American Barbecue Styles: A Midwest Guide

Those smoky homemade flavors that you can’t find just anywhere.

Americans love their comfort food, and barbecue is no exception.  In the Midwest, barbecue is one of the most hotly debated food topics. It’s no secret that this classic is an all time favorite. It’ is now a primary dish in many American restaurants due to its perfected culinary technique and smoky homemade flavors.

Americans love their comfort food, and barbecue is no exception.  In the Midwest, barbecue is one of the most hotly debated food topics. It’s no secret that this classic is an all time favorite. It’s now a primary dish in many American restaurants due to its perfected culinary technique and smoky homemade flavors.

This is Mike Wedekings backyard smoker that he uses at Flying Mango. Inside lies the cherry wood that makes those smoky flavors come to life. Photo by Maric Salocker

Many people believe that merely tossing meat on a grill counts as barbecue, but that’s not really the case. The long and seemingly patriotic history of barbecue dates all the way back to the 1800s when it was first introduced as barbacoa in the Caribbean. Barbacoa represents the method that requires meat to be slowly cooked over an indirect flame for an extended period of time.

Barbecue varies by region, but no region does barbecue like the Midwest. The four main styles that people tend to recognize are Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City and Texas style. The three main ingredients that factor in to what kind of style the barbecue will be is the meat, the wood used to cook the meat and the sauce or rub that the meat is covered in. Memphis style meat is pulled-pork, usually covered in a sweeter tomato-based barbecue sauce. North Carolina style is a vinegar-based sauce and Texas style is anything that is mainly large and beefy. Texas is where the beef brisket originated. Kansas city barbecue is the original Midwest barbecue style that prefers that the meat be lathered in a smoky flavorful home-style sauce or seasoned dry rub. Sarah Beverlin of Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City says that their careful attention to detail, as well as their homemade sauces and seasonings, is what keeps people coming back for more.

“We have four core barbecue sauces: KC original, KC Mustard, KC Spicy and KC Hot. It’d be hard to pick a favorite! Our pitmasters are always working on something new to offer our guests. They arrive everyday between 2:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. to manage the pit and tend to 11 different barbecued meats, all infused with that rich, Ozark Hickory Wood flavor,” Beverlin states.

Barbecue’s ability to capture the entire flavor and fusion of hot food trends is essential to its long-time success. There is surely a barbecue dish that will satisfy anyone’s cravings. For example, if someone is craving an old school dish that is made with Caribbean side dishes right here in the heart of the Midwest, they should look no further than Flying Mango. Mike Wedeking, owner of Flying Mango in Des Moines knows that whatever is made in the restaurant, making it with love is the most important thing.

“Our barbecue is real deal ‘old school.’ We only use real cherry wood, no thermostat or timer set. We cook low and slow all day long. We pay close attention to the meat on the homemade smoker,” Wedeking says.

Wedeking’s passion for barbecue and other traditional Caribbean flavors stems from his travel addiction and love for homestyle dishes.

“I come from a family where we knew what day of the week it was because of what we were having for dinner that night,” Wedeking mentions.

Although it’s not a part of the big four styles, another staple in midwest barbecue is St. Louis style, known for their pork-steak. John Matthews of Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis says that St. Louis barbecue is quite unique in relation to other styles of Midwest barbecue.

“Our barbecue is real deal “old school.” We only use real cherry wood, no thermostat, or timer set. We cook low and slow all day long. We pay close attention to the meat on the homemade smoker.”

Mike Wedeking: Flying Mango in Des Moines, Iowa

“St. Louis barbecue is notably pork steaks served wet with a maull’s barbecue sauce. Pork steaks are specifically the shoulder of the pig. Everything is homestyle, extra sweet and slightly acidic,” Matthews states.

Barbecue is more than just a style or a meal, it’s a tradition in many families, and especially in the Midwest it’s about much more than just the barbecue. Midwestern hospitality is no joke, and it can really give southern hospitality a run for its money. Wedeking says that he has learned that it’s a very important factor to the customer’s overall experience.

“Flying Mango is a warm and friendly environment, and we have plenty of regulars that come in every week because of it. A lot of them are like family to us. We pride ourselves on making everyone feel special and everyone is truly special to us,” Wedeking says with a smile.

Friendly service seems to be just as important as the actual food that is being served at the restaurant. Matthews of Pappy’s Smokehouse and Beverlin of Jack Stacks agree.

“We have embraced a philosophy of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. We call it ‘enlightened hospitality.’ We do whatever it takes to have our customer leave happy and impressed, and so far it seems to have worked,” Matthews chuckles.

Sizzling on the pan is Flying Mango’s signature barbecue dish. Photo by Maric Salocker

Sauces and seasoning are important when it comes to barbecue, but so is tradition and gratitude.

