History of Barbecue – The Four Types of Barbecue Found In the USA


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The History of Barbecue

The history of bbq sauce in the USA can be tracked back to the four types of barbecue that are generally used in basting and as a finishing sauce. To learn the true art of how to make bbq sauce, you need to learn the history first. The four, in order of historical discovery, are Vinegar and Pepper, Mustard, Light Tomato and Heavy Tomato.

Almost every barbecue sauce in the USA falls into one of these four categories. You can check out more bbq sauce recipes and facts in our Tastes of USA category on the blog to see how they do it in Florida, Texas, Memphis, St.Louis, Charleston, Kansas City  and even South America! South Carolina is the only state that is home to all four types of bbq sauces in the USA. Many other states have multiple types of bbq sauces, but south Carolina is the only one with all four. It’s one thing to consume grocery store sauces or eat out in a barbecue restaurant, but it’s another to know the history of food and know why you use certain ingredients in your  bbq sauce recipes.

Vinegar and Pepper BBQ Sauce

The First or “Original” Barbecue sauce dates back hundreds of years. It was a very simple form of Vinegar and Pepper based barbecue sauce. The origins of this sauce can be tracked back to the coastal plains of North and South Carolina.

Mustard Based Barbecue Sauce

The second barbecue sauce in terms of historical evolution was a variation on what today is considered South Carolina-style barbecue sauce. Mustard based bbq sauce origin goes back to heavy influences from the Germans living in South Carolina. From 1730 into the 1750s, South Carolina recruited and even paid for the ocean passage for thousands of German families. The Germans were hard working and particularly skilled at family-farm type agriculture. They were given land grants

From 1730 into the 1750s, South Carolina recruited and even paid for the ocean passage for thousands of German families. The Germans were hard working and particularly skilled at family-farm type agriculture. They were given land grants up the Santee, Congaree, Broad, and Saluda Rivers during that time period. You can see

You can see in the below map, the location of mustard bbq sauce in South Carolina.

Even after 250 years, South Carolina bbq sauce can be tracked back to these German settlers. You can see evidence of these German last names in the families who sell mustard based sauces commercially today. The most famous of these families is the Bessinger family and their mustard based barbecue business.

The Vinegar and Pepper based barbecue sauce on the other hand, can be traced back to the Scottish settlers in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. The most famous Scottish family in the Vinegar and Pepper based barbecue sauce business is the Brown family.

Light Tomato Barbecue Sauce

The third type of barbecue sauce found in South Carolina is the Light Tomato-based barbecue sauce. This type of barbecue sauce was simply the Vinegar and Pepper sauce with a little bit of ketchup added for sweetness.

The most famous region for the Light Tomato-based barbecue sauce is in Lexington, North Carolina. It’s also found readily in the upper middle part of South Carolina and in the South Carolina Pee Dee region, which is the upper coastal plain area of the state.

Heavy Tomato Barbecue Sauce

The fourth major barbecue sauce category is Heavy Tomato. While this bbq sauce type is found in South Carolina, it is also found all over the United States and has really evolved over the last 60 years. Due to modern marketing and the extra sweet flavor of the heavy tomato sauce, you can find this type of barbecue sauce almost anywhere you go in the USA.

As the popularity of barbecue grew in the U.S. more and more Americans wanted to get involved and make their own barbecue. Heavy Tomato sauce was the most readily available sauce on the market, so many people thought that as long as they used a bbq sauce on their food, that they were making real barbecue.

The fact of the matter is, that most Americans use the sauce incorrectly and end up just slathering the sauce over various types of meat that were grilled over high heat. This is unfortunate because many Americans live far away from the area in South Carolina where barbecue was first introduced by the native Indians to European Colonists.

Therefore, they don’t have any real connection to the earliest barbecue and are mislead into thinking they are eating real barbecue. These people are missing out on the truly original and very best types of genuine barbecue sauces and food. American culture and media have also created confusion over just what the word barbecue means.

Recently, it has become commonplace to only use barbecue as a noun that refers to a specific thing, but sometimes it can also be used as a transitive verb. People who live outside of the “South”, like in the northern regions, typically use barbecue as a verb. When they do use it as a noun, it is often used incorrectly.

A common misuse of the word would be “I’m going to barbecue these burgers” or “Let’s throw some food on the barbecue.” This is a misuse of the word barbecue. The person is really grilling the burgers and the cooker they are referring to should be called a grill, not a barbecue. The incorrect use of the term barbecue has been proliferated on television and in movies by people who often know nothing about real barbecue.

The First Authentic Barbecue

The first authentic barbecue was first eaten back in the 1500s. The Spanish introduced the pig to the American Indians and the Indians in turn, introduced the Spanish to the art of slow cooking.

In this first meeting, the Spanish brought the pig and the Indians taught them how to cook it. If one wants to experience all four styles of American barbecue, there is only one state in the nation where that can be done – South Carolina.

If you are on a quest to become a true barbecue aficionado, then you need to visit South Carolina, where the art of barbecue was invented and where it is still practiced in its purest tradition and most diverse styles, where even a simple pork shoulder can blow your mind! There’s nothing better than homemade barbecue sauce, so learn this craft!

—This article was inspired by a history of barbecue post on the South Carolina Barbecue Association website. That post is no longer available on the internet, but we were lucky enough to screen shot it before it was taken down. You can view the entire post here.

history of barbecue

Frequently Asked Questions

What flavor is BBQ sauce?

Barbecue sauce has a combination of flavors that come together to create a unique, all-purpose sauce for meat and vegetables. It’s usually tangy from the vinegar, sweet from the molasses or sugar, and savory from the tomato sauce. Barbecue sauce can also be spicy if it contains chili peppers.

What are the different styles of barbecue sauce?

There are many different American barbecue sauce styles, but the most popular are Tennessee style or Memphis BBQ, Carolina style mustard sauce, Texas-style mop and basting sauce, and Kansas City-style sauce. More recently, Alabama white sauce has become popular, too.

Is BBQ sauce healthy?

It’s possible to create a healthy barbecue sauce, but most BBQ sauce contains a lot of sugar. The sugar not only balances out the tanginess of the vinegar, but it also thickens the sauce. If you’re worried about the contents of the sauce, we’d recommend making your own. When buying store-bought barbecue sauce, it’s best to read the ingredients label and avoid those sauces made with high-fructose corn syrup.

What is BBQ sauce made with?

Most barbecue sauce is made with ketchup or tomato sauce, although the Carolina-style mustard sauce and Alabama white sauce doesn’t contain any tomatoes at all. Other popular ingredients are vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, salt and pepper, spices, and sometimes Worcestershire or yellow mustard.

How can I thicken my BBQ sauce?

If you want a thicker barbecue sauce, simmering your sauce with brown sugar is a great way to naturally thicken it up. You could also add cornstarch or flour to achieve the same thickness in a shorter period of time.

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