Types of BBQ Sauce | From the Bold and Spicy to the Sweet and Tangy

August 14, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The BBQ world is full of tantalizing flavors and unique regional barbecue sauce styles. From tangy vinegar-based concoctions to tomato-based sauces, each part of the country brings its own flair to the table. 

If I had to choose, I’d say I align with the vinegar-based North Carolina style. There’s just something about tender pork combined with the tangy kick of vinegar that always gets my taste buds dancing. But here’s the thing: no matter the style, I believe in keeping it local. From the meat to the flavors and even the wood used for smoking, embracing the essence of the region is essential. So, get ready because we’re about to go deep into the diverse world of BBQ sauces. 

Types of BBQ Sauce

What Are the Different Types of BBQ Sauce?

Breaking it down, I believe some of the most common or popular barbecue sauces include vinegar-based sauces from North Carolina, tomato-based sauces from Kansas City, as well as mustard-based and fruit-based barbecue sauces. Let’s delve in deeper…

1. North Carolina Style BBQ Sauce

We’ll start with a barbecue sauce that’s near and dear to my heart: North Carolina style. I know many BBQ enthusiasts will also agree that this is the best. 

Carolina-style BBQ sauce is all about that tangy and vinegar kick. Would you like to make some tender, juicy pork smothered in a sauce with just the right amount of tang to make your taste buds dance? This is it!

You see, in Carolina, they take their pork seriously. And this sauce is the perfect companion for that melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Whether it’s as a pulled pork, ribs, or even a whole hog barbecue, Carolina-style sauce brings out the best in that succulent meat. But there are varieties… 

Types of Carolina-Style BBQ Sauces 

There’s a little debate going on between people from all cardinal parts of Carolina. From the central part to the south, east, and west, there’s a BBQ style for every local in the land of the long-leaf pine. So I’ll be spending a lot of time on these barbecue sauces.

Tangy Homemade BBQ Sauce
1. East North Carolina Vinegar Sauce

East North Carolina vinegar barbecue sauces (also called ENC BBQ sauces) like Lillie's Q - ENC Barbeque Sauce are a crowd favorite in the BBQ world. 

Just in case you didn’t know, they are the oldest barbecue sauce in the whole country. Now, what makes this sauce unique is that it doesn’t play by the rules of traditional barbecue sauces. Nope, you won’t find any tomatoes in this tangy concoction. It’s all about that vinegar and red pepper flakes. This gives it that distinctive sharpness. 

This sauce tastes different when it comes to whole-hog barbecue. But this sauce isn’t just a hog barbecue. You can use it on all sorts of BBQ recipes. It’s versatile and packs a punch of flavor no matter how you use it.

2. West Northern Carolina Vinegar Sauce 

Now, let’s take a trip to the western part of North Carolina. 

In West Northern Carolina, they like to add a touch of sweetness to their barbecue sauce. While they still embrace the tanginess of vinegar, they take it up a notch by incorporating a tomato base and a hint of brown sugar. The result is a perfect marriage of flavors.

Unlike its Eastern Carolina counterpart, West Northern Carolina sauces have that balance of tang and sweetness. 

WNC sauces like the Outside Table Sunday Sauce are perfect for slathering on all sorts of meats, from ribs to pulled pork. 

The possibilities of this tomato-based sauce are endless. Whether you’re grilling up some juicy pork chops or slow-cooking a slab of ribs, brush on West Northern Carolina sauce towards the end of the cooking process. Let it caramelize and meld with the meat. Then the sauce will create a sticky but good glaze. 

3. Lexington Style Dip (Piedmont)

This is something for those in the central region of North Carolina, particularly Piedmont. Lexington-style dip is mainly made of tomato paste, tomato sauces, and sometimes ketchup. 

I must say it has a sharp and slightly spicy flavor. Then the vinegar base gives it a harmonious balance of acidity and sweetness. 

The ketchup enhances the vinegary flavor in the sauce and gives it a classic red color. Several North Carolina people believe five German men invented this sauce to mimic an old Bavarian custom of serving up the pork with a sweet vinegar sauce

Originating from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, this hog barbecue sauce is a beloved staple in the local barbecue scene. What sets it apart is its unique blend of flavors, combining the tangy flavor with a slight kick of heat. 