“Over the years, we’ve come to understand that it’s not just great tasting barbecue people crave, it’s the experience. That’s what we work to deliver every day, and we’re proud to become a part of people’s stories,” Beverlin adds.

Whether it be Kansas City, St. Louis, or even Des Moines style barbecue, the Midwest is a prime region for some of the best American barbecue anyone can get their hands on. Service with a smile is not taken lightly around here either. If a true American classic is what the family is in the mood for, be sure to check out some of these well-known Midwest staples.

Many people believe that merely tossing meat on a grill is how barbecue is made, but that’ is not the case. The long and seemingly patriotic history of barbecue dates all the way back to the 1800’s where it was first introduced as barbacoa in native Spanish lands, specifically the Caribbean. Barbacoa stands for the cooking method that requires meat to be slowly cooked over an indirect flame for an extended period of time.

Barbecue varies by region, but no region does barbecue like the Midwest. The four main styles that people tend to recognize are Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City and last but not least, Texas style. The three main ingredients that factor in to what kind of style the barbecue will be is the meat, the wood used to cook the meat and the sauce or rub that the meat is covered in. Memphis style meat is pulled-pork, usually covered in a sweeter tomato-based barbecue sauce. North Carolina style is a vinegar-based meat and Texas style is anything that is large and beefy. Everything is bigger in Texas, and their meat is no different. Texas is where the beef brisket originated. The solid basis for Midwest barbecue originates as Kansas City style. Kansas city style prefers that the meat be lathered in home-style sauce or seasoned dry rub. Sarah Beverlin of Jack Stack’s in Kansas City says that their careful attention to detail, as well as their homemade sauces and seasonings is what keeps people coming back for more.

“We have four core barbecue sauces, KC original, KC Mustard, KC Spicy and KC Hot; it’d be hard to pick a favorite! Our pitmasters are always working on something new to offer our guests. They arrive everyday between 2:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. to manage the pit and tend to 11 different barbecued meats, all infused with that rich, Ozark Hickory Wood flavor,” Beverlin states.

Barbecue’s ability to capture the entire flavor and fusion of hot food trends is essential to its long-time success. There is surely a barbecue dish that will satisfy anyone’s cravings. For example, if someone is craving an old school dish that is made with Caribbean side dishes right here in the heart of the Midwest, they should look no further than Flying Mango. Mike Wedeking, owner of Flying Mango in Des Moines knows that whatever you make, making it with love is the most important thing.

“Our barbecue is real deal “old school.” We only use real cherry wood, no thermostat, or timer set. We cook low and slow all day long. We pay close attention to the meat on the homemade smoker,” Wedeking says.

Wedeking’s passion for barbecue and other traditional Caribbean flavors stems from his travel addiction and love for homestyle dishes that started when he was much younger.

“I come from a family where we knew what day of the week it was because of the what we were having for dinner that night,” Wedeking mentions.

Although it’t is not a part of the big four styles, another staple in midwest barbecue is St. Louis style. St. Louis is known for their pork-steak. John Matthews of Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis says that St. Louis barbecue is quite unique in relation to other styles of Midwest barbecue.

Sliced and prepared, the dry rubbed and seasoned barbecue is ready to be plated. Photo by Maric Salocker

“St. Louis barbecue is notably pork steaks served wet with a maull’s barbecue sauce. Pork steaks are specifically the shoulder of the pig. Everything is homestyle, extra sweet and slightly acidic,” Matthews states.

Barbecue is more than just a style or a meal, it’ is a tradition in many families, and especially in the Midwest. It’ is about much more than just the barbecue. Midwestern hospitality is no joke, and it can really give southern hospitality a run for its money. Wedeking says that he has learned that it’t is a very important factor to the customer’s overall experience.

“Flying Mango is a warm and friendly environment, and we have plenty of regulars that come in every week because of it. A lot of them are like family to us. We pride ourselves on making everyone feel special and everyone is truly special to us,” Wedeking says with a smile.

Friendly service seems to be just as important as the actual food that is being served at the restaurant. Matthews of Pappy’s Smokehouse and Beverlin of Jack Stacks agrees.

“We have embraced a philosophy of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. We call it “enlightened hospitality.” We do whatever it takes to have our customer leave happy and impressed, and so far it seems to have worked,” Matthews chuckles.

Sauces and seasoning is important when it comes to barbecue, but so is tradition and gratitude.

“Over the years, we’ve come to understand that it’s not just great tasting barbecue people crave, it’s the experience. That’s what we work to deliver every day, and we’re proud to become a part of people’s stories,” Beverlin adds.

Whether it be Kansas City, St. Louis, or even Des Moines style barbecue, the Midwest is a prime region for some of the best American barbecue anyone can get their hands on. Service with a smile is not taken lightly around here either. If a true American classic is what you’re in the mood for, be sure to check out some of these well-known Midwest staples.

Video by Maric Salocker

Photos and video By: Maric Salocker

Jordin Wilson
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