North Carolina Sauce Recipe – A Delightful Taste!

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This is a great sauce often associated with the southern charm of North Carolina. With its tangy flavor and rich texture, it is great to elevate your barbeque experience. While many sauces come and go, North Carolina Sauce Recipe stands out. With this in mind, you may want to add it to your next meal to get the most out of every bite. Throughout your meal, you’ll find its taste consistently delightful.

Have you ever dined in a quaint Middle-Eastern eatery, savoring rich flavors, or enjoyed a delectable dish in a European bistro, only to feel something amiss? That’s how I felt on my travels until I stumbled upon North Carolina Sauce during a restaurant visit in Raleigh. 

North Carolina Sauce Recipe

This tangy treat took my taste buds on a journey they weren’t prepared for. While in a bustling bazaar in Istanbul, a friend from North Carolina introduced me to this sauce, saying it would bridge the flavor gap I often felt. He wasn’t wrong. 

With its unique blend, this sauce quickly became a must-have for my culinary adventures. 

With this in mind, I realized many face the challenge of finding that perfect sauce to complement international dishes. 

The best thing is, you won’t have to look far. So, North Carolina Sauce is the answer to get the most out of your dishes and cater to even the pickiest of kid’s requests.

What Is North Carolina Sauce?

North Carolina Sauce is a renowned barbecue sauce originating from the southern state of North Carolina. It is excellent to note that there are two main variations: Eastern and Western (or Lexington style). 

The Eastern style boasts a thin, vinegar-based consistency with spicy notes, often infused with pepper and other spices. 

On the other hand, while still vinegar-based, the Lexington style includes a touch of tomato or ketchup for added sweetness. 

This sauce is frequently used for dressing pulled pork sandwiches, and its tangy flavor profile ensures it stands out, making barbeque dishes memorable. With this in mind, you may want to introduce it to your next BBQ feast.

History Of North Carolina Sauce Recipe

The exact origin of North Carolina Sauce Recipe remains a topic of debate. Still, it is deeply rooted in the state’s culinary traditions. 

It emerged as early settlers in North Carolina began perfecting their barbeque techniques. 

These pioneers, wanting to enhance the flavors of their meats, started experimenting with vinegar, spices, and peppers available to them. 

This led to the creation of the Eastern style. As barbeque culture evolved, especially around Lexington, tomato elements were introduced, birthing the Western style. 

While no single individual can be credited with its invention, it’s a collective effort of North Carolina’s passionate BBQ enthusiasts. Throughout its evolution, this sauce has remained a beloved staple.

Interesting Facts About North Carolina Sauce Recipe

North Carolina Sauce Recipe, a staple in Southern barbecue, has a distinct blend of vinegar, spices, and varying levels of tomato. It varies regionally: Eastern style is purely vinegar and spices, while Western style adds a hint of tomato. This sauce is known for its tangy, sharp flavor, enhancing the taste of pulled pork and other barbecued meats.

Regional Variations

Apart from the well-known Eastern and Lexington styles, some regions in North Carolina have their unique takes on the sauce.

Age-Old Tradition

Some recipes have been passed down for generations, with families guarding them as precious heirlooms.

Competitive Spirit

North Carolina has annual competitions dedicated solely to BBQ sauces, with this sauce often stealing the show.

Beyond BBQ

While primarily used for barbeque, many chefs use North Carolina Sauce as a base for other dishes, experimenting with its versatility.

Spice Levels

The spiciness of the sauce can vary significantly, often determined by family traditions or regional preferences.

Global Reach

Despite its deep-rooted American origins, this sauce has fans worldwide. Many travelers take bottles home after visiting North Carolina, introducing it to new audiences.

Natural Preservation

The vinegar base acts as a natural preservative, giving the sauce a longer shelf life than some other condiments.

Jar and Ingredients

What Are The Regional Adaptations Of This Sauce?

