In many regions of the United States, barbecue isn't just a type of cuisine, it's a way of life. And perhaps there is no better sign of what type barbecue you are eating than the sauce. Along with cooking methods and cuts of meat, each region comes a with special sauce that makes their barbecue style truly unique. Although there's a lot of debate on which sauce is the best, these sauces are always crowd pleasers.
Eastern North Carolina is home to some of the oldest barbecue sauce in the nation. Its origins can be traced back several centuries when Native Americans and African slaves along the Carolina coast made spicy-acidic sauces to go with whole hog roasts. As barbecue became more popular in the United States, this style of sauce was used to add a little tang by basting it on the meat before it was cooked over a fire pit.
East Carolina sauce stands out from a lot of the barbecue sauces on this list because it does not rely on tomato as a base. Instead, it is mostly made of vinegar and spices, which gives it a tangy and spicy flavor. It is also quite thin and is generally used as a marinade rather than a dipping sauce. Today, you can find this hot and tart sauce at barbecue joints all throughout Eastern North Carolina as well as South Carolina's northern coast.
Western North Carolina style came about shortly after Heinz ketchup made its debut in 1876. Western Carolinians, specifically in the city of Lexington, took the spicy tangy Eastern sauce and started adding ketchup and tomato paste to it. This new version of the sauce is sometimes called Piedmont-style or "Lexington Dip" and is thicker and sweeter than the original.
According to Our State, Piedmont-style was inspired by a Bavarian dish that consisted of pork shoulder with a sweet vinegar sauce. Though North Carolinians may debate on which of their sauces is superior, anyone from the Tar Heel state will tell you that no matter what sauce you use, you better be eating it with pulled pork.
Where Western North Carolina is all about ketchup, South Carolina is all about mustard. Though you can find this style of sauce all across the south, this mustard-based sauce remains supreme in central South Carolina. The mustard in the sauce makes it bright yellow and gives the meat a tangy flavor. Be sure to try this sauce out the next time you have a pulled pork sandwich.
You know what they say: "everything's bigger in Texas." And yes, that includes barbecue.
Texas's main claim to fame in the barbecue biz is its slow-smoked, dry-rubbed brisket. Texas barbecue traditionalists and purists will say that all you need is a simple rub and nothing else. However, some pit masters do opt to use a "mop sauce." Instead of smothering your meat in sauce after it's been cooked, this style of sauce is mainly used to marinate or baste. Think of it is as a savory and hearty glaze that keeps the meat moist as it slowly smokes.
When it comes to barbecue sauce in the United States, Kansas City-style is probably what comes to mind to folks who don't live in a huge barbecue hub. First created in the early 20th century by Henry Perry, Kansas City sauce is sweet and thick and tangy and can be found in grocery stores and barbecue joints all across the county. The best part about this sauce is that it tastes great on everything, from pulled pork and chicken to BBQ ribs.
Kansas City-style is similar to Western North Carolina because it has a tomato and vinegar base and is rounded out with a nice blend of sugar and spice. The key difference between the two sauces is that Kansas City-style sauce is much thicker like a molasses and sits on top of the meat rather than soaks into it. For an easy sauce to make at home, check out our recipe.
Kansas City isn't the only town in Missouri with an iconic barbecue sauce. Enter St. Louis with its thinner and tangier barbecue sauce that has made quite a name for itself over the years.
St. Louis style barbecue sauce got its start in the early to mid 20th century when a local grocer by the name of Louis Maull started selling Maull's Barbecue Sauce in 1926. In the nearly 100 years following the introduction of the hometown favorite, St. Louis barbecue sauce has become a go-to condiment throughout the region.
Like St. Louis style sauce, Memphis barbecue sauce is often compared to Kansas City style sauce or dismissed entirely. But scores of tourists visit Memphis and its infamous Bealle Street each year, and what do you think they eat while they're down there? Barbecue, specifically, Memphis barbecue.
Crafted through the evolution of recipes handed down over the generations, Memphis barbecue sauce was introduced by emigrates who came to the city a few hundred years ago via the Mississippi River. Today, Memphis barbecue sauce can be found on hometown staples like ribs, pork shoulder, smoked sausage, and even duck wings.
Perhaps the most unique sauce on this list, Alabama is most noted for being a white sauce, instead of brown, red, or yellow. Alabama sauce was created in 1925 by a man named Big Bog Gibson because he wanted a mayonnaise-based BBQ sauce for his signature hickory-smoked chicken. Don't let the color of this sauce turn you away from it, it's incredible with chicken wings and pork and works as base for coleslaw.