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Your Guide to Regional Barbecue Sauces

Your Guide to Regional Barbecue Sauces


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As summer grilling season heats up, so does the demand for barbecue sauce.

But while there are literally thousands of options available today — from mass-market mega-brands to small-batch, independent labels — barbecue sauce in its simplest form can be boiled down to seven regional flavor profiles.

In an effort to educate The Daily Meal readers on these regional sauces, the culinary team at Chef Works, the leading manufacturer and supplier of culinary apparel for chefs and home cooks alike, has created the following Guide to Regional Barbecue Sauces.

REGIONAL BARBECUE SAUCES DEFINED

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
This is probably the most widely known version of barbeque sauce, with its thick consistency and sweet, slightly tangy flavor profile. While the ingredient list for Kansas City barbecue sauce can exceed 15 different components, it always starts with a tomato or ketchup base and either a brown sugar or molasses sweetener.

Why so is it ubiquitous? Probably because it goes with everything. It is so popular, in fact, that when you see “BBQ flavored” chips or snacks, they’re likely inspired by this type of sauce. Because of its high sugar content, it’s best used after cooking meat, as it can burn easily over high grilling heat.

South Carolina Mustard Sauce


Arguably the most “love it or leave it” style of regional barbecue sauce, South Carolina’s mustard-based version most likely originated during a large immigration of German families to the area in the 1700s. Like many other immigrants, they brought a taste of home with them, but had to adapt to the local cuisine and ingredients. In this case, the mustard they used in many German dishes evolved into a different type of use. Combined with slow-cooked meat, it adds a wonderfully tangy contrast.

West Carolina Vinegar Sauce
Unlike its Southern counterpart, West Carolina barbecue sauce (also known as Piedmont sauce or Lexington sauce) contains no mustard and is the thinnest of all of the regional sauces. A perfect complement to pulled pork or whole hog, this sauce is recognizable by its strong vinegar twang and by the touch of heat provided by chile flakes and cracked black pepper.

St. Louis Barbecue Sauce
You could consider the St. Louis-style barbecue sauce to be a cousin to the Kansas City-style version. Like Kansas City style, it is tomato based, and it has a variety of unique ingredients. The texture is thinner than the Kansas City style, meaning more can be added while the meat cooks.


Known as a mop sauce since it is often applied with a mop to smoked meats as they cook, Texas barbeque sauce is thinner in texture than some other barbecue sauces, but it’s hearty in flavor, with ingredients such as chile powder, pepper, hot sauce, cumin, and sometimes even meat drippings. The thin texture allows this style of sauce to soak into the meat as it cooks, giving it a rich, full flavor that goes beyond the surface.

Memphis Barbecue Sauce
Here is a sauce that has evolved over the years. Traditionally, in Memphis, the emphasis was less on the sauce and more on the meat, so early versions will be as simple as a mixture of vinegar and pepper. Throughout the years, though, recipes have evolved, and today, you’ll often find that a Memphis-style sauce contains tomato and/or brown sugar as well. It retains its identity by maintaining the bite of vinegar, and remains thinner in texture than the Kansas City version.

Alabama Barbecue Sauce
If you go to Alabama, you’ll notice something different about the sauce before you even taste it: the color. In Alabama, barbecue sauce is white. The creation of Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, it’s a mayonnaise-based sauce that’s used to marinate and baste meat, and you’ll also see it as a condiment at the table. Alabama seems to be the only place where this white sauce is the rule rather than an exception, and so it’s often referred to as “Alabama barbecue sauce” or “Alabama white sauce.”


Virginia Barbecue Is the Regional Style You&rsquore Overlooking

Barbecue takes many forms. Texas favors brisket and shuns sauces, Memphis slathers pulled pork in a tomato- and vinegar-based emulsion, western North Carolina serves pork shoulder with a sidecar of sauce. Yet all barbecue, regardless of sauce or meat or smoking wood employed, disseminated from Virginia.

&ldquoVirginia, being the birthplace of colonial America, became a model for southern and western settlements, because Virginians worked out how to survive in the New World,&rdquo says Joe Haynes, barbecue authority and author of Virginia Barbecue: A History and the upcoming Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition (publishing this October). &ldquoAs these Virginians moved, out west and to the south, they took traditions with them &mdash cornbread, hoecakes, stews, barbecue &mdash and modified them based on what was available in their new home. That&rsquos how Southern barbecue developed, and how each place has its own way of putting a twist on it.&rdquo In his first book, Haynes traces the history of barbecue back to the early 1600s, to the fusion of the mother sauce &mdash a mix of vinegar, salt and red pepper &mdash with the Powhatan tradition of roasting meat on a wooden grill.

Yet while Virginia is the birthplace of barbecue, it&rsquos not defined by a singular style. As in other states, regional styles arose in accordance with local ingredients. The Southside of Virginia &mdash near Jamestown, extending as far west as Petersburg and as far north as Richmond &mdash specializes in a tomato- and vinegar-based sauce with a hint of mustard, richer and less tangy than the sauces in neighboring North Carolina.

