Barbecue season is winding down, and I hope you’ve had a chance to grill your favorite organic foods: beef, chicken, pork, fish, seafood and vegetables.

Determining who makes the “world’s best” barbecue always starts an argument. Southern barbecue, with its rich tradition of cooking meat slowly over a wood fire, offers a distinctive style and unique flavor. Great pitmen compete in myriad barbecue showdowns in the South, including the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Contest, held annually in Lynchburg, Tennessee. And while the definition of “best barbecue” varies among regions, there are a few standard barbecue traditions that hold true throughout the Southern BBQ belt and beyond.

For one, barbecue in the South usually means pork, but there are a few exceptions. Beef is most often the meat of choice for Texas barbecue, and mutton is used in parts of Kentucky.

Another sticking point for Southern barbecue is the sauce. Most would agree that bathing your barbecue with a perfectly seasoned, balanced sauce makes the difference between ho-hum and sublime. Many sauces contain ingredients like molasses, brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, black pepper, onion, celery, garlic, mustard, cayenne pepper, vegetable oil and salt, with some variations. And while there are some true Southerners who would take issue with any barbecue sauce that’s simply not their own, there are a few bottled sauces that can make your celebration simpler, while still holding true to Southern barbecue traditions.

Yet another longstanding tradition at Southern barbecues are the sides and accompaniments. Some of the most popular dishes to complement a traditional barbecue meal include old standards like cole slaw and baked beans. Modern-day Southern cooks are more willing to welcome a wider array of accompaniments.

So, light the grill and get ready to end the season in Southern barbecue style. Check out last Friday’s recipe for Southern-Style Cole Slaw. Tomorrow, I’ll feature Bacon-Wrapped Barbecued Shrimp, and Friday brings Backyard Brawl Baked Beans.

Suggested Reading

Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys in the Southern Psyche