Texas vs Kansas City vs St. Louis: Your Guide to Regional US BBQ

Jul 7, 2023

regional BBQ styles in the US

When it comes to barbecue, few things ignite passionate debates quite like the rivalry between Texas, Kansas City and St. Louis.

These three regions in the United States have their own distinct styles and flavors that have captivated BBQ enthusiasts for generations. And whether you’re a seasoned pitmaster or a BBQ aficionado curious to explore the best regional offerings, there’s always something to learn when it comes to the top barbecue styles across the nation.

In this guide, discover what sets each of the different styles of barbecue apart—and get ready to explore the sizzling, succulent and oh-so-satisfying world of this rich culinary tradition.


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Top Barbecue Styles in the United States


Texas BBQ: Where Brisket Reigns Supreme

Texas is known for its big, bold flavors and unwavering devotion to beef, especially brisket. But even within Texas, there are regional varieties of barbecue, too.

Central Texas-style barbecue, popularized in places like Austin and Lockhart, focuses on slow-cooked, dry-rubbed meats, with a simple salt and pepper seasoning that allows the quality of the meat to shine.

East Texas BBQ offers saucy and tender meats, often pork ribs and pork shoulder, slow-cooked with a sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce.

South Texas BBQ incorporates Mexican influences, utilizing barbacoa-style cooking and serving meats in tacos or standalone dishes with salsas and Mexican sides. West Texas BBQ, or “cowboy style” BBQ, involves cooking large cuts of beef over direct heat, often on open pits, with basting marinades.

Texas BBQ offers mouthwatering sausages, juicy pork ribs and even smoked turkey and chicken, typically served with little or no sauce (relying on the incredible flavor of the meat itself). Don’t miss out on sides like tangy coleslaw, buttery cornbread and savory pinto beans to complete your Texas BBQ experience.


Kansas City BBQ: A Melting Pot of Flavors

Kansas City is a true haven for barbecue lovers, as it combines elements from various regions—resulting in a unique and diverse barbecue culture.

Kansas City-style barbecue is all about the sauce: a rich, sweet, thick, tomato-based concoction that perfectly complements smoked meats.

Kansas City is also famous for its burnt ends, which are crispy, flavorful chunks of meat cut from the point end of a smoked beef brisket. You’ll also find succulent pork ribs, tender pulled pork and smoked sausages on the menu.


St. Louis BBQ: Ribs with a Tangy Twist

St. Louis BBQ has its own distinct style, characterized by its love for pork ribs and a tangy, slightly sweet sauce.

St. Louis-style ribs are known for being meaty, tender and typically cooked with a dry rub before being slathered in sauce. The sauce in St. Louis is thinner than the thick, tomato-based Kansas City sauce, and it carries a tangy and vinegary kick. The rub usually includes paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and various other spices, giving the ribs a flavorful crust.

Alongside ribs, St. Louis BBQ joints also serve other slow-cooked favorites like pulled pork, smoked chicken and beef brisket. Sides such as baked beans, mac and cheese and potato salad are popular accompaniments that round out the meal.

Regional Barbecue Sauces

When it comes to regional BBQ sauces, Texas, Kansas City and St. Louis each have their own distinct styles that contribute to the rich tapestry of this American cuisine. Let’s delve into the characteristics of these three prominent BBQ sauce styles:

Texas BBQ Sauce

In Texas, BBQ is all about meat, and the sauce often takes a back seat.

Traditional Texas-style BBQ sauce is typically thin and tangy, with a vinegar base that adds a pleasant acidity to the smoky flavors of the meat. It may include ingredients like vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, chili powder and sometimes a touch of sweetness from brown sugar or molasses.

Texas BBQ sauce is commonly served on the side, allowing the meat to shine while providing a tangy kick when desired.

Kansas City BBQ Sauce

Kansas City is renowned for its rich and bold BBQ sauce.

Kansas City-style sauce is thicker and tomato-based—known to be one of the sweeter varieties of the regional sauces. It typically includes ingredients like tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and a blend of spices.

The hallmark of Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is its balanced combination of sweet and tangy flavors, which perfectly complement a variety of smoked and slow-roasted meat, from burnt ends to pork ribs and pulled pork. It is commonly used both as a marinade and as a finishing sauce.

St. Louis BBQ Sauce

St. Louis BBQ sauce is thinner than Kansas City sauce, and it has a tangy and slightly sweet flavor.

The base often consists of ketchup or tomato sauce combined with vinegar, brown sugar, mustard and an array of spices. The resulting sauce offers a balance of tanginess and sweetness, which pairs exceptionally well with St. Louis’ beloved pork ribs.

St. Louis sauce is typically brushed onto the meat during cooking, giving the meat a nice crust and caramelization, and then served as a table sauce to enhance the overall flavor.

Exploring Beyond the Big Three

While Texas, Kansas City and St. Louis represent some of the most prominent barbecue styles in the United States, it’s important to remember that there are countless other regional variations worth exploring.

The Carolinas boast their vinegar-based sauces and whole-hog traditions, while Memphis is renowned for its dry-rubbed ribs. Alabama serves up a unique white barbecue sauce, while Georgia specializes in pit-cooked, chopped pork with a mustard-based sauce.

No matter where you find yourself on your BBQ journey, each region has its own culinary treasures waiting to be discovered.


Hungry for more? From cast iron cookware to grilling accessories and dinnerware, we have everything you need to take your cooking to the great outdoors.

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