History of Barbecue Sauce
The precise origin of barbecue sauce is unclear. Some trace it to the end of the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus brought a primitive sauce used for cooking Alpaca meat back from Hispaniola, while others place it at the formation of the first American colonies in the 17th century. References to the substance start occurring in both English and French literature over the next two hundred years.
It does seem clear that the art of barbecuing meats was introduced to the Europeans by native tribes of North and South America. Specifically, there are pictures showing the Native Americans slow cooking meats which is traditionally what barbecue is as compared to grilling which is cooking at much higher temperatures and very quickly.
South Carolina-Origins of Barbecue Sauces
The Carolina’s, especially South Carolina, seems to be the seat or origin of the 4 basic styles of barbecue sauce we know in America today. At least that State seems to have the best historical evidence of a longer history and variety of sauce types. An excellent detailed history of this is given by Lake E. High, Jr., on his website which is part of the South Carolina Barbeque Association.
The 4 basic types are broken down by the type/ingredients used to create the sauce. They are:
- Vinegar and Pepper
- Light Tomato
- Heavy Tomato
According to High’s essay, these have been listed in historical order of emergence. The South Carolina style – Mustard Sauce is a product of the large German heritage found in South Carolina.
Over time, the Tomato based barbecue sauces migrated south and west and slowly regional variations began to stick. These different geographical regions have allegiances to their particular styles and variations for barbecue sauce. Most notably Kansas City, St. Louis, and Memphis style sauces have become some of the most famous of BBQ sauce names. Needless to say this is probably due to excellent commercialization of a few particular recipes.
The first commercially-produced barbecue sauce was made by the Louis Maull Co., in 1923, but the first nationally distributed barbecue sauce did not appear until 1951, when Heinz released a product in the United States.
Needless to say, hundreds of restaurants have special recipes they make, bottle and sell in addition to what’s available in grocery stores across the country. Barbecue has even gotten more popular through the many regional BBQ shows and every vendor has their own special sauce they are promoting. Similar to the emergence of micro-brewery’s for beer, the variety of BBQ sauces availabe has literally exploded in the past 10 years.