meats are often finished off wrapped in foil to make them falling apart tender. The Church of the Holy Smoke, Mt. Zion in Huntsville, a church operated bbq place only open a few days a week is probably the most famous example of this style (I've never been so I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure there cue would be considered this style).

The fourth style mentioned by Walsh is barbacoa, the Mexican barbecue of South Texas, which is not much practiced anymore. Although taquerias and taco trucks all over the state serve barbaboa is steamed or stewed cow's head, not really barbecue.

While post oak is the favored wood of the famous CTx places, hickory and mesquite are used all over the state. As you near SE Texas you'll find more use of pecan, either by itself or in combination with a local oak. Hinzes in Wharton is known for its pecan smoked cue and has live pecan trees growing in the dining rooms but I don't know that I would say Wharton is famous for cue.

As you have probably figured out, the CTx style is considered the best style by most self-proclaimed experts but all over the state styles may be mixed and probably the overwhelming majority of people think bbq should have sauce on it. Here in Houston the top four places, imho, are all Black-owned and do cue that is both East Texas/CTx styles mixed - smoked meats but with sauce but, except for one, readily served on the side.

Texas bbq is often characterized as being all about brisket hut in reality most places serve brisket, sausage and pork ribs; some offer other meats including cabrito, lamb and venison and of course chicken. Some of the CTx places are also known for beef shoulder clod and prime rib plus pork chops.

Edited by brucesw (log)
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... it's referred to as Central Texas style, not Hill Country style. The Hill Country is west of Austin and only Llano on your list is in the HC (see the Wiki article).

...

You are, of course, correct. Intellectual laziness on my own part. And to think I'm about to move to that area--for shame!

I have a sentimental attatchment to Hinze's that goes beyond their superlative bbq but man I really do think pecan is a special wood to smoke things with.

I have a plan to eventually get a group of 3-5 people, make a day trip driving to all the central TX places, and share a brisket and sausage plate at each one, taking notes, pictures, etc. Informational? Perhaps. Delicious? Undoubtedly.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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OK, so here is question inpsired by the authoritative answers on Texas barbeque style.

There are many good examples of CTx style - both the famous pits and the towns there are in. I have that covered, with the addition of the towns mentioned above.

But, so far as I can tell, the only town mentioned for "cowboy style" is Llano. The only town mentioned for East Texas style is Huntsville. No town is mentioned for barbacoa, but it also says that isn't practiced per se.

Are there other barbeque places/towns that should be listed for cowboy style or East Texas style?

Nathan

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Cooper's has a location in Mason that is actually the original and some say is better than the Llano. I've only been once and was very hungry and did think it was better than Llano, but would not say so authoritatively.

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Alright, my thoughts:

Cooper's in Llano has excellent pork ribs and very good brisket that they cook differently than other BBQ places. They cook it over mesquite for only 5 hours and then keep it warm in their pits and it ends up tender like a roast. They also have a variety of different meats to choose from in the pits. Their sauce is a very thin peppery vinegar style sauce that I prefer. As for a location in Mason, I've never heard of that nor does their website suggest that one exists.

IMHO, Lockhart barbecue is overrated. I have tried them all, several times, including Chisolm Trail, and I don't find anything spectacular about them. Yes they are smokey meats, but they're not super tender or well seasoned. The 'No Sauce' thing is a joke. Kreuz has mustard and hot sauce on the tables and everyone seems to be applying one or the other - how can that equal no sauce? Smitty's has sauce, but you have to ask for it and it's not any good. Black's has sauce on the table but it's decent. I usually end up at Black's, for whatever reason. To call Lockhart the Mecca of Texas bbq would be an injustice. It might be a hot spot, but definitely not the capital.

I can only say that I went to Luling City Market once and it was terrible. It is a really cool place and it is pretty cheap. But like the saying goes, good and cheap and cheap ain't good. This was some of the worst Q I've had. The sausage was grainy and greasy, the brisket was very dry and the ribs were on-the-bone jerky.

In Austin, there are a couple of places worth mentioning. The first and the newest is Franklin Barbecue. It's a small trailer style location that is serving up the best brisket I have ever had and some really good ribs to boot. They have four sauces: Espresso, Sweet, Pork, and Hot (I think that's them). People rave about the espresso, but the time I had it, it was disgusting - completely off-putting and inedible. They are only open in the second half of the week and open at 11 and sell out quickly. This place is giving every other place a run for their money. Mann's smokehouse is also doing some pretty decent stuff and made it on the TM list for that, but is it worth a special journey, no. Lambert's is also gentrifying bbq and as interesting as the concept may be, it wasn't that good the time I had it.

