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Types of BBQ Sauce: How to Choose the One for You

Among the various styles of bbq out there, we can all agree on one thing; barbecue sauce is the most important part of the process. Whether it’s a South African braai or American barbeque, the type of BBQ sauce used plays an integral part in the completion of the dishes.
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That’s why we’ll be discussing in this article everything you need to know about the types of BBQ sauces. That way, you can know which sauce to choose next time you’re throwing a barbeque.

The Story of Barbecue Sauces

Barbecue sauce, commonly abbreviated as BBQ sauce, is well known as a sauce that’s typically used when barbecuing. Shocker, I know.
 
However, this special little sauce is what imparts that irresistibly delicious flavor to the cooked meat, making you come back for seconds or even thirds.
 
Now, barbecue sauce can be used to marinate or baste the meat. It can be used as a simple topping or a condiment. Whichever way it’s used, though, the results are sure to blow your mind and have your taste buds dancing for joy.

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https://tainomuseum.org/taino/

So, how did this wonderful sauce come about?
 
Well, the story goes that the practice of barbecuing was inspired by the tribe of the Taino. These were an indigenous group residing in the Caribbean who slow-cooked their meats over a wood grill and they called it barbacoa.
 
Eventually, the American settlers began calling it barbecue, and the slaves were tasked with cooking the meat and dressing them with sauces made of lemon juice and hot peppers, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was the birth of barbecue sauce.
 
Accordingly, barbeque sauce appeared sometime in the 17th century, when the first American colonies were being formed. As time went on, Americans continued to make homemade barbecue sauces for their meat until the first commercially-produced BBQ sauce was sold in the 1900s.

What Makes Barbecue Sauce So Magical?

Contrary to what you may think, barbecue sauce doesn’t actually moisten the meat or make it juicier. In fact, all the water in the meat and the barbecue sauce evaporate as it’s being cooked.
So, why is barbequed meat so succulent and feels as if it melts in the mouth? Well, this wonderful mouthfeel is all due to the barbecue cooking style itself, not the sauce. Cooking meat over low temperatures for a long period will eventually cause the fat and gelatin resent in the meat to break down and liquefy. This results in a sensation of moisture, even if there’s no actual water in the meat.
 
So, what in the world do barbeque sauces do?
Quite simply, add the flavor. That’s right. Barbecue sauce is added to the meat to bring out the best taste of the meat. It does so by depositing the seasonings mixed into it once the water in it evaporates.
 
Still, note that barbecue sauces are only meant for barbecuing. If you try to use BBQ sauces when grilling, the sauce will start smoking and burning, ruining your precious cutlet in the process.

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What Ingredients Are Used in BBQ Sauce?

Early homemade barbecue sauce simply consisted of salt, pepper, and vinegar. Then, in the 1920s, barbeque sauce started having ingredients like sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup.
 
Nowadays, though, BBQ sauce has so many other ingredients in addition to the original ones. Some commonly used ingredients include liquid smoke, onion powder, garlic powder, mustard, black pepper, molasses, and even mayonnaise.

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What are the 4 Main Types of BBQ Sauce?

Generally, barbecue sauces is categorized into four varieties: tomato-based sauces, vinegar-based sauces, mustard-based sauces, and mayonnaise-based sauces. Each category can have a range of BBQ sauce styles, ranging from sweet and tangy to hot and spicy. So, let’s take a look at each category and see some of the types of BBQ sauces that fall under them.

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1. Tomato-Based Sauces

The tomato-based sauce is the most common type of BBQ sauce used nowadays.
 
Typically, the tomato part comes from ketchup, though some sauces use other tomatoey condiments like tomato paste, salsa, etc.
 
Anyhow, once the tomato/ketchup base is added, different ingredients and seasonings are added in different ratios, giving each sauce a characteristic flavor and consistency.
 
Kansas City barbeque sauce is the best-known example of a tomato-based sauce. This is a thick, almost syrup-like sauce that has a distinctive sweet and tangy flavor. Compare this sauce to the St. Louis barbeque sauce, which is much less sweet and syrupy. Nevertheless, both these sauces are tomato-based, and they are both delicious in their own right.

2. Vinegar-Based Sauces

Vinegar-based sauces are less about being sweet and more about being spicy and tangy. This type of barbecue sauce is all the rage in North Carolina, as it goes perfectly with the local meat selection, aka pork. This is due to its watery consistency and astringent-like effect, which makes it perfect for a whole hog barbecue.
 
Still, you should note that just because a BBQ sauce is vinegar-based, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be a lick of ketchup or tomato in it. Quite the opposite, really. The famous Western North Carolina BBQ sauce contains some ketchup, but the predominant ingredient is vinegar. So, despite the presence of tomato, this sauce is classified as a vinegar-based sauce.
 
