Carolina Mop Sauce – A Recipe Guide to the Southern BBQ Sauce

November 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Mop sauce, like most BBQ sauces in the US, is a regional and cultural phenomenon. In the eastern part of Carolina, the sauce is practically heavy on vinegar and pepper. Head West and the mop sauce has a ketchup twist. In South Carolina, it’s the yellow color of mustard with some vinegar base and ketchup added for a slightly sweeter taste. 

As a cook, barbecue sauce, for me, is alchemy. I take pleasure in making them by adding a pinch of this, a bit of that. I taste it, and if it needs more pizazz, I toss in another ingredient and feel like a freaking magician!

So in this article, I’ll talk about the rich diversity of Carolina mop sauce flavors. Get ready to embrace your inner alchemist as I show you the popular Carolina mop sauce recipes, tips, and secret ingredients to create your own. 

Carolina Mop Sauce

Carolina Vinegar Mop Sauce Recipe

This vinegar-based sauce recipe is one of the most popular Carolina vinegar mop sauces. It’s more of a hybrid sauce that brings together the good stuff in the Western and South Carolina BBQs as well as the Eastern North Carolina sauce. Here’s how it’s made:


  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup of ketchup
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (adjust to your spice level)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, for extra heat)
  • Salt to taste
Variety of BBQ Sauce Ingredients


Step 1: Gather the Ingredients

First, gather all the flavors you’ll need for this Mop Sauce. Check your pantry and fridge to make sure you have everything listed above. 

Step 2: Make the Vinegar Base

Get a medium-sized mixing bowl and pour in the vinegar. This tangy goodness is the backbone of an Eastern North Carolina sauce, giving it that classic Carolina kick!

Step 3: Add the Tomato Tang

Next up, add the ketchup to the bowl. This tomato sauce will add that rich, saucy texture with a hint of sweetness. 

Step 4: Introduce the Yellow Mustard

It’s time to amp up the flavor with the yellow mustard. I told you earlier. This is a mainstay in Carolina mop sauce. It helps us add some spice, tang, and twang to the mop. 

Step 5: Make It Sweeter 

To counteract the loss of sweetness the yellow mustard brings, sprinkle in the dark brown sugar. Then get ready for some caramel-like sweetness. Plus, it’s the secret to that irresistible glaze!

Step 6: Make It Wow With Worcestershire 

Add two full tablespoons of the sauce into the mix – your sauce isn’t complete without it. It can be sour and spicy, but it adds some sweetness from the molasses and sugar content. It’s going to bring depth and richness!

Step 7: Add the Honey Touch

Drizzle in that golden honey. Two tablespoons are enough. And you’ve got a perfect balance of sweet and savory: a symphony of flavors!

Step 8: Bring the Heat With Some Hot Sauce 

If you want a little spicy twist, now’s the time to throw in that hot sauce. Go easy or go crazy, depending on your heat tolerance!

Step 9: Spices and Everything Nice

It’s time for the spices! Add in all the paprika, onion powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and the optional cayenne pepper if you can take the heat. 

Step 10: Mix, Mix, Mix!

Now, whisk everything together until it’s all well combined. Take a look at that magical transformation now! Your Carolina Mop Sauce is starting to take shape.

Step 11: Give It a Taste Test

Grab a spoon and take a small bite. How does it taste? Adjust the flavors according to your liking. Need more sweetness? Add some more honey. Want the mop sauce tangier? A dash more vinegar will do the trick. This sauce is all about making it your own!

Step 12: Let the Mop Sauce Rest

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and let the mop sauce sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This resting period allows the flavors to mingle and dance together. 

Step 13: Time to Sauce Up!

Now comes the best part – slather some delicious Carolina BBQ Sauce all over your BBQ meats. The sauce here can be a premade one like the Heinz Carolina Tangy BBQ Sauce or a homemade one as I’ll show you next. Whether it’s a whole hog, the ribs, pork shoulder, or chicken, this sauce will make them shine!

Glass Bowl of Spicy Chili Sauce

How to Make Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce?

This Carolina gold BBQ sauce works as a glaze for your BBQ or when you need a dipping sauce. Check it out!


  • 1 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey or brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust to your spice preference)


Step 1: Mix and Whisk It

In a bowl, whisk together the yellow mustard, vinegar, honey or brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, ground black pepper, salt, and cayenne pepper. Mix it all up until it’s well combined.

