Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce


This four ingredient BBQ sauce is a basic that all barbecue enthusiast should know how to make.

Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee Montiel
Active Time:
5 mins
Stand Time:
4 hrs
Total Time:
4 hrs 5 mins
4 cups

In the South, we sure do know our barbecue. Each year, we ask our readers to help us rank the South's Best BBQ Joints, and the list is bound to elicit some fiery debate. How is one supposed to rank smoked chicken smothered in vinegary white sauce against Central Texas brisket? Our studies in Southern barbecue have proven that this revered culinary landscape is far from a monolith—each Southern region, state, and even city has its own unique expression of barbecue. And more often than not, the secret is in the sauce.

It's impossible to miss the fierce debate in North Carolina over the winning BBQ style: Eastern vs. Western. While the Western North Carolina camp champions a tomato-based barbecue sauce, the version that you'll find in Eastern North Carolina keeps it plain and simple with a vinegar-based sauce.

Our Test Kitchen considers this Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce the most fundamental of barbecue sauces. Using just 4 ingredients, our Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce leans heavily on distilled white vinegar, only adding three spices (salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes) to draw out the flavor. Since this BBQ sauce is essentially a seasoned vinegar, the longer it sits, the more infused and flavorful it will become. Let your BBQ sauce sit for at least 4 hours, but it can go way beyond that to develop a rounder, more complex flavor. Did we mention that this sauce is incredibly easy to make? No cooking required: Simply combine the ingredients in a mason jar, seal, and shake it all up. The result is a light sauce that's spicy, peppery, and piquant.

This Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ sauce packs lots of tang, making it the perfect accompaniment for a nice, fatty cut of meat, like brisket or pulled pork. Don't forget the slice of white bread to soak up all that extra sauce.


  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper 


  1. Place all ingredients in a lidded jar or jug. Seal; shake to combine. Let stand at least 4 hours or up to overnight (12 hours). Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 month.

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