Each region has a sauce that represents its unique flavor preferences.
I’m going to be breaking down some of the most popular types of regional barbecue sauces from across America, with links to killer recipes that you can whip up right at home – no matter where home is!
7 Types of regional barbecue sauce
1. Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce
When you think of barbecue sauce, you probably think of Kansas City-style. It’s smoky, sweet, and just thick enough to coat delicacies like pork ribs and burnt ends perfectly.
It’s the thickest and sweetest sauce on the list, with the molasses giving it a dark hue.
Kansas City sauce is a tomato-heavy sauce with multiple sweeteners like molasses and brown sugar. It also contains a variety of spices, so you pick up a lot of different flavor notes depending on what meat you are pairing it with.
A man by the name of Henry Perry is widely accepted as the originator of Kansas City-style barbecue. In the 1920s, Henry Perry started smoking meat in an outdoor pit next to his barn and served up portions of meat wrapped in humble newspaper. His food gained so much popularity that others quickly followed in his footsteps.
I find Kansas City-style sauce best on smoked pork ribs, chopped beef, and of course, the famous Kansas City burnt ends.
One thing to remember with Kansas City sauce is that it has high sugar content and can quickly burn when cooked over hot coals. It’s best to add the sauce in the final minutes of the cooking process or serve it on the side instead.
2. Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce
The Carolinas are known for their pork, and many believe that nothing pairs better with savory, succulent pork than mustard.
The mustard-based Carolina Gold barbecue sauce is popular in South Carolina. Neighbors to the North turn their noses at the creamy, mustard-filled concoction and prefer a spicy, vinegar-based mop sauce.
Carolina Gold sauce is a little sweet, a little tangy, and has a slight kick on the back end from a touch of cayenne pepper. The flavors melt together to create a unique sauce that can’t be beaten.
We’re such big fans of this style of sauce we came up with our own, available to buy from the Smoked BBQ Source store.
The origin of Carolina Gold barbecue sauce can be traced back to German immigrants that settled in parts of South Carolina. While we’re unable to trace the history of the sauce back to a single creator, it’s most popular in the low country region, near Charleston, and up through the center of the state.
I find that Carolina Gold barbecue sauce pairs best with pulled pork. Whether it’s a plate of pulled pork or a sandwich piled high with savory meat, this sauce complements the smoky, savory flavor of the pork perfectly. It is also a great sauce for pork ribs and even chicken.
3. East Carolina Vinegar Sauce
We all know that The Carolinas take their barbecue seriously, so it stands to reason that they have more than one classic sauce.
East Carolina Vinegar Sauce is absolutely nothing like the Carolina Gold that is popular in the south. It’s more of a mop sauce than a traditional barbecue sauce, and it’s used to mop things like whole hog barbecue, pulled pork, and pork ribs.
This sauce is a simple combination of vinegar, a touch of brown sugar for sweetness, and a fiery kick from both red pepper flakes and hot sauce. It has a very thin consistency and is best used to mop barbecue during the cooking process – especially the famous whole hog barbecue Carolina is known for.
The origin of this vinegary mop sauce is unclear, but it’s evident that it dates back at least a couple of centuries in North Carolina, where whole hog barbecue reigns supreme. The origins can be traced back to the first mop sauces used by Native Americans in the region.
I find that a great, spicy mop sauce is a versatile sauce for all types of barbecue – but especially pork.
Whether you are mopping a whole hog, a few racks of ribs, or even a smoked pork butt, this sauce is the perfect combination of spice and tang that will add a tremendous amount of flavor to your meat.
4. Texas-style Barbecue Sauce
Sauce can be a controversial thing in the Lone Star State. Central Texas barbecue especially has a major focus on the meat, and it can be frowned upon to douse your barbecue in sauce. Some even believe that sauce on the table is a symbol of inferior quality barbecue.
But, in a state with a population of almost 30 million people, there are plenty of people that love their barbecue saucy.
