Eastern North Carolina Vinegar-and-Pepper Barbecue Sauce Recipe

One of the classics of American barbecue sauce, and a favorite on pulled pork in particular, this vinegary sauce is big on spicy-tart flavor.

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Infusing the sauce with spices builds its flavor.
  • Layering spice using multiple ingredients (black pepper, red pepper flakes, hot sauce) increases the sauce's complexity.
  • Brown sugar balances out the strong vinegar character and heat of the sauce.
  • An optional tablespoonful of ketchup will give the sauce a slightly redder tinge and increased viscosity, for those who prefer that.

A classic of Eastern North Carolina–style barbecue, this sauce isn't thick like the tomato-based ones most people think of when they picture barbecue sauce. It's on the thinner side, made mostly of cider vinegar that's seasoned with black pepper, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar.

This type of sauce is traditionally mixed into pulled pork to moisten and flavor it, not used as a slather on top of the meat like other sauces. It gets better after a day or two, when the flavors have had a chance to infuse and meld.

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 16 servings
Makes: 2 cups

Rate & Comment


  • 2 cups (480ml) apple cider vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons (15g) coarsely ground black pepper

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (20g) packed dark or light brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) hot sauce, such as Texas Pete

  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) ketchup (optional)


  1. In a small bowl or squeeze bottle, combine vinegar, pepper, sugar, salt, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, and ketchup (if using). Stir or shake well until sugar and salt are dissolved. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Dilute with a small amount of water, if desired. Use immediately as needed, or store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Special equipment

Squeeze bottle (optional)

Make-Ahead and Storage

The sauce can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. It gets better after the first day or two, so make it in advance if you can.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
14 Calories
0g Fat
2g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 14
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 196mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 8mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 42mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)