Lexington has Snow's, which is supposed to be amazing. The time I made the journey, we got there at 11:30 am and they were already sold of brisket. The sausage was pretty good but the sauce was on the tables in refilled Ozarka sports bottles. That's pretty gross and unacceptable, if you ask me.

Also, Elgin has some good sausage.

The reason I prefer Cooper's and Franklin is because they seem to still have some fat and moisture in them and are also well rubbed - resulting in the ability to enjoyably eat them without sauce. The other places cook all that moisture out or are using too lean of brisket. In summation, Cooper's makes Llano and Franklin in Austin is making some of the, maybe the, best bbq in Texas.

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Elgin is the official Sausage Capital of Texas and is famous for it's sausage, not barbecue, although many people think the places there are very good. All of the famous Central Texas palaces make their own sausage on site; it is coarse ground and with a natural casing, maybe just beef or beef and pork.

I think a lot of folks would say that, in the context of Texas barbecue, sausage is barbecue. Walsh, for example, refers to "Texas barbecue sausage" on page 252. I think there's a good argument that says Elgin makes the list.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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They are certainly much more known for making sausage than for serving it, overwhelmingly when you include retail distribution (Meyer's is available here in Houston) and mail-order, but I would have to concede your point that sausage is included in a typical Texas barbecue plate. They are usually included in lists of CTx joints to hit, though seldom at the very top. The dining room at Meyer's, I think, is very recent, compared to the sausage production and for the record, I've never eaten in the dining room at either.

There is a big sausage industry in Texas (many small producers), most of which, probably, don't serve or sell barbecue - meat markets and smokehouses, for instance, plus in the SE part of the state Cajun meat markets and the like that make andouille, boudin, etc., so I tend to view sausage as a separate category.

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It may also make sense to think of sausage aka hot links as an ingredient, like beef or pork. Under this theory we'd say that beef isn't always barbecue, and neither is sausage. It becomes barbecue when you finish it in the pit. That's how I had Elgin hot links served to me when the Elgin guys came to New York City: they brought sausage with them and finished them in the pit for service. Perhaps that's what made them barbecue sausage and not just sausage.

I think it's up to the Texas barbecue subculture to define what is and isn't Texas barbecue but I can provide an outsider's perspective: I very much think of Elgin sausage as a representative of Texas barbecue, and I think of Elgin as one of the epicenters of Texas barbecue on account of that sausage.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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OK, so here is question inpsired by the authoritative answers on Texas barbeque style.

There are many good examples of CTx style - both the famous pits and the towns there are in. I have that covered, with the addition of the towns mentioned above.

But, so far as I can tell, the only town mentioned for "cowboy style" is Llano. The only town mentioned for East Texas style is Huntsville. No town is mentioned for barbacoa, but it also says that isn't practiced per se.

Are there other barbeque places/towns that should be listed for cowboy style or East Texas style?

The Walsh book includes some brief lists in the back, not intended to be exhaustive (I think all the lists were comprised of ten listings), but I think the only one relevant to your goal is a list of 'Barbecue Belt' places (I still can't find my copy). Like I said, as far as 'famous towns,' I think you've got it, but Texas is a very big place and it depends on your definition of famous. I know as much about barbecue places in deep East Texas or West Texas, etc., as I know about barbecue in Philadelphia or Los Angeles, so there may be some very highly regarded ones regionally I've never even heard of. If you just want a list of places to try the different styles, I can't help. Other than the towns already listed all I can suggest is the geographic variations which aren't hard and fast rules. Overwhelmingly the most talked about style by eGulleteers, Chowhounds, Roadfooders, critics, food writers, etc., is the Central Texas Meat Market, smoked meat style. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the most widely served or consumed style, it's just the one they find most interesting, unique or outstanding. Since coming to Houston 10 years ago, Walsh became something of a defender of the East Texas style for not getting as much respect as it deserves.

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As I understand it, many of the barbecue places outside of Austin evolved from German butcher shops that used barbecuing as a technique to preserve meats or maybe to sell additional meats. Being German it would follow that the butchers also had a thing for sausage and barbecued that along with the cuts of meat.

Nothing against brisket, but I've had some barbecue plates in Texas where the sausage was much better than the brisket. And like Germany, where the sausages vary from town to town, in my experience no two Texas barbecue joint sausages are the same.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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It may also make sense to think of sausage aka hot links as an ingredient, like beef or pork. Under this theory we'd say that beef isn't always barbecue, and neither is sausage. It becomes barbecue when you finish it in the pit. That's how I had Elgin hot links served to me when the Elgin guys came to New York City: they brought sausage with them and finished them in the pit for service. Perhaps that's what made them barbecue sausage and not just sausage.

