Why Alabama's Signature BBQ Sauce Is White

The word "barbecue" invokes an array of images in people's minds that usually involve some type of meat, hot coals or large smokers, spice rubs, and barbecue sauce. That sauce is often deep red in color, or even yellow, depending on the favored style of American barbecue. If the sauce someone envisions is white, that person is undoubtedly thinking of Alabama barbecue.

While other barbecue sauces are based on tomatoes, mustard, or even vinegar, Alabama's signature sauce is based on mayonnaise, which gives it its pale color. Before you pass judgment, it's worth noting that the sauce also includes ingredients like vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, and horseradish. When brushed onto meat right off the grill or smoker, it imparts a rich, zippy flavor that perfectly complements smoky, fatty proteins. Created in the city of Decatur, Alabama, in the 1920s by Robert "Big Bob" Gibson, it was originally intended as a sauce for smoked chicken, but has since become a sought-after accompaniment for various types of barbecued meat, not to mention side dishes.

How white barbecue sauce became a staple

"Big Bob" Gibson loved to host barbecues for his family and friends. He would cook and smoke chickens and pork shoulders in a pit he dug in his own backyard, and it is believed that Gibson developed the white sauce as a means of keeping the chickens moist, as they would spend a good three hours in the hot pit. When they were removed, he would dunk the whole chickens in a vat of his white sauce to impart both moisture and flavor. In 1925, Gibson turned his cooking and entertaining skills into a legitimate restaurant not far from where he lived, naming it "Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q."

The eatery moved locations several times, but by 1952, it had settled into the address where it remains, and is still thriving today. From the beginning, Gibson's white sauce was a vital part of the establishment; it accompanied the restaurant's smoked chicken, a dish that has become a signature at the eatery. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q has become a destination for barbecue aficionados, and really anyone visiting northern Alabama. The white sauce is famous in its own right, and the company sells the sauce in its restaurants and ships it around the globe. It didn't only help create a legendary barbecue joint; the sauce essentially created Alabama barbecue itself.

What is Alabama BBQ sauce best with?

Whether you purchase a bottle of white sauce from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q or whip up a batch of five-ingredient Alabama white sauce yourself, you can't go wrong dousing it on top of what it was originally made for: smoked chicken. However, if you don't have a smoker, this tangy condiment is just as delicious on grilled chicken. Don't be afraid, though, to experiment with other types of slightly charred meats like pork chops, roast turkey, or even ribs. With its richness, tanginess, and light heat from horseradish, you could easily drizzle this white sauce over salad greens for an excellent salad dressing option. It also works as a binder for coleslaw, and makes a game-changing dressing for potato salad.

Alabama white sauce would be excellent mixed into shredded chicken, creating a delicious chicken salad you could pile on a bun, and top with smoked cheese. Similarly, you could douse your pulled pork sandwiches with it, drizzle it over roasted or grilled vegetables, or brush it over corn on the cob for a unique twist on classic Mexican elote. It is so full of flavor, you may just want to keep a container or bottle in your fridge at all times, using it as a dip for new things because it will probably work with more than you think.