  • Eastern Style: Hailing from the coastal plains, this is a thin, vinegar-based sauce with a potent spicy kick, mainly pepper and spices.
  • Western/Lexington Style: Originating from the central part of the state, it blends the sharpness of vinegar with the sweetness of tomato or ketchup.
  • South Carolina Variant: It incorporates mustard, giving the sauce a unique yellow hue and tangy taste.
  • Piedmont Dip: A crossover between Eastern and Western, it uses vinegar, black pepper, and a hint of tomato.

What Will Make You Love This North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

  • Versatility: Suitable for pork, beef, or chicken, it adapts seamlessly to various meats and dishes.
  • Unique Flavor Profile: The tangy blend of vinegar and spices offers a taste that is hard to replicate.
  • Homemade Touch: Its roots in family recipes lend an authentic, homemade essence.
  • Culinary Adventure: Each regional variant lets you journey through North Carolina’s rich history and culture, bite by bite.
  • Healthy Choice: It’s a healthier sauce option, typically low in sugar and artificial additives.
  • Natural Preservation: Its vinegar base ensures longevity so you can savor it over time.
  • Pairing Potential: It is excellent to complement side dishes like coleslaw or beans, enhancing the entire meal experience.
Bowl and Spoon

Ingredients List

Butter or Margarine¼ lb.
Brown Sugar (packed)½ cup
Chili Powder½ cup
Lemon Juice½ cup
Soy Sauce½ cup
Worcestershire Sauce½ tsp.
Catsup1 ½ cups
Prepared Mustard1 cup
Water1 cup
White Vinegar1 cup
Garlic (minced)1 small clove
Onion (chopped fine)1 small

Ingredient Tips

  • Butter: Use unsalted butter for better control over the sauce’s saltiness.
  • Brown Sugar: Store in an airtight container with a slice of bread to prevent hardening.
  • Chili Powder: Opt for fresh and authentic varieties for a richer flavor.
  • Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed juice offers a brighter taste than bottled alternatives.
  • Soy Sauce: Light soy sauce provides saltiness without overpowering other flavors.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: A little goes a long way, so add sparingly.
  • Catsup: Using homemade or high-quality brands can elevate the sauce’s taste.
  • Prepared Mustard: Consider Dijon or whole grain for different flavor nuances.
  • Garlic & Onion: Ensure they’re finely minced or chopped for a smoother sauce texture.

What Are The Variations Of North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

  • Eastern Style: Predominantly vinegar-based, it’s spicy with red pepper flakes and doesn’t contain any tomato.
  • Western/Lexington Style: A balance of vinegar and tomato, this variant is slightly sweeter due to adding ketchup or tomato paste.
  • Piedmont Dip: A middle-ground between Eastern and Western, it combines vinegar, black pepper, and a dash of tomato.
  • Mustard Twist: Some recipes introduce mustard for a tangy kick and a distinct yellow hue.
  • Honey Enhanced: For a sweeter profile, honey replaces brown sugar.
  • Fiery Version: Amplified with extra chili powder or hot sauce for those who crave more heat.

Recipe Directions

Cooking Method

  • In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  • Once the butter is melted, add the chili powder, garlic, onion, vinegar, water, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and catsup. Mix well.
  • Reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking or burning.
  • After simmering for an hour, stir in the lemon juice and mustard.
  • Continue to simmer for an additional fifteen minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool down for about 10 minutes.

Ferment Method

  • This particular recipe doesn’t involve fermentation. However, for those interested in fermentation, you could ferment the sauce by storing it in an airtight jar, placing it in a cool, dark place, and allowing the natural bacteria to cultivate, enhancing the sauce’s flavors. Check regularly for any signs of spoilage.


  • Serve the sauce alongside your preferred dishes. It is great to use immediately but also stores well in a refrigerator for future use.

North Carolina Sauce isn’t just a condiment; it’s a journey through the heart of American barbecue, one spicy, vinegary note at a time.

Scaling The Recipe

  • Simple Doubling or Halving: Double or halve each ingredient for larger or smaller batches. This works for most recipes without complication.
  • Spices & Seasonings: Be cautious. Doubling spices might make the sauce overly spicy. Start with 1.5 times the original amount, then adjust to taste.
  • Liquid Components: These can usually be doubled or halved directly, but always taste and adjust if needed.
  • Cooking Time: While ingredient amounts change, cooking times may not double or halve precisely. Monitor consistency and doneness.
  • Storage: Consider storage capacity when scaling up. Ensure you have appropriate containers.
North Carolina Sauce Recipe

Can This Sauce Be Used As A Marinade, Dipping Sauce, Or Dressing For Salads?

