The American barbecue pit is a cultural institution, and arguing with someone about the proper way to roast a hog is likely to start a generational feud. Every region and every barbecue restaurant has its own set of rules that might as well be commandments. This level of passion extends to the best part of barbecue (arguably, of course): the sauce. Most American barbecue sauces can be sorted into four general categories based on their bases. Here are the four most popular sauce styles, one or more of which you're likely to find at your local barbecue joint, no matter where you live.


If you peruse the condiment aisle at your local grocery store, you'll find that most sauces bottled and sold en masse to consumers are tomato-based sauces from brands like Heinz and K.C. Masterpiece. This is the type of sauce most non-connoisseurs think of definitely as "barbecue sauce." Typically a mixture of a tomato puree, sugar, and spices, it's the thick sauce most often credited as the Kansas City regional style of barbecue.

However, there's another popular style of tomato-based sauce—the tomato and vinegar mixture. This tangy and sweet sauce has a much thinner and less viscous consistency than the tomato and sugar variety, often associated with the cuisines of the regions of Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee.  


Pit masters from the Carolinas most often reach for vinegar as the main ingredient of their tangy sauces. Unlike the tomato- and vinegar-based sauces of Texas and St. Louis, vinegar is the main attraction, not the co-star, of these Carolina sauces. Some vinegar sauces, in fact, are completely free of any tomatoes at all. Vinegar sauces are most popular with pork cuts because their piquant vinegar flavor cuts through the natural fattiness of the meat and enhances its flavor.  


If you've ever eaten barbecue in South Carolina, you're familiar with that golden bottle of heaven that accompanies your plate of steaming pulled pork or pork shoulder. This concoction of yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices hits your tongue's taste receptor cells with a burst of sour, tempered with cool sweetness. Its origins are murky, but credit is usually given to the German settlers who arrived in the Carolinas in the 18th century, bringing with them their love of the mustard seed.  


Unless you hail from Alabama or you're a barbecue eating pro, you might not be as familiar with the fourth most popular barbecue sauce as you are with its counterparts—it's the mayo-based "white sauce" of the Yellowhammer State. The white sauce is a smooth mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, and spices, most often served with smoked chicken rather than pork or brisket.

To try out these sauces, visit a local restaurant like Grumpy's Bar B Que Roadhouse.