North Carolina BBQ Sauce

published May 10, 2023
North Carolina BBQ Sauce Recipe

In North Carolina, barbecue sauce is a tangy, vinegar-based and used for mopping and topping pork barbecue. Here’s how to make it from scratch.

Makes1/2 to 3/4 cup

Prep5 minutes

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Carolina BBQ sauce in a bowl with pulled pork, white bread, cole slaw and pickles laid around.
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

When you think of barbecue sauce, you may picture a thick red sauce that’s both smoky and sweet. However, in North Carolina barbecue sauce is vinegar-based and used for mopping and topping pork barbecue. This tangy, spicy sauce is incredibly easy to make and is the ideal accompaniment at your next barbecue.

What Is North Carolina Barbecue Sauce?

The base for North Carolina barbecue sauce is vinegar, peppers, and sometimes tomato (in the form of tomato paste or ketchup). This tangy, spicy sauce enhances the pulled pork or whole hog barbecue that’s typical in this part of the country.

In North Carolina, the barbecue sauce you’re served depends on which part of the state you’re in: 

  • Eastern North Carolina. This sauce is made from vinegar and peppers — black pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or hot sauce. Sugar may be included in the mixture in some parts, but ketchup or tomato paste are not.
  • Western North Carolina. This sweet and sour sauce begins with the same base of vinegar and peppers as the eastern North Carolina sauce, but also includes ketchup or tomato paste. Some parts of the region may also include butter and sugar in their recipes. 

Cross the border into South Carolina, however, and you’ll find something completely different. While North Carolina barbecue sauce is a vinegar and pepper sauce that sometimes includes a tomato-based product, South Carolina barbecue sauce is mustard-based.

What Ingredients Do You Need for North Carolina Barbecue Sauce?

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Hot sauce
  • Kosher salt
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Black pepper
  • Ketchup (optional for western North Carolina sauce)
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

How To Serve North Carolina Barbecue Sauce

The spicy vinegar sauce enhances the meaty flavor of pulled pork barbecue. Prepare pulled pork in the oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot. If you’re lucky enough to attend a whole hog barbecue, you’re likely to see squirt bottles of this sauce for serving. Sides are almost as important as the main dish, so make sure to include slices of soft white bread, coleslaw, and sweet tea.

How Long Does North Carolina Barbecue Sauce Last?

A batch of vinegary North Carolina barbecue sauce will last for a month in the refrigerator.

North Carolina BBQ Sauce Recipe

In North Carolina, barbecue sauce is a tangy, vinegar-based and used for mopping and topping pork barbecue. Here’s how to make it from scratch.

Prep time 5 minutes

Makes 1/2 to 3/4 cup

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1/4 cup

    ketchup (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon

    hot sauce, such as Texas Pete or Crystal

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Place 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup ketchup if using, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a jar, liquid measuring cup, or small bowl. Cover and shake if using a jar or whisk until combined and the ketchup dissolves. Let sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours to allow the flavors to meld before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 month.