Matt Moore, Southern Eats & Drinks Expert
Besides our hospitality, I’ve long touted that the South’s greatest export is our food. After all, people from all over the world relish in our ability to perfectly fry chicken, make a buttery pot of grits, or slowly smoke a rack of ribs.
But any true Southerner worth their salt knows that our food is not easily defined, for it varies greatly by region. Never is that statement more true than in BBQ. And perhaps one of the greatest debates in the never-ending story of BBQ, is that of the type of sauce (if any).
The distinctive range of Southern flavors found throughout our fair region is to be celebrated, making its way into everything from our scents to our food, and yes, even our drinks. Want to capture that fresh, ripe, sweet goodness of a Georgia Peach? Believe it or not, you don’t have to drive to South Georgia during peak season — you can just open up a bottle of Dixie Peach Vodka, and take a “bite” out of the annual harvest from Lane Southern Orchards. Trust me, there’s nothing better than devouring a rack of ribs and washing it down with a Dixie Peach Tea.
So, while we are meandering and celebrating our many flavors, let’s take a look far beyond the South. French gastronomy defines five “mother sauces” in cooking: béchamel, tomato, hollandaise, espagnole, and veloté. While these sauces have served at the base of haute cuisine for centuries, I might also argue that the world of BBQ also boasts 5 mother sauces: vinegar, sweet, mustard, white, and black.
Before we discuss the sauces, let’s lay out a few ground rules. If (ever) a sauce is used, it should never distract from the meat. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to offer up sauce on the side.
Those folks in Eastern North Carolina will tell you that sauce is a complete abomination. As we discussed in our pulled vs. chopped debate, most Carolina chopped BBQ is “sauced” with piping hot apple cider vinegar, salt, and crushed red pepper — that’s it.
As you make your way southwest, mustard sauces begin to appear, especially in South Carolina (likely a byproduct of the French and German immigrants who first settled the area). One should not ignore this yellow-colored sauce; it’s equally as delicious on pulled pork as it is on French fries.
Northeastern Kentucky produces a sauce that is dark, almost black in hue, which is mainly from the Worcestershire base. This sauce can be surprisingly good, especially with slow-smoked mutton from the Western part of the state.
Besides winning a boatload of National Championships, Alabama, specifically its northern regions, celebrates a white, mayonnaise-based sauce that’s rather good on smoked, pulled chicken and pork chops.
And finally, we start to pick up tomato and molasses as we move westward, through Tennessee and on into the likes of Kansas City.
In terms of the rest of the geography, you can usually count on a hodgepodge of variations from the core sauces, along with more spice, sweetness, more/less vinegar, so on and so forth.
Me? I don’t discriminate. I’m happy to dabble and dip in as many sauces as possible, so long as I’ve got a strong Dixie Peach Tea on the side (recipe below).
How ‘bout you? What’s your favorite BBQ sauce?
Dixie Peach Tea
- 2 oz. Dixie Peach Vodka
- 6 oz. sweet tea
- 1 fresh peach slice
- 1 lemon wheel
Fill a mason jar with ice, and add Dixie Peach Vodka and sweet tea. Garnish with peach slice and lemon wheel.