If you live in North Carolina, chances are pretty good that you’ve attended a barbecue, pig-pickin’ or some other get-together and faced the inevitable inquisition: “What kind of barbecue do you like?” There are, of course, only two possible answers: Eastern Style and Western/Lexington Style. Your preference must be justified, your reasoning valid, and your understanding of the two styles thorough.
But whatever you do, don’t say, “I don’t really have a preference.” Them’s fightin’ words.
Pigs were first introduced to the South in the late 1500’s, but the idea of pulled pork didn’t come around until much later. In NC, the town of Ayden became home to a covered wagon that sold pork barbecue in 1830, and the rest is pretty much history. Make sure to check out Bob Garner’s Guide to North Carolina barbecue for more facts and stories about how NC BBQ came to be.
Eastern and Western (also known as Lexington or Piedmont Style) barbecue are two completely different approaches to cooking and eating pork, one of the cottage industries of the state. Characterized by its prominent vinegar base and peppery bite, eastern style barbecue is often lighter, spicy, and served with a plate of mayonnaise based cole slaw. Take eastern barbecue and add in a little bit of ketchup, change up the slaw, and we have the glorious Lexington alternative we all know and love. I may be a bit biased, but I’ve always leaned west.
To the uninitiated, the basic differences between the two isn’t just enough to measure for health. After all, we do care about nutrition.
|Lexington Style Barbecue: (serves 16-18)
|Eastern Style Barbecue: (serves 16-18)
Now keep in mind, both ingredient lists are taken from a common online recipe guide and are the more basic, traditional lists available. We all probably know a certain grandmother with a secret recipe, or an uncle down the street with his own special concoction of spices that a family – or entire town – lives by. Personally, I know my family has a few secret ingredients that make our Lexington-style barbecue stand out. These little changes could result in more sugar, more fat, or any number of “secret” sauce additions. (In my family that’s half a can of Dr. Pepper, and half a can of Coke. But shhh, keep it a secret. Sorry, Mom.)
By the batch, we can see that Lexington style barbecue requires a bit more attention. Included are more flavorings, but with that comes more fat and sodium. Lexington style barbecue features butter, ketchup, and a good amount of brown sugar – far more than that of its eastern style counterpart.
One thing to note that isn’t included on this list of ingredients is the actual meat that’s used in creating the barbecue. Down east, the whole pig is used (“every part of the pig except the squeal”); white meat and dark meat. Lexington style features only the pork shoulder which is 100% dark meat- it’s rich, moist, and contains more fat than eastern style barbecue. That ramps up both the flavor and the calories — dark meat contains roughly 13% more calories from fat than white meat (66 calories per ounce vs 75 calories per ounce). If a plain pulled pork serving of 3oz is 198 calories, the same portion with dark meat would be 225 calories.
Sadly, that tips the scales in the favor of Eastern BBQ considerably.
If you’re planning the type of barbecue you eat around your health, then we recommend eastern style barbecue. The lighter sauce mix and the addition of white meat is better for your overall heart and cholesterol health.
But, if you’re planning around preferences, then go with what you know. If you love Lexington BBQ as much as I do, take the “less is more” route. Stock up on veggies along with that BBQ, and ditch the starchy bread. And maybe plan for a brisk walk after.