Southern Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

Southern Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
218 Calories
23g Fat
3g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 218
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 23g 30%
Saturated Fat 14g 72%
Cholesterol 61mg 20%
Sodium 567mg 25%
Total Carbohydrate 3g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 2mg 10%
Calcium 13mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 44mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This is a traditional vinegar-based Carolina-style barbecue sauce. Notice that there is no tomato base in this recipe, just lots of flavor. As with any traditional vinegar sauce, this is thin, with a watery consistency. While this sauce is intended for pork, you can use it on beef, chicken, and even lamb. It's entirely up to you.

If you grew up using bottled tomato-based barbecue sauce, you may not realize that the original barbecue sauce is more like that produced by this recipe. The bottled stuff follows the Kansas City tradition and is thick, sweet, and often smoky. But barbecue sauce started out as a lemon, salt, and pepper baste for smoked meat, especially pork. Along the Eastern coastline, whole hogs were often smoked in open pits (as they still are today) and this sauce helped maintain moisture during the long cooking hours. Vinegar was substituted for lemons in areas where they weren't commonly grown.

You will find this type of vinegar sauce served with barbecue in the eastern Carolinas. Once you head west, tomato again makes its appearance in the sauces served, although they are still far thinner and less sweet than in a typical bottled sauce.


  • 1 cup (8 ouncesunsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1 lemon

  • 5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Southern Vinegar Barbecue Sauce ingredients

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan.

    melt butter in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  3. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, honey, salt, and pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until honey has melted through and the sauce is well combined.

    Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, honey, salt, and pepper to the butter in the saucepan

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  4. Remove the sauce from the heat and carefully add in the vinegar a little at a time. Let the sauce cool for 5 to 10 minutes before using.

    Southern Vinegar Barbecue Sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg


  • If you making the sauce ahead of time (rather than using immediately), let the sauce cool for 20 minutes and then place into an airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 to 5 days. When ready to use it, warm it on stove top or microwave.
  • Butter makes this version of Carolina vinegar sauce less watery, which you may prefer if serving it on the table rather than mixing it with pulled pork. While pork will already have enough fat, the addition of butter makes this a good choice for pulled chicken.
  • You can use either distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar for this sauce—both are found in sauces served in the Carolinas. This recipe keeps the pepper to a minimum. You can also add some Texas Pete pepper sauce or cayenne to boost the spice level and still be authentic to the Carolina vinegar sauce tradition.

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