This Carolina BBQ Sauce recipe is easy to make and tastes delicious with absolutely everything, from 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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
How to store 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.
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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- Green Goddess Dressing and Sauce
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The best homemade Carolina barbecue sauce recipe👇
Homemade Carolina BBQ Sauce recipe
- 1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- ¾ Cup Ketchup
- ¼ Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 TBS Yellow Mustard
- 1 TBS Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tsp Hot Sauce (Preferably Texas Pete's)
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- ½ tsp Ground Pepper
- ½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes optional
- 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!
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That is an excellent base for any barbecue sauce
I like how you really limited the spices and didn’t include garlic and onion. Very traditional
I’m a heretic and I keep a homemade potassium sorbate solution to add a little to all homemade condiments. it extends the fridge life to months and months and completely does away with any mold or yeast growth
Can you post a guide on how you make the potassium sorbate solution?
I saw your question and just wanted to respond so you know someone saw it! Unfortunately, this isn’t a forum (like reddit) or a social media site, so I’m not sure if Tom will see question. However, YouTube has a ton of videos on making and using potassium sorbate solution if you wanted to check it out!
All the best,
E .Lois says
I am just looking at your recipe with a family of five and I would like a quart size . we love ribs and pull pork and would like make both recipes in a big batch . Thank you so much!
Hi E. Lois,
If you hoover your mouse over the servings number in the recipe card you can adjust the number of servings up (or down) – that in turn will adjust the amount listed for the ingredients in the list! 🙂 Cheers!!
Delicious!! I left the ketchup out and it was still so much like the bbq sauce in the Carolina’s. It was thinner but it did thicken up a little in the fridge. I liked it so much that I made it twice lol. I even like it on potatoes. I’m hooked.
I’m so happy to hear you were able to make this to your specific taste without the ketchup!! And, I’m thrilled you loved the BBQ sauce! I’m going to have to try it on potatoes, because that does sound delicious!!!! Thank you so much for coming back and letting me know how everything went over! Cheers! 🙂
I’m a western NC bbq girl living in eastern NC. While I’ve adapted to the eastern flavors, I still prefer western NC bbq. Overall I liked this recipe, but I had to add more brown sugar to get the taste I prefer. Thanks!
This is exactly the BBQ sauce recipe I was looking for. I substituted tomato paste for the ketchup just for personal preference but followed the rest to a T. Thanks!
I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed the sauce and made it your own! Your substitution sounds delicious – I’ll have to try that! Thank you for coming back and letting me know how everything went over. Cheers!
Shashi at SavorySpin says
Thanks to you, Cheyanne, I learned the difference between Carolina BBQ and reg BBQ – there’s a specialty BBQ store that sells both kinds and I always wondered what the difference was – now I know and now I have a delicious homemade recipe to reference – much brtter than store bought! Hope y’all have a wonderful weekend! XOXO
Nancy Perine says
Hi there! Gosh, it had been years since I made home made BBQ sauce. Your recipe sounded so yummy, and it was/is yummy! I made enough to keep extra on hand. We’ll enjoy it with the pulled pork left over from the roast I made in my dutch over. My mouth is watering already. Thanks so much for sharing!
I’m absolutely thrilled you enjoyed this BBQ sauce!! Thank you so very much for coming back and letting me know how it went over! Cheers!
Is this different from your previous recipe? I made it last month and could’ve sworn it had molasses in it. Tastes great to me, but I’m a fan of vinegar!
Very good catch!!! I tested a few batches of the BBQ sauce and made very minor adjustments to enhance the flavor. Feel free to swap the Worcestershire sauce for the molasses if you preferred the original recipe! Cheers!
Hi, I noticed the change as well. Was the molasses the only difference or did the prior recipe not have the hot sauce either? Thank you!
Correct – the original recipe did not have the teaspoon of hot sauce. Also, it used molasses instead of worcestershire (same amount – 1 tablespoon) and dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard (same amount – 1 tablespoon).
If I make minor tweaks to recipes it is always for the benefit of taste, however I completely understand some people will always like the original version the best, and that is wonderful! I always keep the original recipe on hand for this exact reason. 🙂 Should you have any other questions, always feel free to reach out! I’m here to help in any way I can! Cheers!!
Thank you so much!
You know I´ll be giving this sauce a try! Can´t wait!
Kelsie | the itsy-bitsy kitchen says
I’m not in love with sweet BBQ sauces so this is a sauce I can totally get behind. I love anything vinegary, especially if there’s some spice thrown in. I’m definitely giving this a try soon! Have a great weekend, Chey!
Kelly | Foodtasia says
Chey, I’m pulling out the grill tonight! I’ve got to try this bbq sauce! Love your explanation of the different bbq sauces – I didn’t realize there was such variation!