Farther north, into Central Virginia, sauces grow sweeter and more tomato-driven, with a mixture of spices like cloves, ginger and cinnamon. &ldquoWhere the regional styles came from, and how they got to us today, [was guided by] what was successful and readily available,&rdquo Haynes says. &ldquoOther barbecue cooks would try to emulate what successful vendors were doing,&rdquo and regional styles took root from there. Oak or hickory wood are traditionally used to impart flavor smoking pork is most common, though beef &mdash ribs, chuck and sirloin &mdash is also embedded in the canon of Virginia barbecue.

There are, however, outliers. In the Shenandoah Valley, barbecue chicken &mdash spatchcocked, rubbed with spices and glazed with an oil- and vinegar-based dressing &mdash reigns. Barbecue sauces in Northern Virginia are often infused with fruit, making them sweeter. A now-defunct restaurant in Chesterfield, just outside of Richmond, pioneered a red sauce with a touch of peanut butter that was glazed on pork ribs. &ldquoYou can&rsquot recognize it as peanut butter, but it really, really highlights that pork flavor, like a strong background,&rdquo Haynes says.

Below, find four regional sauces that define the Virginia barbecue &mdash both forebears of broader Southern barbecuing practice, and innovations pushing the tradition forward today.

The Sauces

Southside Barbecue Sauce

The Meat: beef, pork, chicken
The Beer: Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup hot sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard

Preparation:

1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a blender. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 24&ndash48 hours before serving.

Shenandoah Valley Sauce

The Meat: chicken
The Beer: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup neutral cooking oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lemon, juiced

Preparation:

1. Mix all ingredients well. Store in an airtight container overnight. Warm and shake well before using.

How to Make Shenandoah Valley-Style Barbecue Chicken

1. Make the base dressing for the dry rub by mixing 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil.

2. Make the dry rub by mixing 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning, 1 teaspoon mild paprika, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon light brown sugar, 1 packet of True Lemon crystallized lemon, red pepper flakes (to taste).

3. Butterfly a whole roasting chicken by removing the backbone. Put the chicken skin-side up and press down on the breastbone until it lies flat. Flip the chicken over and apply some of the dressing (step 1), followed by some of the rub (step 2).

4. Flip the chicken over so that it is skin-side up. Apply the barbecue rub directly to the meat under the skin over the breast, drumstick (or long legs, in Virginia) and thighs (or short legs).

5. Coat the outside of the skin with the remaining dressing and rub. Place the chicken in a Ziploc bag or wrap it in plastic wrap, and store in a container to catch any liquid that might leak.

6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

7. To cook the chicken, prepare a smoker for indirect heat at a temperature between 275&ndash300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chicken skin-side up and cook until the breast, wings and legs reach an internal temperature of 165&ndash170 degrees Fahrenheit and juices run clear.

8. Drizzle with Shenandoah Valley-style sauce before serving, and keep remaining sauce within easy reach when eating.

Chesterfield-Style Goober Sauce

The Meat: pork ribs
The Beer: Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA

1 cup tomato juice
1&ndash1 1/2 cups brown sugar, adjusted to taste
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 level teaspoon creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper (to taste)

Preparation:

1. Add all ingredients except tomato juice to a saucepan. Heat, without bringing to a simmer, until peanut butter and sugar have melted, stirring as needed.

2. Remove from heat, whisk in tomato juice and let cool. Allow sauce to rest overnight before serving.

3. Brush onto ribs to serve.

Northern Virginia Barbecue Sauce

The Meat: chicken, pork, beef
The Beer: Devils Backbone Black Lager

1 1/2 cups tomato ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preparation:

1. Add all ingredients except lemon juice to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

2. Once simmering, remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and let cool.


A Comprehensive Guide to Barbecue Sauce Across the Country

“Barbecue sauce” is a blanket term that doesn’t necessarily do justice to all the regional styles of BBQ sauce across the country. Let’s take a look at the differences among them, from the obvious (white BBQ sauce) to the more subtle (Kansas City style vs Memphis BBQ sauce).

Summer is just around the corner, which means there’s plenty of time to perfect your grill game. Or better your barbecue, if you prefer. You ever think about the word “barbecue?” It’s a crazy word because it has so many applications. It refers to a cooking process, the implement used to cook, a meal, a gathering, and a condiment. Holy smokes! Maybe it would just be easier to talk about what barbecue isn’t. Anyway, I’m going to be narrowing down the subject of this piece to the condiment variation of barbecue—barbecue sauce.

You know that scene in “Wedding Crashers” where Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) talks about his love for maple syrup? When it comes to condiments, I feel about barbecue sauce the way Jeremy feels about syrup. You can pretty much put it on anything—sandwiches, salads, even pizza (hello, barbecue chicken pizza)!

Not the Same Thing! What Is the Difference Between Barbecuing and Grilling? There’s probably no better item to put barbecue sauce on than authentic, slow-cooked barbecue. That being said, grilled meat is a close second. As an aside, barbecued meat is not the same as grilled meat. Barbecued meat is cooked over indirect heat over the course of several hours. Grilled meat, on the other hand, is cooked over direct heat for a matter of minutes. Nevertheless, whether it’s the smoky flavor of the ‘cue or the flame-kissed flavor of the grilled variety, barbecue sauce pairs perfectly with both.

Like the method, and the varied meat types and preparations, the condiment has regional influence. That’s why some barbecue sauces are thick, whereas others are watery why some sauce is red, while others are more yellow or why some are sweet, and others are spicy. This is another reason why barbecue sauce is so wonderful—its diversity. With all due respect to Heinz and Hunt’s, ketchup is, well, ketchup. Not so with barbecue sauce! As a result, you can have a completely different gastronomic experience, sometimes within the same meal, simply by using a different regional sauce.

