Let’s talk BBQ. There’s nothing like the tender, smoky flavor of carefully marinated meat. You know you’ve served the meat justice when the memories of food can call the family home. And everyone knows: the heart is in the sauce.
Barbecue sauce isn’t just any old condiment. Here in America, bbq sauce is serious business. How else can you explain all the variations in thickness, color, and flavors? If you didn’t know there were levels to this sauce, identified and curated by region, consider this your quick guide to this nation’s infamous get-together condiment.
Below you’ll learn everything you need to know to be the bbq champion of the grills. First, get a quick lesson of the sauce’s history from different parts of the nation. Then try your hand at creating a sauce so incredible it’ll knock your socks off.
No, really. It’s that good.
Check our pro tips for the best flavors for customizing your sauce. Ours includes a special ingredient worthy of being included among award-winning bbq sauce recipes around the world.
Knowing the BBQ sauce
Did you know BBQ sauce goes back to the 17th century? Atlanta, GA prides itself as the location of the nation’s first commercially-produced barbecue sauce in 1909, but we know the magic of the sauce was created well before then. Through generations, bbq sauce has evolved with unique regional differences. Depending on where you find yourself in the country, barbecue sauce has a particular identity all its own.
- East Carolina – a vinegar-based sauce, usually with spicy compliments like chili pepper flakes or black pepper. This sauce is thin and pungent. Primarily, it is used to baste the meat while cooking or as a dipping sauce.
- Western Carolina – This sauce usually has a thicker consistency than its East Carolina counterpart thanks to the tomato sauce or ketchup base, often used as a dip.
- South Carolina – in many parts of South Carolina, their BBQ sauce has a mustard base, which gives it its yellow hue. Additionally, this sauce will include vinegar, spices, and usually sugars.
- Memphis – the home of Elvis, this sauce is a rite of passage in this city. A combination of tangy and sweet, it is usually similar to the Western Carolina style sauce, with molasses added for a sweetener.
- Kansas City – the most commonly identified sauce outside of the USA. Its reddish-brown hue, tomato-base, and mix of herbs and spices with vinegar and sugar make this sauce ready for dipping. It’s not ordinarily used for a marinade, as the thick sauce is difficult to penetrate the meat.
- Texas – fresh Texas barbecue sauce might contain some meat drippings, so prepare to lick all your fingers with this one. This region’s sauce is heavily seasoned. Often it includes a mix of onions, chilies and peppers, and flavorful seasonings like cumin, chili powder, and paprika or hickory, earthy flavors. The sauce tends to be of a thicker consistency, but a rich marinade for meat before and during cooking.
- Florida – the Floridian sauce can be found with hints of Caribbean and South American influences. This sauce often blends in tropical flavors from oranges and pineapple to mango, tamarind, guava or papaya. Similar to the Kansas-City version in texture, this sauce’s fruity flavors usually compliment seafood, chicken, and pork.
- Alabama white sauce – distinguished from others by its white color, this mayonnaise-based sauce is a category all its own. Typically the sauce is a combination of vinegar (most commonly, apple cider), sugar, salt, and pepper. It goes perfectly as a marinade, dipping sauce, or leftover sauce tossed with cabbage to make a mean coleslaw.
Making the BBQ sauce
Texas bbq sauce recipe
Now that you’ve graduated from BBQ sauce university, you’re ready to sauce up your own version. You understand the importance of a tasty sauce. Use this recipe to take your barbecue from “Good Stuff” to “Whoa, Man!” Remember what you learned, but don’t be afraid to mix it up. This sauce pays homage to the South and the West, with flavors including cooked meat, onions and garlic, and heat.
- 4 strips bacon, cooked
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups tomato paste
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or shortening
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a pot over medium heat, cook garlic, onions, and bacon in vegetable oil. Add the remaining ingredients once the bacon is cooked but not too crispy. Bring the sauce comes to a boil, stirring gently to combine all the flavors and prevent burning. Remove from heat and let cool.
Serve immediately, or add to a container. The sauce can keep in the refrigerator for months, but we doubt it will last that long.
You like variety. We’ve got you covered:
- For tangier: ½ cup brown sugar, add ½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- For sweeter: 2 tablespoons honey
- For thinner: ¼-½ cup water, adding one tablespoon at a time
- For tropical seafood: ½ cup crushed pineapple, drained; ½ ripe mango
- Alabama-style: swap tomato sauce with mayonnaise, add ½ cup ketchup, 1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter, and squeeze of 1 lime
- For thin marinade with a kick: use only 1 cup of tomato sauce, add ¼ cup of bourbon, 1 teaspoon cumin and ½ cup of jalapenos
Using the sauce
You probably won’t be able to purchase a store-bought bbq sauce again. Knowing what you know, you now have the tools to make your batch of this concoction and use it on everything. There’s no meal bbq sauce can’t improve. It’s just that major. Bbq sauce is versatile, and league all its own.
Go true Texan style and use this homemade bbq sauce for pulled pork. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. Generously saturate the pork with the sauce and bake it in the oven or let it soak while cooking in a slow cooker.
Add the sauce to ground beef for Sloppy Joe’s. Serve with chicken or brisket. Whisk the white sauce with a mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots and onions for a southern-style coleslaw. It’s even good on burgers and meatloaf.
You can also use this sauce for a ridiculously pleasing marinade, or as an excellent dip with your favorite meat. The possibilities are endless. Prepare never to see barbecue the same again. Your taste buds are waiting.