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This Carolina BBQ Sauce recipe is easy to make and tastes delicious with absolutely everything, from pulled pork, ribs and meatloaf, to chicken, cauliflower and more! Thick, tangy, slightly sweet and finger-licking good, you will want to make this homemade barbecue sauce again and again!

Overhead photo of Carolina BBQ Sauce in a small white sauce pan with a wooden spoon of sauce resting on the top of the pan.

Hi, friends! Since the weather here has finally turned sunny and warm, I figured it’s high time I share my all time favorite homemade barbecue sauce recipe!

Carolina BBQ Sauce

Being a North Carolinian, I am obsessed with our regional barbecue sauces. From Eastern Carolina Vinegar Sauce and Western Carolina Lexington sauce to South Carolina Mustard sauce – I absolutely love them all. However, as much as I adore them each individually, I love them even more COMBINED! And that is what I’m sharing today – a trifecta of yum!

This Carolina-style sauce is a delicious combination of tangy and slightly sweet with a subtle kick! Thick and full of flavor, this multi-purpose sauce is perfect for marinating, grilling, dipping, slathering, smothering and covering EVERYTHING!

Overhead photo of all the ingredients to make Carolina BBQ sauce in a white sauce pan - photo of step 1 of the recipe.

What is Carolina BBQ sauce?

North Carolina BBQ sauce is a southern-style barbeque sauce. While most BBQ sauces are ketchup and molasses based, Carolina sauce is made with a base of vinegar and mustard.

What does Carolina barbecue sauce taste like?

Carolina barbeque sauce is thick and tangy with a very subtle sweetness. While Midwest and southwest style barbeque sauces contain a good amount of sugar and are sweet in taste, Carolina barbeque sauces contains very little sugar which results in a sour, tangier flavor.

Is Carolina BBQ sauce sweet?

Carolina barbecue sauce is very subtly sweet in taste. While other regional barbecue sauces contain a high amount of sugar, this southern-style sauce contains a scant ¼ cup dark brown sugar.

Overhead photo of cooked Carolina BBQ sauce cooling in a white sauce pan with a large wooden spoon resting on the pan and ramekins of salt and red pepper flakes off to the side - photo of step 3 of the recipe.

BBQ sauce Carolina styles?

American barbeque is all about low and slow cooked proteins and complimentary, signature sauces. Most regions have their own style of barbeque sauce, ranging from thick and tomato-based to thinner and vinegar-based.

There are three BBQ sauces specific to the Carolinas:

  • Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce – Traditional vinegar sauce contains no tomato products, and instead uses a tart combination of vinegar, hot sauce, and spices. Vinegar BBQ sauce is much thinner in consistency than ‘traditional’ BBQ sauce. Tangy and spicy in taste, this sauce perfectly complements the smokiness of barbequed pork.
  • South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce – Traditional mustard sauce, also known as ‘Carolina Gold’, contains a mixture of both yellow mustard and vinegar as well as seasonings. Mustard BBQ sauce is rich, tangy and zingy in flavor which pairs well sweet and smoky pulled pork.
  • Western North Carolina – Also known as Lexington-style or Piedmont, this sauce is vinegar based and seasoned with ketchup, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, granulated sugar and spices. Western Carolina sauce is slightly sweeter in taste and pairs well with pork shoulder!

This Carolina-style BBQ sauce recipe is a delicious combination that pays homage to all three of the above BBQ sauces!

Angled photo of Carolina barbecue sauce in a small white sauce pan on a blue surface.

How to make Carolina-style BBQ Sauce?

Carolina sauce is cheap and incredibly easy to make at home!

To make Carolina-style barbeque sauce, combine apple cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a small sauce pan. Bring the sauce mixture to rapid simmer over medium heat. Immediately reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer the sauce, whisking occasionally, for 15-18 minutes or until thickened and glossy.

Angled photo of Carolina-style BBQ sauce being poured over pulled pork.

FAQs: frequently asked questions

Is Carolina sauce gluten free?

Yes, this Homemade Carolina sauce is gluten free.

Side note:  Most ketchup brands are gluten-free, however, if you are someone with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, make sure you double check your ketchup bottle to make sure the label clearly states “gluten-free”.

How to thicken Carolina BBQ sauce?

While this Carolina barbecue sauce has plenty of texture, there are ways to thicken the sauce without affecting the flavor if desired!

  • To naturally thicken sauce – Allow the sauce to simmer for a longer period of time than the 15-18 minutes stated in the recipe.
  • Add a slurry – Mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water and add it to the sauce. Make sure you whisk the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and allow the barbeque sauce to cook over a rapid simmer until the sauce has thickened.
Angled, up-close photo of Carolina barbeque sauce drizzled on pulled pork.

Serving bbq sauce recipes

This easy homemade barbecue sauce tastes amazing on all your traditional BBQ favorites – from vegetarian favorites like veggie bean burgers to grilled chicken breast and spatchcocked chicken, or baby back ribs, pulled pork, pork chops, and much more.

Or you can use this Carolina sauce in less traditional ways – try it as pizza sauce on doughs, a dipping sauce for chicken tenders, mcd chicken nuggets, or cheddar beer bread, drizzled it over baked potatoes, and use it in baked bean recipes.

Storing homemade Carolina sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce should be stored in an airtight container or bottle in the refrigerator.

How long will barbecue sauce last?

Properly stored, BBQ sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Overhead photo of a parchment paper lined sheet pan topped with pulled pork tossed in Carolina BBQ sauce with a ramekin of more sauce in the corner of the pan.

Thick, tangy, slightly sweet and full of flavor, this is going to become your go to barbecue sauce and a staple in your house! Easy to make and ready in 20 minutes or less, it’s the perfect condiment to have on hand at all times!!

Until next week, friends, cheers – to getting a little saucy!


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More barbecue sauce recipes!

If you are looking for more delicious homemade sauces, be sure to try these recipes next!

Angled photo of Carolina BBQ sauce in a small white sauce pan with a wooden spoon of sauce off to the side.

Homemade Carolina BBQ Sauce recipe

4.86 from 14 votes
Total Time: 23 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes
Servings: 6
This Carolina BBQ Sauce recipe is easy to make and tastes delicious with everything!  Thick, tangy and slightly sweet, you will want to make this homemade sauce again and again!



  • Combine all ingredients in a medium sized sauce pan. Whisk well to combine.
  • Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a rapid simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce is glossy and thickened, about 15-18 minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Allow to cool to room temperature before using. Or, allow to cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy with pork, chicken, ribs, on sandwiches – whatever!


Yield:  Approximately 1 1/2 Cups


Calories: 81kcal    Carbohydrates: 18g    Sodium: 743mg    Potassium: 158mg    Sugar: 15g    Vitamin A: 205IU    Vitamin C: 2.1mg    Calcium: 18mg    Iron: 0.5mg

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