The Lexington Style Dip is all about simplicity and letting the meat quality shine through. It’s often used as a finishing sauce or a dipping sauce rather than a heavy marinade. The sharpness of the vinegar adds a refreshing and bright element to the smoky flavors of the meat.

BBQ Ribs with Sauce, Tomatoes, and Red Pepper
4. Carolina Gold Sauce (South Carolina)

The Carolina Gold BBQ sauce gets its name from its beautiful golden color, reminiscent of the shining South Carolina sun. What sets this sauce apart is its mustardy flavor. Unlike traditional tomato-based barbecue sauces, the Carolina Gold sauce takes a bold and flavorful detour with its mustard base.

The combination of mustard, vinegar, and spices creates a unique but pungent profile. The flavor of this mustard-based barbecue sauce shines through, complementing the meat with its distinctive taste.

Now, speaking from personal experience with sauces like the Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce, I must say the Carolina gold mustard sauce is a game-changer for pulled pork.

Not only is Carolina Gold Sauce perfect for pulled pork, but it also pairs wonderfully with other meats like chicken or even sausages. 

2. Kansas City Barbecue Sauce

Kansas City is the world’s barbecue capital, and when a sauce is credited to this region, you can vouch for it!

Many folks credit Arthur Bryant, known as the King of Ribs, with inventing Kansas City barbecue. His BBQ sauce goes as far back as the 1930s. 

Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is a smoky, sweet masterpiece that wraps around your meat and bones. First off, it’s known for being the boldest and sweetest sauce on the block. Adding molasses gives Kansas BBQ sauces a rich, dark color that’s as enticing as delicious. This sauce is thick, and it’s perfect for slathering on pork cuts.

Now, what makes Kansas City sauce stand out even more are their complex flavor profiles. Alongside the tomato base, you’ll find an array of sweeteners like brown sugar and molasses. These give it that sweetness that balances out the smoky undertones. Plus, there’s a medley of herbs and spices that add layers of flavor. So, it’s a versatile choice for different meats.

You can use this when grilling up some tender ribs, juicy chicken, or even beef brisket. 

But it’s not just about the taste. Kansas City-style sauce also adds a beautiful, gloss to your meats. Brush it on during the last stages of cooking, allow it to caramelize, create some crust, and you’ll have a BBQ you’ll be proud to say you made.

3. Alabama White Sauce

When you head on down to Alabama, you can’t miss an Alabama White Sauce in the pantry of a true BBQ boss. This sauce isn’t your usual tomato or vinegar stuff! It’s all about that creamy and tangy goodness.

This white sauce is famous around the northern parts of Alabama and the secret ingredient is mayo. Yep, mayonnaise. It gives the sauce a smooth and velvety texture that I just love.

But hold on, there’s more to it! This BBQ sauce also packs a punch with vinegar, lemon juice, and a mix of spices. The tangy vinegar and citrusy kick from the lemon juice balance out the creamy base, giving it that unique and refreshing taste.

Now, how do you use this sauce, you ask? Well, it’s a match made in BBQ heaven with smoked or grilled poultry, especially chicken. Slather it all over that chicken while it’s cooking or use it as a dipping sauce on the side. The creamy tanginess of Alabama White Sauce is a match made in flavor town with the smoky goodness of the meat.

However, Alabama White Sauce is quite versatile too. While it’s primarily associated with chicken, you can also try it on other meats like pork or as a salad dressing. 

Tzatziki Sauce and Ingredients

4. Texas-style BBQ Sauces

Ordinarily, there are four styles of BBQ known traditionally in the US – Carolina BBQ, Texas BBQ, Memphis BBQ, and Kansas City BBQ. 

Texas-style BBQ sauce that’s as big and bold as the Lone Star State itself? This sauce means business with its rich flavors and smoky goodness.

In some of the traditional restaurants the sauces are heavily added in cumin, chili, black pepper, and fresh onion, while less tomato and sugar are used. They are of medium density and almost resemble a “tomato soup”, penetrating easily into the meat. Bottled Texas barbecue sauces are often different from those used in restaurants.

