Kansas City. Carolina. Texas. St. Louis. Memphis. Alabama. These are the six main regional BBQ sauce styles usually mentioned during any discussion of serious barbecue cookouts, and one of the great things about being a Big Green Egg chef is that you can have fun with all of them or go hog wild with BBQ sauces from anywhere else in the world.
As a general rule, whenever you hear that one of these main regions only does BBQ sauce a certain way, just know it’s sort of a false narrative based on how things used to be way back in the day. Society changed too much in the 1900s for there to be only one way of anything. But these are still a good starting point for geographic influences, so experiment with everything from Full Moon Alabama White Sauce to Franklin Barbecue Texas Style Sauce.
What You Need To Know About Using BBQ Sauce
For starters, because Big Green Egg dealers have this nice irresistible row of various regional BBQ sauces and BBQ hot sauces right there among those EGGsessories that you’re going to buy to make the most out of your kamado ceramic cooker. So good luck passing those up!
After smoking a pork butt for six hours on the Big Green Egg and then preparing the pulled pork for dinner, the wood smoke smell is irresistible and you can serve it with a pineapple slice and cole slaw on a fresh bun. But if you want to add the pièce de résistance, just squirt or drizzle some Jack Daniels Original BBQ Sauce over the top and then devour it.
According to the Tennessee State Museum, what we consider BBQ sauce today goes back to 1698, when a Dominican missionary named Père Labat saw French West Indies chefs cooking with lime juice and hot peppers on BBQ'd meat. The condiments' roots came from Africa. In the 1800s, the American South saw the proliferation of vinegar- and mustard-based sauces, as more people cooked BBQ dishes, especially enslaved workers. Over time and freedom, those traditions carried on and spread uniquely over regions.
Some regional styles and recipes call for BBQ sauce during the smoking process on your Big Green Egg, and some favor it for the very end or just to add on your finished dish. Have a useful sauce pan and sauce brush handy on your Big Green Egg table or EGGmate.
Mop sauce or Moppin’ Sauce is used to continually baste BBQ meats so you infuse meat with flavor while it cooks. You don’t need it to BBQ -- and Central Texans never will -- but it can enhance some meat recipes. Mop sauce is great while smoking or grilling over wood chips with a lump charcoal fire. Mop about every 20 minutes, and the layers of mop sauce work will work hand-in-hand your BBQ rub to make a tasty crust.
The Six Main Regional BBQ Sauce Styles
If you’re going to use barbecue sauce on your next Big Green Egg cookout, here are the six main regional styles to consider for that unbeatable flavor:
1. Kansas City
It's around the 100th anniversary of Henry Perry's first batch of smoked meat in an outdoor pit by his barn, served as meat portions wrapped in a newspaper. That was the beginning of what's known as Kansas City Barbecue, or KC BBQ. And it's still the king in this country. KC legend George Brett once took me and a magazine photographer to Gates BBQ in town there, and I've been a believer ever since. Kansas City-style sauce is sweet and tangy with more than a dozen ingredients, starting with a tomato or ketchup base and featuring molasses or brown sugar to sweeten. It’s great on the Big Green Egg if you’re making a rack of ribs, but either add it at the very end of the long cook or wait until you pull off the meat, because of the high sugar content that can burn your food. Try some Sweet Baby Ray’s.
There are plenty of varieties in the Carolinas, East Carolina, West Carolina and South Carolina, and whichever you choose, just be sure to serve it with hushpuppies. The best-known and most widely used is Carolina Gold Sauce, the mustard-based sauce so many people love. I slathered mustard on my pork shoulder before smoking it last week, thus giving in to this taste for the Big Green Egg. Carolina mustard sauce usually includes cane sugar instead of molasses, keeping that bright yellow color and acidic flavor. Williams Bros. Bar-B-Q has some incredible smoker sauces and grill sauces to try, including that classic Carolina style. This tends to be a little more South Carolina, as the folks north of the state border are more likely to opt for a spicier vinegar-based sauce to mop the hog late in the game.
