Vinegar, Tomato or Mustard: What’s Your Favorite Barbecue Sauce?

updated Sep 12, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Everyone has an opinion on barbecue. (Don’t they?) There are three basic sauce options: mustard, tomato, and my favorite, vinegar. Each variation has its devotees, and many gatherings in this neck of the woods include impromptu debates of varying degrees of intensity about which one is the best. I don’t participate in the debate, because my mouth is full.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. When we talk barbecue, we mean slow cooked meat — usually a whole hog — basted with barbecue sauce and served alongside classic sides like coleslaw, fried okra, rice and corn on the cob. In some places, “barbecuing” refers to cooking on the grill. Our pit masters cook whole hogs on spits, in pits and in smokers. Now that we have that out of the way…

According to Serious Eats, my home state of South Carolina is known for mustard base barbecue. That’s true. I grew up with it and I still enjoy the tangy, sweet flavor of a good mustard based sauce, on the side.

My love of vinegar sauce may have roots in childhood trips to Litchfield Beach. Driving from Columbia, we would stop at Cooper’s Store, which we called “The Half-Way Store,” because it more or less was. We stopped for snacks and a bathroom break, but my mother loved to pick up some of their pit smoked, pulled pork. I’m my mother’s daughter and that’s Cooper’s in the photo above.

Cooper’s Store opened in the 1930s and they’ve been smoking hogs since the 1970s. According to the Southern Foodways Alliance, present owner Robert Cooper describes the barbecue as “downright vinegar and salt and pepper.” Simple and delicious.

Spicy vinegar sauce, no matter how simple, complements the flavor of the pork and, along with slow cooking, makes the meat tender and delicious. Vinegar sauce is light, so it won’t drown the meat. I may add a little mustard sauce as a condiment, but vinegar is the star.

Now, don’t get me started on what makes the best coleslaw, because that’s a whole ‘nother debate. Do you have a strong preference for a particular kind of barbecue? Is it based on tradition and region or do you march to the beat of your own drum?

(Images: Anne Postic)