In advance of last year’s 4th of July holiday, Google mapped out the most popular BBQ sauce searches by state:

There were a lot of low-carb, no sugar, and keto BBQ sauce searches, but there were also some region-specific queries (including Korean BBQ). Of the traditional American barbecue sauce styles, white barbecue sauce and Carolina barbecue sauce had the best showing—but they’re all worth knowing, and making at home.

Outset Sop Mop, $13.06 from Amazon

Whichever sauce you go with, a heat-resistant silicone brush makes it easy to apply (without the risk of leaving bristles behind).

As we ease into summer and prime cook-out season, I’d suggest kicking your meal up a notch by including a few types of sauce to maximize everyone’s enjoyment. And if you really want to impress, try making your own. Here are several regionally inspired ideas:


Tomato-Based Barbecue Sauces

By far the most common type of barbecue sauce is the tomato-based sauce. And although there are exceptions, the tomato in these sauces is almost always in the form of ketchup. To this ketchup base are added other ingredients, and it's these, along with the overall consistency (i.e. thickness) of the final sauce, that distinguishes them.

For instance, easily the most popular barbecue sauce, and the type most people would recognize as the quintessential barbecue sauce, is Kansas City barbecue sauce. Sweet and tangy, this thick, almost syrupy sauce features ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, as well as cayenne pepper and various other spices like onion powder, garlic powder and the like.

Like Kansas City barbecue, which utilizes every meat from beef and pork to lamb and chicken, KC-style sauce will go on pretty much anything your barbecue or smoker can turn out.

St. Louis, Texas and Memphis barbecue sauces tend to follow this theme, although Texas and St. Louis leave out the molasses, making their sauces thinner and less sweet.


The Nine Styles of American Barbecue Sauce

1) Kansas City Sweet Sauce. By far the most popular style of barbecue sauce, this is the classic rich, sweet-tart, tomato-based sauce often sweetened with molasses or brown sugar and balanced with the tartness of vinegar. Many have liquid smoke to help get that outdoor flavor for folks who cannot cook outdoors. But beware: Most commercial sauces labeled Kansas City sauce are waaaaaay too sweet. If you pick up a bottle in the grocery labeled Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce", and sugar or high fructose corn syrup are the first ingredients on the label, put it down. KC sauces don't penetrate the meat well, and sit on top like frosting. But they caramelize beautifully over a hot fire making a crisp coat. They also burn easily, so coat your meat no sooner than 10 minutes before serving. Try my Kansas City Classic Sauce.

2) South Carolina Mustard Sauce. In South Carolina barbecue is not chicken, burgers, hot doges, ore even ribs. Barbecue is pork, often whole hog, cooked low and slow, and chopped or pulled into succulent shards, and crowned with sauce. Nowhere are there more regional sauces than South Carolina. In the eastern part of the state, on the North Carolina border, there is a sauce that is mostly vinegar, cayenne pepper, and black pepper that is similar to the East Carolina mop-sauce (below). There is a variant laced with tomato sauce popular in the northern Hill Country similar to the Lexington and Hill Country sauce from North Carolina. And there is a ketchup based sauce similar to Kansas City sauce. But the most distinctive, and by far my fave, is the mustard based sauce. Mustard and pork go together like peanut butter and jelly. Early German immigrants in South Carolina knew this. The classic SC mustard sauces found in barbecue joints from Columbia to Charleston are mostly runny yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Simple but very effective. The names of many of the best barbecue joints that serve mustard sauce have German names: Shealy, Sweatman, Meyer, and Zeigler. They are especially good on pulled pork. I offer two versions, South Carolina Mustard Sauce is the classic while my personal riff on the theme, Grownup Mustard Sauce, is a more complex, herbal variation on the theme.

3) East Carolina Mop-Sauce. As in South Carolina, North Carolina barbecue is either chopped or pulled pork. Nothing else. And the whole hog is committed. On the coast of North and South Carolina, a.k.a. "East Carolina" or the "Low Country", the philosophy is: "Keep the mustard for your hot dogs and the ketchup for your fries." The African slaves of the Scottish settlers in the region pioneered American barbecue and their simple sauces were plain a kiss of hot pepper flakes and ground black pepper in vinegar. And so they remain today where the sauce is used both as a mop, or baste, on the meat while it is cooking, and then as a finishing sauce at tableside. Thin and piquant, they are designed to penetrate the meat, not just sit on top as thicker ketchup and mustard sauces do. They do a great job of cutting the fat in lipid-laced pork. There is little or no sugar in the mix, so your kids will hate it. Try my East Carolina Kiss & Vinegar on just a bit of your chopped pork before your pour it over the whole sandwich, and if you don't like it, send the leftovers to me.

4) Lexington Dip (a.k.a. Western Carolina or Piedmont Dip). In Lexington and in the "Piedmont" hilly areas of western North Carolina they prefer to make their barbecue from the pig's shoulder, a rich flavorful clod of meat. In North Carolina, otherwise kindly old men have been moved to fisticuffs over the question of whether barbecue is properly made from whole hog or shoulder. In Lexington and the west, they often call their mop-sauce "dip". It is vinegar and pepper based, a lot like the East Carolina mop-sauce, but laced with a hint of tomato sauce or ketchup. The red stuff helps tame the fierceness of the vinegar a bit, and the hint of sweetness counterbalances the acidity. I prefer Lexington Dip slightly to the East Carolina style.

