Guide to the Best BBQ Styles

By Gayot Editors

Best Barbecue from Around the World

Barbecue is more than just a method of cooking; it’s a social event. It is a source of regional pride, and for many sticky-fingered aficionados around the world, a way of life.

BBQ as we know it in the States traces its roots to the Taíno people of the Caribbean. Their system of slow-cooking meat over indirect heat, eventually made its way to Mexico and the American South. Dubbed barbacoa by the Spaniards, the method became a favorite of poor colonials due to its ability to turn even the most undesirable cuts into tasty, tender meat.

Over the centuries and across borders, the traditional process has morphed to accommodate changing tastes and regional innovations. One basic theme rings true for all forms of barbecue — an unwavering emphasis on thick slabs of carefully prepared meat.

Despite a common interest in all things meat, barbecue fans love debating who makes the best ’cue. Whether it be Memphis-style ribs, Carolina pulled pork or even teppanyaki from Japan. While we wouldn’t dare to make a definitive claim on the best BBQ in the world, we do have our preferences.

Take a look at GAYOT’s picks for the Best BBQ Styles and check out our complete guide to barbecue for more grilling goodness.

1. Argentine Asado

A skewer of asado at Fogo de Chao

Given Argentina’s proud gaucho culture and sky-high beef consumption, it’s no surprise that the carnivorous country also has an insatiable appetite for barbecue.

The Argentine take on barbecue, called asado, is characteristically beef heavy. Feasts often also include sausages, chicken, salad and verdurajo — a mixture of potatoes, corn, onion and eggplant seasoned with olive oil and salt. The asado event is a decidedly family affair. The women prepare the salad, while the men tend to the meat during the half-day event.

The beef is cooked slow and low, prepared simply with salt, and is cooked either on a grill or over an open fire made with wood from local trees. It’s all about keeping the process as pure as possible: Meat, grill and fire. And in case you’re wondering, asado is called churrasco in Brazil, although Brazilian BBQ is usually cooked faster and served off a long skewer.

2. Hawaiian Kalua

Hawaiian kalua pork from Helena's Hawaiian Food

Not to be confused with the coffee-flavored liqueur, Hawaiian kalua is a popular way “to cook in an underground oven” at luau feasts.

The Hawaiian luau has gained international fame for its island-infused style of quirky kitsch — think hula dancers, mai tais and sunburned tourists in floral print. However, we go for the barbecue. While all those swaying grass skirts may steal your attention, the true heart of every luau is the imu, an underground oven lined with hot rocks used to cook the kalua pig and other Hawaiian specialties.

In traditional kalua cooking, the meat (usually pork) is salted, rubbed with herbs, stuffed with hot rocks and wrapped in ti and banana leaves. It is then left to cook in the imu for six to seven hours. The resulting meat is smoky yet succulent, and served shredded alongside dishes like lomi-lomi salmon and poi — a thick, taro root-based paste considered sacred by ancient Hawaiians.

3. Kansas City BBQ

Kansas City barbecue chicken from Daisy May's BBQ in NYC

When most people think “barbecue,” Kansas City-style is what they have in mind — slow-smoked ribs, beef brisket, grilled chicken and a variety of other meats slathered with a liberal coating of sweet-yet-tangy tomato-based BBQ sauce.

A true melting pot of barbecue styles, Kansas City borrows heavily from a number of other BBQ capitals including the Texas-style beef cuts and tender pulled pork of the Carolinas. However, Kansas City’s true claim to fame are burnt ends — the crispy tips of beef or pork brisket that are a distinctive local delicacy. Sides are numerous, including French fries, baked beans, coleslaw and other soul food favorites.

4. Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

This popular Korean style of grilling meat continues to gain popularity across America.

When it comes to Korean barbecue, bulgogi (which literally means “fire meat”) is the quintessential dish — thin, marinated slices of beef cooked on a built-in table grill or portable stove. Although it typically uses beef sirloin or tenderloin that’s been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and pepper, other cuts of beef as well as pork and chicken are popular options.

Korean barbecue is a very social occasion, with groups of four to six people usually sharing in the feast, actively grilling the meat as it sizzles to charred perfection and sharing banchan (side dishes) such as kimchi, sliced scallion and rice.

5. Mexican Barbacoa

Lamb barbacoa from Aqui es Texcoco restaurant in Commerce, California

This south-of-the-border barbecue is among the world’s tastiest method for cooking meat.

Our neighbors to the south are well-known for their cravings for carne, but perhaps the most prized of Mexican meats is barbacoa. An indigenous method of slow-cooking a variety of meats, including sheep, goat, cow’s head and whole pig, barbacoa is reserved for weekends and special occasions in Mexico — and for good reason.

While it can be cooked over an open fire, barbacoa is traditionally cooked in a subterranean oven, covered in maguey leaves. Sure, it can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but the juicy, tender meat is worth the wait. While barbacoa varies by region, ranging from beef cheeks in Texas to cochinita pibil in the Yucatan, common companions include warm corn tortillas, guacamole and salsa.

6. Texas BBQ

Smoked meats and sides from Angelo's Bar-B-Que in Fort Worth, Texas

A number of states have staked a claim as home of the best barbecue, but few can compete with the variety of styles that Texas has to offer.

Texas barbecue can basically be broken down into four categories — East Texas, Central Texas, West Texas and South Texas. East Texas-style is similar to Southern barbecue. The beef and pork are slow-cooked over hickory wood and served with a sweet, tomato-based sauce.

Central Texas-style is arguably the most ubiquitous of barbecues. It originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants, who prized quality smoked meats served sliced with sauce. West Texas barbecue traces its roots to cowboy cooking, using mesquite wood and more direct form of heat.

In the South, where the Mexican influence is more prevalent, cow’s head barbacoa reigns supreme. Whatever your preference, Texas BBQ is down-home, finger-lickin’ good.