Last Updated on August 6, 2023 by Chris Whitehair
Types of BBQ Sauce
We’ve compiled them all into one, easy to read blog for you to learn.
Understanding all of the different BBQ sauce types can feel a bit like staring into a thick, saucy vortex.
By our count, there are at least 14 different types of BBQ sauce and those are only the mainstream sauces.
In all corners of the world, we are starting to see different types of BBQ sauce pop up.
In this blog, we’ll do our best to go through some of the top options.
It’s important to remember that each region has its own variation of BBQ sauce.
Past that, each region then has its own way of cooking the meat!
In this blog, we are focusing on the sauce aspect, not the cooking style.
All this to say, there are countless ways to cook and serve barbecued meats, but everyone has their favorite.
With the heaviest tomato base, Kansas City Style BBQ sauce is thick, sweet and typically slathered onto ribs. Kansas City Style BBQ sauce was my first introduction into BBQ as a youngster and became something that I put on most every meal, even boiled eggs, much to the dismay of family members.
For the added sweetness that is less common for other BBQ sauce types, Kansas City BBQ sauce leverages molasses to get that sticky sweetness that caramelizes when applied to meats that are still cooking. This BBQ sauce style is at the top of the list because it is the most common.
When you look through recipes, even if it says “Memphis style” or “Texas style” a lot of recipe creators don’t know the BBQ sin they have committed, but thankfully there are comment sections for that. The sweetness of Kansas City Style BBQ sauce is what really sets it apart, along with the thickness and the lack of vinegar. Less focus on the meats here and more focus on the sauce has made it a staple in many households across the country.
For a totally different style of sauce, let us head off to the Carolinas. You’d think only being a state away from each other would not create two distinct types of BBQ sauce, but hey, maybe that’s why there’s now a North and South Carolina. We’re not historians, so we’re actually curious. North Carolina BBQ sauce is known for its thinner, vinegary style, perfect for squirting onto smoked and pulled meats. Not only is it squirted on after the cooking process happens, it tends to be integral in the original cooking of the meat itself.
The distinct flavor profile you’re looking for here is high acidity, mixed with some additional spices and a spritz of sugar for some sweetness and some would consider the consistency to be near that of water. Carolina is not about the thick boys, just the runniest BBQ sauce you can think of. Even within North Carolina there are two warring factions of BBQ sauce types, split into Eastern and Western.
Eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce is the thinner consistency and helps consumers of meats focus on the meat itself. Conversely, Western North Carolina thickens it up a bit using ketchup. Another distinction is the parts of the pig used. The East uses all parts of a pig, while the West focuses on pork shoulder. The East is tangy with a slight sweetness while the West goes deeper into the sweetness and the heat-level. Now let us travel a few miles to the South into a whole different territory of types of BBQ sauce.
Again, we’re blown away that two areas that are so close together can have such different takes on types of BBQ sauce. South Carolina says “you know what? We don’t want your sweetness, give us….MUSTARD!” That’s right, the big differentiator here is the prevalence of mustard in the BBQ sauce. Thicknesses are all over the map here with some South Carolina BBQ sauces looking as thick as mayo while others are a thinner consistency.
Also known as Carolina Gold, the mustardy sauce is typically a bright-to-deep yellow in color and can add some sweetness with brown sugar. In most cases, South Carolina Style BBQ sauce stays away from spicy ingredients, leaning more on the mustard base to make your nose tingle.
Over to the west of the Carolinas sits Tennessee, another major hub for BBQ with a few distinct styles, the first of which is the Memphis Style BBQ sauce. Some of the magic here is that typically the initial cook of the pork uses a dry rub instead of basting the sauce on the meat that is being cooked. Many compare Memphis style BBQ sauce to the Kansas City BBQ style, but overall it leverages more vinegar and tends to be thinner without nearly as much sweetness.
While it’s not as thin as North Carolina style BBQ sauce, Memphis style BBQ sauce should still be easy to squirt onto your meats of choice. Similar to the Carolinas though, Memphis focuses more on the meats than the BBQ sauce. With a tomato-vinegar base with varying ranges of spice, Memphis style BBQ sauce is a major feature in the yearly Memphis in May competition.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the lengths they go to to make their BBQ sauces. A tomato vinegar base that is thicker than the Carolinas, but thinner than Kansas City, many versions of Texas BBQ sauce require the drippings of the meat you are cooking, giving it a fattier base, but ties in perfectly with whatever you put it on.