  • Marinade: Its tangy and spicy profile makes it great for meats like chicken, pork, or beef. The vinegar helps tenderize, while other ingredients impart flavor.
  • Dipping Sauce: Its rich consistency and robust taste make it an ideal dipping sauce. It pairs well with appetizers like chicken tenders, fries, or even vegetables.
  • Salad Dressing: When diluted slightly with extra vinegar or oil, it can serve as a flavorful salad dressing. The zesty punch complements greens and grilled proteins alike.

What Are The Best Dishes To Accompany North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

This classic combination makes the sauce shine, moistening the meat and adding zest.

Grilled Chicken

The sauce’s flavors get absorbed into the skin, providing a tasty crust when grilled.


Whether pork or beef, ribs slathered in this sauce are a treat.


A slow-cooked brisket benefits from the tang of the sauce, complementing its rich meatiness.


The tangy nature of the sauce gives coleslaw an extra kick.

Fried Fish

A Southern favorite, the sauce adds a delightful contrast.

Baked Beans

The sauce’s flavors infuse beautifully, enhancing this side dish.

North Carolina Sauce Recipe

What Are Some Classic Dishes That Feature North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

  • Pulled Pork BBQ: Slow-cooked pork shoulder, shredded and drenched in the sauce, often served in sandwiches.
  • Lexington Style Ribs: Ribs brushed with the sauce and then grilled, creating a tangy crust.
  • Chicken Barbecue: Grilled or smoked chicken basted with the sauce for a flavorful finish.
  • Pork Chop Barbecue: Thick pork chops marinated and grilled with the sauce for added zest.
  • Eastern NC Fish Stew: A unique dish where the sauce’s tang complements the fish.
  • Hushpuppies: These deep-fried cornmeal balls are often dipped in the sauce for an extra kick.

What Are The Key Flavor Profiles And Taste Sensations That North Carolina Sauce Offers?

  • Tangy: The vinegar base gives it a pronounced sour note, the sauce’s signature taste.
  • Spicy: Chili powder and pepper add warmth and gentle heat.
  • Sweet: Brown sugar or sometimes honey lends a subtle sweetness that balances the tang.
  • Savory: Ingredients like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce contribute a rich, umami depth.
  • Earthy: The amalgamation of spices like chili and the undertones of onion and garlic offers an earthy profile.
  • Slightly Bitter: The mustard in some variants can introduce a mild bitter touch.
Jar and Spoon

Can This Sauce Be Stored And Preserved For Future Use? What Is Its Shelf Life?

  • Refrigeration: Once prepared, transfer the sauce to an airtight container or jar and store it in the refrigerator. Properly stored, it should last 2-3 weeks.
  • Freezing: For extended storage, you can freeze the sauce. Pour it into freezer-safe containers, leaving some space for expansion. It can last for 4-6 months when frozen.
  • Shelf Life: If unopened and stored in a cool, dark place, homemade canned sauce might last up to a year. Once opened, refrigerate and consume within 2-3 weeks.

What Are The Substitutes For North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

  • Texas Barbecue Sauce: Offers a spicy and slightly sweet profile with a tomato base.
  • South Carolina Mustard Sauce: Combines mustard, honey, and vinegar for a tangy kick.
  • Kansas City Barbecue Sauce: Sweeter and thicker due to molasses and tomato sauce components.
  • Alabama White Sauce: A mayo-based sauce with a tang from the vinegar and a slight heat from the pepper.
  • Vinegar and Pepper Sauce: A simpler mix of vinegar, pepper, and a touch of salt for the tangy-spicy lovers.
  • Homemade Blend: Combine vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and chili powder to mimic a basic version.
North Carolina Sauce Recipe

How To Adjust The Consistency Of The Sauce?

