Types of Barbecue Sauce

Different types and styles of barbecue sauces across the country.

The consumption of roasted and barbecued meats dated back to ancient times, and many ancient people, including royalties, enjoyed its savory and delicious taste. But you will seldom find old barbecue sauce recipes as well as early cookbooks, saved for some Ancient Roman cookbooks like the Apicius that contained 500 recipes. 

At present, however, you will find myriads of barbecue sauce styles and recipes. Additionally, BBQ sauce usually corresponds to the regional styles of barbecue. So, you will find barbecue sauces from North and South Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Texas, and many other regions in the U.S. Moreover, BBQ sauces are generally categorized according to their primary ingredients like tomato, mustard, vinegar, and mayonnaise. 

If it’s your first time cooking barbecue at home, you might be at a loss as to which BBQ sauce to choose, given the myriads of options at hand. You might also be asking what BBQ sauce styles you should buy to complement your barbecue. So, it will help if you know the four main barbecue sauce types to ensure that the sauce you will buy would complement the meat you are cooking.

Types of Barbecue Sauces Based on Major Ingredients

When looking for a barbecue sauce, it will help to know the four main base ingredients of barbecue sauces. These base ingredients are tomato, vinegar, mustard, and mayonnaise. Here’s a rundown of each of these BBQ sauce types:

1) Tomato-based Barbecue Sauce

The tomato-based BBQ sauce is the most common barbecue type sauce you will find in the grocery. You will find that this sauce is in the form of ketchup, being tomato-based. Other ingredients are added to this ketchup-like sauce to produce the desired consistency in thickness and form. 

One perfect example of a tomato-based barbecue sauce is the Kansas City BBQ Sauce. It features a thick and ketchup-like form that is syrupy. It is sweet and tangy and has the following ingredients: ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and other spices that include garlic powder, onion powder, and many more. You can use this tomato-based BBQ sauce for any barbecue, and it will surely enhance the taste of your barbecue.

You can also check Texas, Memphis, and St. Louis barbecue sauces because they also follow the Kansas City barbecue sauce when it comes to forms and ingredients. If you taste, for example, the Texas barbecue sauce, you will find it a bit sweet and classic tasting. It also features a thinner sauce, sporting a mixture of spices, tomato, onions, and celery. 

St. Louis BBQ sauce, on the other hand, is tangy and thin. It is well-known for smoking and grilling pork ribs. Its ingredients include ketchup, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Tomato with sugar features a sweeter and thicker form. It also burns quickly. Therefore, it is best for use immediately after grilling or cooking. 

Kansas City BBQ sauce, on the other hand, is perfect for chicken and ribs because it is tangy and sweet. Its ketchup and molasses provide an exquisite sweetness balanced by vinegar’s and tomatoes’ acidic and vibrant taste. Moreover, the chili powder, red pepper, and cayenne pepper add a gentle kick to its flavor. Memphis BBQ sauce, however, carries molasses and much tomato flavor. It is perfect for serving ribs and will provide the barbecue with an exquisite taste.  

2) Vinegar-based Barbecue Sauce

Another group of sauces that you should look into is vinegar-based barbecue sauces. This type of sauce is the predominant sauce in North Carolina’s barbecue style. The vinegar-based BBQ sauces are thinner compared to tomato-based and are spicier. This sauce has been concocted for pork barbecue because the pork has a more astringent flavor. So, it must be balanced by vinegar.

The vinegar-based BBQ sauces are not entirely without ketchup. Nevertheless, you will find the Eastern Carolina BBQ devoid of tomato. However, Piedmont and the Lexington variants of the Western Carolina contain ketchup, though thin enough not to thicken the sauce. It is also slightly pinker compared to its eastern counterpart. You will find both sauces used in most Carolina-style pulled pork. 

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You will also find some vinegar-based sauces mixed with mustard or tomato. These sauces usually offer a tangy texture. These sauces are likewise very satisfying. 

Piedmont barbecue sauce is famous for its exquisite flavor when used with chicken slaw and smoked meat. You will find this usually serve on the side. Parts of this sauce are red pepper flakes, cider vinegar, and ketchup. Moreover, the traditional southern vinegar sauces feature a thin form that complements the pork’s flavor. They got usually blended with oil, lemon, pepper, and salt. 

The classic North Carolina BBQ sauce, for example, comes with ketchup, butter, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and butter. It is perfect for pulled pork and sandwiches. You should check likewise Cornell University’s BBQ sauce which got concocted in the 1950s. It comes with egg, poultry seasoning, and vinegar. The egg ingredient provides it with a creamy texture. Yet, it doesn’t last long, even when you put it inside the fridge. 

