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Vinegar Based BBQ sauce is smoky and sharp with a very distinct sweet heat. It’s super easy to make and perfectly compliments barbecue chicken, smoked ribs, and this family favorite slow cooker Carolina pulled pork recipe.
Vinegar based BBQ sauce = tradition in my family.
Growing up, my dad, uncles, brother, and older male cousins would gather together in the wee morning hours, starting the arduous process of barbecuing a whole hog over a homemade pit made from concrete cinderblocks, chicken wire, and smoking coals of hickory wood.
My great aunt Vonnie would make a vat of vinegar based bbq sauce in her giant silver stockpot, and the men would carry the pot to the pit, gently ladling spoonfuls of the secret sauce over every morsel of meat throughout the hours-long process.
My grandparents and Aunt Vonnie have long since passed and the old barbecue barn has dwindled away, but this vinegar based bbq sauce recipe and smoky slow-cooked Carolina style pulled pork remains a family favorite for holidays, get-togethers, and easy weeknight meals.
Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce Ingredients
Whether you call it Eastern NC BBQ sauce, vinegar based bbq sauce, or Carolina style bbq sauce, the base ingredients are the same:
- Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or a mixture of both
- Sauces: Texas Pete, Tobasco &/or Worcestershire
- Sugar: light brown sugar or white sugar
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Spices: Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Garlic Salt, Cayenne, Ground Mustard, Sweet Paprika, Smoked Paprika
- Juice: Fresh lemon juice, apple juice
- Ketchup or tomato sauce: Not traditionally used in Eastern carolina barbecue sauces
- Salt & Pepper
My sauce is an Eastern Carolina-based sauce and contains no ketchup or tomato sauce. Instead, this vinegar based bbq sauce recipe includes:
- Apple cider and white vinegar: The mixture of the two vinegars keeps the sauce from being too vinegary and cuts down some of the sharpness.
- Texas Pete: It’s one of those hot sauces that does no wrong. The only other hot sauce worth considering is Frank’s.
- Light brown sugar: Brown sugar is an absolute necessity in vinegar based bbq sauce. It cuts the acidity and adds a touch of sweetness. So good!
- Garlic & Onion powder: These are great spices that add a wonderful depth of flavor.
- Crushed red pepper: Adds additional heat and depth of flavor. The amount can always be adjusted as needed for your family.
- Sweet paprika: Used for color and flavor. Try adding a touch of smoked paprika when making this slow cooker carolina pulled pork!
- Fresh lemon juice: This is a special ingredient that helps cut the sharpness of the vinegar, adds additional depth of flavor, and helps brighten up the sauce.
- Apple juice: A secret ingredient that you can’t really taste, but helps add a touch a sweetness while cutting the sharpness of the vinegar.
- Sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper
Carolina Style Pulled Pork
Making this Carolina style barbecue sauce and Carolina pulled pork couldn’t be any simpler!
Add all of the ingredients to a large mason jar and give it a god shake, shake, shake until all of the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is well combined.
Get started on making the Carolina Pulled Pork Recipe! What’s great about this vinegar sauce for pulled pork is that the majority of it cooks in the slow cooker with the meat.
- Put the Boston butt in the pot, pour in 3/4 of the prepared sauce, add in a tablespoon or two of liquid smoke to the slow cooker, and then cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the meat is tender. While the meat is cooking, add the remaining sauce to a pot and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Remove roast and allow to slightly cool. Reserve 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid and discard the rest. Skim the fat from the reserved juice and shred the pork, discarding any large pieces of fat.
- Add pulled pork and the cooking juices back to the slow cooker and heat through. Add in additional sauce if needed.
- Serve pulled pork on rolls w/ your favorite creamy, crunchy coleslaw w/ a side of extra sauce for drizzling and some cucumbers and vinegar and you’re good to go!
Recipes to serve w/ Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches…
Amaretto & Bacon Baked Beans
Cucumbers & Vinegar
Bojangles French Fries
Mexican Street Corn w/ Honey Buffalo Butter
Honey Cilantro Chimichurri Potato Salad
Red Cabbage Coleslaw w/ Apple & Carrot (No Mayo)
Air Fryer Frozen French Fries
Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce w/ Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork
For the Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce:
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup apple juice
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice juice from half a fresh lemon
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Texas Pete or more if desired
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp sweet or smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper optional
Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork:
- 4-5 lb pork shoulder butt roast
- 1-2 tbsp liquid smoke to taste
For the Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce:
- Add all of the ingredients to a large 32 oz. mason jar and give it a god shake, shake, shake until all of the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is well combined. Pour 3/4 of the prepared vinegar sauce on the pork in the slow cooker.
- Add the remaining sauce to a pot and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Serve on the side of pulled pork sandwiches, for drizzling.
For the Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork:
- Put the meat in the pot of a large 6 quart slow cooker. Pour in 3/4 of the prepared vinegar sauce and 1-2 tablespoons of liquid smoke.
- Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the meat is tender. While the meat is cooking, add the remaining sauce to a pot and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Remove the roast from the slow cooker and allow to slightly cool. Reserve 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid and discard the rest. Skim the fat from the reserved juice and shred the pork, discarding any large pieces of fat.
- Add pulled pork and the cooking juices back to the slow cooker and heat through, drizzling in additional sauce, if needed.
- Serve pulled pork on thick bakery rolls w/ your favorite creamy, crunchy coleslaw and a side of extra vinegar bbq sauce for drizzling.