  • Thicker Sauce: Simmer the sauce for longer, allowing the excess liquid to evaporate. Another method is to add a cornstarch-water mixture (slurry) and cook until the sauce thickens.
  • Thinner Sauce: Add a bit of water, vinegar, or broth and mix well. Adjust the seasoning as needed after diluting.
  • Creamier Consistency: Stir in a small amount of unsalted butter or a light cream at the end of the cooking process.
  • Uniform Texture: If the sauce has chunks, like onions or tomatoes, you may want to blend it for a smoother consistency.

Should We Serve The Sauce Cold Or Warm?

  • Warm: Best for dishes fresh off the grill, like ribs or chicken. Heating enhances its aromatic qualities, making it meld better with hot foods.
  • Cold: Excellent as a dipping sauce or a condiment. The sauce’s tanginess can be more pronounced when cold, complementing fried foods or sandwiches.
  • Room Temperature: Ideal for salads or when added to cold dishes.
  • Reheating: If stored in the refrigerator, warm it gently on the stovetop before serving it with hot dishes.
North Carolina Sauce Recipe

Nutritional Values

This sauce offers a flavorful punch, with each serving containing minimal calories, deriving primarily from sugars and fats.

What Are The Total Calories In North Carolina Sauce Recipe?

Determining the exact calorie count for North Carolina Sauce Recipe would require precise measurements of each ingredient and specialized software or nutritional analysis. 

Typically, the primary calorie contributors in this sauce are brown sugar, butter, and condiments like catsup. 

On average, a homemade North Carolina Sauce might contain between 30 to 60 calories per tablespoon, depending on the specific quantities and ingredients used. 

North Carolina Sauce Recipe

In every drop of North Carolina Sauce, there’s a story of Southern tradition and a burst of tangy, smoky excellence.

Dietary Restrictions Of The North Carolina Sauce Recipe

  • Gluten: Ingredients like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce may contain gluten. Use gluten-free versions if required.
  • Vegan: The butter component makes it non-vegan. Substitute with a vegan butter alternative.
  • Sodium: The sauce can be high in salt due to soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Opt for low-sodium versions.
  • Sugar: Diabetics should be cautious as brown sugar contributes to the sauce’s sweetness.
  • Allergens: Contains soy (soy sauce) and, in some variations, mustard.
  • Preservatives: Store-bought versions may have added preservatives.

Nutrition Table

Nutrition Table

What Are The Common Mistakes While Making This Sauce?

  • Over-reducing: Simmering the sauce for too long can make it too thick and overly concentrated. Follow the recommended cooking times.
  • Skipping fresh ingredients: Using stale spices or pre-minced garlic instead of fresh can compromise flavor.
  • Over-sweetening: Adding too much sugar can overpower the sauce’s signature tang.
  • Excessive heat: Overloading chili powder or hot spices can mask the sauce’s nuanced flavors.
  • Not tasting as you go: Failing to adjust seasoning throughout the cooking process can result in an unbalanced sauce.
  • Using substitutes blindly: Replacing ingredients without considering their flavor profiles might alter the sauce’s character.
  • Storing improperly: Not refrigerating or using the sauce past its prime can affect taste and safety.

What Are Some Creative Uses Of Leftover Sauce?

  • Pasta Stir-in: Mix into pasta for a tangy twist.
  • Pizza Base: Use as a unique base layer on homemade pizza.
  • Bread Dip: Serve with warm bread as a dipping sauce.
  • Stir-fry: Toss with vegetables or meat in a stir-fry.
  • Soup Enhancer: Add to soups or stews for an extra kick.
  • Sandwich Spread: Elevate sandwiches or wraps with a smear.
  • Grain Bowls: Drizzle over rice, quinoa, or couscous bowls.
  • Eggs: Spice up scrambled eggs or omelets.
North Carolina Sauce Recipe

Special Tools & Equipment Needed

  • Heavy-Bottomed Saucepan: Ensures even heating and reduces the risk of burning.
  • Whisk: Helps in mixing the ingredients thoroughly.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: For accurate ingredient quantities.
  • Silicone Spatula: Useful for stirring and ensuring no sauce is wasted.
  • Fine Mesh Strainer: If you want a smoother sauce, strain out onion or garlic pieces.
  • Glass Jars with Lids: Ideal for storing any leftover sauce.
  • Thermometer: To monitor the sauce temperature, especially if simmering for extended periods.
  • Blender or Food Processor: If you prefer a completely smooth sauce consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I Substitute Any Of The Ingredients In The Recipe?

