The Best Barbecue Sauces
Depending on where you are from, barbecue sauce can either be an integral part of your BBQ experience or it may not touch the plate. Heck, depending on where you are from, barbecue sauce can look completely different. So when you sit down to try to figure out what the best BBQ sauce is, there’s a lot to unpack. So…
Depending on where you are from, barbecue sauce can either be an integral part of your BBQ experience or it may not touch the plate. Heck, depending on where you are from, barbecue sauce can look completely different. So when you sit down to try to figure out what the best BBQ sauce is, there’s a lot to unpack.
So what are the major regional types of barbecue sauce? What sets them apart from each other, and how are they similar? What type of sauce goes best with what type of meat? Are there any good recipes for a homemade BBQ sauce? What are the best store bought BBQ sauces? Let’s cover it all like a beautiful BBQ sauce on a rack of ribs. At least, if you’re into that.
What Are The Major Regional Types Of BBQ Sauces?
As I said, you can go to people from across the United States and ask them about their favorite type of barbecue sauce and get completely different answers. Some regional sauces are variants of each other while other sauces are completely unique.
Kansas City-Style BBQ Sauce
This might be the most recognizable and widespread barbecue sauce. Most types of sauce that you find in stores are variations of this style. The sauce is tomato-based and amps up the sweetness with brown sugar and/or molasses. It’s thick, sweet, and dark-colored. When it’s cooked, it becomes sticky and tacky.
Try out Meathead Goldwyn’s Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce Recipe here. Do the full recipe with the onions and strain them out. It’s the best KC sauce Mike Haas has ever made.
Eastern North Carolina BBQ Sauce
This might be the most simple sauce on the list. It’s decidedly old-school and made to complement one thing and that’s pork. Specifically whole hog. It’s a vinegar-based sauce inasmuch as it’s essentially seasoned vinegar. All you do is add salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. You might find some versions that also add sugar for some sweetness, but this is Eastern NC sauce in a nutshell. It’s suited to cutting through all that rich meat with heat and tanginess.
You can’t go wrong with Meat Church’s recipe.
Western North Carolina BBQ Sauce
While Eastern NC sauce is strictly vinegar-based with no tomatoes to be found for miles around, Western North Carolina sauce takes that vinegar base and adds sugar and tomato to get a rich, sweet, yet thinner sauce with a vinegar kick. It’s still suited best to pork, but if you find yourself near Lexington, you’ll find this sauce on chopped pork (or sliced) made from the shoulder. You’ll also find red slaw, coleslaw made with the same Western NC sauce, as a side dish. The Galley Gourmet has a sauce that does West NC justice.
South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce
Another unique sauce coming from the southeastern US is a mustard-based sauce. Some brands might call it gold barbecue sauce for its distinct yellow look. It uses yellow mustard as its base and then adds vinegar along with other seasonings and some form of sweetener. Its unique blend of sweetness and tanginess is suited to, you guessed it, pork. However, I’ve used it on chicken before and it’s great as well. Amazing Ribs has a great Carolina Gold style sauce to make this weekend.
Alabama White Barbecue Sauce
Alabama white sauce is one of the most unique barbecue sauces you’ll find. It’s mayonnaise-based with vinegar, some sort of sweetener, and spices to add a depth of flavor. It’s said that the man who created this sauce that is unlike any other you’ll see, Robert Lee Gibson or “Big Bob” Gibson, took Eastern NC sauce and added mayo to it to start. It’s most commonly associated with smoked chicken. If you’ve never had it before, it may sound absolutely weird, but I’ve had it, and it’s fantastic on chicken. Would recommend. Try this Alabama White Sauce recipe from Barbecue Smoker Recipes.
Texas Barbecue Sauce
When I think of Texas barbecue, I don’t think about the sauce. I think about Central Texas-style brisket. Then sausage, but primarily brisket. However, there is Texas-style barbecue sauce. It’s a thinner, less-sweet version of Kansas City-style sauce that typically uses tomato paste rather than ketchup to help focus on a tomato flavor rather than sweetness.
Memphis Barbecue Sauce
Memphis BBQ sauce is another type of sauce that might draw some comparisons to Kansas City-style sauce, but it’s a thinner sauce that focuses on spices and tanginess rather than sweet and sticky. It’s also utilized more for dipping the meat or pouring over the meat at the end. Grill University has a great recipe.
Now these sauces all fall under one major category of sauce with some influences of others: tomato-based, vinegar-based, mustard-based, and mayonnaise-based. Just about every barbecue sauce you can find will fall into one of these categories simply based on which of the four main ingredients appears the most. They are also typically paired with a specific type of meat, like the North Carolina sauces are synonymous with hogs and Alabama white sauce might be more recognized on chicken.
