I grew up with tomato-based KC-style BBQ sauce but after moving to North Carolina I learned to love this mustard-based Carolina BBQ sauce!
St. Louis or Kansas City barbecue sauce is a rich, thick, smoky tomato-based sauce that went great on ribs and chicken. After moving to North Carolina I was asked if I wanted Carolina or Kansas City BBQ sauce. I tried the Carolina sauce and found it to be very different from what I was used to.
Carolina BBQ Sauce vs. Kansas City BBQ Sauce
There are several differences between the two sauces, but the main one is that the Carolina sauce has a mustard base whereas the Kansas City sauce has a tomato base. Most people are used to the Kansas City sauce as this is what is served in most restaurants. But here in North Carolina, at 12 Bones Smokehouse (my personal favorite rib place!) and many other barbecue places in the Carolinas, Carolina BBQ sauce rules. It is a great sauce for pork cuts, such as ribs but is also great on brisket and chicken. And it doesn’t matter if your meat is baked, fried, smoked, or grilled!
Preparing the Meat
One of the tricks to good barbecue on the grill or in the oven is in the marinade. You can use a dry rub, which is a dry mix of spices, to coat the meat. It will then sit for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, giving the meat time to soak up all that flavor.
Another way to marinate meat is to use a sauce, like this Carolina BBQ sauce. Simply coat the meat in the sauce and leave it in a glass pan for the same amount of time. Be sure to refrigerate the meat while it is marinading. I like to wrap mine in banana leaves instead of using a zip-top plastic bag.
Before grilling, if the sauce contains a lot of sugar, you may want to scrape some off. A common mistake in grilling is to coat the meat with sauce as it cooks. This is a good way to burn the outside of the meat while the center remains uncooked. Rather, you want to cook the meat low and slow, and at the end, apply your sauce. This will result in more even cooking and no burning of the sugars in the sauce.
Carolina BBQ Sauce Recipe
- Prep Time
- 5 minutes
- Mixing Time
- 5 minutes
- Total Time
- 10 minutes
- 16 ounces
- Estimated Cost
Making your Carolina BBQ sauce is simple. Blend all the ingredients together and use it on the meat.
I recommend warming the sauce before eating it (BBQ sauce is always better when warm).
You can use this as a marinade, a finishing sauce, or both. It’s important to note that if you use a sauce for a marinade or any leftover juice, you need to start over fresh. Someone could get very sick if you try to make a finishing sauce out of the leftover marinade.
You can use any kind of mustard that you like for this Carolina BBQ sauce. Yellow mustard is the most common, but I like stone-ground mustard. Dijon might also be a good choice.
I use honey and brown sugar. You could vary that and use all honey, all brown sugar, demerara, turbinado, or muscovado sugars. You could also use a sugar substitute. You’ll need to adjust the amounts because most sugar alternatives, like stevia, are much sweeter than sugar.
Apple cider vinegar provides the acid compound. The acid helps to break down tougher cuts of meat and cuts the cloying sweetness. You could also use lemon or lime juice.
The original Carolina BBQ sauce recipe called for ketchup and not apricot jam, but I wanted to stay in the golden color. And the jam blends nicely with the mustard. You could use almost any kind of sauce or jam, depending on the flavor that you want to achieve.
Worcestershire sauce adds the savory umami factor that nothing else can bring. You could try soy sauce or tamari as a substitute.
Spices are very subjective. I like onion and garlic, but I like them more subtle, so I use powders. If you like sharper flavors, you can use fresh spices. And the amount of cayenne is up to you as well. I like mine with a bit of a bite, but you can tone it down or kick it up a notch if you like.
Have you tried Carolina BBQ sauce? Now is the time!