Let’s Cook! White Barbecue Sauce

June 13, 2011

Yes, dear Dedicated Readers, you read that right – White Barbecue Sauce…

To most, barbecue sauce is a red, catsup-based concoction; in certain parts of the country a mustard sauce is on the table; while a spicy vinegar sauce is de rigueur in some places.

But very specific to North Alabama is a white, mayonnaise-based sauce that is unique and utterly delicious (doubters? Trust me…).

In 1925 Big Bob Gibson starting serving barbecue in Decatur, Alabama, and on the menu was Bar-B-Q Chicken with White Sauce. For most of the last 80-odd years this delicacy was virtually unknown outside of the cities of North Alabama, a rare recipe might show up in a cookbook or maybe in a regional publication like Southern Living, but if you used the phrase “White Barbecue Sauce” to anyone outside the area, you were usually met with “you must be crazy” looks… (okay, I’m met with those looks pretty often anyway…).

But in the past few years with the advent of the Interwebs and the proliferation of cooking shows on television, Southern regional cooking, and especially barbecue, has taken on a higher profile (and much more respect) among non-Southerners. Recipes for the white sauce are now not a rare thing: luminaries such as Bobby Flay, Paula Deen and Ray Lampe (aka Dr BBQ) have published recipes for it.

A couple of years ago, Chris Lilly, the current proprietor of Big Bob Gibson’s (and great-grandson-in-law of Big Bob) published Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book, and of course it contains a recipe for the wonderful White Sauce. Chris, by the way, is a renowned pitmaster in his own right with many awards and several TV appearances – most recently as one of the competitors in the Food Network show “Best in Smoke”.

So to introduce the White Barbecue Sauce to you, we’ll start with what must be considered the “official” version as it appears in the aforementioned cookbook, then we’ll look at some variations the celeb chefs have made, and then lastly my experiences and version (I’m sure you can’t wait for that…).

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q White Sauce (from Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by Chris Lilly)

Makes 4 Cups

2 Cups Mayonnaise

1 Cup Distilled White Vinegar

1/2 Cup Apple Juice

2 Tsp Prepared Horseradish

2 Tsp Ground Black Pepper

2 Tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

1 Tsp Salt

1/2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper

Whisk all together well. The recipe notes to “Use as a marinade, baste, or dipping sauce.”, but the traditional way it’s served at Big Bobs is as a final dunk: fully cooked smoked chicken halves are dunked into the sauce then then served.

Sauce can be keep up to two weeks (covered and refrigerated)

Paula Deen’s version uses apple cider vinegar and water in place of the white vinegar and juice, and she adds some sugar. Another recipe from the Food Network site uses cider vinegar as well as the main liquid and adds corn syrup as a sweetener.

I first learned the recipe from my high school principal, Ralph Smith. For special events at Coffee High School (in Florence, Alabama), Coach Smith (as we all called him) would smoke chickens in large drum smokers and used the white sauce to season. Now I don’t recall if he dunked it a la Big Bob, or basted it on, but early on I started basting the mostly cooked poultry with the sauce towards the end of cooking until the birds are nicely glazed and the sauce has turned a light golden color. The uncooked sauce is then served on the side as a dip.

I’ve been making white sauce for well, let’s say, a lot of years – and I’ve probably never made it exactly the same way twice – needless to say I don’t use an exact recipe…

I start with a cup or two of mayo, depending on how big a batch I’m making, and lower fat (but not no-fat) mayo is fine (I’ve been using the olive-oil based ones lately) then add the acids – usually half vinegar (cider, rice or white, depending on my mood and what happens to be handy) and half lemon juice – and whisk until combined. The consistency should be about the same as a commercial tomato-based BBQ sauce, or maybe like that of ranch dressing. Add more liquids or more mayo as needed to get the consistency you like. Next comes salt, lots of black pepper, usually some cayenne (and/or liquid hot sauce), sugar (or Splenda, etc., I do like my white sauce a bit sweet…). Sometimes I add garlic powder and/or onion powder, sometimes chili powder or smoked paprika makes an appearance… whatever my mood calls for on the day. I may make it spicier on one day (especially if I’m using it for wings), and not so much the next… like I said, I don’t think I’ve ever made it he same way twice, other than it being good!

I like to make it up at least a few hours ahead (refrigerate, of course) if not overnight. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

How “white” your sauce is depends on how many spices and other goodies you add to it…

I like to cook chicken pieces on the grill until about 2/3rds done,

Season pieces simply with salt & pepper, or use your rub of choice… here you see thighs and wings starting to cook on the Big Green Egg…

then start basting with the sauce and turning and basting every so often until done.

An initial baste with the white sauce

You can baste, or depending on the size of your pieces and the sauce bowl, just dunk in the sauce and return to the grill as you turn and rearrange.

Looking good after a few turns

You don’t have to wait until you fire up the grill, the sauce works perfectly well on baked poultry (if you want a bit of smoke flavor, you can add a few drops of liquid smoke to the basting sauce).


The sauce is great with turkey as you might imagine (I’m partial to thighs, in general that is, but especially turkey…), I’ve even used it on pork with good results. Fish and shrimp are also objects of it’s affection…

On the plate with a final brush of sauce… and a sprinkle of ghost pepper salt just for fun…

You can purchase prepared sauce (as well as other products) online from Big Bobs, and I do believe there are other commercial versions as well, but the sauce is so easy and inexpensive to make (not to mention easily adapted to you tastes, so I won’t mention it), I encourage you to give it a try yourself… yes, the idea of a mayo-based BBQ sauce may seem very alien to many, but once you’ve given it a try, you’ll get it…

If you’ve never tried white barbecue sauce, and especially  if you’ve never even heard of it before, please give it a shot and let us all know what you think!

Now back to the kitchen… see you soon… now where’s that beer…

If  you’ve enjoyed this recipe, please be sure to “like” and “share“!

2 Responses to “Let’s Cook! White Barbecue Sauce”

  1. AJ Says:

    Looks AMAZING!!


  2. […] or really most anything that calls for a side of rice – I’ve even served it alongside White Barbeque Sauce Chicken to raves! And even better, it’s easy to prepare and pretty much fool-proof. My version below […]


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