South Carolina BBQ sauce is a little sweet, a little tangy, not spicy at all, and just extremely, extremely good.
My husband Jimmy loves South Carolina barbecue sauce and has been making it himself for several years now. He even bottles it and gives it as gifts around the holidays. So I asked him to share his recipe with you, and lucky for you, he said yes!
When I think of BBQ sauce I think of the little square dipping sauces you get at most fast food chains. So I am not the best person to tell you about BBQ sauces and what makes South Carolina BBQ sauce so special.
What I can tell you is that when Jimmy makes this sauce it's so freaking good I want to put it on everything. We've used it as BBQ pizza sauce, drizzled it over leftover sous vide carnitas for bbq tacos, and I even like to squeeze a zig-zag of it onto my grilled cheese sandwiches and juicy, tender turkey burgers.
Sometimes I even squeeze it on to tortilla chips as a treat, just because I can.
So, without further ado, here's Jimmy.
an ode to south carolina's bbq sauce
When it comes to condiments, BBQ sauce is my favorite. I love ketchup, but my go-to sauce for dipping French fries or chicken tenders has always been of the BBQ variety.
For most of my life, I assumed there was just one BBQ sauce (I grew up in Connecticut, don’t judge me). When my sister fell in love with a South Carolinian (good guy, love the accent), he introduced me to South Carolina’s version of BBQ sauce, and it was in that moment that I knew she had made the right choice of life partner.
So here's what I know now: South Carolina BBQ sauce is a staple of low-country cooking (one of my favorite styles of cooking). It's great on pulled pork sandwiches and it is even more amazing on ribs. It's so good on pizza and as a dip for chips, soft pretzels, and Chex Mix chicken tenders.
South Carolina's BBQ sauce is a perfect balance of tanginess and sweetness, with a zing of acidity that pairs well with the natural flavors of low and slow cooked meats. Which, if you ask me, is the best way to cook meat. Low and slow.
South Carolina's BBQ sauces are also nothing like any of the other BBQ sauces in the country.
Though barbecue might seem like a quintessentially "American" style of food, its origins are complicated by America's ugly history of colonialism and enslaving people for labor. The use of smoke and fire to cook and flavor food accompanied with a sweet and tangy sauce, most likely originated in the Caribbean. So you can probably guess how it made its way here.
George Washington (often considered the forefather of Guy Fieri) frequently wrote about how much he loved attending barbecues, and he wasn't the only president to do so. And how did the people of the 13 colonies celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War? With barbecue parties.
As the practice of BBQ cooking spread throughout the colonies and expanding territories, the accompanying sauce evolved, picking up regional flavors as different cultures and populations added their own twists.
That's why, for example, Texas BBQ sauce often uses chili powders and spices common to southwestern and Mexican cuisine. Florida's BBQ sauces often have citrus flavors more common to Cuban food. Maryland's BBQ sauce is full of horseradish because the originally Catholic colony apparently just enjoys the experience of pain.
And what did South Carolina have a lot of back then? Germans. And what do Germans love? Strict upholding of established rules and procedures... and mustard.
Unlike most BBQ sauces, which have tomato or vinegar bases, South Carolina BBQ sauce uses a mustard base. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like mustard and is about to stop reading, I’ve got a secret: neither do I.
But I freaking love South Carolina-style BBQ sauces. In all their mustard-y glory. It's hard to find them in grocery stores here, so for the past few years I've been making my own.
To soften the bitter sharpness of the mustard, I add honey and brown sugar, a little heat thanks to smoked paprika and other spices, and apple cider vinegar for some fruity acidity.
It's my own way of taking something I don't like — mustard — and turning it into something that I really, really, really do. The end result is an amazing balancing act that will make you devour everything it touches.
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- This will have a spicy kick to it on the first day you make it. Letting it chill in the fridge overnight gives the flavors time to mellow and settle down slightly. If you don't have time to chill it overnight, use an ice bath to drop the temperature quickly.
- There are a lot of kinds of dijon mustard out there, but this works best with one that has some sort of visible mustard seeds in it. It's up to you if you want to go with a whole grain or coarse ground variety.
- If you're storing your BBQ sauce in a squeeze bottle, you'll need to snip the tip of the bottle big enough that the mustard seeds can fit through.
south carolina bbq sauce
- ½ cup yellow mustard
- ¼ cup dijon mustard with mustard seeds
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup brown sugar (tightly packed)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or Marmite, optional)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon red pepper powder (or cayenne)
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon seasoned salt (season all)
- 1 dash hot sauce (optional)
- freshly cracked black pepper (a few grinds)
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Stir well to combine and break up and dissolve the brown sugar.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly before transferring to an airtight bottle or jar.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- If you're in a rush to use this BBQ sauce right away, transfer it to your preferred container and then place the container in an ice bath to cool it down quickly.