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31 May 2021

This Carolina vinegar bbq sauce recipe adds a spicy tang to pulled pork or other barbecued meats, and it’s so easy to make. Here are 2 ways to make it.

North Carolina is famous for its barbecue. There are many regions in the U.S. that take great pride in their barbecue, but North Carolina bbq is a regional inspiration that has inspired spirited debate for many decades.

Pork is particularly prevalent here, from whole hog barbecue to slow roasted pork shoulder and so much more. Where you’ll find particular disagreement – or really just good old fashioned rivalry – involves Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce.

Vinegar based bbq sauce in the Carolinas is everywhere in the region, though you’ll find two distinctive variations dividing the state. Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce is a simple blend of vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Western Carolina BBQ Sauce uses that base and incorporates tomato, usually in the form of ketchup and/or tomato paste or sauce.

Both versions are delicious, and it really depends on whether or not you prefer a touch of tomato with your sauce. It’s really up to you.

Carolina style barbecue sauce, either way, is great on just about any barbecued meats, though it is ideal as a contrast to the fattiness of smoked pulled pork, adding a wonderful spicy tang.

I love just about any Carolina barbecue sauce I’ve encountered, and would be hard pressed to choose between Western and Eastern North Carolina versions. I’ll take both, please!

For the recipe below, I’ve included information for how to make both versions. Feel free to adjust to your own personal preference.

Let’s talk about how we make Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce, shall we?

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce with pulled pork

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce Ingredients

  • FOR EASTERN CAROLINA VINEGAR BBQ SAUCE
  • Vinegar. I like to use both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar for sweetness, but you can use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar only, if preferred.
  • Red Pepper Flakes. Use as much as you’d like.
  • Salt and Black Pepper.
  • FOR WESTERN CAROLINA VINEGAR BBQ SAUCE – ADD
  • Ketchup.
  • Tomato Paste.

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce Ingredients

How to Make Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce – the Recipe Method

Heat the Ingredients. Heat all of the ingredients to a large pan over medium-low heat. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. You can also use the microwave to warm it for 30 seconds, which is a common practice. Whisk it all together.

Whisking Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce Ingredients in a bowl

Meld the Flavors. Transfer the vinegar bbq sauce to a mason jar or bottle and let sit for 1 day to let the flavors meld. 

Boom! Done! Your Carolina vinegar bbq sauce is ready to serve! Shake it up and serve as desired. Makes about 2 cups, a bit more if you’re making the Western NC version. So good, isn’t it? Spicy, vinegary goodness.

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce in a bottle

A Must for Pulled Pork

I can’t stress enough how good this Carolina vinegar sauce is for pork, especially pulled pork. Every BBQ restaurant I visit here in North Carolina serves it up automatically with every order of pulled pork. It’s pretty much essential in North Carolina. They don’t mess around with their pork here!

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce ready to serve with pulled pork

Check out some of my recipes for making awesome pork:

Recipe Tips & Notes

  • Serving Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce. Vinegar bbq sauce is ideal as a contrast to fatty, smoky pork, though is great on other grilled or barbecued meats. 
  • The Vinegar. Most recipes call for either distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar alone, but I enjoy using a combination of white vinegar and apple cider vinegar, which brings just a touch of sweetness and tanginess that I love.
  • Extra Ingredients. You can include other ingredients to your preference. Other ingredients I have seen included are sugar or brown sugar, honey, onion powder, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce. Adding these ingredients make it more of a Lexington-style bbq dip. Feel free to experiment and make it your own!

That’s it, my friends. I hope you enjoy your new Carolina bbq sauce recipe. Which do you prefer? Eastern or Western style? Let me know if you make it. I’d love to hear how it turned out for you. Keep it spicy!

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce in a bowl with a spoon

Cookbook Recommendation

If you’re interested in southern cooking and cuisine, check out these cookbook for some great southern recipes and history. I’m learning quite a lot about southern food and barbecue from them. Definitely some great eating!

Try Some of My Other Popular Recipes

Both Eastern and Western Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauces

Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce Recipe

This Carolina vinegar bbq sauce recipe adds a spicy tang to pulled pork or other barbecued meats, and it's so easy to make. Here are 2 ways to make it.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Main Course, sauce
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bbq, bbq sauce, chili flakes, vinegar
Servings: 8
Calories: 15kcal

Ingredients

FOR EASTERN CAROLINA VINEGAR BBQ SAUCE

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

FOR WESTERN CAROLINA VINEGAR BBQ SAUCE - Add the Following

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

Instructions

  • Heat all of the ingredients to a large pan over medium-low heat. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. You can also use the microwave to warm it for 30 seconds, which is a common practice. Whisk it all together.
  • Transfer the vinegar bbq sauce to a jar and let sit for 1 day to let the flavors meld.
  • Serve as desired.

Notes

Makes about 2 cups.
Nutritional information estimated without ketchup or tomato paste.
Vinegar bbq sauce is ideal as a contrast to fatty, smoky pork, though is great on other grilled or barbecued meats. 
For sweetness, try adding sugar or brown sugar to the mixture.

Nutrition

Calories: 15kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 164mg | Potassium: 45mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 298IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 9mg | Iron: 1mg