5) Texas Mop-Sauce. In Texas they barbecue pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, chicken, mutton, goat, and sausage they call "hot guts", but the star of the Lone Star State is beef brisket, an impossibly tough cut from the chest area that is magically converted to buttah-like tenderness with 12-18 hours of low and slow smoke roasting. There are three important culinary influences on Texas barbecue: (1) European immigrants who brought expertise in smoking meats, especially Germans, Czechs, and Hungarians (2) freed slaves from the Southeast, and (3) Mexicans (Texas was, after all, a part of Mexico, and its cuisine leans heavily on Spanish, Mayan, and Aztec cultures). Most Texas sauces are fashioned to complement beef brisket first and they are not very sweet. Some traditional Texas pitmasters use their sauce as both a mop to cool and moisten the meat during direct cooking, and as an optional finishing sauce. Most common are thin, tart mops that are flavored with vinegar, chili powder or ancho powder, lots of black pepper, cumin, hot sauce, fresh onion, and only a touch of ketchup. Some of the best sauces have beef drippings, and therefore cannot be bottled. The stuff served in the traditional old restaurants is vastly different than the stuff sold in bottle. In hallowed joints like Cooper's, in Llano, the great Texas Mop-Sauce often resembles a thin tomato soup with a beef stock base. They penetrate the meat easily rather than sit on top. I prefer them on brisket, not pork. In this picture, the bottled sauce sold at Cooper's is poured into a large pot and is kept warm on the holding pit. Trimmings are tossed in the pot, and when you order, if you ask for sauce, the meat is dipped in the pot. It tastes a lot different than the bottled sauce served on the tables. Before the meat is cooked, it is seasoned with a Texas dry rub, formulated for brisket with little or no sugar, lots of black pepper, and so they are very different from Memphis and most other rubs.

6) Tennessee Whiskey Sauce. The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue is considered by many to be the most prestigious competition in the world. As do many competitions, they have a sauce category, but theirs has a twist: Jack Daniels whiskey must be in the blend. Well, just as they planned it, whiskey-laced sauces have spread across the nation. There are so many that I think it must be considered a legitimate category of barbecue sauce. My recipe for Tennessee Hollerin' Whiskey Sauce is named after the hollow, a lowland by the creek in which it was invented, this rich sauce has a kick, and when you taste it you'll bend over and holler "Kick me!" The secret: Whiskey concentrate.

7) Louisiana Hot Dippin' Sauce. In Louisiana anything that can be put on a grill is called barbecue, from fish to crawfish to nutria (kinda like a rat). In Louisiana, hot sauce goes on everything. The first bottled hot sauces came out of Louisiana, home of Tabasco Sauce. Nowadays there are lots of great hot and spicy barbecue sauces on the market. Some just burn from capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers), but the best are blends of several different kinds of heat, among them: Black pepper, white pepper, mustard, wasabi, several different kinds of chilis, plus an underlying flavor of the meat of the chili pepper. The heat is then usually tempered with tomato sauce, and often countered with sweetness. Bayou Bite, my version of a Louisiana barbecue sauce is a wonderful blend of sweet and hot peppers used as a finishing sauce, after the meat is cooked, or as a dipping sauce served with the meat. Even if you don't like hot stuff, you really should try this one.

8) Alabama White Sauce. Developed for chicken by Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, this mayonnaise and vinegar sauce has become so well known among barbecue fans that it has generated many admirers and a handful of imitators. I don't recommend it for pork, and not everyone likes it on chicken, but it is so popular in Alabama it must be consider a regional classic. Chris Lilly, of Big Bob's says my attempt to reverse engineer his Alabama White Sauce is "scary close".

9) Memphis Dry Rub. Memphis is second only to Kansas City as a town of barbecue renown. Ribs and pulled pork are the stars, although their local special, perhaps best called their local oddity, is barbecue spaghetti. No, they don't put the pasta on the pit, it's just doused with barbecue sauce. Alas, there is no distinctive indigenous Memphis sauce style. Around the nation a lot of pit stops call their sauce Memphis style, but they're kidding themselves and us. In fact, many Memphis purists prefer their ribs "dry" with only a spice rub. A restaurant's gotta have confidence in its meat to serve it with spices only and no sauce. Many Memphis restaurants have bowed to public demand and now offer a choice: Dry or wet, with wet usually meaning a Kansas City-style tomato-based sauce perhaps a bit thinner, more vinegary. Memphis dry rubs are usually paprika based, and typical ingredients are salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, chili powder, and oregano. "Meathead's Magic Dust" is a very versatile rub perfect for ribs, but readers have told me they love it on everything from turkey to salmon. Perhaps the most revered dry ribs are served at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (called "The Vous" by the locals). There are a lot of recipes on the Internet that the owners have palmed off on gullible media. They aren't close. I've reversed engineered Rendezvous-style Memphis Dry Rub, and my recipe is a LOT closer to the real deal.