Our Southern Braai – Fermented BBQ Sauce, for example, contains tomato but also apple cider vinegar that gives the sauce meat tenderizing qualities (vinegar is great for this!) as well as gut-health benefits!

3. Mustard-Based Sauces

Mustard-based BBQ sauces aren’t really that common. In fact, there are only two, which are the South Carolina BBQ sauce and the Georgia BBQ sauce. These are thin, spicy sauces that may be mixed with Tabasco sauce. That being so, these sauces are regularly paired with pork as the astringent flavor helps balance the heavy fat.
 
Still, even though there are only one or two sauces in this category, that doesn’t make mustard sauce any less delicious than tomato and vinegar-based sauces. Honestly, mustard-based barbecue sauce is truly exceptional, so don’t shy away from trying them.

4. Mayonnaise-Based Sauces

Yes, I know. The words mayonnaise and BBQ sauce don’t really seem to go together. However, this type of barbecue sauce is truly a work of wonder. I mean, hey, isn’t mayonnaise just some oil, eggs, and vinegar? Then, why can’t it work with BBQ?
 
Now, there’s not exactly a plethora of mayonnaise-based sauce sauces out there. The Alabama white sauce is perhaps the only mayonnaise-based sauce that we know of. And this creamy sauce is typically paired with chicken rather than beef or pork. However, if you like it enough, you can slather it on any BBQ you want.

Types of American BBQ Sauces

American barbecue sauces are the pinnacle when it comes to the barbecuing culture, even outside of the United States. Whether you’re looking for something sweet, salty, tangy, or spicy, you’re bound to find something you like. So, let’s take a dive into the world of American barbecue sauces now, shall we?

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Alabama

Big Bob Gibson is credited for the invention of Alabama white sauce in 1925 when he used it for his hickory-smoked chicken.
 
Since then, this sauce has become a must for barbecued chicken (and sometimes pork), and now it’s extremely popular in the areas around Decatur. The creamy/milky mixture of vinegar, mayonnaise, and pepper really enhances the flavor of whatever you’re eating, and you can use it as a dipping sauce, marinade, or dressing for your meals.

North Carolina

Eastern North Carolina
 
The eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce is the epitome of back to the basics, and it’s totally tomato-free. This sauce is typically made of apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, salt, black pepper, and water. This is very similar to our Southern Braai – Fermented Vintage BBQ Sauce. The spicy and acidic African cuisine from the 1800s is a source of inspiration for eastern North Carolina’s BBQ sauce, so this makes perfect sense. Typically, when it comes to soaking and marinating pork, this sauce is used, as it can cut through the greasiness like a knife through butter.
 
Western North Carolina
 
West North Carolina BBQ sauce is also called Piedmont or Lexington-style dip, after the city where it was prevalent.
 
It’s similar to its eastern brethren, just with a hint of ketchup and brown sugar thrown in to tame the vinegar tang. Accordingly, it’s also excellent for cooked pork shoulder or pulled pork sandwiches. However, this vinegar sauce has more of a reddish tint, with a sweeter taste and slightly thicker consistency.

South Carolina

This barbecue sauce is known as Carolina gold, and it can be used as a condiment or a mop sauce. It’s thought to have originated when Germans came to settle in the state, bringing mustard with them.
 
This Carolina-style sauce is typically made with plain yellow mustard. However, some varieties add vinegar and extra spices for more of a zing. So, if you’re looking for something sweet, it’s best to look for another sauce altogether cause you won’t be getting it with this South Carolina sauce.

Florida

While it’s not as well known as some of the most ubiquitous BBQ sauces, Florida BBQ sauce is truly unique and flavorsome. It’s inspired by the vinegar-based Carolina-style BBQ sauces, but it contains unique Cuban and Caribbean ingredients, bringing a tropical flavor to the sauce. Normally, you’d baste your meat or fish with this sauce and then wait for it to cook.

Baltimore

The Baltimore-style sauce is a twist on the typical BBQ sauces. There’s no brown sugar, ketchup, or vinegar in this sauce. It’s simply made with a mixture of mayonnaise and horseradish, resulting in a creamy Tiger Sauce.
 
Now, the horseradish makes the sauce quite spicy. However, you know what they say; the spicier, the more addictive. Normally, this sauce is served with pit beef sandwiches, which are the perfect embodiment of crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Kansas City

Kansas-City-style sauce is what you want when you want a touch of sweetness on your slow-smoked meats.
 
It’s made of ketchup and sweetened with brown sugar or molasses. Then, to give the sauce a richer and deeper flavor, other spices and ingredients are added, like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and vinegar.
 
