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South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce

South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce

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Not all barbecue sauces are red. Enjoy this tangy South Carolina barbecue sauce made with yellow mustard, onions, vinegar, sugar, and cayenne.

Photography Credit:Elise Bauer

Please welcome Our Site contributor Hank Shaw who is doing a series here on barbecue sauces. If you love mustard, you’ll love this sauce! ~Elise

Yellow BBQ Sauce?

Not all barbecue sauces are red. In fact, one of my favorites comes from South Carolina, and is a bright yellow, mustard-based sauce that is every bit as delicious as a vinegar or tomato-based sauce.

Yes, I know such things are blasphemy in the Barbecue Belt, where your local style of BBQ is the only true one. Fortunately, I am from New Jersey, where we don’t really have an indigenous barbecue. That leaves me free to enjoy them all.

This sauce can be as simple or as complex as you want. It must have yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar and onions. Everything else is icing.

This version goes with brown sugar and cider vinegar, as well as some dry mustard and cayenne for kick.

Matures As It Cooks

Like most barbecue sauces, South Carolina BBQ sauce matures as it cooks. You will want it to cook at least 30 minutes, but if you are holding it for hours, you might need to add a little more mustard and water to keep it pourable.

What to put this on? Really anything. Like Emeril Lagasse says, you could put this sauce on a bumper and it’d taste good.

I typically will put it on pulled pork, country pork ribs, regular pork ribs, pork belly – see a trend here? – but I’ll also use it on barbecued chicken or turkey, and I bet it might even be good on a big piece of swordfish, sturgeon or catfish.

South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce Recipe

Use this sauce toward the end of barbecuing meat because the sugar will caramelize fast, then burn. So leave it until the last 45 minutes or so, and paint it on in coats, letting each coat cook into the meat a bit before adding the next one.


  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 onion, grated
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard (the kind you get at the ballpark)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard (like Coleman’s)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste


1 Heat the butter over medium heat until it's frothy, then add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Do not let the onions brown.

2 Add everything else, stir well and simmer slowly for 30 minutes or more.

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The Meatwave

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Part of my holiday planning is mapping out what I'm going to bring to three different potlucks that happen annually between Christmas in New Years. Being at my in-laws in Texas without a smoker has forced my hand to look towards braised meats and baked pastas in the past, but I've helped remedy that situation by somewhat-selfishly gifting my brother-in-law with a kamado cooker as a housewarming gift, which is now ready for use. While I've loved all the chilis, barbacoas, and lasagnas I've made, I'm finally opened to explore my true calling and great pot luck fare&mdashbarbecue. In testing the waters for what might make a suitable dish, I tried out a few racks of pork ribs finished with a golden South Carolina-style mustard sauce.

There wasn't much difference between my normal ribs and these, with the exception of the sauce, and I wanted to make sure that was really great. I feel like there's a fine line between amazing mustard sauces and ones that just taste like no more than French's with more vinegar. To make sure my sauce was fully layered and stood in the category worthy to adorn great barbecue, I took my base South Carolina sauce recipe and tinkered with the measurements and ingredients ever so slightly to bring it from exemplary of the style to something that truly stands out, in my opinion anyway.

Knowing what the sauce tasted like let me build a rub that would compliment and fill in the holes to round out the entire flavor profile. Because mustard has a bit of a strong bite, I went pretty heavy with the sugars in the rub, using both dark brown and turbinado sugars. The remaining ingredients in the rub were from my standard line-up&mdashpaprika, celery salt, granulated garlic, chili powder, mustard powder, onion powder, cumin, and a hefty portions kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Something I've done in competition to create a thicker layer of rub to ensure maximum flavor in one-bite was to brush on mustard before applying the seasoning. Since I was making mustard ribs, I thought that would be a fitting procedure to follow here, even if that brushing of mustard had little to no discernible flavor impact itself from my observations.

So after coating each rack with mustard, I went in heavy with the rub and covered every surface of the four racks of St. Louis-cut beauties I picked up from the butcher.

