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The Best Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipes: 5 Recipes by Region

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home". She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated".

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

Barbecue Sauce Recipes: 5 BBQ Sauces

Nowadays, the word "barbecue" is often synonymous with "grill," such as when we grill a juicy hamburger directly over a flame. Originally, though, the definition of "barbecue" was to slow-cook meat over an indirect heat source, such as in a pit heated with charcoal or wood. It seems that native North and South Americans introduced this method to Europeans as a way to tenderize tough meat.

There are as many barbecue styles worldwide as there are opinions about it. Barbecue in the United States can be traced back to cooking methods Caribbean slaves brought to the Carolinas in the 17th century. Meat smoking techniques came from German and Czech peasants who immigrated to North America.

Early Native American Barbecue

Early Native American Barbecue

Etymology of the Word "Barbecue"

Some etymologists believe the word “barbecue” is derived from the word “barabicu” in the languages of both the Timacua people of Florida and the Taíno of the Caribbean, which literally translates “sacred fire pit.” Bon Appetit magazine claims the word comes from an ancient tribe in Guyana who “cheerfully spit-roasted captured enemies.” Others claim the word comes from the French phrase “barbe a queue” meaning “from head to tail."

The Origins of U.S. BBQ

The origins of U.S. barbecue sauce are much more vague. Some claim that Christopher Columbus brought the sauce back from Hispaniola while others say its origins lie in the 17th century American colonies. How do you like your BBQ sauce? Tangy, sweet, smoky, thick or thin? The answer probably depends upon where you grew up.

Each region of the United States boasts its own unique barbecue style involving type of meat, method, rub and sauce. Although there are fruit-based and even white barbecue sauces, most of the popular sauces in the U.S. fall into four categories: light tomato, heavy tomato, pepper-vinegar and mustard. Join us on a tour around the country as we sample top recipes for the five most common sauces, in no particular order (so as not to offend anyone)! Our first stop on the tour: Memphis.

Hickory Smoked Ribs

Hickory Smoked Ribs

1. Memphis Barbecue

Memphis, best known for The King of Rock 'n Roll Elvis Presley, is also home to many famous barbecue sauces. At a typical Memphis barbecue expect to find smoked and often pulled pork and dry-rubbed baby back ribs.

This sauce falls somewhere between the light and heavy tomato categories and is tangy, slightly sweet and thin enough to penetrate the meat instead of sitting on top of it.

Memphis BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup vinegar, red wine or cider
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

Instructions

  1. Sauté onion and garlic in butter until softened.
  2. Scrape onion and garlic into a blender container along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth.
  3. Transfer blended sauce to a medium saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened and fragrant. Delicious on chopped pork or ribs.
Texas Brisket

Texas Brisket

2. Texas Barbecue

In Texas, everything is big, including the flavor of their barbecue sauce. Expect to find beef, beef and more beef: dry-rubbed brisket mopped with a tomato-based, spicy and barely sweet sauce which often contains jalapeño peppers and chili powder thanks to a south-of-the-border influence. This Texas sauce falls in the light tomato category and penetrates the meat instead of just sitting on top.

Texas BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo), minced
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in butter until softened.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.
  3. Serve with brisket or beef ribs. It can be stored in the refrigerator for one week.
Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce

Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce

3. South Carolina Barbecue

South Carolina, especially the Midlands area from Columbia to Charleston, is most known for a unique mustard-based barbecue sauce. Since the area was settled by German immigrants, this sauce reflects the German love of mustard. It's hard to beat pulled pork bathed in tangy mustard sauce.

South Carolina BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups prepared yellow mustard
  • 2/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer slowly for about 30 minutes, being careful not to scorch.
  2. Allow to cool before tasting, then adjust seasonings. Sauce will keep one week in the refrigerator.
Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

4. North Carolina Barbecue

North Carolina, especially the eastern part, is known for pulled pork. It is also home to the simplest of all barbecue sauces, usually made of vinegar, black pepper and hot chile pepper flakes.

This vinegar-pepper sauce is the oldest of all barbecue sauces, probably originating with African slaves in the South. Used to "mop" the meat while cooking, it penetrates easily due to a thin consistency. Since there is little sugar in the sauce the flavor is sharp and, some say, an acquired taste.

