There’s nothing more mouthwatering than hot BBQ fresh off the grill, smothered in BBQ sauce. But do you make the sauce with ketchup in it or not?
Depending on which recipe you’re using, BBQ sauce can have ketchup in it. However, there are also many delicious recipes for BBQ sauce that don’t contain tomato sauce. It’s all down to your own personal taste – and you could try both.
Let’s consider this ketchup conundrum in greater detail, dive into the history of both sauces, and look at two great BBQ sauce recipes – one with ketchup and one without. By the end you’ll be licking your lips like Scooby Doo 🙂
Is There Ketchup in BBQ Sauce? (It Depends)
Seems like a simple question – but it depends on where you are and where you are from.
Turns out BBQ sauces, like many things, can be traced back to the footsteps of immigrants. From the Dutch settlers in New York, the French in New Orleans, Germans in South Carolina, and Texas, to the Spanish in the Caribbean, Florida, and Mexico and from enslaved Africans: each brought their cooking heritage to their new land.
The History of Tomatoes and Ketchup
The tomato has its origin in Mexico and South America. Historians believe that the Aztecs had tomatoes back in 700 A.D. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in South America in the 1500s, they took home the tomato plant.
In 16th century Europe, tomatoes were slow to catch on. Wealthy Europeans used pewter cutlery and plates. Because of the acidic nature of tomatoes, the combination of tomatoes on pewter plates resulted in lead poisoning and death.
Lead poisoning from pewter plates introduced a curious class distinction – only the rich died from lead poisoning. Poorer folks used wooden plates.
In Britain, the popularity of the “love apple” (tomato) was slow due to the tomato’s resemblance to the poisonous wolf peach. Tomatoes did eventually take off in southern Europe, particularly in Italy. In Italy, of course, tomato sauce was hugely popular on pizzas.
The first ketchup probably came from southern China. This first ketchup was not made from tomatoes – it was made from fermented fish entrails. The sauce was called “ge-thcup” or “koe-cheup”.
The paste traveled along trade routes to Indonesia. British traders there loved it and took it to Britain. From Britain, it traveled to Europe, from Europe, it traveled to North America.
The invention of tomato ketchup in 1812 is credited to James Mease, a Philadelphia scientist. Heinz was the first ketchup company, in 1876. Today, Heinz, the most popular ketchup, sells more than 650 million bottles of ketchup a year.
The History of BBQ Sauce
In the year 239 BCE, in his book Master LÙ’s Spring and Autumn Annals, Chinese chef I Yin said:
“The transformation which occurs in the cauldron is quintessential and wondrous, subtle and delicate. The mouth cannot express in words; the mind cannot fix upon an analogy. It is like the subtlety of archery and horsemanship, the transformation of Yin and Yang, or the revolution of the four seasons.”
That’s exactly what a great BBQ sauce should taste like. Yin and Yang. Sweet and sour.
Anthropologists claim that the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean and Florida taught the Spaniards about the slow cooking method of babakots. The Spaniards called it barbacoa. Some historians credit enslaved African people, up from the Caribbean, with dressing the meat with the first BBQ of sauce of lemon juice and hot peppers.
The first recorded BBQ sauce, in 1867, was mostly butter and vinegar. In 1913, a recipe labeled “Mrs. Howard’s Barbecue Sauce” called for “tomato catsup”. The history of BBQ sauces makes a fascinating read.
In the United States, there are four families of BBQ sauces: vinegar and pepper, mustard-based, light tomato-based, and heavy tomato-based. Vinegar and pepper BBQ sauce is credited to be the first or original BBQ sauce. Most authors say it originated in Williamsburg County, South Carolina, by a Scots family named Brown. Others claim it was inspired in the Caribbean.
Mustard based sauces (or yellow sauces) are credited to German immigrants in South Carolina. South Carolina recruited thousands of German settlers in the early 1700s. They paid for their ocean passage and awarded them land grants along certain waterways.
Today, BBQ sauces can be traced back to those land grant counties. Classic mustard BBQ sauce, a favorite on pork, has yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices.
Light tomato BBQ sauce originated in South Carolina as well: someone added a sweeter tomato sauce to the Scots’ tangy vinegar and pepper sauce. Piedmont or Lexington style dip is made from vinegar that’s only slightly reddened and sweetened with ketchup.
Heavy tomato BBQ sauce originated in western South Carolina. It is the sweetest sauce and has a large portion of tomato paste, tomato sauce and/or ketchup. It is the most popular and has evolved the most. Heavy tomato sauces are, among others: Memphis, Kansas City and Texas.
Memphis style BBQ sauce is made with molasses but is typically less sweet than Kansas City style. Memphis style is spicier, too. In Memphis, sauce is served on the side. Meat is typically rubbed instead – a dry barbecue style.
Kansas City style evolved from Memphis style but is thicker and redder – and sweeter! Kansas City BBQ sauce is famous for being sweet, tart, and hot. Sweetness comes from tomatoes, brown sugar, molasses, or honey. Tart comes from vinegar or lemon juice. Hot is from hot sauces, chili powder and black pepper.
Texas style BBQ sauce has been influenced by immigrants from: Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, and Mexicans. The Mexican culinary culture was, in turn, influenced by the Spaniards, Mayans and Aztecs. Texas style BBQ sauce has low ketchup and sugar – and heavy black pepper, cumin, hot sauce, fresh onion, and ancho powder.
Alabama developed their own – white – BBQ sauce. White BBQ sauce was created in 1925 in Decatur, Alabama. To make the sauce, start with mayonnaise, thin it with vinegar, add mustard, horseradish, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Sounds weird, but goes great over grilled chicken, pulled pork and fish.
Today, every state, even every county, claims to have a unique BBQ sauce. But the origins of BBQ sauce are global. BBQ sauce has traveled from China, across the Silk Road to Europe, across the Atlantic to the Americas.
A Great Quick Recipe For BBQ Sauce With Ketchup
Dead Guy Sauce
A tangy, vinegary, East Carolina style sauce, recipe from The Shoebox Kitchen.
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for about half-hour, whisking periodically, until the sauce just begins to thicken. Serve immediately, or reserve in the refrigerator and reheat.
Here’s a website with a video to make this sauce.
A Tasty Fast Recipe For BBQ Sauce Without Ketchup
Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce
Aka “South Carolina Gold”, recipe from House of Nash.
- 3/4 cup yellow mustard
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.
Pour into a jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The flavor is even better the second or third day if you can make it in advance.
Ultimately then, BBQ sauce can indeed have tomato sauce in it – but it can also not have tomato sauce in it. You can make it with a mustard or vinegar base too. I guess it’s all down to your personal taste (and state) as to which type you prefer.
However, as we’ve shown above there are mouth-watering recipes available for both – and I’ve certainly eaten tasty BBQ sauce both with and without tomato sauce included.
Anyway, I’m off to have a rack of BBQ ribs cooked in delicious BBQ sauce. If that picture above doesn’t make you hungry then nothing will. Scooby-Doooooooo 🙂