While the style and flavor of sauce vary across the state depending on what region you’re in, classic Central-Texas barbecue sauce is a savory, tomato-based sauce with a peppery kick.
Texas-style barbecue sauce is similar to Kansas City-style barbecue sauce but much less sweet and with an extra kick of pepper. Some places will add ketchup to their sauce, but I find that tomato paste is a much better way to get a solid tomato flavor that doesn’t overly sweeten the sauce.
This sauce does not have a high sugar content, so it can withstand the heat of the grill or smoker during the cooking process better than its Kansas City counterpart. You should still add the sauce towards the end of the cooking process to maintain its integrity.
5. Memphis Barbecue Sauce
With its tomato base, Memphis-style barbecue sauce has a fair amount in common with Kansas City.
Memphis barbecue sauce is less sweet and has more of a vinegar punch than a typical KC sauce.
You get some spice from cayenne pepper and hot sauce. It’s also a notably thinner sauce, making it a great finishing sauce.
You can’t talk about Memphis barbecue without mentioning Beale Street, where Barbecue joints started cropping up in the late 1920s, serving pork shoulder and ribs cooked over brick pits.
The style of cooking ribs hot and fast came out of Memphis, as did dry-rubbed ribs.
Use this sauce as a dipping sauce with dry rubbed ribs, or mix through pulled pork.
6. St. Louis Barbecue Sauce
St. Louis barbecue tends to lean more towards “hot and fast” than the “low and slow” style of barbecue that you see in other areas.
Since a lot of their food is grilled rather than smoked, so this sauce is typically used as a finishing sauce to prevent it from burning.
St. Louis barbecue sauce is a ketchup-based sauce with a more tangy flavor and thinner consistency than its Kansas City counterpart. It has a distinct tomato flavor and a definite tang from the vinegar, making it a versatile sauce for those that want a more savory flavor on their barbecue.
The origin of this style of sauce can be traced back to the early 1900’s and a grocer named Louis Maull. He sold groceries and delivered them to people in the St. Louis area and began making condiments and sauces to sell as well. He rolled out his Maull’s Barbecue Sauce in 1926 and claims to include 20 different ingredients in the mixture.
I find that St. Louis-style barbecue sauce is great for people that don’t like an overly sweet sauce on their barbecue. It has a tangy vinegar flavor that is more savory than sweet. It pairs nicely with grilled chicken, smoked pork ribs, and pork chops.
7. Alabama White Sauce
While some people argue that Alabama White Sauce isn’t really a barbecue sauce, we can’t have a list of American BBQ sauces without including this unique Alabama classic.
It is a mayonnaise-based sauce with a kick of heat from horseradish and cayenne that is packed full of bold flavor.
This sauce is popular in Northern Alabama and pairs perfectly with smoked and grilled chicken. It is a finishing sauce, so it isn’t added until the food is done cooking.
Alabama White Sauce was invented over 100 years ago by Robert Gibson at Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, AL. When he opened his restaurant in 1925, the famous white sauce was a staple from day one. It’s served on grilled chicken, and the entire piece of chicken is dunked into the sauce right before serving, so it’s slathered.
I find this sauce to pair best with chicken – either grilled or smoked. It also tastes great on chicken sandwiches and pulled chicken. It also pairs nicely, slathered on pork chops, pork ribs, or even a pulled pork sandwich.
Overview and Final Thoughts
As I’m sure you can tell by now, there is a wide variety of barbecue styles across the United States. From the battle between vinegar and mustard in The Carolinas, to the spicy & pepper punch from Texas-style sauce or the sticky, sweet sauce found in Kansas City, you are sure to find a sauce that you absolutely love.
Whether you’re smoking pork, beef, or chicken there is definitely a sauce (or two) that will bring your barbecue to the next level with a boost of flavor. Be sure to check out all of the recipes for these great, American barbecue sauces and try them to see which one is your favorite!