True Texans will tell you that if it’s done right, you don’t need a sauce. They see it more as a crutch. But for those who want it, traditional Texas BBQ sauce like the ever-famous Stubbs Bar-B-Q Sauce is almost always on the side. The only exception is Burnt Ends, and there’s also a more localized East Texas style where they follow the broader South in BBQ basting through the whole cook. Whenever barbecue sauce is involved, it is usually tomato/ketchup-based, sweet, smoky and spicy. Texas Big Green Egg sauce is thin and hearty, usually with meat drippings and bold ingredients such as cumin, hot sauce, chili poweder, garlic and Worcestershire. For poultry and ribs, you use a glaze, like Texas Pepper Jelly, home of the Original Rib Candy and Bird Bath. Texas torpedoes are a big must as well: smoked jalapeños stuffed with brisket or chicken and wrapped in bacon.
Anyone who has been to Memphis and stopped by the original Central BBQ or the Cozy Corner knows that the city of Beale Street and Graceland is a top candidate for BBQ Capital of the World. After all the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, or “Memphis in May,” is held there very year. It’s just done a little differently there, with a lot of heart and soul and flavor. Memphis is known for its dry rub pork ribs, so after you rub them own with Central BBQ Rib Rub, wait till they come off the Big Green Egg and then slather them with the thick and tangy tomatoey Central BBQ Mild BBQ Sauce. Or use the sauce throughout the whole smoking process and then you have some great and sloppy Memphis web ribs.
One look at Alabama BBQ Sauce and mistake it for ranch dressing, but you know better once you’ve tasted the amazing flavor. As you can see, the color of BBQ sauce will gradually fade if you drive from Charlotte down to Birmingham. Legendary Big Bob Gibson created this Alabama white sauce in the 1920s in Decatur, Alabama, just south of Tennessee, to go with his grilled and smoked chicken, so you might as well try it on your Big Green Egg. White BBQ sauce has a mayonnaise base, cut with vinegar so it’s not thick and gooey. Try it over French fries, too.
6. St. Louis
St. Louis is known by many for its famous ribs, distinctive because of how they are trimmed with connective tissue cut away so the rack looks neatly rectangular and flat. The sauce that goes on them is typically made without liquid smoke, and that makes it different than the Kansas City stuff on the other side of Missouri. You've no doubt seen bottles of Maull's BBQ Sauce around the country, and that's the good hometown St. Louis stuff. Louis Maull opened the first Maull’s factory there in 1897, shaking up the food industry by creating "America’s Original BBQ Sauce." The unique blend of spices and tangy flavor helped make St. Louis a must-have for any Big Green Egg sauce collectors. If you’re around St. Louis, stop by Sugarfire Smoke House downtown and grab some St. Louie Sweet BBQ Sauce for a real thrill.
The list of regional styles is not exactly set in stone. Some people will substitute another region here and there. But that’s pretty much how the American BBQ sauce tradition has formed.
Other Big Green Egg Sauces To Try
Wherever people are using their Big Green Eggs, there’s a new BBQ sauce to try out. That goes far beyond those six regional styles, and in some cases it means fusing those styles together. Here’s just a sampling of some other tasty sauces to add to your cooks:
Hoff & Pepper Sauce - East Tennessee
The founder grew up in Kansas and settled in the Chattanooga area in the middle of Alabama White Sauce country, so you can imagine that he and his team have brought different influences to their products. Hoff Sauce Hot Sauce for BBQ Chicken Wings is one great example, using fresh Tennessee grown Jalapeños to craft this six-ingredient Everyday Hot Sauce with plenty of heat and tang along with a smooth and smoky finish.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - New York
New York BBQ? Better believe it, because award-winning Dinosaur is popular with its roots from Buffalo to Brooklyn, and with a national fan base for its products. Try the Slathering Sauce or the Wango Tango (why no mango?).
Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Blue Grass Country
This rich and savory sauce captures the essence of another popular region, just a little under the radar compared to those big six. It has a distinct flavor of the state’s famous Bourbon whiskey and the Original Sauce can withstand flames without losing taste on the Big Green Egg. You can also give Bourbon Country as a perfect complement to seafood, beef or poultry, or as a dipping sauce for barbecue.