8 barbecue flavors that are on fire

Lizzy Freier, Technomic Menu Analysis Managing Editor

bbq sauce

Barbecue sauce is not only a common baste for grilled ribs and chicken—it’s now a ubiquitous condiment on burgers, sandwiches and pizza. And lately, operators have started to up the ante with that quintessential American sauce, serving up variations that are going global, tapping into regional U.S. roots and infusing trendy flavors to appeal to current consumers. Furthermore, 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 most rapid growth.

8. White barbecue sauce

white bbq sauce

Year-over year growth: 4.3%

White barbecue sauce's growth aligns with the trend of Southern accents getting regional. Originating in northern Alabama, white barbecue sauce uses 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, then slow-smoked and smothered in Alabama white barbecue sauce.

7. Sweet barbecue sauce

sweet 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 the most craved by consumers, according to its 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

buffalo wild wings

Year-over-year growth: 6.5%

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

asian bbq 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, and Asian barbecue sauce is one menu result of this consumer preference. Enhancements in Asian barbecue sauce may include ginger, sesame oil or chili peppers. P.F. Chang’s puts an Asian twist on ribs with a shareable plate of slow-braised pork spare ribs wok-seared with a tangy Asian barbecue sauce.

4. Mustard barbecue sauce

mustard sauce

Year-over-year growth: 16.7%

Mustard barbecue sauce 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, Carolina Hot Wings featured Southern-style Carolina mustard barbecue sauce.

3. Jalapeno barbecue sauce

jalapeño sauce

Year-over-year growth: 16.7%

Jalapeno barbecue sauce is heating up menus. Since younger consumers in particular find spicy flavors appealing (57% of 18- to 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.

2. Kansas City barbecue sauce

Kansas City bbq

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. The Missouri-originated sauce differentiates itself with a base of ketchup and molasses, making it thick, sweet and tangy. In April, Dairy Queen introduced its Kansas City BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich with Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.

1. Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce

sweet and tangy sliders

Year-over-year growth: 31.8%

The rapid growth of sweet and tangy barbecue sauce has made it the No. 1 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 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, more barbecue sauces featuring flavor combinations may show up in the future.

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