Eastern North Carolina BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Combine ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to dissolve sugar and combine ingredients. Refrigerate for a day or two so flavors can mellow.
  2. Use on pulled pork sandwiches. Due to high vinegar content, this sauce will keep for up to 2 months in the refrigerator.
ribsrecipe

5. Kansas City Barbecue

If you visit a Kansas City barbecue restaurant, you will most likely be served several different meats at once: beef, pork, chicken and sausage. However, Kansas City is most known for its ribs and burnt ends, or flavorful brisket trimmings.

Kansas City barbecue sauce falls in the heavy tomato category and is sweeter than the rest due to a lower vinegar content and the generous addition of molasses and brown sugar. Also thicker than the rest, it sits on the surface of the meat instead of penetrating. KC-style ribs are brushed with sauce in the final moments of grilling. Extra sauce is served on the side.

Kansas City BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 cups ketchup or tomato sauce or combination
  • 1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Simmer on low for about 1 hour, until thick, being careful not to let it scorch. Stir occasionally.
  2. Slather ribs with the sauce in the last minutes of cooking and serve extra sauce on the side. Store sauce one week in the refrigerator.

Rate This Recipe

KC BBQ Sauce: Thick & Sweet

KC BBQ Sauce: Thick & Sweet

BBQ Sauce Troubleshooting

  • Too tangy: Add more sugar or molasses
  • Too sweet: Add more vinegar
  • Too thin: Simmer it longer
  • Not spicy enough: Add more cayenne or hot pepper
  • Too thick (Is that possible?): Stir in more liquid

If you'd like to share BBQ advice or prefer another sauce not discussed in this article, please feel free to tell us in the comments section below.

Comments

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on July 24, 2016:

Thanks Jo Walsh33! Great to know.

Jo Walsh33 on July 23, 2016:

No mention of a lil hole in the wall in K.C. called LC's. The outside might scare you a bit but once inside.........awesome, huge, delicious bbq sandwiches ever served on 3 layers of white bread. Try it.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on January 12, 2015:

Kile Taylor, it's nice to meet a fellow lover of BBQ sauce! We're from the Midwest and can appreciate a good sauce. Thanks for taking the time to comment and enjoy the sauces!

Kile Taylor from Roanoke, VA on January 12, 2015:

Great hub and I am going to try these sauce recipes. I love barbecue and making sauce. You are right, most people say they are having a barbecue and they are actually having a cook-out or grilling out. My wife makes fun of me because that is a huge pet peeve of mine. Once again, great job. Sorry that I'm to the response party.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 04, 2014:

Lemonkerdz, thanks for the pin! Yes, a slow cooker makes ribs very tender. Then all you need is to caramelize the sauce in the oven and you're all set!

lemonkerdz from LIMA, PERU on February 03, 2014:

I've been looking for some good sauce recipes now that i can get hold of some decent Ribs. Your pics look good and very tempting. I would really like to put them in the slow cooker to make them amazingly tender.

Pinning to try very soon.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 03, 2013:

Thelma Alberts, although my Midwest upbringing means I'm partial to KC BBQ sauce, I love all of the sauces and enjoy making them periodically. I'm glad you found this useful and hope you can try them! Thanks for the votes and pin!

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on May 03, 2013:

Oh my, Oh my! I could have them now on my plate for dinner. I have to try these one day. Thanks for sharing these recipes. Voted up and pinned;-)

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 24, 2013:

IslandBites, I appreciate your feedback and your visit!

IslandBites from Puerto Rico on April 23, 2013:

Great hub! My favs are Kansas and Memphis, yum.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 02, 2013:

idigwebsites, BBQ sauce do make nice marinades--a good point! I appreciate the vote and comment.

idigwebsites from United States on April 02, 2013:

Thanks for sharing the delicious BBQ sauces... I could double these as marinades. Thanks thanks again, I love BBQ! Up and awesome.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 25, 2013:

Bridalletter: yes, please do link to my Hub and leave me your food blog link so I can do the same. Our families live in KC so it's one of my favorite styles. My favorite restaurants in the area are probably Smokestack and Oklahoma Joe's. Thanks for coming by!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 25, 2013:

DeborahNeyens, I have to admit that Texas BBQ is very delicious! Of course, I'm a fan of most BBQ sauces. Thanks for your comment.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on March 25, 2013:

Moonlake, I also make homemade BBQ sauce since you can't easily find it in Peru. There are so many different styles, it was fun to research for this Hub. Thanks for the vote and share!

