The United States is comprised of four firmly established BBQ regions: Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina and Texas. Your favorite sauce may be whatever style you grew up eating at the local barbecue joint. Most barbecue sauces contain vinegar, tomato and mustard, but each region’s sauce is distinct. Some are super smoky, while others will be thick and spicy or tangy and sweet. They’re all delicious in their own right.
Kansas City: When you think of barbecue sauce, chances are you’re thinking about Kansas City-style, thick, brown and sweet. This tangy sauce always starts with a tomato or ketchup base and includes brown sugar or molasses as a sweetener. It’s good on everything, but it’s especially tasty on ribs.
Memphis: Best known for its dry rub barbecue, Memphis is all about pork, specifically pork ribs and shoulders. Thinner than most tomato-based sauces, Memphis sauce is a mixture of brown sugar, mustard and vinegar, along with just a hint of heat.
South Carolina: South Carolina barbecue sauce doesn’t contain any ketchup and is almost always made with plain yellow mustard. It’s rich, spicy and tangy with no trace of sweetness, making it ideal for pork or chicken.
Texas: Texas barbecue is all about the beef and the BBQ sauce is used primarily to baste or marinate rather than as a condiment. It’s thin but hearty with meat drippings and bold ingredients like smoky cumin, hot sauce, chili powder, garlic and Worcestershire sauce.
There are quite a few BBQ sauce styles that aren’t well-known outside the region of their origin. Here are just a few of those lesser-known styles.
Alabama: Unlike most ketchup-based barbecue sauces, Alabama BBQ sauce is mayonnaise-based to slather on everything from chicken to pork shoulder to ribs. You can use it as a dipping sauce, marinade or dressing for coleslaw.
How do you make Alabama's famous white BBQ sauce? Combine mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Whisk well, cover and refrigerate overnight.
East North Carolina: North Carolina is all about whole hog barbecue and traditional east Carolina barbecue sauce is a pungent, thin sauce made from apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt for cutting through fatty pork.
West North Carolina: Almost identical to the East Carolina sauce with the addition of ketchup, this peppery, tart red sauce is also great on pork, especially if you’re serving it on a pulled-pork sandwich.
Florida: Famous for smoked mullet, this region combines Carolina’s heavy vinegar base with Cuban citrus and spicy, tropical Caribbean elements for a sauce that’s basted on meat or fish while it cooks.
St. Louis: Similar to Kansas City, St. Louis barbecue sauce contains more vinegar. It’s a little thinner and much less sweet than Kansas City sauce for a sweet-and-sour flavor with a kick of spice.