Barbecue is quintessential American summertime grub. Not only is barbecue sauce a common baste for grilled ribs and chicken but it’s now a ubiquitous condiment on burgers, sandwiches and pizza. But lately operators have started to up the ante with their barbecue sauce flavors. Traditionally made with ketchup, onion, mustard, garlic, brown sugar and vinegar, barbecue sauce variations today are going global, tapping into regional American roots and infusing trendy flavors to appeal to today’s consumers. Further, interest in barbecue dishes has increased over the past few years, according to Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite.
Among the 32 barbecue sauce flavors that Technomic tracks, here are the eight seeing the greatest growth.
8. White barbecue sauce
Year-over year growth: 4.3%
Aligning with the trend of Southern accents getting regional, white barbecue sauce mentions have grown over 4% on menus in the last year. Originating in northern Alabama, white barbecue sauce varies from traditional barbecue sauce in the use of mayonnaise instead of tomatoes or ketchup as a base. It traditionally dresses chicken, such as the recently launched Alabama Chicken at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que. The casual-dining chain serves a half chicken basted with sweet apple cider, dusted with rib spice and slow-smoked and smothered in Alabama white barbecue sauce.
7. Sweet barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 5.6%
Often simply used as a descriptor, sweet barbecue sauce mentions are up over 5% on menus since the same quarter of 2016. Technomic consumer research supports the uptick in menu mentions: sweet flavors are most craved by consumers, according to the Flavor Consumer Trend Report. BurgerFi in July brought back its Summer BBQ Burger, which features sweet barbecue sauce to balance the indulgence from the two Angus beef patties and pulled pork.
6. Honey barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 6.5%
Up 6.5% on menus in the last year, honey barbecue sauce has significantly more mentions on menus than the seven other fastest-growing barbecue sauce flavors. Honey aligns with the trend on natural sweeteners, per Technomic. In May, Buffalo Wild Wings borrowed its popular honey barbecue sauce from its wing menu for a seasonal BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese to add a layer of sweetness to savory pork, Parmesan and cheddar.
5. Asian barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 14.3%
About a third of consumers (31%) would like restaurants to offer more ethnic foods, according to Technomic’s Generational Consumer Trend Report. Asian barbecue sauce is one menu result of this consumer preference, growing 14.3% on menus in the last year. Enhancements in Asian barbecue sauce may include ginger, sesame oil or chili peppers. P.F. Chang’s puts an Asian twist to ribs with a shareable plate of six slow-braised pork spare ribs wok-seared with a tangy Asian barbecue sauce.
4. Mustard barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 16.7%
Mustard barbecue sauce—up 16.7% on menus since last year—is a South Carolina and Georgia specialty, nixing ketchup in favor of yellow mustard for a yellow-orange-colored sauce. It typically tops pulled pork, but it’s also popping up on chicken. For May’s wing of the month at P.J. Whelihan’s Pub & Restaurant, for example, Carolina Hot Wings features Southern-style Carolina mustard barbecue sauce.
3. Jalapeno barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 16.7%
Heating up menus is jalapeno barbecue sauce, increasing 16.7% in the last year. Since younger consumers in particular find spicy flavors appealing (57% of 18-34 year olds compared to 50% overall, per Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report), jalapeno barbecue sauce may particularly attract this younger crowd. On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina serves Brisket Tacos with jalapeno barbecue sauce for a kick of heat.
2. Kansas City barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 18.8%
Like Alabama white and South Carolina/Georgia mustard barbecue sauces, Kansas City barbecue sauce is another regional American barbecue sauce on the rise on menus. With almost 20% growth in the last year, the Missouri-originated barbecue sauce differentiates itself with a base of ketchup and molasses, making it thick, sweet and tangy. In April, Dairy Queen introduced the Kansas City BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich with Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
1. Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce
Year-over-year growth: 31.8%
Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce mentions grew 31.8% year over year, making it the number one fastest-growing barbecue sauce flavor on menus. The sauce type is showing up on everything from burgers and pizza to ribs and chicken dishes. Joe’s American Bar & Grill recently added Barbecue Pulled Pork Sliders, featuring a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. The growth of this sweet and tangy style in particular is perhaps due to the fact that 42% of consumers want more sauces featuring a combination of flavors, per Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Because of this preference, we could potentially see more barbecue sauces featuring flavor combinations in the future.