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Different types of BBQ sauces in Charleston, SC

Platter of BBQ

BBQ | Photo via Pexels

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The battle for who has the best BBQ sauce in the Carolinas is a fierce and long-standing one. Rivalries run deep across state lines (and even within the same state), and connoisseurs argue over who invented which sauce.

Even if you don’t have a horse in the race, chances are you’ll be faced with a choice between them at some point. Whether you have a go-to style or you’re overwhelmed by the sauce bar options at your local ‘cue joint, here’s what you need to know about Carolina BBQ –

🔥 The tradition of slow-roasting meat over a pit fire likely came from the Caribbean, where they were barbecuing as early as the 1500s. The recipes and methods were likely brought to the U.S. by enslaved peoples in the early 1800s.

🍋 Although lemons were used in Caribbean ‘cues, the citrus fruits were harder to come by in the States, so vinegar became the substitute.

So, how did we get to three different styles of BBQ between two states? Here’s the rundown:

South Carolina | mustard-based

Eastern N.C. | vinegar-based

  • Made with water, cider vinegar, black pepper + salt, and sometimes crushed red pepper + hot sauce
  • This OG style of ‘cue can be traced back several centuries and appears in cookbooks like Kentucky Housewife (1839) and Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book (1872).
  • It was first served commercially by Adam Scott (of Goldsboro, N.C.) and Bob Melton (from Rocky Mount, N.C.), who opened restaurants after WWII.
  • Where to get it: Lewis Barbecue, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, and Swig & Swine

Lexington (Piedmont N.C.) | tomato- or ketchup-based

  • Like Eastern N.C. sauce, Lexington-style sauce is made with vinegar, but with the addition of tomato (usually in the form of ketchup).
  • It first appeared on the scene around the time of Heinz ketchup — which debuted in 1876 at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia
  • It was commercialized by two ‘cue stands run by Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver + George Ridenhour in Lexington, N.C.
  • The style is most common around Lexington, N.C. and areas west – hence the name.
  • Another origin story – it’s from German food traditions. Bavarian-style pork is often served with a sweet vinegar sauce.
  • It’s often accompanied by red slaw.

Where to get it: BlackJack Barbecue, Lewis Barbecue, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Hometeam BBQ, and Swig & Swine

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