The History Of Barbecue Sauce Goes Back Longer Than You Might Think

One's preferred barbecue sauce is as personal as their clothes or haircut. And whether you're cooking ribs, chicken, veggies, or pork, the great thing about barbecue sauce is that there's no wrong answer. While some prefer smoky-spicy Texas barbecue, others prefer South Carolina-style mustard-based sauces. Many love North Carolina's more vinegary sauces, while some enjoy Kansas City's sweet-spicy, tomato-y barbecue sauce.

According to The Sugar Association, sweet and sour sauces date back to Chinese chef I Yin as early as 239 B.C. But when did barbecue sauce as we know it come to fruition?

Well, as most cooks know all too well, a great sauce is nothing without some fine meat or veggies to put it on. According to the Tennessee State Museum, in the 1500s, European explorers found southeastern Native Americans grilling meat on wooden planks hoisted above fires. When the Europeans returned home, they began cooking pork like this; and in 1539, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came back to the U.S. and brought pigs with him.

Barbecue sauce probably started in the 17th century

The journey to get to barbecue sauce itself is long and interesting. The Tennessee State Museum traces it back to 1698, when Dominican missionary Père Labat observed French West Indies chefs cooking using lime juice and hot peppers on barbecued meat; the museum suggests that the condiments' roots come from Africa, where cooks often used lemon and lime on meat. Later, in the 1800s, vinegar- and mustard-based sauces became big in the American South, as more people experimented with barbecue. Today, barbecuing is widely recognized as one of the great American culinary arts. Naturally, as a result, commercial barbecue sauce is a big market, as anyone who frequents the grocery store knows.

Now, there are popular iterations of most regional sauces, and they're given deep scrutiny among barbecue connoisseurs. In a recent article, Saveur wrote that the best overall barbecue sauce is Stubb's, while the best value comes in Sweet Baby Ray's. Delish concurs that Sweet Baby Ray's is at the top of the list. But regardless of who the critics' top contenders are today, one thing is for sure: If you enjoy barbecue sauce, it's all the more interesting when you know where it came from.