As such, Kansas City barbecue sauce is absolutely heavenly on pork ribs. Just make sure to put on this sauce after you’ve slow-smoked your meat to prevent the sugar from burning.

St. Louis

St. Louis BBQ sauce is one of the tomato and sugar sauces. It’s basically the thinner and tangier version of Kansas-City barbecue sauce as it contains more vinegar, less sugar, and a hint of spice. It goes perfectly on the mouth-watering St. Louis ribs, which are famous for their rectangular and flat appearance.

Memphis

Memphis-style barbecue sauce is a bit obscure, though Memphis-style BBQ itself is well-known.
 
That’s because Memphis is known for its dry ribs that don’t require any sauces. However, Memphis also offers wet ribs, which are marinated and covered in a sauce before, during, and after the cooking process. Memphis-style BBQ sauce generally has the thinner consistency of St. Louis and the sweetness of Kansas City Barbecue sauce.

Texas

It makes perfect sense that the state of the cowboys would come up with a totally bold sauce, which is the Texas-style BBQ sauce. This sauce is made using meat drippings, cumin, Worcestershire sauce hot sauce, garlic, and red chili powder. However, despite the multiple ingredients, this sauce is pretty thin.
 
That’s exactly why it’s used as a glaze for the meat. However, Texas-style BBQ sauces that act as mop sauces will have slightly more ingredients like beef stock, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Types of BBQ Sauces From Around the World

So, for the previous heading, you’d think that Americans were the only ones serious about barbecue sauce. However, I’m happy to announce that BBQ sauce is a staple in a lot of different cultures, even if they’re less popular than the American one. So, where else can you find BBQ sauces in the world?

Central America

In Central America, most steaks come with a spicy tomato sauce on the side called chirmol. Think of it as Mexican salsa, but it’s totally different at the same time due to the addition of oil, lime juice, and vinegar. It can come in a cooked or uncooked version depending on the restaurant you’re eating in, so make sure you know which one you want before ordering.

South America

Many different sauces go with grilled and barbecued meats in South America. There’s Pebre, the herby and spicy salsa from Chile. Chimichurri is also found in Argentina. These sauces are similar, but they still have some significant differences that make each one a separate entity.

South Africa

South African barbecue, also known as a braai, is also famous for having its special barbecue sauce. This sauce is made using fermented chili, white vinegar, cane sugar, molasses, pimento, bay leaves, cloves, and other special ingredients that make it taste out of this world. You can use this sauce as a marinade, basting sauce, and dipping sauce.
 
The South African Braai sauce is usually served with ribs, lamb chops, steak, and even hot dogs, but it can also be put on poultry, fish, or vegetables.
 
Braais are more than a simple BBQ, it’s a whole day experience and an integral part of South African culture. There is even a national holiday for it!

Guam

In Guam, chicken and pork are eaten with a barbecue sauce named Finadene. This is a tangy sauce based on vinegar, onion, and soy sauce with a few chilis thrown in. When adding the sauce to grilled seafood, it amplifies the umami flavor tenfold, making your tongue dance for joy.

Vegetarian Uses for BBQ Sauce

Now, just because you’re vegetarian doesn’t mean that barbecue sauce is out the window. You can still add barbecue sauce to plenty of plant-based foods to transform them for the better.
 
Some options you have for BBQ sauce include fried and baked tofu, baked beans as well as roasted squash, and pumpkin. You can also go with pulled jackfruit sandwiches, cauliflower, chickpeas, coleslaw, veggie burgers, and really any veggie dish.

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FAQs

This is a mayonnaise-based BBQ sauce originating in Alabama and regularly served with grilled chicken.

It depends. If it’s from the tomato and sugar varieties, then absolutely not. However, if it’s more vinegary, then it can be okay for dieting, provided it’s not rich in oils. Just be sure to check the labels when picking a diet-friendly BBQ sauce, for example, our Southern Braai sauce is tomato-based with some sugar but is very low in calories.

Any Carolina-style BBQ will go great with pulled pork, be it eastern northern, wester northern, or southern.

The best sauce for chicken is one that can be used as a marinade as well as a basting sauce, so look for something with some vinegar (to tenderize) but also enough flavor to infuse into the meat.

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In Conclusion, What type of BBQ Sauce Should You Choose?

Well, the answer here totally depends on your preference.
 
If you want something sweet, then go with a tomato-based BBQ Sauce like Kansas city or St. Louis. For a deep, flavorful BBQ sauce, go with South African Braai sauce or the Baltimore sauce. If you want some more spice, consider even using a peri-peri hot sauce. There are no strict rules when it comes to grilling! Finally, if you’re more into a tangy sauce, then the Carolina-style BBQ sauces will do the trick. Just figure out what you want, and you’ll be all good.

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