Barbecue is a pretty divisive subject. So let’s focus on just one particular instrument in this complex barbecue symphony: the sauce. Different religions don’t just cook their meat differently, they also flavor the meat with different barbecue sauces. So what makes Carolina BBQ sauce different from Texas BBQ sauce different from Memphis style BBQ sauce, different from Kansas city BBQ sauce, different from St. Louis style BBQ sauce, different from white BBQ sauce? I’m glad you asked. Let’s go sauce by sauce.
Carolina BBQ Sauce
There are three styles of BBQ sauce in the Carolinas. South Carolina BBQ sauce has a mustard base. It’s a rich, spicy, and tangy sauce made with yellow mustard that gets slathered on pork. North Carolina has a vinegar-based BBQ sauce. It’s mostly cider vinegar, salt, and red pepper flakes. The pungent flavor cuts through fatty whole hog BBQ. Then there’s Lexington-style BBQ sauce, which is tomato based. It’s similar to the vinegar sauce but with ketchup and brown sugar added and goes great on pulled pork.
Texas Style BBQ Sauce
Texas does BBQ a little differently. Most states use pork for the barbecue. Texas is all about beef. There are four or five regional styles of BBQ within Texas, but the one most people think of is from central Texas with its signature dish, smoked brisket. In Texas, you won’t find sauce slathered on the smoked meats but rather on the side and used sparingly. There may be sauce made of drippings and Worcestershire. Aside from that, Texas BBQ sauce is usually tomato based with a little bit of sweetness from brown sugar, molasses, or honey.
Memphis Style BBQ Sauce
Memphis is all about ribs. Most are made with a paprika-heavy, multi-spiced dry rub and finished with a light mopping of sauce. But if you order them “wet” they’ll come absolutely covered with a complex tangy, sweet, and thin sauce made with caramelized sugar and tomato paste that also contains some vinegar and mustard.
Kansas City BBQ Sauce
Kansas City BBQ sauce is much thicker than others. This sweet and tangy sauce has a ketchup or tomato base and usually contains brown sugar or molasses. It’s served on pork ribs and is perfect for those KC-style burnt ends. The high sugar content of the sauce can cut through the fatty char.
St Louis Style BBQ Sauce
St Louis style BBQ sauce is very similar to Kansas City’s tomato and molasses sauce with a little added vinegar and a little less sugar. It’s a slightly spicy, sweet and sour sauce that goes great on pork spare ribs. St Louis style also forgoes any use of liquid smoke, which some sauces will occasionally include.
White BBQ Sauce
Alabama white BBQ sauce may be the most unique style of BBQ sauce out there. Unless someone has a crazy one they invented, but I really don’t want to hear about it. This tangy outlier is a mayo-based sauce. It’s said to have been invented by Bob Gibson in 1925 to serve on his hickory-smoked chicken.
As you can see, there are many different styles and flavors of BBQ sauce. It’s fun to argue about what true barbecue is, but at the end of the day, it’s all a culmination of history and tradition slathered on meat. They’re both similar and unique, just like our states and stories. So, we shouldn’t argue over what style of BBQ is the best. It’s Texas.