Barbecue sauce (also abbreviated as BBQ sauce) is used as a flavouring sauce, a marinade, basting, condiment, or topping for meat cooked in the barbecue cooking style, including pork or beef ribs and chicken. It is a ubiquitous condiment in the Southern United States and is used on many other foods as well.
The ingredients vary widely even within individual countries, but most include some variation on vinegar, tomato paste, or mayonnaise (or a combination thereof) as a base, as well as liquid smoke, onion powder, spices such as mustard and black pepper, and sweeteners such as sugar or molasses.
Some place the origin of barbecue sauce at the formation of the first American colonies in the 17th century. References to the substance start occurring in both English and French literature over the next two hundred years. South Carolina mustard sauce, a type of barbecue sauce, can be traced to German settlers in the 18th century.
Early cookbooks did not tend to include recipes for barbecue sauce. The first commercially produced barbecue sauce was made by the Georgia Barbecue Sauce Company in Atlanta, Georgia. Its sauce was advertised for sale in the Atlanta Constitution, January 31, 1909. Heinz released its barbecue sauce in 1940. Kraft Foods also started making cooking oils with bags of spice attached, supplying another market entrance of barbecue sauce.
Different geographical regions have allegiances to their particular styles and variations for barbecue sauce. For example, vinegar and mustard-based barbecue sauces are popular in certain areas of the southern United States, while in the northern U.S. tomato-based barbecue sauces are well-known. In Asian countries a ketchup and corn syrup-based sauce is common. Mexican salsa can also be used as a base for barbecue sauces.
The sauce for asado, similar to barbecue in Argentina and Uruguay, is called chimichurri – a parsley based green sauce used as a condiment on the table, a marinade, and a grilling sauce. Chimichurri is used on beef, lamb, pork, goat, fowl, venison and root vegetables. Chilean pebre, which is based on chopped tomato and contains onion, parsley or coriander and sometimes chilli, can be used in a similar manner, or served as an accompaniment to asado; sauces in the Andean countries of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador tend to be more piquant.
In Brazil, the typical barbecue sauce is called “vinagrete” (vinaigrette, made with vinegar, olive oil, tomatoes, parsley and onions).
The U.S. has a wide variety of differing barbecue sauce tastes. Some are based in regional tradition.
- East Carolina Sauce – Most American barbecue sauces can trace their roots to two sauces common in North Carolina and South Carolina. The simplest and the earliest were supposedly popularized by African slaves who also advanced the development of American barbecue. They were made with vinegar, ground black pepper, and hot chilli pepper flakes. It is used as a “mopping” sauce to baste the meat while it was cooking and as a dipping sauce when it is served. Thin and sharp, it penetrates the meat and cuts the fats in the mouth. There is little or no sugar in this sauce, which in turn has a noticeably more sour flavour than most other barbecue sauces.
- Lexington Dip (a.k.a. Western Carolina Dip or Piedmont Dip) – In Lexington and in the “Piedmont” hilly areas of western North Carolina, the sauce is often called a dip. It is a lot like the East Carolina Sauce (above) with tomato paste, tomato sauce, or ketchup added.
- Kansas City – Thick, reddish-brown, tomato or ketchup-based with sugars, vinegar, and spices. Evolved from the Lexington Dip, it is significantly different in that it is thick and sweet and does not penetrate the meat as much as sit on the surface. This is the most common and popular sauce in the US and all other tomato based sauces are variations on the theme using more or less of the main ingredients.
- Memphis – Similar to the Kansas City style, typically having the same ingredients, but tending to have a larger percentage of vinegar and use molasses as a sweetener.
- Florida – Similar to the Memphis style because it has a higher percentage of vinegar than Kansas City style. Florida style is characterized by the tropical fruit flavours such as orange, mango, guava, papaya, pineapple, and tamarind as well as peppers with some heat such as chipotle and habanero. Because of its fruity flavour, it is commonly served with pork, beef, chicken, and seafood.
- South Carolina Mustard Sauce – Part of South Carolina is known for its yellow barbecue sauces made primarily of yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar and spices. This sauce is most common in a belt from Columbia to Charleston, an area settled by many Germans. Vinegar-based sauces with black pepper are common in the coastal plains region as in North Carolina, and thin tomato- and vinegar-based sauces are common in the hilly regions as in North Carolina.
- Texas – In some of the older, more traditional restaurants the sauces are heavily seasoned with cumin, chilli peppers, bell peppers, chili powder or ancho powder, lots of black pepper, fresh onion, only a touch of tomato, little or no sugar, and they often contain meat drippings and smoke flavour because meats are dipped into them. They are medium thick and often resemble a thin tomato soup. They penetrate the meat easily rather than sit on top. Bottled barbecue sauces from Texas are often different from those used in the same restaurants because they do not contain meat drippings.
- Alabama White Sauce – North Alabama is known for its distinctive white sauce, a mayonnaise-based sauce, which is used predominantly on chicken and pork. It is composed of eggs and oil (or mayonnaise), apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and black pepper.
- Hoisin sauce, a type of Chinese-style barbecue sauce, serves as a base ingredient in many other recipes for Chinese barbecue sauces.
- A spicy, yoghurt-based barbecue sauce is used for tandoori chicken, an Indian dish
- A sweet soy sauce marinade (tare in Japanese; “teriyaki sauce” in the west) is used for teriyaki, a Japanese-style grill (traditionally fish), before and during the grilling process.
- For Korean Galbi, a ganjang-based sauce is used, often referred to as Galbi or Kalbi sauce. It is used as a marinade. The sauce is generally made from soy sauce, garlic, and sugar, though variations with sesame oil, rice wine, hot pepper paste, fruit juice and honey are common.