The Complete Serious Eats Barbecue & Sauce Style Guide

Note: A few years back, When Pigs Fly columnist James Boo published two separate but equally comprehensive guides—one to American regional barbecue styles, the other to American regional barbecue sauces. Now, to celebrate Barbecue Week, we've combined both posts into one glorious super guide, designed to provide you with the most encyclopedic barbecue coverage possible. Enjoy. —The Editors

If you're a barbecue hound, you're probably not shy about expressing your loyalties to certain regional barbecue styles. That's a polite way of saying that people have been fighting over what barbecue reigns supreme since pitmasters first developed these regional styles.

Serious Eats doesn't really have a dog in this fight: we love Kansas City burnt ends as much as we love a perfect chopped whole hog from Eastern Carolina. That said, we decided it'd be useful to define the distinct regional styles across America.

North Carolina

Over the years the Carolinas have developed two of the country's most distinct barbecue cultures. There have been entire books written about both states' 'cue. On both sides, the hog reigns supreme. The disagreements focus on the parts of the animal cooked, the use of wood smoke, and the type of sauce.

Eastern Carolina barbecue just might be the most literal interpretation of the phrase "pig out." It typically consists of whole hog, chopped and mixed with bits of cracklin' (the crunchy, smoky skin of the hog).

Many barbecue restaurants in eastern North Carolina have switched to cooking with gas, but places like the Skylight Inn and Wilber's— supported by grandfather clauses and other exceptions in local ordinance, not to mention a tenacious sense of duty—continue to smoke their pigs over hardwood coals. Eastern Carolina 'cue is often served with a light, mayo-based slaw and dressed with a minimalist sauce.

The sauce: Vinegar sauce, the first evolution from barbecue basting liquid, remains barbecue's most basic condiment and the sauce of choice at many Carolina joints. At a minimum, it is limited to white or cider vinegar and dried red pepper flakes, producing a tangy, spicy baste meant to cut through the smoke and fat of traditional barbecue.

Vinegar sauce is best served with whole hog and pork shoulder. The sweetness and smokiness of pork barbecue is complemented perfectly by vinegar's acidic tang, and the subtleties of the meat won't be buried by this sauce's thin consistency.

The Lexington style, also referred to as Piedmont barbecue and Western Carolina barbecue, is centered in Lexington, North Carolina, a town of about 20,000 people and nearly 100 barbecue joints.

This style is dominated by wood-smoked pork shoulder, ranging from sliced to very finely chopped, and served with finely minced cabbage.

The sauce: Lexington-style barbecue sauce, mixed with the cabbage to create barbecue slaw, is tangy and sweet, incorporating a bit of ketchup or tomato into the stripped-down vinegar sauce of its eastern counterparts.

South Carolina

South Carolina barbecue is best represented by wood-smoked whole hog.

The "Mustard Belt" of central South Carolina, where pit-smoked, chopped whole hog is still the meat of choice, boasts the country's most pronounced use of an intense mustard-based barbecue sauce. Barbecue restaurants in the midland region are also partial to all-you-can-eat buffets with large steam trays of pre-sauced pork and small mountains of fried chicken.

The sauce: See above. At its best, a rich, tangy mustard sauce, laced with vinegar and seasonings, complements sweet, smoky pulled pork or whole hog in a way that's much edgier than its tomato-based cousin. And like heavy tomato sauce, mustard sauce is best served on the side. Too much "Carolina gold" can turn the best barbecue into an acrid, sour glop.

Eastern and Western South Carolina barbecue, similar to their neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia, feature vinegar-based and tomato-based sauces over South Carolina pork and hash.

Kentucky

Mutton is no oddity in many barbecue regions, but no town has a better reputation for smoked mutton than Owensboro, Kentucky. The combination of wood smoke and sheeps' meat is among the more complex flavors in barbecue.

Tennessee

Pork ribs are the most iconic Memphis specialty, and though the most famous ribs here are served dry, "wet ribs" doused with red barbecue sauce are always an option. Certain Memphian cooks (I'm looking at you, Bar-B-Q Shop!) aren't afraid to crank up the spice factor.

The sauce: Memphis sauce tends to be tomato-and-vinegar based, with a sweet flavor and slightly runny consistency. Tomato-based barbecue sauce became the new standard of American barbecue in the mid-20th century, but this sauce tempers sweeter tones with the bite of vinegar. It's especially great with barbecue that's developed a smoky, substantial bark, since the more subtle flavors of pulled pork or whole hog can be obscured by the lingering sweetness of tomato-based sauces.

Memphis doesn't stop at ribs. From chopped pork sandwiches to smoked bologna to barbecue spaghetti (you heard me), Memphis barbecue excels at all forms of pork. Beef is much less popular, except for once a year when brisket and beef ribs hit the grill at the World Kosher Barbeque Championship.

Rural Tennessee barbecue has earned a reputation in the barbecue community as the purest form of wood-smoked, whole hog 'cue outside of the Carolinas. These joints tend to be weekend-only operations, smoking as few as one whole hog per day for as long as 20 hours before pulling, chopping and slicing it up with a thin, vinegar-based sauce. Barbecue scholar John T. Edge has testified that further to the north and extending into Kentucky, Tennessee barbecue also includes pork shoulder served over skillet-cooked hoe cakes.

