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Cooking with Fire: Carolina Barbecue

While the Carolinas are divided by statehood into North and South, they are even further divided when it comes to barbecue.


The five separate regions of Carolina barbecue are united in the definition of barbecue--ask anyone from the area and they will tell you that barbecue is pork, and only pork. But ask them about the cut of the pig or the sauce they use, and you’ll be able to narrow down the state and region in which they live with astonishing accuracy.


The five regions are sorted into styles--the Lexington and eastern styles of North Carolina, and the western, midland, and coastal styles of South Carolina.


These five regions create a tangled web of barbecue traditions and folklore that goes back hundreds of years, and each of them believe their style of barbecue is superior to anyone else’s.


For example, in the eastern region of North Carolina they cook a whole hog and use a simple sauce made of vinegar and pepper, yet in the Lexington region they use the pork shoulder and add tomato to this sauce. South Carolina gets even more complicated with whole hog, pork shoulder, pork ribs and more thrown into the mix with variations of tomato, vinegar and mustard based sauces used to flavor the meat.


What’s even more remarkable are the adamant defenses of these variations by residents of each region, usually without the complication of actually tasting the barbecue from other regions.


In this endless battle of Carolina barbecue, the true winners are those from outside these five regions who can taste--and enjoy--without prejudice.

On this week’s Cooking with Fire podcast, Chef Tom and Josh cover the history of Carolina barbecue, as well as give you the secrets to creating perfect pulled pork at home.

Carolina Pork Shoulder

1 whole pork shoulder

For the rub:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp cayenne

 For Lexington Style Sauce:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

 For Carolina Mustard Sauce:

  • 1 yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  1. Preheat your smoker to 250ºF, set up for smoking. Trim the skin and fat cap from the Boston Butt end of the shoulder. Trim any excess tissue and fat from the surface of the shoulder. Score the skin on the Picnic end of the shoulder, to allow the rub to penetrate the skin.
  2. Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl and whisk to distribute evenly. Season all surfaces (meat and skin) of the shoulder with the rub. Smoke until the surface of the meat is a dark red mahogany color, about 4 hours. 
  3. Remove the shoulder from the cooker. Wrap tightly with foil. Return to the smoker and continue cooking until the meat is tender enough to pull, and the shank and blade bone can easily be pulled out of the roast, about 6 hours longer. The internal temperature will be around 195ºF. Rest the shoulder for 30 minutes before pulling the meat.
  4. To make either of the sauces, combine the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Josh Cary may be the eCommerce Director at All Things Barbecue during the day, but at night he takes on the mantle of an award-winning Pitmaster, who has cooked on the competition barbecue circuit under various team names including ATBBQ, Yoder Smokers and the Que Tang Clan.
All Things Barbecue Staff Chef Tom Jackson is a Kansas native, born and raised in Wichita. In 2008 he and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon, where he attended Oregon Culinary Institute. Tom studied both general culinary skills as well as baking and pastry while working as a cook in a variety of restaurants. After graduating from Oregon Culinary Institute he began working as a bread baker and pastry chef at the renowned Ken’s Artisan Bakery in northwest Portland. He spent more than four years honing his skills under James Beard Award winning chef and owner Ken Forkish. In that time he and his wife had their first child, and the draw of home and family grew stronger. Longtime friends of the Cary family, owners of All Things Barbecue, they returned to Kansas to help All Things Barbecue continue to excel in their cooking classes. Tom has been further developing and building cooking classes and private events at All Things Barbecue since March 2014.