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Image: Chad Spencer

What makes American cuisine so fascinating? There’s never just one right way. Our collision of immigrants from all over the world, our mix of races, ethnicities and religions, and our diverse flora and fauna have led to a wild tapestry of regional dishes.

Take barbecue. The process of slow-smoking large hunks of meat binds together the entire country, but depending on where you are, you’ll find regional tweaks that zealous locals will defend to their graves. The cut you like, your rub, your smoker, the wood you use, the sauce you serve—even slight differences can lead to fisticuffs among meat cognoscenti.

Sarasota’s newest barbecue restaurant, Brick’s Smoked Meats, takes the Texas route, with an emphasis on beef rather than pork. That reflects the Lone Star State’s robust cattle industry, as does pitmaster Mark Gabrick’s focus on simple recipes and exacting preparation. “Let the beef taste like beef,” he says.

Pulling that off is harder than you’d think.

Gabrick uses just salt and pepper for his dry rub and allows his prime grade brisket to sit for 12 hours before going into a smoker fired with 100 percent oak. From there, it’s a waiting game, a test of Gabrick’s patience and his third-eye sense of exactly when the meat is ready.

For a taste of the western Carolinas, visit Nancy’s Bar-B-Q, which focuses on what’s called “Lexington style barbecue.” Chef and owner Nancy Krohngold serves both beef and pork, but, as you’ll find in North Carolina, the concentration is on the latter. Her flavor philosophy is simple.

“It should have some salt, some heat and some sweet,” she says. The dry rub for her pork butts includes salt, three types of pepper, two types of sugar, dry mustard and cinnamon. Krohngold’s sauce is tomato-based, another hallmark of western Carolina barbecue.

For an idea of what the eastern half of North Carolina is cranking out, visit Ellenton’s Hickory Hollow, which serves hickory-smoked pork along with a vinegary sauce. It’s so good it landed the Hollow a place on a Best American Barbecue list some years back.

Which is best? That’s up to you. This is America, after all. The land of the free.

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