Sauce styles can be broken down into four classes described by their dominant base ingredients. The four styles are Vinegar and Pepper, Mustard, Light Tomato and Heavy Tomato. Virtually all sauces used in America generally will fall into one of those four basic groups. The following descriptions are only intended to give the reader a basic understanding of what they might expect from each of these well-known BBQ regions below:
Kansas City style sauce is reddish-brown in color, thick in texture and its taste reveals at minimum, a hint of sweet. A Kansas City style sauce begins with a tomato or ketchup base and then adds molasses, sugar, white or brown, spices and possibly vinegar. The consistency of this sauce allows it to stick on the meat rather than penetrate, which makes it good for dipping. This is the most common and popular sauce in the US.
Texas style sauce is reddish-brown in color, medium thick in texture and delivers robust flavor. The Texas style sauce begins with a tomato-base with little or no sugar added, gets its’ thickness from chopped onions and a variety of peppers, and then the flavor is developed with a mix of cumin, chili peppers, chili or ancho powder and lots of black pepper. Texas style sauces tend to penetrate the meat rather than sit on top.
North Carolina has three major types corresponding to the regions of the state.
The simplest of all sauces, E. North Carolina style sauce consists of vinegar, ground black pepper and hot chile pepper flakes. It is used as a "mopping" sauce while the meat is cooking and as a finishing and dipping sauce when it is served. This sauce is thin so it easily penetrates the meat, cuts the fat and brings the meat to life.
Similar to the E. NC style but adds in a tomato-base, which softens the vinegar. The main ingredients remain vinegar, pepper, and red pepper; this is often referred to as a “dipping” sauce. The Piedmont style sauce is thin in consistency, is less sweet than most sauces and has some spice in the background.
The Western North Carolina sauce is tomato-based and thicker than the sauces found in the other parts of the state. The sauce favors ketchup or other tomato base, then adds vinegar, onion, garlic, brown sugar and/or molasses and is finished with spices such as dry mustard and cayenne pepper. The result is a thicker, sweeter sauce with evidence of vinegar and spice in the background.
South Carolina style is broken down into four regions of the state. The coastal plains region is known for its vinegar and pepper sauce, while the Central region is known for its tangy mustard flavor made up of cider vinegar, yellow mustard, brown sugar, and spices. The Pee Dee region adds black pepper to this while the Upstate region adds light or thick tomato.
Vinegar and pepper base in the northern counties; tomato/ketchup base with Mediterranean influences in the Birmingham area; sharper, unsweetened tomato/vinegar blend in the western counties around Tuscaloosa; mustard-based in the Chattahoochee River valley in the eastern part of the state; a special white mayonnaise and black pepper-based sauce is used on chicken in the area around Decatur.