Missouri

Calvin Trillin, who infamously declared in The New Yorker in 1974 that "Bryant's is the best damn restaurant in the world," put Kansas City on the map as a serious eating destination. Almost 40 years later, the original Arthur Bryant's still serves lard-fried potatoes and barbecue to a packed dining room at lunchtime, while relative newcomers like Oklahoma Joe's keep the city's legacy alive for a new generation of barbecue fans.

The Kansas City Barbecue Society has set the most dominant standards for slow-cooked barbecue in the country at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, TN.

Kansas City is known as the melting pot of barbecue. Walk up to a counter and you can find just about anything. Pulled pork, pork ribs, pork steak, beef brisket, smoked mutton, smoked chicken, and sliced turkey—you name it, they smoke it.

The sauce: A thick, sweet, tomato-and-molasses based concoction that has become an American standard thanks to Heinz, K.C. Masterpiece and the other bottled sauce brands. Those nationally distributed, factory-made sauces have taken on a (not exactly recommendable) life of their own, but they don't faithfully represent the sauces actually served in Kansas City smoke joints.

Whereas vinegar-based sauces are essentially refined basting liquids, heavy tomato sauce can be just as much an attraction as the barbecue it coats. The impact is mostly in flavor these tend to be prepared with sweeteners like molasses or brown sugar, with inflections of vinegar, pepper, and other ingredients as the cook sees fit.

This town's gourmet choice, however, is a good plate of burnt ends. Taken from the tips of a fully cooked brisket and sometimes thrown back into the smoker to crisp, these are nuggets of pure barbecue gold.

On the other side of Missouri, St. Louis has made its own seminal contribution to barbecue: the neatly trimmed St. Louis style rib (the ends are trimmed before cooking). St. Louis also offers a unique dish in the thick-cut barbecue pork steak: it's seared, smoked, and basted with a tomato-and-vinegar-based sauce as it finishes cooking.

East St. Louis is home to the snoot, a pig's snout and its attached facial skin cooked over hot coals (these days, snoots are often boiled and fried, rather than grilled) until the copious fat is rendered and the skin gets thoroughly crisp. Pulled pork, sausages and other standards are cooked alongside the St. Louis specialties, but when it comes to local favorites, sauced snoot sandwiches win by a nose.

Chicago

According to Lolis Eric Elie, author of the essential Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in Barbecue Country: "Chicago is an animal unto itself," particularly Chicago's South side, where the reputation for ribs began to grow during the 1950s. Pitmasters here, adapting rural Southern tradition to urban business, tend to smoke with charcoal or wood coals and cook for a relatively short period of time, yielding simple, "backyard-style ribs" that are firmer than their cousins down south.

While by no means exclusive to Chicago, rib tips are the city's most glowing contribution to the barbecue map. They are the byproduct of St. Louis-style ribs, literally cut from the ends of spare ribs and transformed into a pile of chewy, cartilage-rich chunks. When served by Lem's Bar-B-Q in the early 1950s, they were simply a good way for the Lemon brothers to make money from wasted meat. They've since become a Chicago staple.

Chicago has carved out a notch in barbecue technique with its aquarium smokers. Honey 1, Uncle John's, and any other smoke joint dedicated enough to cook with these formidable, wood-fired fish tanks, have come up with some of the best barbecue in the country. The relatively high cost and effort required to operate these beauts has led to their increasing use as a display case for gas-cooked meat, making the genuine article even more of a Chicago treasure.

Texas

The Lone Star state is the only member of the Union that rivals the Carolinas' unyielding, outspoken pride in barbecue. All the better for serious eaters, because that pride has given us Texas-sized portions of regional flavor.

In central Texas, the brisket, handmade sausage, and pork ribs are seasoned with little more than salt and pepper. Smoked over oak coals, it's served market-style without a lick of barbecue sauce. But when there is sauce, it tends to be a thin tomato-and-vinegar mixture.

East Texas barbecue, stretching from the state's eastern border to as far as Houston, is a direct descendant of the South's barbecue, brought to the region by slaves who arrived to farm cotton in the 1800s. Pork shoulder, sausage, brisket, and pork ribs are commonly smoked and sometimes served with a sweet, tomato-based sauce.

Open Pit Barbecue, according to Texas food guru Robb Walsh, is largely a thing of the past. At one point all American barbecue was pit barbecue, cooked low and slow over wood coals in the ground, but West Texas held out longer than most, still holding open pit cookouts through the 1960s. These days Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que is the most prominent place to pick a rack of ribs, slices of brisket, and more straight-off-the-rack 'cue from an outdoor pit.

Near the state's southern border with Mexico you'll find beef barbacoa, or pit-smoked cow's head.

Regional Barbecue Beyond the Capitals

The states of the Deep South support a wide range of restaurants, community cookouts, competitions and local recipes.

In Decatur, Alabama, Big Bob Gibson's is known for its pulled pork shoulder, which our man Ed Levine has declared "the finest pork shoulder sandwich on the planet." This barbecue shrine is also famous for smoked chicken served with a unique white barbecue sauce invented by Bob Gibson during the 1920s, but you can find just about any kind of 'cue up and down the state.

The sauce: White sauce is Alabama's most peculiar barbecue innovation. Made from mayonnaise, vinegar, and lemon juice, and boosted by black pepper, the consistency ranges from a thick dressing to a thin drizzle. White barbecue sauce is an excellent match for pulled pork, or a great baste for smoked chicken.

