Alabama's White BBQ Sauce Is A True Southern Staple

Throughout the American South, barbecue sauce means different things. Kansas City, for example, is known for its viscous and sugary barbecue sauce, whereas in Central Texas, it's often served on the side and has a thinner consistency. In Memphis, meanwhile, the most defining trait of the city's barbecue sauce is that it tends to be heavy on the tomato. But while each has a distinct flavor, regional barbecue sauces generally share one similarity: their color.

Unless you're well-versed in the differences in taste, visually, it can be hard to differentiate between the different styles of barbecue sauces because most of them are brown. Northern Alabama-style barbecue sauce, however, is easy to identify because it's white.

Colloquially referred to simply as "white sauce," the recipe was created by Robert Gibson, the namesake of famed barbecue joint Big Bob Gibson, located in Decatur, Alabama. Since its conception in 1925, the sauce has been a regional staple and Southern favorite.

What gives white BBQ sauce its color?

Most barbecue sauce is brown because it contains a number of brown or dark-colored ingredients. Typically, a foundation of tomato sauce, paste, or ketchup is sweetened with a combination of molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, and sometimes Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. As these ingredients cook down, the sauce develops its signature brown color. White barbecue sauce, on the other hand, contains none of these ingredients.

According to the recipe Big Bob Gibson shared with Food Network, white barbecue sauce gets its color primarily from mayonnaise. To give it the acidity that usually comes from tomato sauce or ketchup, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are used. The only darker-colored ingredients are cayenne and black pepper; otherwise, the sauce is flavored with horseradish, salt, and sugar. Unlike other types of barbecue sauce, white sauce also doesn't undergo any cooking. Instead, the components are just mixed together.

How to use white BBQ sauce

White barbecue sauce gives barbecue a tangy, zesty flavor with very little sweetness. Its taste is most comparable to Eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce, as both are very vinegary, don't have a tomato sauce base, and use cayenne and black pepper as their primary spices. But whereas Eastern North Carolina Barbecue sauce gets its bite (and red color) from hot sauce and red pepper flakes, white barbecue sauce relies only on horseradish, which is mellowed out by the mayonnaise.

Big Bob Gibson originally served its signature white sauce on pork and chicken; however, its flavor is versatile enough that it can complement any type of barbecue. In addition to pork and chicken, it goes best on turkey, seafood, and wild game. Because it has a mayonnaise base, it's also common to use white barbecue sauce in coleslaw and potato salad. However, even though it looks similar to ranch, it's still more comparable to barbecue sauce than salad dressing, and you can use it like you would any other style of barbecue sauce.