Step 2: Simmer and Infuse

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and place it over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. This is where the magic happens as all those flavors start to infuse.

Step 3: Let It Thicken

Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for about 10-15 minutes. This helps the sauce thicken slightly, intensifying the flavors.

Step 4: Cool and Store

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the sauce cool down. Once it’s cooled, transfer it to a glass container or bottle with a lid.

Step 5: Refrigerate and Rest

Pop the container in the refrigerator and let the sauce rest for at least a few hours. This resting period allows the flavors to fully develop and create that signature Carolina Gold taste.

Step 6: Give It a Stir

When you’re ready to use the sauce, give it a good stir to make sure everything is well-mixed.

Step 7: Glaze and Grill

Brush the sauce onto your choice of meats during grilling or smoking. Whether it’s ribs, turkey, chicken, or pork, let that Carolina Gold goodness work its magic!

Step 8: Store and Savor

Store any leftover sauce in the refrigerator for future BBQ adventures. Each time you use it, savor the flavor sensation that’s pure Carolina Gold!

Now you’re all set to enjoy the authentic Carolina Gold BBQ sauce that perfectly complements your grilled or smoked meats. 

How Do You Make East Carolina Mop Sauce?

To whip up East Carolina Mop Sauce, combine two cups of apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons of crushed red pepper flakes, and one tablespoon each of ground black pepper, and salt. 

Add a teaspoon of optional brown sugar for sweetness. Mix well and let it sit for 30 minutes to infuse flavors. Brush generously on grilled meat during cooking and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

What Does Carolina BBQ Mop Sauce Taste Like?

Carolina Mustard BBQ sauce is a delightful blend of sweet, and spicy flavors. It gets its double dose of tang from a mix of apple cider vinegar and yellow mustard. The sweetness comes from the sugar and honey, enhancing the overall seasoning. The addition of cayenne brings in enticing spiciness. If you want to crank up the heat, add more cayenne pepper or spicy chili flakes. For a milder version, skip the cayenne and focus on the other ingredients. 

Chicken Drumsticks Dipped with Spicy BBQ Sauce

Why is This Sauce Called a Mop Sauce?

It’s called a “mop” sauce because it’s a thin barbecue sauce said to be spread with actual meat mops by skilled pitmasters over huge fire pits. It’s unlike most sauces that are thick and applied with basting brushes. 

This sauce’s thick, very water-like consistency is not very suitable for a typical basting brush. You need a larger brush with longer and more flexible yarn. You can make a cheap mop instead of using an unsuitable brush.  

What to Serve With Carolina BBQ Sauce?

Carolina mopping sauce is a versatile sauce that works great in various dishes. Here are some mouthwatering options to serve alongside the sauce:

  • Pulled pork sandwiches: Drizzle the sauce over tender pulled pork shoulder or grilled pork chops and serve it in a soft bun for a classic Carolina-style sandwich.
  • Ribs: Brush the sauce generously over grilled or smoked ribs to add tangy and smoky flavors.
  • Grilled chicken: Baste the chicken with the sauce while grilling to achieve that irresistible Carolina taste.
  • Beef brisket: You can also slather the sauce on slow-cooked beef brisket for a delectable fusion of flavors.
  • BBQ tofu or portobello mushrooms: For vegetarians, the sauce works wonders as a marinade for tofu or even some grilled portobello mushrooms.
  • Coleslaw: Serve a side of refreshing coleslaw to complement the bold flavors of the Mop Sauce.
  • Cornbread: The sweet and tangy sauce pairs exceptionally well with a slice of buttery cornbread.
  • Baked beans: The smoky and savory notes of the sauce harmonize beautifully with a side of hearty baked beans.


If you love southern BBQ, Carolina Mop Sauce is a must-try! Tangy, sweet, and spicy from yellow mustard, honey, and spices, this blend will elevate any dish. You can use it to mop a whole hog barbecue. Use it to baste your smoked pork butt, ribs, chicken, and more for an authentic Carolina BBQ experience. What’s even better? You can whip up this flavor-packed magic using ingredients straight from your pantry. So, next time you fire up the grill, make sure to have some Carolina Mop Sauce by your side.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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