If your goal in life is to sample every style of barbecue in America, you don’t have to travel across the country to do it. Just visit South Carolina, the only state in the nation where you'll find all four of the basic types of barbecue sauce, sometimes on the same menu. It’s the sauce that determines what kind of barbecue you’re eating in the Palmetto State.
When we say “barbecue” around here, we’re always talking about pork.
Beef, chicken and other critters can be grilled or cooked with or without sauce, but only pork— most often pulled pork cooked in a smoky pit—is barbecue. South Carolina is home to four barbecue sauces: mustard, vinegar and pepper, light tomato and heavy tomato. The sauces are sometimes mopped on during the cooking process or can be served on the side, a subject of much debate among barbecue pit masters.
Some people think of mustard-style sauce as South Carolina's unofficial sauce because this is the only place you’ll find it. It's most popular in the middle of the state, where German families settled in the 1700s. Those German immigrants brought their love of mustard to the region, and soon combined it with the love of pork for a lovely, tangy result.
Vinegar and pepper sauce, the most popular style along the coast, is perfect for those who love a bit of heat. The acidity of the vinegar works magic with the pork. It’s also the oldest sauce, perhaps the oldest in the nation, and has been traced back hundreds of years.
The light tomato sauce is basically a vinegar and pepper sauce with ketchup added for a little sweetness. It’s most popular in the Pee Dee Region (the northeast corner of the state) and in the upper middle part of the state.
A heavy, tomato-based barbecue sauce is found in the western and northwestern corner of South Carolina. It’s sweet—sometimes it’s called a tomato and sugar sauce. It’s the kind you’re most likely to find in many parts of the United States.
Most folks have an allegiance to one sauce over the others, but they’re all delicious on a mound of succulent pork, especially when prepared by a barbecue master. So try all four before you choose sides. It can be a life-altering bite!