Two unyielding wars wage on Carolina soil: basketball and barbecue. Growing up in North Carolina, I watched these wars divide families and dictate conversation (which almost always turn into arguments).

The barbecue dividing lines are the Eastern and Western (also known as Lexington-style) sauce styles. While my allegiance lies with the vinegar-based Eastern style (and the Tar Heels), during my recent relocation to Northern Alabama, the ubiquitous white sauce served has become a close rival.

But, while sauces certainly vary, there are rigid rules for Southern barbecue. First, barbecue is a noun, not a verb. Second, barbeque is code for “pulled pork”—you don’t have to say it, it’s understood. Third, smoke it slow, or don’t smoke it at all.

Though Eastern and Western barbeque surely causes squabbles, there are a swathe of sauces across the South that have adamant allegiances. Here is your 'Que Overview, divided by region:


Don't let its thin sauce fool you. With a touch of tang and a hint of heat, Eastern style sauce has a vinegar base and a pepper punch for a full-bodied flavor without the thick texture. This sauce reigns in the coastal region of North Carolina and the western region of Kentucky.

Tangy Coffee Barbecue Sauce
Credit: John Autry; Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

Famously known as Lexington-style sauce, this Western North Carolina blend has a tomato base to balance the smoky taste. Moving beyond the barriers of Carolina, it has become a staple at barbecue joints in parts of South Carolina and Georgia.


Thicker is better for Memphis-style sauce. This sauce style is for the barbecue beginner, meaning, its similar to the kind you buy in the bottle. This sauce style is common throughout the Delta and revered in Memphis.


The South Carolina sauce has a mustard base--a golden tribute to 'que. Combining mustard, vinegar, sugar, and chili powder, this sauce is slightly thicker and tangy, but still subtly sweet.


North Alabama-style is the most varient of barbecue sauce breeds. With a mayonnaise base and additions of horseradish, mustard, and vinegar, this sauce varies in thickness but its flavor never fails.

Check out more of our barbecue sauces, and tell us your favorite.