Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

This vinegar barbecue sauce, made Carolina style, calls for cider vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce, and has a distinct and acidic-in-a-good-way tang. Use it to douse your BBQ ribs, chicken, pulled pork, or anything you pull from the grill or smoker.

Several open glass bottles of barbecue sauces, including a vinegar barbecue sauce.

This tangy vinegar barbecue sauce that’s typical of eastern Carolina ‘cue is exactly what you want—nay, need—to temper the richness of a mess of pulled pork, smoked pork shoulder, or a stack of rib. It’s also just as adept at making plain grilled chicken seem special. Chances are you already have everything you need on hand. And it’s done in 10 minutes. You’re welcome.–Renee Schettler Rossi

Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 5 M
  • 10 M
  • Makes 24 (2-tbsp) servings
4/5 - 3 reviews
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Toss all the ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste, in a saucepan over medium heat and warm gently, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, maybe 5 minutes. No need to bring the mixture to a boil. You’re just letting the flavors mingle.

Tester tip: If you take a nip of the sauce straight from the spoon, it’s going to taste incredibly eye-puckeringly acidic. Rest assured, once you dribble the sauce over some fatty meat, preferably pork, it’s gonna be perfect.

Let the sauce cool slightly. That’s it. You’re done. Transfer it to a jar, bottle, squeeze bottle, or whatever you want. Screw on the lid and stash it in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Originally published May 21, 2016.

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    *NOTE: How To Choose The Right Hot Sauce

    • Your choice of hot sauce will largely determine just how mouth-tingling your Carolina-style barbecue sauce will be. Reach for your fave and maybe play around a little with the amount the first batch or two until you get it juuuuuuust the way you like it.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    This vinegar barbecue sauce might be the one to convert people to vinegar-based barbecue sauces. On its own, it’s very sharp and bright, too much so, but once mixed with rich, juicy, fatty pulled pork, they harmonize and balance each other perfectly. A must-have in your summer barbecue arsenal. Not to mention every cupboard has these ingredients on hand.

    From cupboard to jar, this barbecue sauce took probably 10 minutes to put together. I had it on the stove for 3 to 4 minutes, just long enough to heat it and mix everything uniformly. I added a healthy amount of black pepper (2 teaspoons roughly ground) because I like a lot of it in my barbecue.

    We used this on a pork shoulder which I prepared for a weeknight meal by braising it in the slow cooker with onions, Worcestershire, hard cider, and barbecue spice rub. Once the meat was shredded, I added 1/4 cup barbecue sauce and tossed it with some of the cooking juices. Then I piled it high on butter-toasted buns with coleslaw and more sauce. It was perfect. The best pulled pork sandwich I’ve ever made—and with plenty leftovers.

    As far as other uses to go, I would hesitate to use this on anything but a rich, fatty meat dish seeing as it is so acidic from the vinegar, it really needs balance. Maybe wings?

    I’m a big fan of thick, sweet, Kansas City-type barbecue sauces. This is NOT that type of sauce. But even if you're like me, there’s a place for a vinegar-based sauce in your barbecue repertoire. It makes smoked pulled pork even more moist and tangy and is a perfect counter to the cool creamy coleslaw that I like to pile on my pulled pork sandwiches. I think this type of barbecue sauce was made for pork but it's nice on grilled chicken, too.

    The recipe couldn't be easier to put together. Just toss all the ingredients in a saucepan and warm. It's really as simple as that. The recipe directs you to use salt and pepper to taste. For me that worked out to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.


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    1. The balance of ingredients is not pleasant. Tastes like vinegar and ketchup. I should have noticed the little “disclaimer” in the directions when it basically says it’s too bitter to taste without meat. A good sauce is good regardless. I was disappointed with this, and like one of the other commentators above, I had to add more of every other ingredient to make it less harsh.

      1. Beau, I’m terribly sorry you didn’t find the sauce to your liking. Yes, the testers’ note says it’s acidic. But you tasted bitter. Hmmm. I’m going to put this back into testing, and see if we can recreate your issue. Again, so sorry.

    2. This is a great Carolina-style vinegar barbecue sauce. It’s extra tangy and extremely quick to throw together with just basic pantry ingredients. For a 10-minute recipe, this sauce packs some flavor punch.

      I actually threw my sauce straight into the slow cooker with a pork shoulder and let it go overnight and it resulted in magic! The vinegar taste was a bit too strong for my household so in the end, I wound up adding an additional 1/2 cup ketchup and 1/2 cup dark brown sugar and another dash of Worcestershire. I found that in addition to sweetening it up, the sauce tasted more balanced overall.

      1. Darci, sounds excellent. I think because you used it in a slow cooker, the vinegar became more pronounced. You did the exact right thing by balancing it with the other ingredients.

    3. In the Carolinas, there is a huge difference between the slaw that is put on or served alongside pork. Barbeque slaw isn’t dairy based, using vinegar instead. Think German immigrants and their love of pork (SC Germans with their mustard based sauce is another thing altogether). Carolinians don’t put coleslaw on their sandwiches. We won’t even begin the whole Piedmont vs. Eastern ketchup kerfuffle.

      Here’s smoke in your eye…

      1. I beg to differ. South Carolina has three distinct types of BBQ sauce – sweet, mustard, and vinegar. Vinegar based sauces are used primarily in the low country. My family has lived there for over 200 years. We on the coast definitely like to top our BBQ sandwiches with a mayo based slaw to cut the vinegar in the sauce we use.

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