While you can make some substitutions based on personal preferences or dietary needs, such as using a vegan butter substitute, it’s essential to be mindful of how each change might affect the sauce’s overall taste and consistency.

How Long Can I Store North Carolina Sauce In The Refrigerator?

When stored in a clean, sealed jar or container, the sauce should remain fresh for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Always use a clean utensil for serving to prolong its shelf life.

Is North Carolina Sauce Spicy?

The sauce has a tangy profile, primarily due to vinegar and mustard. However, the chili powder does give it a mild kick. If you prefer a spicier sauce, you can adjust the chili powder amount to your liking.

Can I Freeze The Sauce For Longer Preservation?

Yes, North Carolina Sauce can be frozen. Store it in freezer-safe containers, leaving some space at the top to allow for expansion. It should keep well for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator before use.

How Can I Use North Carolina Sauce Aside From BBQ?

The sauce is versatile. It can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, sandwich spread, or even mixed into dishes like pasta or stir-fries for an extra flavor boost.

North Carolina Sauce Recipe – A Delightful Taste!

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North Carolina Sauce Recipe is a tangy, spicy, and slightly sweet concoction that enhances grilled meats and vegetables. Its distinctive vinegar base, combined with chili and brown sugar, creates a sauce rich in tradition and bursting with flavor, making it a staple in Southern BBQs.


  • ¼ lb. ¼ Butter or margarine

  • ½ cup ½ Brown sugar (Packed)

  • ½ cup ½ Chili powder

  • ½ cup ½ Lemon juice

  • ½ cup ½ Soy sauce

  • ½ tsp. ½ Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 ½ cups 1 ½ Catsup

  • 1 cup 1 Prepared mustard

  • 1 cup 1 Water

  • 1 cup 1 White vinegar

  • 1 1 Garlic clove, minced (Small)

  • 1 1 Onion, chopped fine (Small)

Step-By-Step Directions

  • Preparation
    Gather Ingredients: Before starting, ensure you have all the ingredients to smooth the process.
    Prep Work: Mince the garlic finely and chop the onion into fine pieces to ensure they blend well into the sauce.
  • Cooking Process
    Melting Butter: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter or margarine over medium heat until fully liquefied.
    Introducing Ingredients: To the melted butter, begin by adding the chili powder, minced garlic, finely chopped onion, white vinegar, and water. Stir well using the silicone spatula or whisk to distribute all ingredients evenly.
    Sweetening and Seasoning: Add the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and catsup to the saucepan. Stir continuously to ensure the sugar dissolves completely and the sauce has a consistent texture.
    Simmer: Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer gently for approximately an hour. It’s essential to stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan or burning. Using a thermometer, monitor the temperature to ensure it remains at a gentle simmer.
    Final Add-ins: After simmering, incorporate the lemon juice and prepared mustard into the saucepan. Stir thoroughly.
    Second Simmer: Let the sauce simmer for fifteen minutes, ensuring the flavors meld together.
  • Finishing Touches
    Texture Check: If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can carefully transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor and blend until you achieve the desired consistency. Otherwise, you can pass the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove chunks of garlic and onion.
    Cooling: Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
    Storage: Transfer the sauce into glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Ensure the jars are clean and dry before use.
    Refrigeration: Store the sauce in the refrigerator if not using immediately. It’s often said that the sauce’s flavor deepens and becomes richer after a night in the fridge.

Recipe Video


  • Adjust the sauce’s spiciness by varying the amount of chili powder.
  • The sauce’s flavor deepens when stored overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Always use fresh ingredients for the best taste.
  • If a more pronounced sweet note is desired, additional brown sugar can be added.

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