I prepped my ribs the night prior and let them sit in the fridge overnight so I can get smoking at the crack of dawn, but you can certainly throw them straight in the smoker after rubbing them down if you want. This was actually the first time I fired up the smoker since moving to North Carolina, and boy did it feel good to get back into the habit.

It felt even better when I had these waiting for me after five hours of smoking. The only thing I did to them while cooking was mist them with apple juice about every hour to help maintain that gorgeous mahogany color.

I've found with my barbecue sauce testing that mustard sauces fair better uncooked&mdashthey can sometimes get too bitter or even gritty after being taken to the flames. That left me finishing these ribs a healthy slather of that yellow gold right before I served them rather than in the last 30-minutes of cooking.

Firs things first, these ribs were cooked tremendously well. Maybe it was a sign for me to get back to my true calling, but with minimal work, these ribs were glistening, incredibly moist, and perfectly tender. The rub and sauce combo were almost secondary to that, but they sure worked their magic as well. As I hoped, the rub gave the ribs a nice hit of sweetness along with its complexity, which balanced out the bite of the mustard really well. The sauce itself was a well suited for smoked meats, having the hallmark depth and progression of flavors of barbecue sauce that ranged from sweet to tangy to savory to spicy. They were an excellent rib for the first true barbecue I've served in my new home, and would be an excellent choice for one of my potlucks to show off my barbecue skills&mdashsomething I've yet to really do with my Texas family.

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Mustard-Based South Carolina BBQ Sauce

When I think of barbecue, there’s only one thing that pops into my head.

It’s not a glossy red sauce brushed on a piece of grilled chicken or baby back ribs coated with a tangy vinegar sauce. Nope.

It’s a big heap of pulled pork, either piled on a bun or straight on the plate, not just drizzled with but completely mixed and smothered with mustard-based South Carolina BBQ sauce. Drizzled with more mustard BBQ sauce on top. And maybe dipped in some on the side for good measure.

While pretty much every BBQ joint in the state serves mustard-based sauce, to me, there’s one sauce that is the quintessential South Carolina BBQ sauce for me, and that comes from a place called Bessinger’s. We grew up going to their buffet on special Sundays, full of Southern classics like macaroni and cheese, fried okra, and the reason everyone went there to begin with — the pulled pork.

Y’all. It’s so good my husband and I even got a big tray of Bessinger’s pulled pork, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and of course several bottles of sauce, to serve at our casual backyard wedding rehearsal dinner. And I sometimes wish we had served it at our actual wedding!

When I went to college in Arizona, I got my mom to send me a bottle of Carolina Gold BBQ sauce (as it is sometimes called) in a care package, and celebrated by commandeering the dorm oven for about five hours while I slow roasted a pork shoulder to shred. It was miraculous — and also gave me an opportunity to introduce my friends to not only my beloved South Carolina BBQ sauce, but also sweet tea.

Nowadays, I make my pulled pork in the slow cooker but mustard-based BBQ sauce is the only kind of sauce I’ll buy.

I’m lucky enough to have Bessinger’s (yup, the same one from my childhood) about 10 minutes down the road from me, and they sell Bessinger’s BBQ sauce in all our regional grocery stores, but I know you probably don’t have that same luxury.

I made my own copycat Bessinger’s mustard-based South Carolina BBQ sauce.

I took a bottle of real Bessinger’s sauce, consulted the ingredient list, and played with the ratios until I had something that tasted the same. Then, I mixed it in with a pork shoulder I had slow-cooked and shredded. It was delicious, and I completely forgot I wasn’t eating the real thing.

Maybe you’re Carolina born and raised and are living in another state or country and miss the taste of your hometown BBQ. Maybe you’re a barbecue aficionado. Or maybe you’ve never been here and are simply curious to try a new kind of sauce that’s not readily available where you are.

Go on, give this a shot. You probably have all the ingredients you need already!

I suggest pouring this ALL OVER some of this slow cooker root beer pulled pork and serving with a side of refrigerator pickled okra!

