Regional Barbecue Sauces 101

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Regional barbecue sauces vary in AmericaWhat are the differences between barbecue sauce from Kansas City, Texas, and the Carolinas? Aaron Chronister and Jason Day, authors of BBQ Makes Everything Better, school you on what’s what.

The regional variations of barbecue are most evident in the sauces that adorn the smoked meat of the area. Among the most recognized is the thick Kansas City–style barbecue sauce. Known for its deep-red color and sweet molasses flavor, it’s the most common style among commercial sauces (KC Masterpiece, Bull’s-Eye, Sweet Baby Ray’s, etc.), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only type of sauce out there.

If you head to the Carolina area, you’ll quickly find out that molasses, or even tomato, has no place in their style of barbecue. This part of the country is known for its affinity for swine, so people there have come to love vinegar-based sauces that complement the rich flavor of pork.

In North Carolina, a thin and spicy vinegar sauce reigns supreme. The big bold tang of the vinegar dominates the flavor, but it’s the blend of peppers that leaves a delightful burn on your lips after each bite. This region also sports a toned-down version called a Piedmont sauce that incorporates tomatoes to mellow out some of the vinegar flavor.

Heading into South Carolina, you can find a mustard-based sauce that’s said to be inspired by the German population that originally settled in this area. Honey and peppers typically round out the heavy mustard flavor to create a balanced sauce to use on pulled pork topped with zesty coleslaw.

Texas-style sauce is a semithick tomato-based sauce typically flavored with ingredients similar to those used in the familiar Tex-Mex cuisine of the area. Cumin, chiles, and peppers play into a bold sauce that’s designed to stand up against the strong flavor of Texas beef.

Regardless of which style you prefer, barbecue sauce is intended to complement the flavor of the meat. Use it sparingly, but use it often!




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