Little consensus surrounds any one aspect of the subculture of barbecue. Regional fissures exist regarding the proper cut of meat, cooking methods and even the best type of wood to use for smoking. Barbecue sauce is not exempt to such porcine polemics. Tastes vary region by region and state by state.
In the Carolinas, a robust intrastate civil war has long been waged over the mustard question. Mayo-based BBQ sauce? Alabamans swear by it. Even Memphis gets in the mix with its own uniquely unorthodox sauce.
Whether you can’t decide between BBQ sauce recipes for your homemade BBQ sauce or you’re shopping for some pre-made, this list should be a good go-to. For those hungry enough to wade into the waters of the sauce debate, the following should serve as a shorthand guide to regional BBQ sauce specialties.
East Carolina: Thin Vinegar
Vinegar, black pepper and crushed red chiles give this traditional mopping sauce a sharp bite designed to cut the fat of the pork.
Piedmont Region: Slightly Sweet
Much like the older East Carolina version, this concoction enjoys an elevated sweetness level thanks to the addition of ketchup and sugar. Not to be confused with the thicker, kitchen sink approach employed in Kansas City.
Western Carolina: Red Sauce
Famously unorthodox and jealously protected, this thick tomato-informed mix is designed to accompany the succulent pork shoulder so famously roasted in this part of Carolina. They even put ketchup in their slaw in this part of the world.
Kansas City: Thick and Sweet
The most well known of indigenous sauce mixtures, KC style sauce expands upon the foundation inherited from its Eastern Carolina ancestor by adding brown sugar, tomato sauce and molasses to the mix.
North Alabama: White Sauce
Mid-south BBQ enthusiasts are feverishly partisan to this BBQ outlier, which replaces the tomato component of the classic KC style with mayonnaise, thus giving the topping a deeper sweetness and thick consistency.
South Carolina: Mustard Sauce
This Low Country favorite is built around a yellow mustard base and incorporates black pepper, vinegar and crushed peppers into its spicy mix.
Texas: Chile Sauce
Onions, dried peppers, cumin, chile powder (and sometimes even coffee beans) characterize the unique take on sauce by the beef-crazy Lonestar State.
Memphis: The Kitchen Sink
Some debate surrounds the very existence of a uniquely Memphian sauce. Famous for their dry-rub techniques, Bluff City braziers have been known to deviate from the script and apply a liberal mopping of homegrown sauce during the smoking process. The formula is varied, but usually the sauce incorporates paprika, garlic, cayenne, black pepper and salt diluted by ketchup, mustard or Worcestershire sauce.
Most of these come with variations, especially when you’re talking homemade barbecue sauce. Ground black pepper, lemon juice, apple, onion powder, garlic powder and red pepper can all be thrown into the mix.