Mustard BBQ Sauce

The Carolinas are known for their barbecue sauce as well. North Carolina and South Carolina each have a unique sauce that they consider to be the very best. North Carolina bbq sauce has a lot of vinegar, while South Carolina sauce has a base of vinegar and mustard.

The golden yellow color is why mustard bbq sauce is known as Carolina gold sauce.

If you’ve never tried Carolina gold BBQ sauce before, it’s something you should definitely try! It’s not overly sweet like some red bbq sauces. The flavor is tangy from the vinegar, but rather than sweet, mustard bbq sauce has a bold, edgy flavor.

How to use Carolina gold sauce

I think the best way to use a mustard-based sauce like Carolina gold sauce is for dipping meat into rather than for basting the meat.

I find that the mustard in the sauce takes on a bitter flavor as it cooks on the grill. It’s completely up to you, though.

What meat tastes the best with Carolina mustard bbq sauce?

When it comes to the type of meat, I think mustard bbq sauce is fantastic on everything from roasted garlic chicken to baby back ribs and smoked bbq meatballs.

I think the bold flavor works best with pork, but don’t let that stop you from trying it with turkey legs or even smoked salmon!

South Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ Sauce

I don’t think there is any meal that says summer quite like BBQ does. I mean, sure, you can eat BBQ any time of the year, but it just feels so right in the summer. Served alongside fresh-picked corn on the cob, and followed by a plate of juicy watermelon – for me, that’s what summer eating is all about!

This BBQ sauce is a little different from the usual sweet, tomato-based sauces. Although my inspiration for this sauce comes from a fantastic little BBQ restaurant up in the mountains of North Georgia (attached to a gas station, as seems to be a requirement for most great Georgia BBQ), this type of sauce actually has its origins in South Carolina. It’s based on mustard, instead of tomatoes (or ketchup), and is just a little sweet with a definite mustard and vinegar tang. Yes, it is a little different, but it is totally delicious. Use it on chicken, brisket, or a pulled pork sandwich. I keep a batch in the fridge most always lately, because my husband has decided that it’s even perfect as a dipping sauce for almost everything, including egg rolls!

Now I have to give a little confession here, and I make no apologies: this recipe uses a tiny amount of liquid smoke. I know, I know – there are purists out there who wouldn’t dream of using liquid smoke. The recipe will still work if you omit it, but it really helps to gives an extra boost of BBQ flavor to the sauce. If you want to substitute, you could get a bit of smokiness from using some smoked paprika or smoked salt. It is my belief, however, that liquid smoke gets a bit of a bad rap. Contrary to popular belief, liquid smoke really isn’t an artificial flavor, but is actually condensed smoke from hardwoods: see Serious Eats – Pantry Essentials: All About Liquid Smoke to read more about it (read the ingredients on your bottle just to be sure.) I recommend using the liquid smoke, but you are your own BBQ pitmaster, so it’s totally up to you!

Either way, don’t fear the mustard – give this sauce a try!

If you try this recipe, let me know in the comments how it turned out. I hope you enjoy!

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission at no additional cost to you if you click through and make a purchase.*

As a remnant of its German heritage, South Carolina is known for its BBQ sauces made with mustard (see South Carolina Yellow Mustard Sauce), especially in the belt between Columbia and Charleston. Most are simply yellow mustard, cider vinegar, hot peppers, and sugar. Others are variations on the honey-mustard theme. I love these classic South Carolina sauces, but I wanted something a bit more interesting and complex.

Savory herb flavors are great with pork, so I started with the classic SC barbecue mustard recipe and added layers of complexity by adding rosemary and other more subtle flavors. If the classic SC mustard sauces are trumpet solos, this is a full orchestra. There’s a lotta stuff in this recipe, but try not to leave anything out.

When I served it to Keith Miller, a good friend who has reviewed many of my recipes, he said “Wow, this is a mustard sauce for grownups!” And it had a name. Alas, it does not have the sheen of a typical tomato-based sauce, but it sure does taste good!

