Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

May 17, 2019

Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce is a sour, tangy, and spicy sauce that originated in North Carolina. This thin, vinegar-based sauce is extremely easy to make and is the ultimate BBQ sauce for smoked or grilled pork.

vinegar bbq sauce on pulled pork

Vinegar BBQ Sauce

Vinegar BBQ sauce is a staple in North Carolina. It is often considered the mother of American BBQ sauce, and its origins date back generations when meat was soaked with acidic sauce while it cooked over an open flame. The sauce is made by combining a few, basic ingredients together and using it to baste or mop over pork to keep it moist while it cooks.

Unlike other popular sauces, Carolina vinegar sauce is thin and has an acidic and spicy bite to it that sets it apart from the more well-known BBQ sauces that are thick and sweet.

While my recipe calls for brown sugar and ketchup (more common in western Carolina), vinegar sauce “purists” in eastern Carolina only combine vinegar, spices, and occasionally water and sugar for a watery-thin sauce with quite the tangy kick.

Both versions are considered “traditional,” and each are are completely amazing in their own way, so I encourage you to try out both variations and decide what you like best. After all, isn’t BBQ all about eating what tastes good?

carolina vinegar bbq sauce in a jar

What Makes a Good Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce?

A good Carolina vinegar sauce combines a few basic ingredients: vinegar, sugar, and spices. It should be thin to watery-thin (depending on whether you make it with or without ketchup), and it should have an acidic, spicy flavor.

Carolina vinegar sauce should also be quick and easy to make. My recipe only contains 7 ingredients that you’ll likely have in your pantry or fridge. This recipe does not need to be cooked or boiled; you simple combine all ingredients in a jar or sauce bottle and shake to combine. (I like these Wide Mouth Mason Jars for storing all my sauces).

Finally, this sauce need to rest to allow the flavors to combine and give it a stronger, more cohesive flavor. I prefer to let my sauce sit for 24 hours in the fridge to allow all the sugar to dissolve and let the flavors mix thoroughly. Remember! This is not a thick sauce, so do not panic if your sauce is quite thin (that’s how it should be!).

Tips for Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce

This BBQ sauce is insanely simple to make, but here are some tips to get it just right:

  • Adjust the spiciness to your liking. For those of you who don’t want a super spicy vinegar sauce, cut down on the amount of red pepper flakes you add to the mix. Want a good burn? Sprinkle in extra peppers to give this sauce a good kick.
  • Go traditional and omit the ketchup. Want an authentic eastern North Carolina experience? Make this recipe without the ketchup and give your pork a good baste with this thinner, tangy sauce.
  • Serve with pork. Vinegar based BBQ sauce pairs perfectly with pulled pork, as the natural pork flavor is enhanced by the vinegar mix. My recipe for Carolina Style Pulled Pork is a classic Americana BBQ that everybody needs to try at least once. You can also cook up some Simple Smoked Pulled Pork and baste as you go or serve with a good drizzle of vinegar BBQ sauce at the table.

vinegar based bbq sauce recipe

More BBQ Sauce Recipes

Digging this tasty sauce? Try out these other sauce recipes from all across the USA:

Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce
Zesty Alabama White Sauce
Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

If you need a little convenience in your life, check out my store, Patio Provisions, to purchase my collection of tasty pre-made sauces:

Apple Jalapeno BBQ Sauce
Whiskey Peach BBQ Sauce
Everything BBQ Sauce

Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce Recipe

Follow the recipe and I’ll show you step-by-step how I make easy Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce at home. I’m all about helping you make the best backyard BBQ of your life, so check out more of my smoking and grilling recipe videos on YouTubeInstagram, or our Facebook Page. Follow along and let’s make awesome food together!

Carolina vinegar sauce being spooned over pulled pork.

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

This Carolina Vinegar Sauce is a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce that perfectly enhances the flavor of pulled pork.
3.5 from 4 votes
Prep Time : 5 mins
Cook Time : 0 mins
Total Time : 5 mins
Servings : 24
Calories : 20kcal



  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes


  • Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake to mix.
  • Let sauce sit for 24 hours before using to allow the flavors to combine. Give it another quick shake before serving. This BBQ sauce will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


Calories: 20kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 635mg | Potassium: 43mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 125IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 0.2mg
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27 thoughts on “Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

  1. Both Carolina sauce recipes are waaaaay to sweet (for me anyway). I like about 3 T. For that much vinegar.

    1. I like a bbq sauce that I found in N. Carolina at a restaurant called Fuller’s restaurant just pass the S. Carolina board it was vinegar base and went well with the pull pork and the ribs.willy

  2. Any recipes for Carolina sauce, as well as others for us old timers that can’t have sugar. ( because we’re sweet enough…. and the doctor has no sense of humor)

      1. Well then don’t use it. But check the labels on everything you eat because it is used as an addative in most commercially served foods.

    1. You can try it with this but the tangy slaw sauce is a lot more basic. This recipe minus the ketchup, water and salt is pretty close.

  3. I knew a fellow from NC (Western) who used Canola oil in his sauce along with more black and white pepper. That is the way I always made it at first but recently have gone to a more simple recipe like yours. Have you ever tried adding oil? While I made it in larger quantities (about 64 oz recipe) I would say that 1/2 cup of oil would be the appropriate amount for your recipe.

      1. Just to clarify. The addition of oil to the vinegar sauce is for basting while cooking and pouring over the pork after it is cooked. Not necessarily for coleslaw. For 64oz. of vinegar sauce I was using 4 tbs. black pepper and 2 tbs. of white pepper.

  4. I follow you on FB and always enjoy your posts. As an original eastern NC gentleman I wanted to share a few thoughts. My Eastern NC Peppered Vinegar (sauce) contains 5 ingredients: apple cider vinegar, sea salt, fresh crushed black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and Texas Pete hot sauce (it’s gotta be Texas Pete). Correct, the stuff with catsup is a Western NC sauce. And the mustard based sauce is a South Carolina Mustard Sauce specific to SC, not just ‘Carolina’. I have happily converted many people in my current home of Massachusetts to the Eastern NC Peppered Vinegar.

    1. Stephen,
      Thanks for clarifying that Eastern NC sauce need not have sugar! Can you share the ratios of your recipe? Any additional information would be great as well.

  5. I am from eastern North Carolina, so you know what I like. To me it is the best that you can have on your BBQ. Love Parkers Restaurant in Wilson. They make the very best pulled pork around. My husband does a real good job on it too. BBQ with coleslaw, baked beans stewed potatoes, collard greens and corn sticks.

  6. Trying this recipe now – I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia in the 1960/early 70s. What I remember getting was pork bbq and the sauce was quite red”ish” but didn’t taste of tomato. One of the men who worked with my mother was from Elizabeth City, NC and what he would buy down there and bring to work was also like that. Anyone with similar memory? Thanks much.

  7. I like this recipe—tried it but I subbed agave nectar for the brown sugar (have to use a little less), bottled picante sauce for the ketchup, and added some ground allspice because I can’t imagine any sort of barbecue without it (from the Caribbean where barbecue originated, from what I understand). Delicious with chicken or pork! I grew up in NC but now live in Texas and don’t care for Texas barbecue but using agave and picante give it a Texas spin, I suppose.

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