While pork shoulder and even beef are part of the Virginia barbecue canon, barbecue expert Joe Haynes says that sauce is the way to differentiate the Old Dominion’s barbecue from that of other states. There are four sauce regions in Virginia, he says. Here are restaurants that, according to Haynes, epitomize the styles.
Typically, these sauces are tomato-based and often sweeter than other Virginia varieties. Some are seasoned with sweet herbs such as thyme, and some with sweet spices, such as cinnamon and cloves. They may even include fruit.
Taste O South
20579 Ashburn Rd., Ashburn.
The apple-flavored sauce at this stand pays homage to the way Virginians used to serve stewed fruits and fruit syrups with barbecue.
King Street Blues
112 N. Saint Asaph St., Alexandria. 703-836-8800.
1684 Crystal Square Arcade. Arlington, 703-415-2583.
The Mahogany sauce is a modern version of a traditional Virginia sweet and spiced style.
These sauces tend toward sweet and a little sour; may include a mixture of such spices as ginger, cloves, cayenne and paprika; and may be spiked with sassafras/root beer or Worcestershire. Some Chesterfield and Richmond restaurants serve peanut (goober) sauce, which is tomato-and-vinegar-based with a hint of peanut butter.
Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
711 Henry Ave., Charlottesville. 434-202-1403.
Its Virginia Red is seasoned with cider vinegar, root beer, ginger and Worcestershire.
1299 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Fredericksburg. 540-373-9881.
Haynes says the sauce has the spicy, vinegary flavors used in Mary Randolph’s 1824 cookbook “The Virginia Housewife.”
Paulie’s Pig Out
7376 Rockfish Valley Hwy., Afton. 434-361-2001.
Two sauces. One is sweet and tangy, and is tomato-based, with molasses and 15 spices, including thyme and celery seed. The other is sweet and spicy; it is apple-cider-vinegar-based and includes mustard and brown sugar. Both are based on recipes from the owner’s grandmother.
These are vinegar/tomato-based sauces with a hint of mustard. Virginians have used mustard in their barbecue sauces for hundreds of years. Unlike South Carolinians, however, Virginians never used mustard as the base for barbecue sauce but prefer to use it as a flavoring.
2910 S. Crater Rd., Petersburg. 804-732-0975.
A classic tomato-based mustard blend that tends toward sweet.
K & L Barbecue
5 Cavalier Sq., Hopewell. 804-458-4241.
A tomato-based mustard blend, but a little spicy.
3044 Stony Point Rd., Richmond. 804-320-7447.
A twofer: Southside-style tomato-mustard blend sauce, plus Virginia Peanut (goober) sauce.
The Barbeque Exchange
102 Martinsburg Ave., Gordonsville. 540-832-0227.
Serves a version of Southside sauce called Hog Fire, plus a tangy Colonial Bacon sauce, which includes their house-smoked bacon.
Vinegar-based barbecue sauces, notably the famous Shenandoah Valley herbaceous basting sauce for chicken, sometimes including tomato juice or red wine. Other variations include such flavorings as sage, oregano, marjoram and celery seed.
This food truck in Winchester has served the tangy sauce at the Shenandoah County Fair in Woodstock, Va., for about 50 years. A bricks-and-mortar outlet is slated to open this fall at 8140 Valley Pike, Middletown.
Woodstock Brewhouse, 123 E. Court St., Woodstock. 540-233-0616.
Serves several Virginia-style sauces, including a central-style sweet Virginia red, a tangy Virginia red and a flavorful Southside-style Virginia brown barbecue sauce. Occasionally serves Shenandoah-style barbecued chicken.