Feeling Saucy

A guide to the four corners of Virginia-style barbecue sauce.

Photo courtesy of King’s Barbecue

Virginia barbecue may not have the national name recognition of styles in Texas or Kansas City, but some historians—and the publisher of this magazine—will argue that those better known brands of ’cue would be nowhere without the Old Dominion. The truth is, Southern-style barbecue as we know it today began in Virginia in the 17th century. 

Dr. Daniel Mouer, a founder of the Culinary Historians of Virginia, traces Virginia barbecue all the way back to the Jamestown era: “Barbecue emerged from the applying of traditional Native American methods for cooking and preserving meat to animals brought to this shore by English and Spanish colonists.” 

Virginia’s barbecue is diverse, but Joseph Haynes, author of Virginia Barbecue: A History notes that it’s becoming more common than ever to see places proudly advertising their authentic Virginia-style barbecue. “Barbecue cooks in Virginia today are embracing our state’s barbecue tradition more strongly than they have for several decades.” 

So why is it so hard to categorize Virginia-style barbecue? The secret may be in the sauce; Haynes explains there are four distinct styles used throughout the Commonwealth that are unique to each region. Here, we offer a guide to these regional flavors, plus some tips for where to find them. 


In the northern part of the state, sauces tend to have a tomato base and a hint of sweetness, often involving fruit in some form. 

Try it: Taste O South’s apple barbecue sauce and the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville’s “Virginia Sweet” barbecue sauce. 


Central Virginia sauces are generally tangy and spiked with sweet spices. 

Try it: Alexander’s Barbecue in Richmond, Piedmont Smokehouse in Maidens and Allman’s BBQ in Fredericksburg.


Barbecue sauce in this region has a vinegar-based sauce with hints of mustard and tomato.

Try it: King’s Barbecue in Petersburg and K&L Barbecue in Hopewell. 

Shenandoah Valley

In the Valley, sauce is most often used on chicken, and it is traditionally made with vinegar, oil, herbs, spices and occasionally a bit of tomato or some red wine. 

Try it: Apple House in Linden and Shaffer’s Barbecue & Market in Middletown.

This article originally appeared in our Smoke & Salt 2018 issue, on newsstands now.

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