A person could spend a lifetime sampling regional barbecue sauce styles. The styles cover a wide range of flavors, textures, and colors, and the variations are many.
Regions well known for their sauces include North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and the Midwest. This is by no means every barbecue hot spot in the United States…just a representative sampling.
The Carolinas are home to several sauces, and all are unlike the sweet and tangy tomato based Kansas City style sauce I grew up loving. Carolina sauces hint at the beginnings of barbecue, when plain vinegar, the original barbecue sauce, was used to baste the meat roasting over the fire.
The Carolina sauces all have a thin consistency and tart kick. The most
basic sauce is vinegar spiced with cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, and maybe a bit of sugar. This vinegar based sauce has a clean, crisp and hot character that compliments the flavor of pork. Other versions of the Carolina sauces start with this same basic recipe, and add
mustard , ketchup, or both. White sugar, brown sugar, and various spices might also be added into the mix.
Alabama is home to a unique sauce that's similar to mayonnaise. Traditionally, raw eggs were beaten together with vinegar and spices to create a pale, off
white sauce flecked with grains of black pepper. Now it's common for the raw eggs to be substituted by mayonnaise. This sauce is smooth on the tongue with a vinegary bite.
Let's go to my boyhood home, Kansas City,and explore the
barbecue sauce made famous there. In Kansas City, barbecue isn't barbecue without sauce…and lots of it! Thick and sweet tomato based sauce, balanced with a bit of vinegar tartness, is typical here, though some of the sauces display less of the cloying sweetness and more pronounced flavors of spice and heat. The addition of molasses, black pepper and spices makes for sauces that can vary greatly in the level of sweetness and spiciness.
Heading south, we eventually end up in Texas, where beef is king. The barbecue sauce here is influenced by Mexican traditions, and is usually hot and spicy from the addition peppers and other southwestern flavorings. It's tomato based, with vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and spices, and is usually somewhat thinner than the Kansas City style sauce.
As you can see, barbecue sauces can be as unique as the location from which they originated. The recipes evolved as they traveled around the country. Local tastes and ingredients were integrated into this wonderful condiment, creating bold new tastes along the way.
And barbecue sauce styles are still evolving. Serious barbecuers can be a competitive and creative lot, and continually push the limits as they create sauces that are new and unique.