The Reason Chicago Is A Barbecue City And New York Isn't - Exclusive

The Netflix documentary series "High on the Hog" focuses on how African-American food traditions have changed and persevered, beginning in the earliest days of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and going up until the present day. Some of the show's second season traces the evolution of Black American cuisine as it followed the paths of the Great Migration in the 20th century, when large numbers of African Americans left the Southeast and settled in other parts of the country. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, the author of the book that the show is based on, talked about how regional migration patterns shaped the culinary culture of different cities.

Per Harris, since Creole people from Louisiana moved to Southern California in large numbers, "You can still get great Creole food in LA — better Creole food in LA than you can get in Mississippi." People from Mississippi, on the other hand, traveled directly north to live in the Midwest. "If you follow those patterns of migration, Chicago is a barbecue town. Barbecue goes straight out of Mississippi. North Carolina sometimes connects with New York, but New York City is not a barbecue city. It may be becoming one, but it's not."

Chicago vs. New York barbecue

Before New Yorkers become irate and start emailing us their favorite barbecue spots, we should acknowledge that there is quite fine barbecue to be had in the city these days, as Dr. Jessica B. Harris also noted. However, NYC's barbecue boom only really started getting underway a little over a decade ago, and much of it has been fueled by a chef-driven new-school approach.

In contrast, Chicago has a documented history of barbecue joints that stretches back to the 1930s, when African Americans from the Mississippi Delta began arriving in the city en masse. Chicago has deep enough barbecue roots that it can even claim a distinct regional barbecue style — rib tips and racks of ribs that are parboiled and then smoked are two of the most popular cuts, and Windy City barbecue tends to be on the saucier side. Meanwhile, New York barbecue needs to be a thing for a few more decades in order to seriously argue that the city has its own unique style and tradition.

"High on the Hog" Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix.