The east-coast pair of American states, North and South Carolina have a long, rich and delicious history of a barbecue. The region is the birthplace of the style of American barbecue we know and love today. South Carolina is arguably the origin place of barbecue as a style of preparing, cooking, and smoking meats on a low heat until succulent and tender. However, residents of North Carolina have a longstanding feud over which sauce is best slathered on their respective dishes. American barbecue fanatics are proud of their region’s sauces and dips, relentlessly arguing as to why their family-recipe inspired sauces are the purest. How did North Carolinians come to be so obsessed with the menus in barbecue restaurants across the state?
As British settlers began colonising the east coast of America, and immigrants began travelling to settlements, the great art of barbecue developed further and variations of this savoury style emerged. These days, those from South Carolina keep one condiment close to their smoking pits – mustard sauce. Starting in the 1730s, British colonists from South Carolina harboured German immigrants to come settle and help build its community. The German families brought with them their language, religion and affinity for pairing mustard with smoked meats. The state’s sweet and tangy sauce is a combination of yellow mustard, brown sugar, peppers and vinegar. Otherwise known as Carolina Gold, this sauce is divine on the region’s smoked pork.
While South Carolinians can unite over their German heritage, up over the border North Carolina is home to two distinct sauces and an intense state rivalry. Its residents are divided over which one of their sauces best represents the state. The argument over the pit comes down to vinegar versus tomato. Eastern North Carolina Vinegar Sauce is an acidic and zingy combination of vinegar and spices. A common recipe includes apple cider vinegar, cayenne, black pepper, crushed red pepper and salt. Tomato is never present in this sauce, which is usually painted over a whole hog. North Carolina residents are known to preach “we use every part of the pig except the squeal” when scoffing at their Eastern neighbours.
The west of North Carolina is where one can find the Piedmont-style sauce or “Lexington Dip”. In 1876, the world was introduced to Heinz ketchup, which changed barbecue across America. The tomato-based sauce was added to barbecue recipes as a sweetener. The town of Lexington was where the practise became popular and spread out across the state’s west side, leading to the regional style today. A common dish in the Piedmont region is based off a Bavarian delicacy of pork shoulder served with a sweet and sour tomato and vinegar sauce. So while Eastern-style came first, ketchup split the state into staunch barbecue communities hurling snide remarks at one another.
We at lowsmokn will not claim one style is greater than another. A whole hog painted with a zesty vinegar sauce has obviously succulent merits, as does a heaping mound of sweet and tangy pulled pork. The better of the two is up to personal interpretation.