Barbecue Sauce

For decades, barbecue sauce (BBQ; barbeque; bar-b-q) has been a great source of entertainment and lively discussion. The variances among U.S. regions are fiercely defended, as each boasts of having the “best and only” recipes.

Regardless of locale, barbecue sauce in any form is a delicious marinade, glaze, finishing sauce, or condiment that enhances many foods, especially those cooked outdoors. It is also an additive to such dishes as baked beans and meatloaf.

The heart and concept of a good sauce is simple: enhance, but do not overwhelm.


The first sauce was actually straight vinegar, originating during the latter half of the 1700s in North Carolina and Virginia. As its use began to spread westward and further south, regional variations emerged, first with a hint of mustard or mayonnaise, followed by ketchup, and then fruits.

While tomatoes are most commonly used, it is vinegar-based sauces that are considered “authentic” by East Coast standards.


Barbecue sauces are classified as:

  • Spicy
  • Sweet
  • Sour

They may be thick or thin or a consistency somewhere in between.

Within the above groups, they will be broken down by basic ingredient:

  • Tomato: Most meats, including brisket and ribs, and chicken.
  • Vinegar: Pork as well as any tougher, drier cut.
  • Mustard: The best for pork marinade, basting, and dipping.
  • Mayonnaise: Use on light-colored meats; will separate if cooked too long.

The flavorings will vary by region.

  • Alabama (northern region): White sauce (mayonnaise), widely used but not a “traditional” variety.
  • Arkansas: Tomato-vinegar plus slightly sweet taste; thin consistency.
  • Kansas City/Midwest: Famous for its sweet molasses and tomato flavor; very thick.
  • Kentucky: Favors a dark sauce reduced from Worcestershire and vinegar.
  • North Carolina: Sour with vinegar and mustard and a touch of heat.