A barbecue sandwich is a sandwich that is typically prepared with barbecued meats. Several types of meats are used to prepare barbecue sandwiches. Some varieties use cooked meats that are not barbecued, but include barbecue sauce. Many variations, including regional variations, exist, along with diverse types of cooking styles, preparations and ingredients.
A plethora of meats and preparation styles for barbecue sandwiches exist. Meats may be sliced, chopped or pulled, and various types are used, such as pork, pulled pork, pork shoulder, beef, beef brisket, chicken, sausage, pork ribs and turkey. Some versions use slow-smoked meats. Barbecue sandwiches typically have barbecue sauce included in their preparation, either when the meat is cooked, as a sauce within a sandwich, or both. Some meats may be seasoned with a spice rub. Some barbecue sandwiches may use cooked meats that are not barbecued, but include a barbecue sauce. Coleslaw is sometimes served with barbecue sandwiches, either on the sandwich itself or as a side dish. Sometimes sautéed vegetables such as onion and garlic are also used. Some versions prepared with beef brisket include both lean and fatty portions from the cut of beef to enhance their flavor. Pre-packaged barbecue sandwiches are also manufactured.
Breads used in the preparation of barbecue sandwiches include white bread, hamburger buns, whole wheat bread and even rye bread. The bread can help to prevent the meat from drying and to retain its temperature.
In downstate Illinois and northeastern Pennsylvania, a barbecue sandwich generally refers to ground beef cooked in barbecue sauce, served on a hamburger bun, known in other parts of the country as a Sloppy Joe.
In northeastern Pennsylvania, the sandwich is often served at pizza places.
Chopped pork barbecue sandwiches with coleslaw served on the sandwich are common in North Carolina. The term "barbecue" in North Carolina commonly refers specifically to barbecued, chopped pork, whereas other barbecued foods are often referred to by their actual food name.
Chopped pork shoulder barbecue sandwiches served with coleslaw atop them are common in Memphis, Tennessee. For example, Leonard Heuberger, who in 1922 founded a barbecue restaurant in Memphis named Leonard's, has been reputed there as being the inventor of the "classic Memphis pork barbecue sandwich". This sandwich was prepared on a bun with chopped or pulled pork shoulder meat, a tomato-based sauce, and coleslaw. In the book Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History, it is stated that other restaurants "followed suit" regarding this sandwich style, and that "...the standard has not changed in more than 60 years." At the Memphis restaurant chain Tops, pork shoulder sandwiches are described in this book as a "mainstay" that have existed as such since 1952, when the first Tops restaurant opened.
Barbecue in East Texas is often chopped beef or pork and is typically served on a bun. Griffin Smith, Jr. of the magazine Texas Monthly described East Texas barbecue as "...basically a sandwich product heavy on hot sauce."