Many recipes you’ll find online have the addition of beef bouillon which triggers the same effect. However, it is not at all comparable to a fully smoked brisket. There are even different styles within Texas (we’ve seen at least four), but it largely deals with how the meat itself is cooked.
Dipping your meats into a sauce may seem a bit caveman-esque, but that’s largely the case for most Kentucky style BBQ sauces. Served up with a smokey Worcestershire base, this is a sauce that isn’t intended to be applied while cooking, but used once the meat is prepped and ready for consumption. Vinegar is another primary ingredient, but Worcestershire is definitely the focus when it comes to Kentucky style BBQ sauces.
This is one of the more unique BBQ sauce types in that it has a mayonnaise base. Some of you are already skipping this style at this point, but hear us out! The mayo-base, while it may seem a bit gross, it is no different than slapping some mayo on a bun and using other sauces. This sauce is most commonly used on pulled chicken and tends to be thinner because of the mix of mayo and vinegar. If you’ve not had it, give Alabama Style BBQ sauce a try. It really is pretty tasty.
Oklahoma style BBQ Sauce combines a bit of Texas, Kansas City and Memphis into one bottle of tastiness. It uses a tomato base and is generally sweeter and spicier than other types of BBQ sauce. There aren’t a whole ton of commercial sauces with this style, so this is a good candidate to try making yourself. Take a look at this recipe here for inspiration.
If you’ve ever been to a Korean BBQ it’s likely that you’ve encountered some form of Korean style BBQ sauce. Korean BBQ has an incredible flavor profile with sweetness, tang, a garlicky hit followed but something spicy. Using soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar and usually onions, Korean Style BBQ sauce tends to be more complex. If you haven’t been to this style of restaurant, find one in your area, food is prepared on a grill right at your table.
Sweeter than its Tennessee counterpart, Nashville style BBQ sauce also leverages some smokiness. This gives a nice tang to the taste. Also, this is not to be confused with Nashville Hot Chicken, as that is something totally separate. You’ll find this made with brown sugar and molasses in most recipes. Check out my favorite Grillmaster Steven Raichlen’s version here.
This type of BBQ sauce is much less common than the others on this list and some say it’s not even a real style, but we feel it’s different enough that it deserves a spot. Overall what makes a Florida style BBQ sauce stand out is it’s addition of oranges (not surprisingly…its Florida!). Similar to a tangy, vinegary East North Carolina BBQ sauce, the Florida sauce leverages the acidity of orange juice to give the sauce some more sweetness and a bright citrusy taste. You could really crank up the Cuban-inspired BBQ sauce with some scotch bonnet peppers or habaneros.
When you think of Baltimore and Maryland, your brain likely doesn’t go straight to types of BBQ sauce. We think of crab cakes, the Ravens and the “The Wire” so don’t worry, it didn’t for us either. Similar to the Alabama White Sauce, Baltimore BBQ Sauce is horseradish and mayo based. The nose-punch of the horseradish is an addictive sensation similar to the capsaicin sting of hot sauce, leading to folks coming back over and over again. A majority of what makes Baltimore BBQ stand out is that it’s really about the meat. This meat is known as Baltimore Pit Beef. Think cheesesteaks, but cut more like roast beef after being slow cooked on a charcoal pit for a while. Lesser known, but still delicious!
BBQ Sauces We Love
You’ve gone through the different types of BBQ sauce and now, you probably wanna try some out. Here are some of our favorites we have for sale. You can always send us a message on our Contact page with more in-depth questions if you have them. We love talking to our customers and will be glad to help answer anything you inquiring about.
BBQ Sauce Types: A Conclusion
Whew, still with us?
That is an overwhelming amount of different types of BBQ sauce.
More so, for each region we talked about, there are sauces on the market for all of those regions.
It can be daunting to pick and choose, so we’ve also included some rankings for different BBQ sauce attributes to try and help you make a decision.
Please note, these are up for debate as there are differences between individual BBQ sauces within a category.
However, go ahead and feel free to let us know if you think we’ve horribly misplaced a particular BBQ sauce in the comments below.
In the end, I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading this look at the different BBQ sauce types available!
Types of BBQ Sauce Rankings infographic designed by Zach Thielen.