The Santa Maria style, born in California's central coast, is part of the state's Spanish heritage. Prepared mainly in the forms of tri-tip and top sirloin steak, Santa Maria barbecue is seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic and grilled over hot wood coals. Over the years this style has shifted from pit cooking to grilling.

Restaurant Barbecue

New York, America's restaurant capital, is exhibit A in the "noveau 'cue" experience. Each in its own way, establishments like Mighty Quinn's, Blue Smoke, and Fatty 'Cue recreate and re-imagine barbecue country in the big city kitchen.

Competition Barbecue

Anchored by the hands-on, democratic approach of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and the Memphis Barbecue Network, competition 'cue exists on a different plane from regional barbecue. While towns like Lexington, Lockhart and Owensboro are all about the preservation of local tradition, the net effect of national and state sanctioning bodies is the unification of barbecue under serious standards of technique. The flavors of top competition 'cue have changed over the years and will continue to change as top teams strive to outdo each other on the barbecue field.

It's not uncommon for competition teams to run their own businesses, contributing to the growth of restaurant barbecue. Their patron saints include Mike "The Legend" Mills and Paul "K.C. Baron of Barbecue" Kirk. Their years of cooking, competing, judging and restaurant building have not only produced some of the finest baby back ribs in the country, they've also set standards for the new wave of barbecue restaurateurs on a similar path.

Backyard Barbecue

Drawing from stylized ideas of West Coast living and backed by the invention of small-scale grills, backyard barbecue took the country by storm in the decades following World War II.

The form is dominated by burgers and dogs, but as more cooks have discovered the craft of smoking, backyard cookouts have taken on more ambitious dishes, including beer-can chicken and Thanksgiving turkey.

These last two forms are closest to the community-based traditions that dominated American barbecue from the early days of the English colonies to the development of regional styles. Die-hard regional partisans may snub backyard barbecues as nothing more than "grilling," but when you trace its roots, there's no denying that your dad's Weber has a special place in barbecue history.

Florida.

According to Serious Eater bkhuna, central Florida is the "land of no barbecue." Having only ever associated the entire state with gators, Scarface, and Stick Stickly, I'll have to take this one on faith. If any other Florida 'cue heads are in the house, I'm sure we'd both love to hear your thoughts on the Florida style.

Get the Recipes!

  • North Carolina Vinegar Sauce »
  • South Carolina Mustard Sauce »
  • Basic Barbecue Sauce »
  • White Barbecue Sauce »

You've Made It This Far!!

The same offer goes for other states. If you've got something to add about the barbecue style of your region, let us know in the comments!


5 Steps to Creating Your Own Barbecue Sauce

Want to make a signature sauce? Learn the basics and then go crazy. You&rsquore only limited by what&rsquos in your pantry.

Want to make a signature sauce? Learn the basics and then go crazy. You’re only limited by what’s in your pantry.

1. Try a classic. To figure out what you like in a barbecue sauce, start by understanding the classics. Most storebought sauces mimic the sweet, thick, ketchup-based Kansas City-style sauce. If you like something tangier, try the vinegary Eastern Carolina sauce. Prefer something in between? The Western Carolina saucemixes ketchup into the vinegar base. And don’t stop with the most well-known sauces. Try the more obscure South Carolina-style sweet mustard sauce or the Alabama mayo-based white sauce.

2. Vary the sweetener. After you feel comfortable with the basics, start playing around with the sweetener. Brown sugar is classic, but for a richer, sweet-bitter flavor, try blackstrap molasses. If you’re a locavore living in the Northeast, add maple syrup in the South, add sorghum. Or, wherever you are, try honey.

3. Consider adding fruit. When you’re making ribs or chicken wings, a thicker, sweet sauce is usually best. Instead of a purely tomato base, try mixing it up. For an especially sweet, sticky sauce, add guava paste. Use blueberries or blackberries for a jammier sauce or lemon juice for an extra hit of tang.

4. Raid your pantry. After you’ve settled on the base, play around with spices and condiments to make it your own. Try peanut butter and chipotle in adobo for a sweet-and-spicy sauce. Use hoisin in place of ketchup for an aromatic, Asian-inspired sauce, or sweet spices and dates for a Moroccan-inspired sauce. Dried ancho chiles are great for creating a sneakily spicy sauce. Other ideas: try adding Thai curry pastes and Asian fish sauce or harissa and pomegranate molasses.

5. Then raid your bar. All barbecue sauce needs some kind of liquid. For a California-inspired sauce, add red wine. A boozy, bourbon-spiked sauce is great with pork. Adding sodas, like root beer and cola, is a well-known pitmaster trick. For an eye-opening sauce with a pleasantly bitter edge, add brewed coffee.

Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.


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Regional Varieties

Depending on in which region you set up your smoker, you’ll come across different styles of BBQ sauce recipes. Also, these sauces are used in different ways. For example in some areas of the United States, the meat and ribs are first marinated in the sauce and then grilled, while in other regions like Texas it is applied once the meat or the ribs are grilled, especially pork butt and beef brisket. That being said the consistency and base ingredients lend themselves to the cooking style. A more acidic, thin sauce lends itself to a marinade while a thick sauce is likely used as a topper or glaze in the latter part of the cooking process.

