5 Most Popular Barbecue Sauces

By: Debra Ronca

That meat is just aching for sometasty sauce. See morepictures of extreme grilling.
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Barbecue. It's a true American tradition. People call it barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q, Bar-B-Cue and any other number of variations. We won't even get into the ever-raging controversy over what constitutes genuine barbecue. Is it pork only? Beef? What about chicken? How long must you cook it? Do you cook in a pit or over a grill? The details and meaning of barbeque differ tremendously from region to region.

There is one thing on which we can all agree, though. One of the secrets to lip-smacking, finger-licking barbecue is the sauce. Whether you buy it at the store or make your own, barbecue sauce comes in hundreds of varieties. Different regions of the United States prefer different types of barbecue sauce. But just about every single sauce has a base of either tomato, mustard or vinegar. With many containing liquid smoke to give them that smoked flavor. We'll discuss the five most popular varieties on the next few pages.


So fire up the barbecue and let's get to it!

5: Kansas City Sauce

Kansas City is renowned for its barbecue. The region traces its barbecue roots to a man named Henry Perry. In the early 1920s, Perry sold slow-cooked ribs for 25 cents a slab, covered in a succulent sauce. The Kansas City style of barbecue involves slow smoking the meat over hickory wood. Sometimes it's smoked for up to 18 hours.

Kansas City sauce is tomato based. It also contains brown sugar or molasses, adding a certain sweetness. Because it typically contains a lot of sugar, Kansas City sauce is added right before serving. Otherwise, the sugar would quickly burn from the fire.


Where other regions may concentrate only on pork or beef, Kansas City tends to serve it all. Today, the city boasts at least 100 barbecue joints.

4: South Carolina Mustard Sauce

South Carolina isn't the biggest state in the union, but it's deeply divided on its barbecue sauce. Some areas of South Carolina prefer a tomato-based sauce. Some prefer vinegar. And, in central South Carolina, the barbecue sauce of choice is mustard-based.

Many people trace the origins of the mustard sauce back to German settlers in the 18th century. The sauce usually contains yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and various spices. You may also find recipes calling for honey or molasses.


Traditionally, the meat of choice for South Carolina barbecue is pork. Enthusiasts cook the pork over an open pit with hardwood coals. The sauce is added just before serving.

3: East Carolina Mop Sauce

Although central South Carolina tends to enjoy a mustard-based sauce, the east Carolina style is all about vinegar. Now, mop sauce is a little bit different from barbecue sauce. People usually apply regular barbecue sauce shortly before serving. Mop sauce, however, is brushed onto the meat while it cooks -- like a baste -- sometimes with an actual mop head. Because this mop sauce is thin and acidic, it soaks into the meat while it cooks, adding a new level of flavor.

East Carolina mop sauce is basically just vinegar and hot sauce. It's best used on ribs or pulled pork. Because ribs are very fatty and sweet, the vinegar cuts the fat and enhances the taste of the rest of the meat. Some may also use it as a finishing sauce. People describe this sauce as tangy, spicy and peppery.


2: Lexington Dip

Some areas of North Carolina refer to their barbecue sauce as a "dip." Lexington Dip is quite similar to east Carolina sauce, but with the addition of tomato or ketchup and sugar. These serve to cut the vinegar flavor a bit and add a little sweetness.

Lexington sauce is thin, with a tart taste. Some describe it as "sweet and sour," from the balance of vinegar and tomato. This sauce is also brushed onto the meat while it cooks, with one last baste right before serving. Some people also like to serve it on the side to drizzle over the meat right before eating.


Lexington-style cole slaw is a popular side dish in the region. Rather than the traditional white coleslaw, it's slaw mixed with the same Lexington Dip. It offers a spicy bite on the side.

1: Texas Style Sauce

Texas sauce isn't as thin as a vinegar-based sauce. It's a bit thicker in consistency, but not super-thick. Its base is tomato sauce or ketchup, and it's meant to be added to the meat right before serving. Many people will first barbecue the meat with a dry rub of different spices and finish it off with the Texas sauce.

Spicy, but not overly sweet, Texas style sauce uses spices like chili powder, paprika, cumin and any other "secret ingredient" the barbecue lover might want to add.


Because Texas is cow country, your Texas barbeque will likely be beef. A popular choice is brisket, smoked in a pit with hickory or oak. The sauce should be served warm, on the side.

Is your stomach growling? Check out the links on the next page to learn even more.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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  • "Barbecue." South Carolina Dining. 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://dining.discoversouthcarolina.com/famous-flavors/barbeque.aspx
  • "Barbecue Sauce." BigOven. 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.bigoven.com/whatis.aspx?id=Barbecue%20Sauce
  • Garner, Bob. "Bob Garner's Guide to North Carolina Barbecue." John F. Blair Publisher. 2002. (Sept. 27, 2009)
  • "Does sauce make it barbecue?" Fiery-Foods.com. 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.fiery-foods.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2058:does-sauce-make-it-barbecue&catid=168:rubs-and-more&Itemid=145
  • Goldwyn, Craig. "A taxonomy of American barbecue sauces." AmazingRibs.com. May 27, 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/BBQ_sauces/
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  • Raichlen, Steven. "Barbecue bible: sauces, rubs, and marinades, bastes, butters & glazes." Workman Publishing Company. 2000. (Sept. 27, 2009) Tatum, Malcolm. "What is Mop Sauce?" WiseGeek.com. 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mop-sauce.htm