What Makes Alabama BBQ Sauce Unique

You don't have to be born-and-raised in Memphis or Texas to appreciate the perfect BBQ sauce. In fact, the idea of 'cue perfection is subjective to personal taste and regionality, with many Southern U.S. states swearing by their version of pitmaster glory. Some BBQ sauces define themselves by ingredients, while others stand out for spiciness, texture, and even color. From brick-red to burgundy, caramel-brown or golden-yellow, America's regional grilling sauces are as competitive as they are beloved.

But what happens when a deeply Southern state harbors a saucy secret so locally distinct that the world barely knows it exists? That would be Alabama and its characteristic BBQ sauce is certainly no secret there. It's a mainstay in BBQ restaurants, roadside 'cue shacks, and family kitchens across the state. From Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Dothan and the hundreds of small towns in between, the signature 'bama sauce has one distinct feature. And it all started in a Decatur backyard smoke pit in 1925 (perĀ Allrecipes).

Alabama's claim to BBQ fame centers on this feature

This simple answer as to what makes Alabama BBQ sauce so unique is the color: white. The reason for that color is slightly more complex, but in a no-fuss way. The namesake owner of Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Myra Grissom, explained to Southern Living that you can't go wrong if you stick to the basic four ingredients for tangy Alabama white BBQ sauce: mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper.

Understanding the simplicity of Alabama's approach to down-home white BBQ sauce lies in its origins. Few in the state contest the sauce's creator, Big Bob Gibson. A Decatur railroad man who loved to cook, Big Bob dug a pit in his backyard and started smoking meats for neighbors and eventually customers in 1925, explains Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. Bob created eating tables by nailing oak plants to his huge sycamore tree, and the rest is BBQ history. Four generations later, Bob's family is still pit-smoking and dishing out his same famous BBQ white sauce, along with a few new versions, in not only Decatur, but also shipped to multiple states, and pre-bottled sauces available in thousands of supermarkets.

Is it just the sauce that defines Alabama barbeque?

Chris Lilly, who married Big Bob's great-granddaughter, serves as the current pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que, where he carries on what is now an Alabama tradition. That famous white sauce leads Lilly to win world barbeque championships, including the renowned Memphis in May competition. He explains that everyone in Alabama grows up eating white BBQ sauce, so it's pretty much the only sauce that they know, according to Southern Living. But there's even more to that story.

Many chefs advocate using local ingredients, but Lilly takes that a step further. Like his predecessors in the family business, he insists on cooking low and slow, and using real, readily accessible regional wood. In a YouTube video, he identifies hickory as being as essential to the taste as the famous sauce. "When you come to Alabama, we cook with hickory," he says. "Why? Because that's what we have. We don't import mesquite or gather applewood. We have hickory and that's what we cook with."

So there you have it. What makes Alabama BBQ sauce so unique is its white color, simple ingredients, and the way it has been complementing mouthwatering hickory-smoked meats for nearly 100 years.