I think it's up to the Texas barbecue subculture to define what is and isn't Texas barbecue but I can provide an outsider's perspective: I very much think of Elgin sausage as a representative of Texas barbecue, and I think of Elgin as one of the epicenters of Texas barbecue on account of that sausage.

A good point; my experience differs. I've had both Southside's and Meyer's sausages served as barbecue, though not on premises at either place, and I've also bought them at the facilities, brought them home and prepared them in the kitchen, and they're excellent either way. I can think of one place, Austin's, in Eagle Lake, that produces an excellent sausage, one of the best 4 or 5 in the state IMO. They have a small barbecue operation, open only a few days a week, where they serve it and it is the best reason for stopping (brisket and ribs are only fair, sides are excellent). Purchased on-site, only partially smoked, brought home and finished off in the kitchen, it's not nearly as good - it needs more time smoking. But there are many, Prasek's, Patek's, Janak's, Maeker's, Poffenberger's and others, whose sausage (lines) are excellent prepared in the kitchen or on the grill and also can be prepared in the pit. And so I tend to think of Texas sausage as separate.

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The gospel on Texas BBQ is

http://www.fullcustomgospelbbq.com/

Thanks - I had seen that site before posting here. Its top categories pretty much map to my list.

At the risk of being controversal, let me ask people a question. So far I have resisted putting Austin on the map, and I want comments on that.

Here is my reasoning. Austin is a big city, and many big cities will have a BBQ restaurant, but that is not in and of itself enough to warrant a place on the map. In NYC, for example, Hill Country is a facsimile of a CTx meat market style BBQ place. But it is clearly a facsimile imported from Texas not a real expression of "local" NYC barbeque culture. NYC does not count because of Hill Country (or Fette Sau, Dinosaur, Daisy's).

A friend of mine argues that NYC ought to be listed for a different reason - which is that pastrami (at Carnegie Deli, Katz's etc.) ought to count as New York/Jewish barbeque - it is, after all cured, spice rubbed and smoked. I agree with all that. Pastrami really is "NYC local style BBQ". I haven't put in on the list because my map only covers the American South, and NYC isn't part of the South.

I have eaten BBQ in Austin for over 20 years - I have had to travel there beacuse I work in the tech industry. And in general, averaged over many meals at many place, I would say that Austin is quite mediocre as a place to get BBQ. Often quite terrible. So overall I am uncomfortable with the idea of listing Austin as a geographical center for Texas BBQ. I have not eaten at Franklin Barbeque, but I am told it is quite good. But frankly given how close great BBQ is to Austin, it is surprising how much mediocre barbeque there is (and always has been). It is depressing how many people in the tech industry have tried to drag me to County Line, for example.

I think that putting Austin on the map just isn't fair to the places where regional style actually comes from. That Austin might have a decent place, or two, isn't enough. Even though it is in Texas, it is more a follower (and a distant one) than a geographical leader in BBQ style.

Any comments on this?

Nathan

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I would still maintain, as I touched upon earlier, that the idea of a "barbecue town" is inherently flawed, even if only for the reasons you list above. There is a saying in the wine biz regarding old/rare wines; that there are no great wines, only great bottles. I think by a similar token there are no great barbecue towns, only great barbecue places (that may or may not be in towns). It's somewhat silly to say that Huntsville or Wharton are barbecue towns based on single places, but that if Houston (for the sake of argument) had three great barbecue places it wouldn't count because of its size.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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The concept of a bbq town is certainly not perfect. Here is the reasoning behind it.

There are many regional food specialties in the world. Bouillabaisse is a fish stew from the region near Marseille, for example.

Regional foods in Europe are well known and highly respected. This includes regional cheeses, and also wines.

The quote that there are "no great wines only great bottles" may have some truth at one level, but the entire structure of the wine industry is oriented in the opposite direction. I don't think any wine expert would endorse that view.

Different wine regions are famous for their distinctive styles. There really is a meaning to the phrase "white Burgundy". It denotes a style of winemaking that originated in a very specific place. Over time it has been imitated other places (i.e. California Chardonnays), but the wellspring of the tradition traces back to a specific place - the white wines made in the Cote de Beaune. Winemakers within that region borrowed ideas from each other and collectively developed the distinctive style that has since become popular worldwide.