Brenda Kyle from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA on March 25, 2013:

Do you mind if I write a short intro and then post a link to your article in my food blog? The topic is perfect for it. Glad you covered Kansas City. Nice hub!

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on March 25, 2013:

What a great topic for a hub. My uncle who is a BBQ fanatic in Austin would be very disappointed if I voted for anything other than Texas BBQ. But, truly, I like them all.

moonlake from America on March 25, 2013:

Great list of BBQ sauces. I make my own but wouldn't mind trying some of these. Voted up and shared.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on February 12, 2013:

PeggyW, I'm not surprised you voted for Texas BBQ! I love all the BBQ styles and Texas brisket is hard to beat. Thanks for the votes and comment. I appreciate all the support.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2013:

What an interesting hub comparing the different types of BBQ sauces in various parts of the U.S. Obviously I had to vote for the Texas BBQ as being my preference...but it would be fun to try all of them at some time. Thanks for the information and all of the recipes. Up, useful and interesting votes.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on June 07, 2012:

PegCole17, I'm glad you enjoyed the information. I enjoy all the BBQ styles and Texas is one of my favorites! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on June 07, 2012:

It was interesting to compare the different ingredients used in the different sauces. Of course I'm voting for the Texas BBQ sauce although the mustard one sounds good too! Great use of photos and the instructions are clear and easy to follow.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on May 15, 2012:

Charlu, thanks for coming by. I'm glad you enjoyed the recipe!

Charlu from Florida on May 15, 2012:

Yummmmmmmy BBQ Great hub, pictures, and I'm really glad a link was left on my question. Great hub, great recipes. Voted up, useful, interesting.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 24, 2012:

Thank you, Master Griller Peter Allison, for your kind words and for taking the time to comment!

Peter Allison from Alameda, CA on April 23, 2012:

This is Hub is being bookmarked, printed and taped to my fridge! Thanks for these awesome, detailed recipes - and the humbling photos too! I'm grilling tomorrow and now I have a benchmark to meet!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 20, 2012:

Great, thanks for your vote and comment alocsin. I hope you're happy with the results of your "comment" hub!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on April 20, 2012:

What a delicious hub. I'm voting for the Texas BBQ sauce because of the onion, garlic and chilis. Voting this Up and Useful.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 20, 2012:

I'm glad you enjoyed the info, jenubouka, and hope you find it a useful resource. There's so much info on BBQ I could've written a book!

jenubouka on April 20, 2012:

Awesome info Vesap! They all look so good, and I would probably try to combine them all. I did not know the extent of the regional influence on sauces. You have just fueled my grilling this summer!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 20, 2012:

Anglnwu, it's always nice to hear from you and I'm glad you enjoyed the bbq information. After you've chosen a recipe, please come back and vote for your favorite sauce!

anglnwu on April 19, 2012:

Yum, the food you show here looks so delicious. I love a good barbecue sauce and you've shown different types of bbq sauce from different location. They will come in handy when I next decide to make some bbq ribs. Thanks and rated up. Awesome.

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 19, 2012:

I'm glad you enjoyed the recipes, randomcreative, and thank you for commenting.: )

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 19, 2012:

Awesome resource for anyone who enjoys cooking, especially BBQ! Thanks!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 19, 2012:

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Turtlewoman!

Vespa Woolf (author) from Peru, South America on April 19, 2012:

Thanks for visiting, Jackie Lynnley! It's nice to meet a vinegar-pepper sauce lover.

Kim Lam from California on April 19, 2012:

No comment this time Vespa, just simply drooling.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 18, 2012:

Mm,yum what you do to me. I love BBQ and none better than NC! Fantastic hub! My mouth is watering.