Mayo BBQ Sauce? Alabama White Sauce Beats the Deep South Heat

Did you say Mayo BBQ Sauce? Even for an Alabaman raised in the Heart of Dixie, it seems strange. Spend a couple days in the swelter of the Deep South, you’ll get a lesson. And you’ll want something besides the saucy heat served next to your pork or chicken. Alabama white sauce is that tangy alternative.

What is Alabama white sauce? What do you put Alabama white sauce on? What does Alabama white sauce taste like?  

Truth time: I spent half my life in Alabama. I never once had Alabama white sauce. Ordinarily, I will stop you at mayo in BBQ sauce. A few days of unseasonably warm temps in Carolina changed my tune. Add a store-bought chicken, a PBR, and a bit of curiosity. We’re making white BBQ sauce for chicken – beer can chicken on a Sunday.

Let’s talk about:

  • What’s in Alabama white sauce?
  • How to make Alabama white sauce.
  • Why you might put white BBQ sauce on chicken (or anything else)

Mayo BBQ sauce? Working together, we might all convince ourselves that Alabama white sauce is a reasonable choice for meat smoked low and slow.  

Whole chicken with Yardbird rub.
Beer can chicken with Plowboys Yardbird rub.

What is Alabama white sauce?

A history of Alabama white sauce reports that Robert Gibson invented it at Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, AL. Based on mayonnaise, vinegar, peppers, salt, and a tangy kick, the white sauce emerged in the 1920s as an elixir for smoked chicken that tends to dry. This tangy cure never drowns the chicken’s spice and smoke.

That’s why it’s been a staple in north Alabama ever since.  

What’s in Alabama white sauce?

Mayo BBQ sauce, and yet, it isn’t mayo. Yes, Duke’s Alabama white sauce is anchored in mayonnaise. Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, Worchester sauce, and a blend of spices usually thin the coagulating white sandwich spread.

Among those spices comes the kick you ordinarily find in Alabama barbecue sauce: fresh ground black pepper, ground cayenne, and horseradish. Temper the combination of the heat depending on your preference. Remember, though, that the idea is to sauce up an alternative to the usual fire you splash on your smoked meat.

Balance is best on the breast of that chicken you spent a few hours smoking (or grilling.)

What does Alabama white sauce taste like?

Prepared according to the standard recipe for Alabama white sauce, the blend is light and tangy with just a hint of heat on the back end.

“It’s basically a salad dressing,” chimes “Stump from the Shoals.”

Yeah, more or less. That’s why white BBQ sauce pairs well with chicken, fish, pork – and yes, your salad. Heck, use it in your chicken … salad. Better yet, surprise friends at your next tailgate with Alabama white sauce in place of the lame store-bought ranch veggie dip everybody loves.

What do you put mayo BBQ sauce on?

Chicken, of course, but you want that chicken to have a good brine and robust spice rub.

That makes Alabama white sauce a good fit for beer can chicken, which you’ll often coat in a spicy mix with strong flavors. The white sauce cuts through the rub flavors and spices, carrying into the interior meat on every bite.

And because BBQ chicken smoked low and slow can tend to dry out, a heavy-handed pour of mayo BBQ sauce “baptizing the meat,” as Big Bob Gibson said, can bring new life to your chicken. Because what else would you do with a chicken who has gone astray from the good and righteous path in Alabama?

White barbecue sauce for chicken breast is good when it is smoked low and slow and sliced. To me, the sauce is best when you pull apart the chicken, mix up the meat – light and dark – and serve it up on sandwiches. White BBQ sauce poured to the taster’s preference along with pickles, and it is a great meal for a hot day.

BBQ Chicken sandwich with mayo BBQ sauce and pickles.
Barbecue chicken sandwich with mayo BBQ sauce.

When is it time for mayo BBQ sauce?

If you like it, you can enjoy this sauce any time you smoke chicken low and slow.

Truth time (again): I’m not doing that because … mayo BBQ sauce.

Still, on a hot day, it’s a refreshing lift when you gotta eat, but you don’t want to be weighed down with a gut full of … you get the picture.

When those hot days – I mean really hot days – arrive in Hickory, N.C., it’s a fond reminder of my roots. “Like a warm hug from Alabama,” I echo on the days that sop your shirt the second you step outside.

August in Lower Alabama is most oppressive. Hundred-degree heat baking red clay blistered by weeks without rain. Radiating heat poured off the chicken houses we worked in and around day in and day out. It brings a new understanding to “It’s hot outside.”

Spend time working in those conditions, the last thing you want at dinner is the tomato-anchored heat of sauce from Hook’s Barbecue. That stuff they serve at Dreamland will set your face on fire. Do you want more heat after you’ve been out sweating in it?

Mayo BBQ sauce, please.

White BBQ Sauce Recipe for Chicken

As with most barbecue recipes, plenty of variations exist in the wide world of the Internet. Most contain the same general ingredients with slight variations.

I don’t claim to have an original presentation, but I’ve prepared this Alabama white BBQ sauce recipe, which is a solid rendition.  

Alabama White Sauce Recipe

1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 heavy teaspoon of horseradish

Combine ingredients in a bowl, cover and chill. The mayo BBQ sauce is serviceable within an hour or two, but if you allow 12-18 hours, the cayenne’s heat becomes more pronounced. So wait a day. It is even better after 2.

Duke's mayo BBQ sauce ingredients and beer can chicken.
Duke’s mayo BBQ sauce ingredients with rubbed chicken.
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