You should also check out the Alabama White BBQ sauce. It is made of brown sugar, vinegar, and mayonnaise. It exhibits a tangy flavor like the Ranch dressing. Moreover, it is perfect for smoked pork with dill pickles and coleslaw. 

You should likewise check out the Florida BBQ sauce. It comes heavy with vinegar along with tropical elements and the spicy Caribbean. It works great with grilled fish.

3) Mustard-based BBQ Sauces

Another type of BBQ sauce is mustard-based barbecue sauce. You will find this sauce primarily used in South Carolina. You will see that South Carolina is primarily mustard-based. Mustard-based sauces have the characteristic spicy and thin features and are astringent. 

Moreover, mustard-based include Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and other seasonings. These ingredients come mixed with yellow mustard. This sauce doesn’t necessitate any cooking. But it should get rested for a whole night to meld its flavors.

Furthermore, you will discover that South Carolina sauces are mainly mixed with yellow mustard. Thus, these sauces carry a tangy and spicy taste without any sweetness. Besides, they are also classic sauces for chicken and pork. 

Another mustard-based sauce is the Georgia mustard BBQ sauce. It is spicy and sometimes sweet. Moreover, it is perfect for chicken, ribs, and pulled pork. This sauce usually comes with yellow mustard, brown sugar, and tabasco sauce.

4) Mayonnaise-based Barbecue Sauces

If you happen to visit Alabama, you might find a mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce, which is quite famous in that state. It is called Alabama’s White Barbecue Sauce. It got a mayonnaise base, and for this reason, it has a white color. Mayonnaise might sound unusual as a base of a sauce. Yet, if you taste it, it is creamy and flavorful. It is also appetizingly delicious. 

Mayonnaise is mostly oil and vinegar mixed via emulsion. Having oil and vinegar makes the mayonnaise a reasonable choice as a base for a barbecue sauce. Of course, this sauce is not purely mayonnaise but is thinned out with lemon juice and vinegar. It also comes with other seasonings and flavoring. This sauce is perfect for smoked chicken.

Types of Barbecue Sauce Styles Based on Region

The Southern States are home to some of the most flavorful and tasteful BBQ sauces ever concocted. Different states of this region have come up with their delightful BBQ sauce versions, and if you want to become a BBQ sauce expert, you should know these popular BBQ sauce styles:

1) Kansas City BBQ Sauce

One of the states whose cattle industry is thriving is Missouri. Hence, it is natural that one of the famous BBQ sauces will originate from this state, called Kansas City BBQ sauce. This renowned BBQ sauce is thick, tangy, and sweet. This BBQ sauce gets widely distributed around the United States. So you will find this sauce in most grocery stores. 

Kansas City BBQ sauce is tomato-based, and it has a ketchup-like form. It features a thick and gloppy sauce. Its form features a heavy consistency. It also comes with additives like liquid smoke that impart to it a barbecue flavor. Moreover, it comes with brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, spices, and soy sauce. If you happen to visit Kansas City, you will indeed discover an incredible variety of house sauces that comes with spicy and peppery flavors with added vinegar.

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2) Carolina BBQ Sauces

he two Carolina states may not belong to the top 10 cattle-raising states. In fact, North Carolina is ranked 34th among the states, while South Carolina is ranked 39th. Yet, this doesn’t mean the two states did not produce some of the best BBQ sauces in the world. Carolina BBQ sauces are diverse, depending on which part of the state you will go to. The Carolinian sauces, however, might be vinegar or mustard-based.

As you visit, for example, North Carolina, you will find two distinct sauce styles: one from Eastern North Carolina and the other one from Western North Carolina. The Eastern NC styles, of course, feature a thin and vinegar-based sauce. Its base is vinegar, spruced with spices, specifically cayenne pepper. You will surely enjoy this delicious sauce recipe. 

Western NC BBQ sauce, however, is also vinegar-based. Yet, it uses different amounts of tomato to attain an excellent tangy flavor. The small amount of ketchup sweetens this sauce. Western NC BBQ sauce is also called Lexington BBQ sauce because its city of origin is Lexington. 

South Carolina BBQ sauce, however, carries a distinct flavor. Moreover, it features a yellow sauce. It is called Carolina Gold. Besides, it comes with a tangy and sweet taste based on yellow mustard. Other ingredients include vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. You can use this ideally for topping pulled pork. You should try this SC BBQ sauce, and you will indeed find it delightful.

3) St. Louis BBQ Sauce

Another BBQ Style you should know is the St. Louis BBQ Sauce. It is tangier and thinner than that of the Kansas City Style and comes with a distinctly sweet flavor. It may be similar to the Kansas City Style because both are tomato-based. Nevertheless, it doesn’t come with the liquid smoke many Kansas City BBQ sauces depend on to achieve a smoky flavor. 