What Type Is The Best BBQ Sauce For Ribs?
Now you can argue that this is entirely subjective, and like most things in barbecue, you’d be correct. It comes down to personal preferences, right?
However, I’m going to put this out when it comes to barbecue sauce and ribs. For my money, the best BBQ sauce for ribs (meaning pork ribs, by the way) is some type of Kansas City-style sauce. I associate sauced pork ribs with a sweet taste and sauce sticking to my fingers. Now I like my sauce to have a vinegary tang to it as well, but I still want an overall sweeter profile that requires twice as many napkins as any other kind of rib.
What Type Is The Best BBQ Sauce For Pulled Pork?
So I live just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. That puts me firmly in pork country when it comes to barbecue. However, I’m not in Eastern North Carolina. I’m closer to Lexington and the Piedmont region, which means I live in Western North Carolina BBQ territory. So how can I argue with Western North Carolina sauce as the best BBQ sauce for pulled pork?
It’s got the tanginess of vinegar but it’s a much more balanced sauce than Eastern NC sauce in my opinion. I’ve eaten pulled pork with Eastern NC sauce, and while that vinegar certainly cuts through the richness of the pork, I want more balance.
You absolutely can serve pulled pork with Kansas City-style BBQ sauce, but I would look for a variation that uses a bit more vinegar to help achieve balance. That’s just my personal preference, though.
Homemade BBQ Sauces
We’re big fans here at Angry BBQ of making as much of your barbecue and grilling journey by hand as possible. It gives you the greatest freedom and flexibility to make food that is best suited to your personal tastes as well as the people you’re feeding. So we’ve got a couple of homemade barbecue sauces for you to check out!
Michael Haas’s Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe
Owner and head pitmaster of Angry BBQ Michael Haas has a well-balanced homemade barbecue sauce that combines sweet, savory, and tangy ingredients that will pair perfectly with almost any meat you smoke.
Homemade BBQ Sauce
- Medium sauce pan
- Squeeze bottle
- 1 3/4 cup Ketchup "I use French's"
- 2 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tbsp Chili powder subsitute with chipotle chili powder to increase the heat
- 1 tbsp Cumin Secret Ingredient!
- 1 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Ground pepper
- 2 tsp Brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 cup Water
- 1/4 cup White vinegar
- 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- Simply mix all the ingredients into a sauce pan. Mix over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Do not boil.
- Let cool. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate. The sauce will last approximately one month if refrigerated. Enjoy.
Homemade Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce Recipe
This is a great recipe from a friend of the site, Brad Korber, that combines the flavor of whiskey with sweetness from an ingredient other than the usual suspects. Instead of using ketchup, brown sugar, or even molasses, Brad uses maple syrup and honey as the sweeteners. It gives it a different flavor that might evoke thoughts of my home area of New York State or even further north like Canada.
Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce Recipe
- Medium sauce pan
- Wooden Spoon
- Measuring Cup
- Sauce Squeeze Bottle
- Measuring Spoons
- 1/2 Cup Jack Daniel'ss Tennessee Whiskey You can try others, but there is a reason Jack is the best selling Whiskey on the planet
- 1/2 Cup Honey Thick
- 1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
- 1/2 Cup BBQ sauce Kraft Plain BBQ Sauce or other common brand names- use the plain versions
- 1/2 Tablespoon Cayenne You can add more or less depending on your taste preference. Don't skimp, you need some to add that little kick
- 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar- Optional, I usually do not add- but it works well, depending on your preference, adds some tanginess to this sweet and hot BBQ sauce. Mike here, I add it to the mixture because I love the acidic profile it brings.
- 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
- Simply mix all ingredients in a medium pot. Stir over medium/low heat for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally. I like to make sure all the ingredients mix in well so there are no lumps.
- Once the sauce is mixed well, turn off the heat.
- Cool and place into squeeze bottles.
- Kee in the Refrigerator for up to 30 days. Airtight containers for storage are key to keeping a sauce fresh.
The Best Store Bought BBQ Sauces
Just because we prefer making rubs and sauces doesn’t mean we abhor using the store-bought varieties. There’s a reason why there are plenty of BBQ sauce brands out there. They can make good products and sell them in vast quantities versus us needing to mix up a batch of sauce every other time we want it.
Now is it going to be as good as if we tried to make it using the freshest ingredients at home? Probably not, but that’s the trade for convenience. So whether you’re prowling through local grocery stores or scrolling through Amazon, here are some brands to keep an eye on.
Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce
If you want a barbecue sauce that’s backed by both backyard pitmasters and BBQ competition teams, look no further than Blues Hog. It’s a balanced sauce, getting sweetness from a combination of brown sugar, ketchup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, and corn syrup. Then it uses apple cider vinegar to up the tanginess before adding Worcestershire sauce, a proprietary blend of spices, and even anchovies for savory finish.
If you really want to take your pork to the next level, get this and Blues Hog Tennessee Red for even more vinegar pop to really cut through all that rich meat.
Sweet Baby Ray’s
Out of all the BBQ sauce brands available, Sweet Baby Ray’s might be the most iconic. You can find people slathering it on ribs, tossing pulled pork with it, and even people who don’t smoke using it in slow cookers. It’s a good representation of a Kansas City-style sauce, sweet and thick that turns sticky when it’s applied to ribs for the last part of a smoking session.
So if you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to purchasing barbecue sauces, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce typically appeals to a wide range of people’s tastes. The company also makes a variety of flavors that you can check out.
Head Country Bar-B-Q Sauce Original
Head Country offers a variety of products, including seasonings and marinades, but it’s the sauce that sticks out. While Head Country has a variety of sauces, including some sugar-free options for those seeking flavor while watching their sugar intake, the original BBQ sauce is one of the best you can find. It balances sweetness with a vinegar tanginess and adds just a little heat to provide some warmth.
If you’re looking for more heat, Head Country has a Hot & Spicy sauce. There’s also Apple Habanero for a sweet and spicy combination.
Lillie’s Q Smoky Barbecue Sauce
Lillie’s Q advertises this sauce as a Memphis-style sweet sauce, and it is a thinner sauce in the Memphis tradition. It is sweet, but it does use yellow mustard for tanginess. It also has natural hickory smoke to impart even more smokiness. You’ll also find onion and garlic powder for some savoriness.
This isn’t the only sauce from Lillie’s Q that appears on this list due to founder and two-time World Champion at Memphis in May Charlie McKenna’s travels throughout the southeastern US on the competition trail.
Lillie’s Q Ivory Barbecue Sauce
Evidently McKenna’s travels took him to Decatur, Alabama, home of Big Bob Gibson and the birthplace of Alabama white sauce. So he put his own spin on the iconic white sauce with a little cayenne for a kick.
If you’ve contemplated trying a completely unique experience, grill or smoke up some chicken quarters and dunk them in this sauce. You may never want to eat chicken off the grill or smoker any other way.
Carolina Brewery Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce
Speaking of unique experiences, here is a take on the Carolina mustard sauce from a brewery based out of Chapel Hill, NC. After all, who better to make a Carolina-based sauce than people who live and work in the Carolinas?
Carolina Brewery starts off with that yellow mustard base and adds more vinegar for even more of a tangy bite (maybe paying homage to another iconic Carolina BBQ?) and some brown sugar to provide a little bit of sweetness as a balance. This sauce works great on chicken and pork, so take some time to experiment and enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce
Sure, we’ve been hitting on some unique regional offerings centered around the southeastern part of the United States. Now we can get really crazy by taking a look at this incredible sauce that has captured a lot of attention recently.
First, this is not going to be anything like a Kansas City-style sauce or really any other sauce on the list. You know it’s going to be a completely different experience when the first ingredient isn’t ketchup, vinegar, mustard, or some type of sweetener like brown sugar. No, Bachan’s first ingredient is indeed soy sauce. You will find a few familiar ingredients or at least ideas, like cane sugar as a sweetener, tomato paste, onion in the form of green onion, garlic, and even vinegar (okay, it’s organic rice vinegar, but it still counts.)
However, you really should give this a try if you’re looking for a savory experience. It won’t replace your favorite barbecue sauce on ribs, but it might be something to help accentuate your smoked meat. Mike and Jannah use this on so many dishes outside of BBQ. It has become a staple in their home.
Wrapping It Up
Who knew that barbecue sauce could mean so many different things? Just like dry rubs, BBQ sauce can take on many different flavor profiles and even appearances. You can stick with the tried-and-true sweet and sticky experience by using Sweet Baby Ray’s or branch out into some truly different flavors like an Alabama white sauce-inspired Ivory Barbecue Sauce from Lillie’s Q or a Carolina mustard sauce from Carolina Brewery.
What’s your favorite barbecue sauce? Do you make one at home or do you have a go-to sauce from the store? Let us know in the comments, especially if you’ve got something a bit different!
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