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Chasing BBQ: North and South Carolina Meats & Spices

Most Carolinians believe the term barbecue specifically applies to pork, and that beef and other proteins don’t qualify as true barbecue. While they will agree that you can enjoy “barbecued beef” or other meats “barbecued”, this doesn’t qualify as traditional barbecue. In fact, barbecue is taken so seriously in North Carolina that their state government passed legislature to define what barbecue is. So when it comes to barbecue in the Carolinas, it’s all about pit-cooked pork. Don’t try to convince them otherwise!

There is continuous debate between South Carolina and North Carolina barbecue fanatics over who does the better barbecue in the Carolinas. In North Carolina you’ll often find whole hog cooking, whereas in South Carolina they focus on pork shoulders. What they can agree on however, is that no matter where in the Carolinas you travel, you will be greeted with delicious smoked pork.

Spices in Carolina barbecue are simple and straightforward—they help accentuate the natural flavors in pork. While certain flavors like chili powder and mustard can be found in this region, the real flavor of smoked pork is highlighted in Carolina barbecue using salt, pepper, and sugar as the base for almost any rub. When pairing spices with pork, the high level of fat content in pork allows for heavily spiced rubs and seasonings. For the same reason, you’ll find many vinegar based barbecue sauces in the Carolinas— vinegar cuts through the fatty flavor of pork to help balance out the flavors.

North and South Carolina encompass a region of BBQ that you won’t find anywhere else, and sure is hard to replicate. Here is a list of proteins and spices inspired by Carolina leg of Mike’s Chasing BBQ road trip. Give these a try and we know you will have a trip to the Carolinas in your future!

Whole Hog

Whole hog cooking is a style of barbecue unique to the Carolinas—they pride themselves on this unique regional technique. To clear up any misconceptions, whole hog cooking isn’t necessarily the best way to cook pork. Considering that certain muscles of the hog should be cooked to specific temperatures to ensure a tender product, whole hog cooking is cooked to one temperature throughout. The resulting creation lends you to then chop or shred all the meat, slather it with sauce, and mix in some crunchy bits of skin. This will give you a massive serving of chopped or pulled pork, perfect for a large crowd or your next family gathering. Take a look at our recipe for Carolina Whole Hog BBQ for tips on picking your pig, building your hog pit, and cooking it up! If you decided to take the leap and prepare a whole hog, below are our recommended spices for a perfect pig.

  • Cayenne: Cayenne will add a kick of heat to any dish. We suggest working dash to dash; in other words, add a dash and taste then repeat until you have the heat level you desire. Cayenne is a great addition to BBQ rubs, as it will add noticeable heat but won’t overpower.
  • Granulated Onion: Onion is used in numerous BBQ rubs across many different regions and styles. The base flavor of onion helps provide a springboard for other flavors to come through.
  • Garlic Salt: The addition of salt to granulated garlic helps to accentuate the garlic flavor, making it more pronounced on your taste buds. Salt is often referred to as the “policeman” of your taste buds, making sure every flavor is properly represented.
  • Wash Park All-Purpose Seasoning: This great all-purpose blend can be used in numerous applications, both as a sprinkle on seasoning and as a meat or vegetable rub. This is a wonderful blend to use as a base to build your custom barbecue rub.
  • Mild Chili Powder: With a base of chile peppers, garlic, and cumin, the flavors of chili powder provide a base for Tex-Mex flavored BBQ. While you won’t often find BBQ rubs with this flavor profile in the Carolinas, you definitely want to revisit using chili powder in your BBQ rub. Its flavor is unforgettable!

Chopped Pork

When you hear the term chopped pork, you might think, “Isn’t chopped pork just another term for pulled pork?” If you’ve thought this before it’s ok, we’re here to help. The biggest difference between chopped and pulled pork is in how the meat is prepared before it is either plated or put on a sandwich. Pulled pork has the meat “pulled” apart, resulting in long strings of pork meat. Often times pulled pork will come as a result of cooking pork shoulder, or pork butt, on its own.

Chopped pork on the other hand is normally chopped with a large cleaver or butcher’s knife, this gives the pork smaller cuts, perfect for getting ready to be slathered in BBQ sauce! Chopped pork is normally the product of whole hog cooking, as the meat is separated from the hog and then chopped together. In chopped pork you will often find crunchy pieces of skin from the whole hog cooking process, providing exceptional texture and mouthfeel. Try using any of the spices below to ramp up your chopped pork.

  • Crushed Red Pepper: These chiles are about a 3 to 4 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. Red pepper flakes are not made of one type of chile, but from various combinations of ancho, bell, cayenne and more. Crushed red pepper is often referred to as "pizza pepper," despite its ability to be used in numerous applications.
  • Mustard Powder: This pure yellow mustard powder is the ground product of the seeds from a large bush native to Asia. Mustard powder can be used to make a simple mustard by simply mixing 1 cup mustard powder, 3 fluid ounces of water, and 3 fluid ounces of vinegar.
  • Celery Salt: Although a simple blend, celery salt is just as essential in your kitchen as garlic and onion salt. Celery, which is a member of the same family as carrots, parsley and caraway, can overpower a dish so use care when using this blend. Celery salt can be used in place of salt, providing an amped up flavor profile than typical salt.
  • Spiced Honey Ham Rub: Not only is this spiced sugar and honey rub perfect for the festive fall season, it also works wonders when used in BBQ. Possessing a background of sweet and peppery, it pairs expertly with ham and vegetables.
  • Carolina High Country BBQ Rub: Our only Carolina influenced BBQ rub, this blend is modeled after a traditional North Carolina barbecue rub. This blend uses a base of salt, sugar, and paprika with a slight smoky flavor from Ancho chile powder. We’ve created a version that represents its tradition while adding a Savory twist.
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