Not too long ago, on a barbecue tour through North Carolina, I was dining at one of the many esteemed joints in Lexington when I slipped up and made a rookie mistake.
“Can I have some extra sauce on the side?” I asked my waitress.
“You mean dip?” she said, sweet as could be.
“Yes,” I said, my cheeks flushing slightly. “Extra dip.”
It was bad enough that I had arrived in a rental car with Florida plates. I had at least hoped to order like a local. But that's not always easy to do. Just as sauces and side dishes and meat preferences vary greatly from one region to the next, so does the language of barbecue. Here's my short list of favorite barbecue localisms from around the South.
Dip As I was gently reminded in Lexington, the thin, tomato-tinged vinegar sauce served on chopped pork in the Piedmont of North Carolina is known universally as “dip.” Despite the name, it’s almost always squirted, poured, or spooned onto the meat rather than used as a dipping sauce.
Burnt Ends Don’t let the name put you off. Burnt ends aren’t charred to a crisp or anything like that. They’re what folks in Kansas City call the thin edges of beef brisket that get crisper and drier that the rest of the cut—and also extremely smoky. They’re typically doused in Kansas City’s thick barbecue sauce and served atop slices of white bread.
Off The Pit In Western Kentucky, if you order your mutton or pork “off the pit”, they’ll slice it piping hot right off the shoulder and serve it with sauce on the side. At The Old Hickory Pit in Owensboro, off the pit costs you 50 cents extra, but for me that's money well spent.
Outside Brown Another Piedmont North Carolina term of barbecue art is “outside brown,” which refers to the outer bits of pork that turn dark and crisp during their time on the pit. Connoisseurs know that having a little outside brown mixed into their barbecue adds splendid texture and extra bursts of smoky flavor to their pork tray or sandwich.
Pork Steak Pork steak is a specialty of St. Louis barbecue joints. It’s simply a pork shoulder sliced about an inch or two thick and cooked. Some places simmer the steak for hours in barbecue sauce then give it a finish on a grill, but the best ones are slow cooked over indirect heat until tender and smoky. You don’t even need a steak knife to eat it.
Do you have a favorite local barbecue term we need to add to our glossary? Let us know about it!