Carolina BBQ Sauce

Got a reader following our pulled pork recipe from a few years back enquiring about Carolina style BBQ sauce; who could say no to that?

Carolina style barbecue sauce is traditionally a thin, vinegar-based preparation that allows the ingredients to easily penetrate the meat. It has a tang and a touch of sweet heat that really complements good BBQ.  This version works well as a baste while cooking and as a table sauce afterwards; it was designed for pork, but it’s great on chicken and beef too.

1 1/2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce
1/2 Cup water
1-2 Tablespoon(s) dark brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon ground black Pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon powdered Cayenne Pepper, (flake is OK, just use 1/2 teaspoon

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients.

Stir constantly as the mixture comes up to heat. When it shows signs of a low boil, reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until all ingredients are heated through, fully dissolved and incorporated.

Allow to cool completely. If you used cayenne flake, strain the sauce through a sieve so the results are smooth and even in consistency.

Refrigerate for at least 8 hours to allow the flavors to marry. It’ll be even better after 24 to 48 hours, and will keep for a couple weeks refrigerated.

Place in a squeeze bottle and shake well before using.

Replace the tomato sauce with yellow mustard, and this is still a damn good sauce!

UPDATE: Mark Fogleman was nice enough to send these comments. Here’s some great regional variations to try!

The Carolinas have 4 distinct BBQ sauce zones (don’t laugh…this is serious stuff ;’). 

Your recipe is similar to the thicker/sweeter/darker sauce we use in the western/mountain zone. 

Substitute 1/2 cup of catsup and 1tbs regular sugar for the tomato sauce and brown sugar if you want it to be authentic “Lexington” style sauce. 

Authentic “Eastern NC” sauce leaves out the sugar and the catsup/tomato sauce and adds 1tbs of salt. 

You nailed the Columbia, SC (Maurice Bessinger) style mustard sauce except his recipe uses regular sugar.

It’s also common to use the the Piedmont style sauce as the base of the accompanying cole slaw.

There are other regional differences… whole hog vs shoulder, picked vs chopped vs sliced (note “Pulled” is not included), charcoal vs gas vs Hickory vs Oak, yada, yada. It’s all good!