A Guide to Regional Barbecue Sauces

For ribs or brisket or pulled pork, even for baked beans, these are the styles to know.


American regional styles of barbecue are distinguished by types of meat, such as brisket versus spareribs, and also by the many different kinds of barbecue sauce available. Some sauces are used in cooking and others are served on the side. Here is a rundown of the most important styles of barbecue sauce.

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce

The most common style of barbecue sauce is Kansas City. It's tomato based-made from ketchup, tomato paste, tomato sauce, or canned tomatoes, as well as some kind of sugar, vinegar, and spices. This makes for a thick, sweet, and tangy, but not particularly spicy sauce that can be used on chicken, pork, or beef. It is versatile enough to also use on sandwiches, burgers, in baked beans-even on pizza!

Mustard Barbecue Sauce

Popular in South Carolina and Georgia, mustard barbecue sauce is is thought to have originated with German immigrants to the region. In addition to yellow prepared mustard, the sauce includes vinegar, sugar, and seasonings. While it sometimes also includes a bit of ketchup, it is always distinctly yellow.

Memphis Barbecue Sauce

Used on ribs or pulled pork and generally made with tomatoes, vinegar, and some combination of spices, Memphis barbecue sauce is is thin, tangy, and somewhat sweet to complement the smoky style of meat, which is generally cooked using only a dry spice rub.

White Barbecue Sauce

A vinegar-style sauce that's main ingredient is mayonnaise, white barbecue sauce was created by Big Bob Gibson of Decatur, Alabama. The sauce gets a spicy kick from horseradish, black pepper, and cayenne and isis used to marinate and baste poultry and pork. It can also be used in coleslaw and potato salad.

Lexington Vinegar Sauce

Just the thing for pulled pork, this thin vinegar and tomato based sauce popular in North Carolina. It goes by many different names including Lexington dip, Piedmont barbecue sauce, Lexington vinegar sauce, Carolina vinegar sauce, North Carolina barbecue sauce, or even Eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce and gets its heat from chili and black pepper.

Texas Mop Sauce

Texans believe good barbecue doesn't need to be served with sauce, but they do use sauce in cooking barbecue. Texas mop or mopping sauce, is "mopped" or basted onto meat as it cooks. Mopping sauces are intended to both flavor and moisten meat and vary in ingredients but are generally thin. They are sometimes made with vinegar, other times with beer or even coffee as a base.

Fruity Barbecue Sauces

Just like tomatoes, other fruits such as apples, peaches, and mangoes can be used in barbecue sauces. They add tangy sweetness thanks to their natural fruit sugars and acidity. Some fruit based barbecue sauces also use tomatoes while other do not.

Spicy Barbecue Sauces

The popularity of hot sauces has led to the creation of barbecue sauces that use chipotle chiles, chile powder or mustard powder. The heat is generally tempered with sweet ingredients like maple syrup or molasses.

Classic Tomato-Based Barbecue Sauces

Most tomato-based barbecue sauces are variations on the Kansas City style of barbecue sauce. They can include different kinds of vinegar, sweeteners such as maple syrup, molasses, honey, or brown sugar and a wide range of spices and seasonings. Keep in mind that very thick sauces with more sugar are best used as a condiment, whereas thinner less sweet sauces can be used for basting or cooking.

Ketchup-Based Barbecue Sauces

Using ketchup as a base in barbecue sauce is a great shortcut for making a sauce. Ingredients in ketchup based sauces can vary greatly and sometimes include flavor boosters such as beer, coffee, cola, or soy sauce.

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