Barbecue Sauce: An American Sauce For A Native American Cooking Style

Barbecue sauce as we know it most likely came about some time after the method of smoking and grilling meat over an open flame was established. While open-flame cooking is an ancient practice that most likely does not belong to any one culture, barbecue refers to a specific style. The sticky sweet barbecue sauce that most of us are familiar with is decidedly American in origin.

The most likely story for barbecue’s origin has it starting with the Taino people, a Native American tribe from the West Indies.

Barbecue sauce in America is closely associated with one particular region: the Carolinas. The earliest barbecue sauce is likely to have been what is now called East Carolina sauce, a vinegary glaze that is likely to have resulted from various influences, including African, Portuguese, and Taino.

The vinegar element may have come from the Portuguese and their marinades, as well as their escabeche cooking style. That influence, combined with the Tanio low and slow techniques, may have been brought to the United States by slaves, Native Americans, or both.

Another sauce that is likely to have been around early on in Carolinan barbecue culture arrived in the region via German immigrants. British colonists in the 18th century encouraged German immigration. The immigrants who arrived due to this effort brought with them a love of mustard, which resulted in one of South Carolina’s most important contributions to American barbecue: mustard-based barbecue sauce.

Even more important than the Eastern Carolina sauce or the mustard sauce is what is sometimes called Western Carolina sauce. Western Carolina sauce is believed to have been the first to bring tomatoes into the mix. Both Kansas City-style barbecue and Memphis-style barbecue are believed to have originated with Western Carolina Sauce. Both of these sauces utilize tomato products like tomato paste and ketchup.

Alabama white sauce is yet another barbecue sauce variant, but it has a mayonnaise base rather than a tomato or mustard one.

Barbecue sauce flavor profile

Because there are so many barbecue sauce styles, there is no one barbecue sauce flavor profile, but they all tend to rely heavily on sweet and acidic notes.

Health benefits of barbecue sauce

Because there are so many different types of barbecue sauce, there is no one nutritional profile that fits all of them. Memphis style has different ingredients from Alabama style and so on. However, it is safe to say that most bottled barbecue sauces are not particularly good for you, and they usually aren’t great sources of any nutrient. Depending on the brand, you might get some nutrients from a serving. Those nutrients include:

  • Vitamins: Barbecue sauce can contain small amounts of vitamin C, as well as some B vitamins and vitamin A.
  • Minerals: Common minerals found in some barbecue sauces include small amounts of iron and calcium.

With barbecue sauce in your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health conditions like:

  • Poor bone health: Barbecue sauces that contain calcium may be able to help delay or mitigate health problems like osteoporosis, which is characterized by a loss of bone density.

Health concerns

Traditional barbecue sauces are heavy on the sweeteners, including brown sugar, which can cause type 2 diabetes if it is consumed in excess. Also common is high fructose corn syrup. Fructose is processed to triglycerides in the liver and can cause clogged arteries as well as fatty liver disease.

Common uses

The traditional way to use barbecue sauce is as a mop, dip, or glaze for barbecued meats.


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