Statistics show that St. Louis City consumes more BBQ sauces per head than any other U.S. city. So, it may be indicative of how delicious this BBQ sauce is.

4) Memphis BBQ Sauce

Another excellent BBQ sauce that you should consider is the Memphis BBQ sauce. It offers a distinct flavor that differentiates it from the abovementioned styles. You can serve it poured over your pulled pork or on the dry-rubbed ribs’ side. Moreover, it is a mixture of vinegar and tomato, along with many spices. 

Being vinegar-based, it is thin and tangy with a bit of sweetness. If you have tasted the St. Louis BBQ style, you might compare it to the Memphis BBQ sauce style because they both are vinegar-based. Nevertheless, Memphis BBQ sauce differs from that of St. Louis because it is more like a serving sauce. It comes on the side of ribs.

5) Texas BBQ Sauce

Two words would describe the Texas BBQ Sauce: Bold and Big. Texas, of course, is the largest cattle-producing state in the U.S, and for this reason, it is but logical for the Texans to produce some of the best BBQ sauces in the world. 

The Texan BBQ sauce, however, is different from other sauces. It is also referred to as basting sauce or mop sauce. You can apply this sauce using a mop brush while you cook. 

Texas is such a vast state. So, you can expect Texas sauces to be diverse. You can divide Texan sauces according to regional flavors. Thus, there are East Texas, South Texas, West Texas, and Central Texas Sauces. 

In general, most Texan Sauces are tomato-based. They are also slightly sweet. Moreover, they incorporate a bit of Mexican peppers, Texas, being contiguous to Mexico. You can check out, for example, the Epicurious, which has chipotle peppers and spicy tomato sauce. You will find this sauce in most grocery stores. 

You can also consider the Central Texan Sauces that are known more for basting than for serving. Check out the Spruce Eats recipe that utilizes beef bouillon. You’ll surely love this unique BBQ sauce.

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6) Alabama White BBQ Sauce

The Alabama BBQ Sauce is relatively easy to identify. You can quickly identify this sauce by its white color. It is white because it is mayonnaise-based. Mayonnaise, of course, consists of oil and vinegar. It is also spruced with pepper. The Alabama BBQ sauce is often creamy and thick. It is perfect as a dipping sauce for your BBQ and fries. 

This white BBQ sauce was popularized by an Alabama restaurant named the Big Bob Gibson’s, where it originated. Bob Gibson first conceived of it in 1925. You can baste this sauce at the end of your cooking, and you can also serve it as a side dip.

7) Florida BBQ Sauce

Florida is not that known for its BBQ, but its BBQ sauce is worth mentioning. This sauce is a bit different from the other sauces because it has a tinge of the Caribbean and South American flavors. Florida BBQ sauces are more often mustard or vinegar-based. 

These sauces also come spruced with citrus fruits to create that tangy and sweet flavor. You can use these sauces with different types of meat, yet it is perfect for smoked fish.

Guide on Choosing BBQ Sauce

It will be good to note that the ideal BBQ sauce should usually complement the meat type you cook and serve. For example, if you serve pulled pork, you will do well if you slather it with Kansas City sauce. Yet, if you serve grilled chicken, you can pair it with light and tangy Carolina Sauce. 

But if you got ribs, it will be best to complement them with anything that contains sugar. Thus, you should partner ribs with either Memphis or Kansas City Sauce because both offer a sweet taste. On the other hand, if you would serve beef, it will be best to complement it with the traditional Southern vinegar sauce. With burgers, however, the North Carolina Sauce works best, complemented by ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. 

If you are a newbie in preparing BBQ sauce, it will help to ask those who know how to make BBQ sauces. It will also help if you know your different options at hand. Besides, it will be best to be creative when it comes to creating your BBQ sauce recipe. 

Try different combinations of ingredients to discover something delightful and flavorful to your taste buds. After all, your only limitations when it comes to BBQ sauce are your imagination and creativity.


If it is your first-time cooking barbecue, and you feel at a loss as to which sauce to slather your meat, it will be best to read and reread the tips and ideas mentioned in this post. Know the main types of sauce and base ingredients. Once you know the base ingredients, it will become easy for you to experiments with other ingredients.

If you’re a novice, your biggest problem would be burning your sauce. This burning happens when you confuse grilling with barbecuing. You will cause the barbecue sauce to burn when you apply it during grilling. Grilling, of course, entails high temperature. Barbecuing, however, involves low-temperature cooking that takes a couple of hours.

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