Southern Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

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  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups (8 servings)
Ratings (21)

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.

What You'll Need

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
  • 5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar)

How to Make It

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    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.

    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.

    Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
    Calories 223
    Total Fat 23 g
    Saturated Fat 14 g
    Unsaturated Fat 7 g
    Cholesterol 61 mg
    Sodium 657 mg
    Carbohydrates 5 g
    Dietary Fiber 0 g
    Protein 0 g
    (The nutrition information on our recipes is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. Individual results may vary.)