The History Of BBQ Sauce

BBQ Sauce

The idea of using sauces dates back to pre-historic times. It was the days even before refrigeration systems were developed and used for preserving meat. These ancient chefs figured out they can also improve the flavor by basting the meat with wine, oils, and vinegar. 

In his book, “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of Kitchen,” Harold McGee mentions the importance of a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent flavors to cook a quintessential and scrumptious delicacy. This Yin and Yang transformation or revolution of four seasons is a Chinese specialty and core of most barbecue sauces. 

When and who invented the BBQ Sauce?

It was the first quarter of the 15th century when a European sailor reached the shores of the blue ocean to discover the New World. He found the natives smoking different types of meat, including fish and lizards, over a wooden grate.

Smoked meat had been quite common in Europe as well, as it helped them preserve and make it more palatable. This helps them carry meat with them on their conquests in faraway lands. However, the barbecue technique was new and different. Thus, it became popular among different explorers.

Later in the 16th century, another Spanish explorer reached Florida, but he brought hogs and vinegar along with him. Although he wasn’t interested in settling down, he made a few local friends and feasted with them.

During their prolonged feasts, they would dip the meat in wine, cider, malt, vinegar, and herbs to prepare a flavorful exquisite meal. When these spices blended with the local marinades, the delectable and finely refined BBQ sauce was invented.

The core ingredients were native to American soil; its Caribbean Islands were bountiful of sugarcane and molasses, whereas Central America cultivated Chile and cayenne peppers, and South America offered ripe, juicy tomatoes.

It is believed that during the expedition of de Soto, the confluence of pork, vinegar, Chile pepper, and molasses took place. Few pieces of evidence indicate that the BBQ blend was created at one of the parties held by de Soto and locals in Mississippi, while others claim it happened in Virginia and much later.  

The Spanish in Florida and Mexico, the Dutch in New York, and French in Canada opened up shops to commercialize BBQ sauces. Each community prepared this delicacy overpowered by their own culinary traditions and thus, highlighting their own preference for flavors.

The earliest invention of BBQ sauce heavily relied on butter as French sous chefs specialized in grilling the whole hog basted with a mix of butter, herbs, cayenne, sage, and vinegar. The belly was roasted with aromatic herbs and spices to create a splendor. The French are also incapable of making marinades without meat juices; thus, homebrewed Texas BBQ sauce contains meat broth.

The Germans’ fondness for pork with mustard led to the creation of wonderful yellow barbecue sauce, heavily sprinkled with mustard. You can still find it in South Carolina and Columbia, where locals and foreigners devour equally on this local delight.

Where did it come from?

The favorite pastime of most Americans Bar-B-Que, an activity of cooking basted or marinated meat on a grill or fire, has a rich cultural history. It all began some 1.8 million years ago when Homo erectus introduced the method in the Caribbean Islands. Even the word, barbacoa, originated from the languages of Tiano, a Caribbean Indian tribe.

The word indicates the process, which deals with the grilling of meat or any other kind of food on raised wooden grate. You can find the earliest discussion on the barbecue in chronicles of the Spanish explorer, who reached West Indies in the early 15th century. Since then, the technique has been widely adopted and innovated in different cuisines of the world.   

In America, this cooking technique dates back to the colonial era and, since then, became an evident part of American cuisine. You can observe the exceptional significance of this tradition in American celebration, as it commemorated American Independence when the country won the Revolutionary war and built its first bridge over the Missouri River.

Since then, American leaders have been a great fan of barbecue and indulged in the activity quite frequently. The greatest buff of barbecue, George Washington, America’s first president, fills his diary with various barbecue events, one which lasted for three consecutive nights.

However, with time and innovation, this primal activity has seen further upgrades as each culinary expert left his own mark. As it becomes a commercial fiesta, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford designed the first charcoal briquette factory in 1921.

Currently, it’s a vital dish of Southern American delicacies that are known for their zesty flavors. Juicy game mutton barbecue, the specialty of Owensboro, is served with black barbecue sauce. Its BBQ style is so unique that you will not find this exotic delicacy anywhere else in the world.

Typically, this war-fared delicacy comes in four different variations that you can find in Carolina, each relying on one core ingredient that is: Vinegar, Mustard, Light Tomato, and Heavy Tomato.

The Basic BBQ Sauce

The original sauce dates back to hundreds of years when only two basic ingredients were used in perfect proportion for a zesty condiment. It was a simple combination of vinegar and pepper that traced back its roots to the plains of North and South Carolina.

The Mustard Mix

In terms of evolution, mustard-based BBQ sauce ranks at the second position. It was during the mid-18th century that the hardworking German settlers prepared their own concoction of BBQ sauce, which was heavy with mustard flavor. Even today, you will find many German families selling mustard BBQ sauce in South Carolina.

Tinge-y-Tangy Tomato BBQ Sauce

Being on the number third, this sauce is restricted to the Northern Carolina region. A dash of tomato ketchup is added to the basic vinegar and pepper BBQ sauce for a thicker texture and a tangy tinge.

Heavy Tomato BBQ Sauce

Developed some 60 years ago, the heavy tomato sauce is the most popular one, found not only in South Carolina but all over the US. With a heavy dash of tomato sauce, it has an extra sweet flavor. Although quite famous in the American market, it is the farther from real BBQ taste.

The Oldest BBQ Sauce Recipe

The first-ever documented recipe of barbecue sauce was found in the handwritten cookbook of Edith Lockdown Danielson Howard available in Providence culinary library. Although the archivist believes that the recipe was written in 1900, that is not possible as the first tomato sauce recipe was developed by Procter & Gamble in 1911. Since tomato sauce is the core of BBQ, it’s not possible to create it before the first decade of the 20th century. Thus, the original date for the recipe could be anywhere between 1912-1913. The ingredients of this oldest BBQ sauce are as follows:

  • 1/4-pound butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato catsup (ketchup)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato sauce


Mix all the ingredients and simmer for an hour till it thickens. You can use it as it is or strain out the herbs and other coarse ingredients.

There are a number of other recipes that you can try or purchase one for a grocery store and barbecue the meat for a flavorsome meal.

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