Texas barbecue is centered around beef, and the sauce is typically used to baste or marinate beef brisket. So it’s not just used as a BBQ condiment. Texas BBQ sauce is thin yet hearty, thanks to the use of gravy and other bold ingredients like smoked cumin. Other hot sauce varieties may have some ingredients like garlic, chili powder, and sometimes Worcestershire.

Texas-style BBQ sauce is often used as a basting or mop sauce. It’s got a spicy kick that’ll wake up your taste buds. We blend tomato, vinegar, and spices in just the right proportions, with a hint of sweetness to balance it all out. The garlic, onion, and chili powder in there help to add depth and complexity.

Spicy Red Sriracha Sauce

5. Memphis Barbecue Sauce

I know many people who still believe Memphis BBQ can be served without sauce. Instead, they use dry rubs on their rib meats. This helps to give them plenty of flavor right off the bat.

But there is a lot of Memphis barbecue sauce and they’re quite popular for their uniqueness. Personally, this has to be one of my favorite barbecue sauces – the mustard-vinegary taste with a small hint of chili goes perfectly with pulled pork. The good thing is you can make this at home. 

Just get a saucepan, a cup of ketchup, a cup of apple cider vinegar, half a cup of yellow mustard, one tablespoon of chili powder, another tablespoon of sweet paprika, 1 and ½ tablespoons of garlic powder, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of molasses, two tablespoons of brown sugar and two more tablespoons of butter.

In a saucepan, start by combining all the ingredients. Mix them all together before turning on the heat to medium-high.

Now heat the mixture until it begins to boil. This will help all the ingredients combine.

Once it starts boiling, give it a good mix and take it off the heat to cool. Once everything has cooled down, pour the sauce into a sauce bottle, and it’s ready for your recipes.

This Memphis-style barbecue sauce is perfect for pulled pork, and it’s even pretty good on brisket. 

Bottle of Red Hot Sauce

6. St. Louis BBQ Sauce 

The St. Louis barbecue sauce is deeply rooted in the flavors and traditions of the Midwest. It’s common, particularly in the city of St. Louis. I like its balance of tanginess, sweetness, and a touch of spice.

St. Louis BBQ sauce typically has a tomato base, similar to many other regional barbecue sauces. But, what sets it apart is its emphasis on sweetness. And that is because it often includes sweet ingredients like brown sugar, molasses, or honey. By experience, I must also say these help to caramelize things.

I have to note, however, that while it’s not as spicy as some other regional sauces, it often includes a hint of warmth. This comes from spices like paprika, chili powder, or cayenne pepper. 

Overall, St. Louis barbecue sauce is versatile. I like that it pairs well with various types of meat, from pork ribs, beef brisket, to grilled chicken.

BBQ Sauce in White Bowl

What About the Popular Apple BBQ Sauce?

I know no particular region can claim this. But sometimes, when I want something quick or basic in flavor – apple-based sauces like apple cider vinegar, apple juice, or a product like the Kosmos Q BBQ Sauce is often an option. 

Using an Apple barbecue sauce gives your barbecue tangy and slightly sweet notes. 

This sauce, as you expect, often includes ingredients like apple cider, apple juice, or even finely diced apples. 

The apple flavors in this sauce complement various types of meat. It goes particularly well with pork. 

Whether you’re grilling up some beef ribs or slow-cooking a pork shoulder, don’t be afraid to slather on apple barbecue sauce. The natural sweetness and acidity of the apples add depth and complexity to the meat, enhancing its flavors.

But you may also find some sauces like the Green Belly Hot Sauce that are made to be more spicy or citrus-like. It’s all thanks to the addition of ingredients like cilantro, habanero, and garlic.

And finally, apple sauces in general can be useful in marinades, basting sauces, or even as a finishing touch for sandwiches. That’s because it’s naturally acidic and can help tenderize the meat and add a vibrant tang that wakes up the taste buds.


So there you have it! Together, we’ve seen the different types of BBQ sauce and all the most common regional specialties. There’s always a sauce for every taste bud. From the tangy Carolina sauces to the smoky Kansas City-style, and the unique twists like St. Louis BBQ sauce.

As a BBQ lover myself, I know how important it is to experiment and find your favorite. Whether you prefer the sweetness of Kansas City or the tanginess of Carolina, there’s no wrong choice here. Let your taste decide!

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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