By far, my favorite style of BBQ sauce is this vinegar-based Carolina mop sauce that is so popular in Eastern North Carolina.
It’s important to label this sauce as “East Carolina” because a few miles west in the Piedmont region of North Carolina the sauce is different; and they are serious about their sauces in North Carolina. Head south and you’re in the mustard-style sauce region in South Carolina.
I was stationed in Eastern Carolina during my time in the Marines, and I fell in love with this style of BBQ mop sauce and hush puppies. Oh, those hush puppies and some East Carolina mopping sauce, dang!
Anyway, I’m serious when I say this sauce has a Pavlovian effect on me. Simply writing about it makes the top of my head start to sweat, just like I’m eating some East Carolina vinegar BBQ.
This sauce is incredibly easy to make. You can have a jar ready to go in about 15 minutes, but like other sauces, I find it’s better after it sits overnight.
Before we get into how to make this Eastern Carolina BBQ sauce, let’s answer a few questions that seem to always come up when talking about “Carolina” BBQ.
What Are the Defining Characteristics of NC Barbecue?
Generally speaking, Eastern Carolina is known for whole hog. By that I mean they use the entire hog cooked low and slow for their BBQ.
I had lived in Eastern North Carolina for only a few weeks when I was invited to my first pig pickin’ or whole hog cook. This was circa 1996.
I didn’t even know what a pig pickin’ was then. I’m sure glad I got to know. In fact, I learned the basis of this recipe at a pig pickin’. Head west, and you’re much more likely to be served ribs and pulled pork shoulder.
More specifically, the differences are in the sauces. Along the shore, the sauce contains no ketchup. In fact, ketchup in Eastern Carolina is nearly a fightin’ word.
What Can You Put On Ribs Besides BBQ Sauce?
I love me some sauce on pork ribs, but not all the time. If you’re not a sauce fan, or you’re watching your sugar intake, try some Memphis style ribs, which aren’t sauced at all.
Instead, these are ribs done with only a dry rub, and they are dang tasty, sans sauce.
Another option, is to add an orange juice and teriyaki glaze to pork ribs. Finish them off with some thinly sliced scallions and some toasted sesame seeds for a very tasty Asian flare.
Is There Ketchup in Barbecue Sauce?
As I mentioned earlier, that’s the difference between the sauces in North Carolina. Eastern Carolina sauce uses no ketchup, none, nadda. Central and Western Carolina sauce does contain a small amount of ketchup.
Not a fan of ketchup? No problem. There are plenty of mustard based sauces that also go great on pork ribs.
Why Is This BBQ Sauce Called a Mop Sauce?
Unlike other sauces that are thick and are applied with a basting brush, this sauce has a very thin, almost water-like consistency, so a standard brush won’t work very well. Instead, grab yourself one of these inexpensive sauce mops and use it to apply the mop sauce.
Tips for Making East Carolina Mop Sauce
The Hot Sauce: Texas Pete is king in Eastern Carolina and I love it. It’s actually made in Winston-Salem North Carolina where the company was founded in 1929. If you have something else on hand or prefer a different hot sauce, you can use that; but it won’t be as authentic.
The Strength: If this sauce is a smidgen too vinegary for you, add an extra ½ cup of water.
East Carolina Mop Sauce Recipe
Serves: 18 | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 5 minutes
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup water
2½ tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp smoky red pepper flakes
1 tbsp hot sauce; I use Texas Pete
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground black pepper
How To Make East Carolina Mop Sauce
Step 1: Bring vinegar and water to a low boil in a medium-sized sauce pan.
Step 2: Whisk in remaining ingredients and continue to whisk until brown sugar and salt have dissolved.
Step 3: Let cool to room temperature and store in a glass container. I prefer these mason jars. Store in the refrigerator for up to a couple of weeks.
- Bring vinegar and water to a low boil in a medium-sized sauce pan.
- Whisk in remaining ingredients and continue to whisk until brown sugar and salt have dissolved.
- Let cool to room temperature and store in a glass container. I prefer these mason jars. Store in the refrigerator for up to a couple of weeks.