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Virginia Barbecue Is the Regional Style You’re Overlooking

Direct from the birthplace of barbecue.



Barbecue takes many forms. Texas favors brisket and shuns sauces, Memphis slathers pulled pork in a tomato- and vinegar-based emulsion, western North Carolina serves pork shoulder with a sidecar of sauce. Yet all barbecue, regardless of sauce or meat or smoking wood employed, disseminated from Virginia.

“Virginia, being the birthplace of colonial America, became a model for southern and western settlements, because Virginians worked out how to survive in the New World,” says Joe Haynes, barbecue authority and author of Virginia Barbecue: A History and the upcoming Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition (publishing this October). “As these Virginians moved, out west and to the south, they took traditions with them — cornbread, hoecakes, stews, barbecue — and modified them based on what was available in their new home. That’s how Southern barbecue developed, and how each place has its own way of putting a twist on it.” In his first book, Haynes traces the history of barbecue back to the early 1600s, to the fusion of the mother sauce — a mix of vinegar, salt and red pepper — with the Powhatan tradition of roasting meat on a wooden grill.

Yet while Virginia is the birthplace of barbecue, it’s not defined by a singular style. As in other states, regional styles arose in accordance with local ingredients. The Southside of Virginia — near Jamestown, extending as far west as Petersburg and as far north as Richmond — specializes in a tomato- and vinegar-based sauce with a hint of mustard, richer and less tangy than the sauces in neighboring North Carolina.

Farther north, into Central Virginia, sauces grow sweeter and more tomato-driven, with a mixture of spices like cloves, ginger and cinnamon. “Where the regional styles came from, and how they got to us today, [was guided by] what was successful and readily available,” Haynes says. “Other barbecue cooks would try to emulate what successful vendors were doing,” and regional styles took root from there. Oak or hickory wood are traditionally used to impart flavor; smoking pork is most common, though beef — ribs, chuck and sirloin — is also embedded in the canon of Virginia barbecue.

There are, however, outliers. In the Shenandoah Valley, barbecue chicken — spatchcocked, rubbed with spices and glazed with an oil- and vinegar-based dressing — reigns. Barbecue sauces in Northern Virginia are often infused with fruit, making them sweeter. A now-defunct restaurant in Chesterfield, just outside of Richmond, pioneered a red sauce with a touch of peanut butter that was glazed on pork ribs. “You can’t recognize it as peanut butter, but it really, really highlights that pork flavor, like a strong background,” Haynes says.

Below, find four regional sauces that define the Virginia barbecue — both forebears of broader Southern barbecuing practice, and innovations pushing the tradition forward today.

The Sauces

Four to Know

Southside Barbecue Sauce


The Meat: beef, pork, chicken
The Beer: Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA

Makes about 16oz

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup hot sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard


1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a blender. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 24–48 hours before serving.

Shenandoah Valley Sauce


The Meat: chicken
The Beer: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

Makes about 20 ounces

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup neutral cooking oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lemon, juiced


1. Mix all ingredients well. Store in an airtight container overnight. Warm and shake well before using.

How to Make Shenandoah Valley-Style Barbecue Chicken

1. Make the base dressing for the dry rub by mixing 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil.

2. Make the dry rub by mixing 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning, 1 teaspoon mild paprika, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon light brown sugar, 1 packet of True Lemon crystallized lemon, red pepper flakes (to taste).

3. Butterfly a whole roasting chicken by removing the backbone. Put the chicken skin-side up and press down on the breastbone until it lies flat. Flip the chicken over and apply some of the dressing (step 1), followed by some of the rub (step 2).

4. Flip the chicken over so that it is skin-side up. Apply the barbecue rub directly to the meat under the skin over the breast, drumstick (or long legs, in Virginia) and thighs (or short legs).

5. Coat the outside of the skin with the remaining dressing and rub. Place the chicken in a Ziploc bag or wrap it in plastic wrap, and store in a container to catch any liquid that might leak.

6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

7. To cook the chicken, prepare a smoker for indirect heat at a temperature between 275–300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chicken skin-side up and cook until the breast, wings and legs reach an internal temperature of 165–170 degrees Fahrenheit and juices run clear.

8. Drizzle with Shenandoah Valley-style sauce before serving, and keep remaining sauce within easy reach when eating.

Chesterfield-Style Goober Sauce


The Meat: pork ribs
The Beer: Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA

Makes about 20oz

1 cup tomato juice
1–1 1/2 cups brown sugar, adjusted to taste
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 level teaspoon creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper (to taste)


1. Add all ingredients except tomato juice to a saucepan. Heat, without bringing to a simmer, until peanut butter and sugar have melted, stirring as needed.

2. Remove from heat, whisk in tomato juice and let cool. Allow sauce to rest overnight before serving.

3. Brush onto ribs to serve.

Northern Virginia Barbecue Sauce


The Meat: chicken, pork, beef
The Beer: Devils Backbone Black Lager

Makes about 20oz

1 1/2 cups tomato ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice


1. Add all ingredients except lemon juice to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

2. Once simmering, remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and let cool.

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