Arizona BBQ has no face.

If you go to Kansas City, guess what? You’re going to get Kansas City-style BBQ – beef, pork or lamb served up with a thick and sweet mustard-based sauce with a side of french fries. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything different.

Heading east to the Carolinas? Prepare for lots of shredded pork and vinegar-based sauces, but the styles are consistent. It’s my least favorite form of BBQ, but it’s arguably the longest standing tradition in American BBQ.

Texas is naturally best known for their beef, no one disputes that (or at least – they shouldn’t). But when it comes down to which region in Texas serves up the best BBQ…well, that argument is as old as the Alamo.

Central Texas hails from meat market-style BBQ, which originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants in the region. Central Texas oak, offset smokers and the low and slow method dominate the region. As a native Texan and German, this is also how things get cooked at my home, just so we are clear on where my bias lies.

West Texas claims their BBQ is “cowboy style” which is the hot and fest method of cooking with mesquite-fueled fires, which is widespread in the area.

East Texas style is essentially the same as the South’s, but without the Baracoa.

Even with these four dominating BBQ styles in Texas, they are consistent across the state. Rarely (if ever) you will cross a Tennessee-style BBQ joint in the middle of Texas, and vice versa. Pitmasters are true to the styles of cooking and the recipes that were born in their state.

Serving up anything different would be cause for tar and feathering.

Arizona BBQ needs an identity

Arizona BBQ, on the other hand, not so much the same. Since Arizona doesn’t have its own unique style of BBQ, you’ll find BBQ styles from every part of the country throughout the state.

Pitmasters and cooks (there is a significant difference – pitmasters earned the term by perfecting the skill of cooking meat over a natural flame, cooks are found in kitchens with ovens) bring their styles from their home state to Arizona, so we are literally the melting pot of BBQ.

A quick Google search in the large Arizona metros will bring up everything from self-proclaimed “best BBQ in Arizona” taglines with styles ranging from Tennessee, Kansas City, Texas, Chicago and the unknown.

Which makes choosing a BBQ restaurant in Arizona challenging for someone who doesn’t know all the nuances between the BBQ varieties found across our nation. This is why you can walk into Tom’s Chicago Style BBQ and love it, but absolutely deplore Little Miss‘ central-Texas style way of doing things (not a likely scenario, but I suppose it could happen).

So, as an Arizona localite and avid BBQ lover, take the time to explore all the Q Arizona has to offer and find what suits your palate.

And pitmasters – let’s find a style to give this state some character and a face. You owe state fortyeight at least that much.

Forks up.

  1. Arizona has a BBQ history all it’s own that has been defined by cowboy, Mexican, Native American and Texas/Southern culture. Carne Asada has it’s roots in Tucson as much as it does in Sonora, Mexico (I know that’s technically grilling and not BBQ but it is part of AZ-Q). I grew up watching my family put all of those influences together and my family has been here for over 100 years now. The problem is it lives in back yards, desert outings and family reunions and not in restaurants. I am slightly better than a novice but am currently trying to hone my skills and come up with definitive Arizona recipes based on what I grew up on. Three things so far that I do that stand out. First, I like to incorporate lamb because not too many folks can claim to be more Arizona than the Navajo and they eat it breakfast lunch and dinner. Second, green chili with anything I can make it work with. Third make it spicy, bring more heat than any other regional cuisine. Most everyone in this state is from some where else and the native culture got lost some place in the mix.

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