The Kansas City Classic Barbecue Sauce

The origins of the Kansas City Classic BBQ sauce dates back to 1907, first prepared by Henry Perry, it was very spicy, hot, vinegary and not sweet. This became one of the most popular and delicious bbq sauces in the world and was known as Henry Perry’s sauce. However, during the 1970’s the recipe morphed into a simple tomato base, sweet prototype.

The recipe uses the classic rich red, tomato-based, sweet-tart sauce with either brown sugar or molasses along with vinegar. The best thing about KC style BBQ sauce is that it don’t penetrate the meat,but instead sits on top and complements the natural flavors of the meat. The best use of this type of sauce is to apply during the final stage of cooking. Apply a light coat during last five minutes of grill time and then one more coat once removed from grill during the rest time.

  • 2 Tbs Butter
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 cups Ketchup
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

The South Carolina Mustard bbq sauce

South Carolina is known for its tangy mustard based sauce which delivers a sweet and spicy flavor profile to chopped pork, slow roasted ribs as well as a nice pork tenderloin or grilled chicken. The sauce comprises of vinegar, pepper, tomato sauce, ketchup and mustard. based prototype.

The Mustard is a perfect combination with pork. The sauce is traced back to early German immigrants in South Carolina and some of the first names associated with this sauce are Sweatman, Meyer, Zeigler, and Shealy.

  • 3/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp Louisiana hot sauce
  1. Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Whisk to combine and occasionally while simmering for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Let cool before using.
  3. Save remainder in a sealed container in the refrigerator

East Carolina Mop Sauce

The history of East Carolina sauce tells us that the sauce was a simple and plain combination of hot pepper flakes and ground black pepper in vinegar. This sauce is mainly used with grilled meat. Unlike other sauces, which are thick and sticky, the East Carolina sauce is thin and piquant. This sauce is used to marinate meat as well as mop continuously over meat throughout the grilling or smoking process. The thin sauce will penetrate the protein deeply and impart its flavor throughout the meat.

  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  1. Pour all the ingredients into a jar and shake. Let it sit for at least 12 hours to allow the flavors to meld. A week is better.
  2. You can use it as a mop when you cook, you can use it as a finishing sauce when you serve the meat, or both. In the Carolinas it is usually used as both a mop and a finishing sauce.
  3. To use it as both a mop and finishing sauce, warm it, pour a few ounces into a cup and paint it on the meat with a basting brush once every hour or so while it is cooking. If you use it as a mop, the sauce in the cup can get contaminated with uncooked meat juices on the brush. That’s why you don’t want to dip the brush in the whole bottle. Discard contaminated mop and serve untouched sauce at the table.

The Texas Mop Sauce

You never know what’s on the grill in Texas, beef ribs, pork butt, mutton, goat, and sausages are typical options, but the Texas specialty is beef brisket. This meat is on the tougher side and takes at least 12-18 hours to tender when cooked on low and slow smoke. Brisket in combination with a Texas mop sauce yields a flavorful result. The flavorful sauce will seep deep within the many layers of the brisket and help aid the tenderization.

  • 1 Tbsp Paprika
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper chopped
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp Worcestershire
  • 3 Tbsp steak sauce
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 2 cups beef, veal or chicken stock
  1. Mix the paprika, black pepper, chili powder, and cumin in a small bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter or fat and gently cook the onion over medium heat until translucent.
  3. Add the garlic, bell pepper, and the spice mix. Stir, and cook for two minutes to extract the flavors.
  4. Add the stock and the rest of the ingredients. Stir until well blended. Simmer on medium for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust as needed. Divide it in half and use half to mop the meat when cooking. Use the remainder to splash on the meat when served.

Alabama White Sauce

The Alabama sauce was specifically fashioned for chicken by Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ in Decatur, Alabama. This delicious sauce is a combination of mayonnaise and vinegar with aromatic spices. While grilled and smoked chicken is a perfect match for this viscous sauce. It’s also a known partner for chopped Boston Butt, too. As compared to other bbq sauces, it’s best used as a finisher or on the side for dipping.

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp coarse ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp creole mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp prepared horseradish

Whisk together all ingredients until blended. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

Some bbq lovers give a slight touch of ketchup as well, but it’s not a part of the traditional recipe.

Almost everyone has a difference preference of their bbq sauces. Some like spicy and some bbq lovers like the sweet sauce. Whichever type of bbq sauce you may like, one thing is for sure that it is delicious and taste relishing. Best of all it isn’t difficult to prepare your homemade bbq sauce.

Make a classic recipe your own

Don’t be afraid to experiment. First, if you’ve not tried sauces from other regions … DO! Once you’ve found the basic flavor profile that suits your family best, there’s plenty of room to take some chances and personalize your sauce. One easy way is to change up the sweet side. Instead of white sugar, use dark brown for a sauce that will have deep tones of caramel. You may want to substitute honey or jam instead of molasses. Vinegar is another easy substitution. Play with different types – apple cider vinegar, white vinegar or red wine vinegar or even a touch of balsamic for a richer glaze.

Spices and seasonings are another good opening for personalization. Try white pepper, cumin seeds, or even a little Madras Curry. Feel free to share your results – we’d love to hear what secret ingredient you add to really make BBQ sauce your own.



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