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posted August 08, 2023

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

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.

Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce on a metal spoon with text overlay - Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce.

Carolina 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?

Dry ingredients for vinegar BBQ sauce on a platter.

What Makes a Good 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 simply 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!).

Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce in a glass mason jar.

Ingredients for Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

Here’s what you’ll need to make this sauce.

  • 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

Tips for Carolina Vinegar 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.

Carolina vinegar sauce being drizzled over pulled pork.

More BBQ Sauce Recipes

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

If you need a little convenience in your life, check out the Hey Grill Hey Store to purchase my collection of tasty pre-made sauces:

Carolina Vinegar 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 BBQ sauce on a metal spoon.

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

Susie Bulloch (
This Carolina Vinegar Sauce is a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce that perfectly enhances the flavor of pulled pork.
3.50 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 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes


  • Make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake to mix.
  • Rest and enjoy. Let the sauce sit for 24 hours before using it 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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