This sauce is fine for ribs but it is especially good on pulled pork, pork chops, and most anything porcine. I love it on baked potatoes, for dipping pretzels, on hot dogs and other sausages, or as a mustard substitute in most recipes. Make a batch and keep it on hand for whenever you need mustard.

If you use it on ribs, instead of using a typical rib rub like Meathead’s Memphis Dust, use my Simon & Garfunkel Rub.

Homemade South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/3 cup palm sugar packed (can substitute brown sugar)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Louisiana-style hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sweat briefly, about 30 seconds. Pour in the yellow mustard, palm sugar, apple cider vinegar, and the hot sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Pulse with an immersion blender until smooth, and then season with salt and black pepper.

Serve with your favorite barbecued meats. Baste ribs with it on a medium grill flipping and continuing to baste until the ribs are hot and the sauce is caramelized. Add it to smoked shredded pork shoulder until coated with extra on the side. This will keep for up to a month in an airtight container.

This post is dedicated to all of our friends made in South Carolina (John Bolten, I’m lookin’ at you), our family still there (hi, Nate and Vanessa, Amy and Dan!), and Trudy, who can’t wait wait to head back.

South Carolina Mustard Sauce

Also known as “Carolina Gold” this tangy and sweet sauce uses basic yellow mustard as the key ingredient. Serve this sauce warm, on the side, with pulled pork or mix below amount directly with one shredded/pulled Boston butt.


1 small white onion, minced Small 2 Tbsp butter1 clove of garlic, minced1 cup yellow mustard 3/4 cup brown sugar3/4 cup pickle juice or cider vinegar 1 tsp kosher salt1 tsp fresh ground black pepperHot sauce to taste


Saute’’ garlic and onion until translucent. Add mustard and remaining ingredients and simmer for ten minutes until thickened. Strain out onion pulp (optional).

About Bill West

Bill West a BBQ enthusiast, Best-Selling Author, and Country Music aficionado in Charleston, SC.

Although there is a little bit of sugar and honey to cut the acidity of the mustard and vinegar, this is not a super sweet sauce like you might be used to if your usual choice is the thick red stuff from a bottle ( which by the way, I also love and am not hating on in any way.)

I really like to kick it up a little with some spice as well, but the cayenne is totally optional and feel free to leave it out if spice isn't your thing.

One of my favorite things about Carolina Gold Sauce is how it pairs perfectly with pulled pork to cut through the fat and balance it all out.

Bonus: as far as barbecue sauces go, it's not completely tragic in terms of nutritional value either. There's a little bit of sugar and honey, but my mustard barbecue sauce recipe has no added oil or fat, and it's low in calories as well.

Carolina Gold can be used on so much more than just plain barbecue as well.

It's delicious as a dip for sweet potato wedges, a fun option for tossing hot wings in, and can even be brushed over baked salmon!

South Carolina Mustard Sauce Recipe | Grilling

South Carolina is a microcosm of sorts representing the diversity of barbecue sauces across the land.

The coast likes a thin vinegar sauce, a tomato-based sauce is mopped on in the north, and a thick ketchup mixture adorns smoked meat in the west, but a large majority smack dab in the center of state enjoy a sauce that's uniquely their own: the mustard sauce.

Only a recent convert to loving all-things-mustard, I had a hard time fathoming why anyone would choose to dress their cue in something so mustardy, but lately I've been siding with this concoction, which is born from a collision of German ancestry and American barbecue.

This simple sauce starts with a mustard base, mixes some sweetness in with sugar, the vinegar gives it a barbecue tang, and just enough spices create a uniqueness between one sauce and another.

Unlike my unbridled enthusiasm for North Carolina Vinegar Sauce (which I've been perfecting thanks to all of your comments), I've approached the mustard sauce more cautiously.

Though it makes a nice alternative on a pulled pork and slaw sandwich, I'm not quite feeling it on ribs or with any beef yet. Being new to the South Carolina way, I'm wondering how you use this mustard sauce?


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