The last time I wrote about barbeque, I got quite the backlash from family, friends and strangers across the South. I heard from people who felt I misrepresented their regional barbeque, people who claimed that my research was wrong. Even my father’s best friend Roger, who claimed that Georgians NEVER ate mustard sauce, had something to say: he called me a liar. You see, we Southerners take our barbeque seriously!
Well, I just returned from a trip to Georgia (for my anniversary), and I’m happy to report that everywhere barbeque was on the menu, it featured mustard sauce. So I do feel a little vindicated.
This month, it’s back to barbeque—but this time I’m not just talking about the slow-cooked meat, I’m talking about the sauces that make that meat sing: yes, I’m talking barbeque sauce. My personal preference, the barbeque sauce I was raised on, has an apple cider vinegar base with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. It’s the perfect sauce, with a tanginess that balances the smokiness of the pork, and spiciness that balances the meat’s sweetness. But ask the Southerners you know to reveal their “perfect” barbeque sauce and you’re likely to get a different answer every time, depending on where they’re from. That’s because there are many types of barbeque sauce—especially in the South, where they range from the ever-controversial mustard sauce to the sweet, thick barbeque sauce made famous by Kansas City.
Here’s a look at a few killer barbeque sauces to try no matter where you live.
For practically anything except pulled pork, I love a spicy Jamaican jerk barbeque sauce. Jerk barbeque sauce is based on a combination of spices such as chiles, ginger and cayenne, and also features onion, soy sauce and dark brown sugar. The first bite is sweet and then, after a second, BANG! go the spices in your mouth. A spicy jerk sauce is the kind of barbeque sauce that you’ll go back to time and again.
Kansas City barbeque sauce is totally different than jerk sauce. A combination of molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, paprika and other spices, Kansas City barbeque sauce is what most people think of when they think of ribs, barbequed chicken, or a classic, sauce-laden, pulled meat sandwich.
Now, I’m quite vocal about my preference for a classic Eastern North Carolina barbeque sauce. But for the sake of variety, let’s talk about the sauce that hails from Western North Carolina. The sauce of the western part of the state is almost identical to the east except for one key ingredient: tomato. A true Western North Carolina sauce combines ketchup, vinegar and spices. The result, while inferior my favorite sauce, is pretty dang good.
Like the jerk sauce, a sesame barbeque sauce has a fun twist. A good sesame sauce combines dark brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, ginger, garlic and various other spices. It’s delicious, rich and spicy—an awesome addition to any backyard barbeque.
Now that you’re up to speed on these four popular barbeque sauces, it’s time to put them to the test. In my very strict opinion, barbeque is only barbeque when it is pulled pork in a vinegar-based sauce. However, there are many ways to enjoy barbeque sauces, including on a variety of foods that aren’t pulled pork. Try any of these sauces on chicken, shrimp, veggie kabobs, boiled red potatoes, steak, or even as a dip for French fries or tater tots.
What’s your favorite type of barbeque sauce? What foods do you eat them with?
Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a photographer and writer based out of Baltimore. Born and raised in North Carolina, Elena writes about Southern food culture, blending stories and recipes to bring a piece of the South to everyone. You can find her delicious recipes on her blog, Biscuits and Such, and follow her food musings on Twitter @biscuitsandsuch.