Barbeque is a classic regional American cuisine. There are very significant local variations. Texas barbeque has several styles. Kansas City and Memphis are both regional centers (and are pretty large cities). KC and Memphis fit because historically they have really driven barbeque style. There really is such a thing as KC style barbeque, and Memphis style. Kentucky also has its own style - including mutton as a BBQ meat. North Carolina has at least two distinctive regional styles.

These are all very real regional differences driven by barbeque that originated in specific places. My map is an attempt to document this. I think that American barbeque has not gotten as much respect as it deserves as a unique cultural cuisine. European food culture is honored to the point of worship - whether it is bouillabaisse, or wine or cheese.... much of Europe is honored in this manner. I think that BBQ in the Southern US is every bit as deserving of recognition.

I did not make this clear in my first post, and it seems to have been confusing to some of the people who post here. If you view the only purpose of a map as to plan a way to got get some BBQ to eat, then yes you need the name of the pit or restaurant. While I love the idea of going to eat BBQ, my purpose is a bit more abstract and high level. I am trying to document the geographical orgins of traditional American BBQ.

Nathan

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European food culture is honored to the point of worship - whether it is bouillabaisse, or wine or cheese.... much of Europe is honored in this manner. I think that BBQ in the Southern US is every bit as deserving of recognition.

I agree that barbecue is as worthy as any of the world's regional cuisines, but I think it may be a category error to try to classify barbecue along the lines of an AOC-type system. Those systems of classification are regulatory in nature: there's an imposed, quasi-governmental set of rules that says you can't call it X unless you grow Y and do Z with it. The industry and the regulations have been locked in a European embrace for centuries, and nothing like it could possibly work here.

The most that can be done in America is passive, observational taxonomy. That's necessarily going to be an order of magnitude less precise than an imposed, regulatory system. If a quasi-governmental regulatory body in North Carolina said, "You can't call it barbecue in Eastern North Carolina, starting at such-and-such river and ten paces to the east of the silo behind farmer Brown's barn, unless it's whole hog chopped with vinegar and red pepper flakes, and you have to label all other barbecue-like food 'barely fit for human consumption,'" then all of a sudden it will become a lot easier to talk about barbecue in AOC-type terms. But that sort of regulatory scheme would be so un-American that to attempt it would cause a barbecue revolt that would make the Tea Parties look like tea parties.

After all, if you go into most barbecue places anywhere there are a couple of dozen items on the menu. One or two of them might reflect something like a true regional style. The rest are chicken and ribs. So all a taxonomy is going to indicate is the center of gravity of what the food culture defines as a region's best products. And outliers here are the norm, so you'll drive around North Carolina but stumble across a place that does brisket, and that's not surprising. I guess in Europe you have some producers opting out of the definitions, like the producers of the Super Tuscans, but that sort of behavior is a curiosity over there and a foundation of the culture here.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The AOC system of regulating names is a bit of a red herring. I never meant to imply that.

While it is true that some of the foods of Europe are protected by specific laws regulating the naming, that came long after the foods themselves were developed. Many of the foods which do have AOC (or similar laws in other countries) are recent additions. It was the tradition for wine for a long time, but only in some regions. Products that can be sold at retail are typically the only ones that have AOC protection - wine and cheese being the main examples. AOC is ultimately a marketing issue.

Most traditional cuisine has no AOC protection. There is no AOC for bouillaibase, or cassoulet or tarte Tatin, or fondue, or.... I can't think of a single dish that has AOC - because it is really about retail sale of a ready to eat product. In the case of Bresse chickens, or Kobe beef it is not ready to eat, but still it is a commodity product, not a dish. I can't think of any AOC designations for food served ready to eat in a resaurant.

Barbeque is most similar to the dishes - to bouillaibase or cassoulet. It is (mostly) served ready to eat.

Yes, brisket in North Carolina would be an outlier - but your example actually proves my point. There is a typical BBQ style in NC, and it does not include brisket. So if you found brisket in NC it would be notable precisely because it would be counter to expectations. What I am talking about here is mapping those expectations.

Indeed that is why I am omitting Austin. Its BBQ places are exceptions, as might be found many places (like BBQ in NYC). Meanwhile Kansas City and Memphis are large cites that do have distinctive styles. That doesn't mean it is impossible to find outliers. There undoubtedly are Chinese restaurants in KC and Memphis and for all I know they have char su pork which is a kind of Chinese barbeque. There could be other weird outliers. But that does not negate the fact that there are distinctive regional styles.

Similarly, if I said "typical Georgia style pastrami" it would be odd because pastrami does have tradition, but not based is Georgia. The phrase "typical New York style pastrami" makes a lot more sense.

Of course there are exceptions, but that does not refute the notion that there are traditional BBQ styles that originate in specific places.

Nathan

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