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Battle BBQ – Ronnie Sinclair’s Traditional North Carolina Vinegar Mop

Battle BBQ – Ronnie Sinclair’s Traditional North Carolina Vinegar Mop

The Fiery Cross

“It’s poison, is what it is!”  Ronnie Sinclair was saying hotly, as I came up behind him.  “She’ll ruin it — it’ll no be fit for pigs when she’s done!”

“It is pigs, Ronnie, Jamie said, with considerable patience.  He rolled an eye at me, then glanced at the pit, where sizzling fat dripped onto the biers of hickory coals below.   “Myself, I shouldna think ye could do anything to a pig — in the way of cooking that is — that would make it not worth the eating.”

“Quite true,” I put in helpfully, smiling at Ronnie.  “Smoked bacon, grilled chops, roasted loin, baked ham, headcheese, sausage, sweetbreads, black pudding…somebody once said you could make use of everything in a pig but the squeal.”

“Aye, well, but this is the barbecue, isn’t it?”  Ronnie said stubbornly, ignoring my feeble attempt at humor.  “Anyone kens that ye sass a barbecued hog wi’ vinegar — that’s the proper way of it!  After all, ye wouldna put gravel into your sausage meat, would ye?  Or boil your bacon wi’ sweepings from the henhouse?  Tcha!”  He jerked his chin toward the white porter basin under Rosamund’s arm, making it clear that its contents fell into the same class of inedible adulterants, in his opinion.

Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 13 – Beans and Barbecue)

I’m taking a risk here…really living on the edge.  After all, barbecue is a very serious business across the South — and has been since before R & R crossed words in the woods of North Carolina in The Fiery Cross.

And while I am a trained chef and food fanatic, the fact is that I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest; the most time I’ve spent in the South was the 3 or 4 weeks I had in Memphis while training as a manager for FedEx.  (Long story, another life.  Moving on…)

Memphis may be famous for its barbecue, and I did eat a lot of it while I was there.  But it’s a different style than North Carolina, which is what Ronnie was so vehemently defending against Rosamund and her Devil’s Apple Sauce.

So I hit the books and the web (research always lifts my sails), and I feel pretty confident that what I came up with would pass Ronnie’s muster.

I await nervously to hear what the rest of you think.  😉

North Carolina Vinegar Mop

Traditionally, Eastern North Carolina barbecue involves smoking whole pigs in a pit.

But since there’s only 2 of us, AND my little bar-fridge-sized smoker has a limited capacity (although I have had 8 chickens in there at once), AND our little island grocery store only had pork butt or leg roasts in the 2.5 lb range last Thursday, Battle Barbecue consisted  of 2 roasts that some Southerners may consider lacking in the size department.  But when you live on an island, you have to take what you can get.

I chose butt roasts — aka the shoulder, where the leg butts against the pig’s torso (it’s not from the pig’s ass) —  they’re much better for barbecue than leg roasts, which can turn out tough, no matter how long you cook them.

And then I spent the afternoon, walking between Ronnie’s Butt in the smoker outside the basement door and Rosamund’s Butt in our gas grill on the deck out front.  That’s my kind of day.

Lastly, my research told me that pretty much everyone serves their barbecue on soft white rolls.  So that’s what I did, with a little bit of coleslaw.  Next time, I think I’ll make a batch of Jenny’s Everyday Bread into buns.  Meat that takes this long to cook deserves something better than Wonder White.

I’m not entirely sure Ronnie, or very many others, would agree.

Smoked Pork Shoulder

“Ah, that’s the stuff!  Not but what a savory sass like this ‘un is wasted on your bastardly Scots,” Rosamund said, replacing the burlap and patting it tenderly into place.  “You’ve pickled your tongues with that everlastin’ vinegar you slop on your victuals.  It’s all I can do to stop Kenny a-puttin’ it on his corn bread and porridge of a mornin’.”  — Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 13 – Beans and Barbecue)

(Click on the link below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Ronnie Sinclair’s Traditional North Carolina Vinegar Mop

An authentic barbecue mop straight from Eastern North Carolina — a thin sauce made from vinegar and spices, traditionally used to baste whole hogs smoking in the pit.

Serves 4-6

Cider Vinegar – 2 Cups
Chili Flakes – 2 Tble
Ground Black Pepper – 1 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Pork Butt Roast – 3 to 4 lbs

Either the night before, or early on the morning of your barbecue, combine the vinegar, chili flakes, pepper and salt.  Set aside on the counter for at least 4 hours for the flavours to meld.

One hour before you plan to start, remove the pork from the fridge and season well with salt and pepper.  Set aside to come to room temperature.

Brush the roast with the vinegar sauce, then place it in your smoker or grill, set to between 180°F and 225°F.  Smoke with the wood of your choice (I used hickory), mopping with sauce every hour or so, until the internal temperature measures 190°F on an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast, about 5-7 hours.

Remove from the smoker and tent lightly with foil for 15 minutes.  Chop up the meat, drizzle with more vinegar sauce and serve on rolls with coleslaw.  Serve additional sauce on the side.

Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)


  • To keep food-borne illness away, pour a small amount of the vinegar sauce into a bowl from which you can mop the cooking meat.  Replenish as needed, but never dip the brush you use on the meat in the main batch of sauce.
  • Next time I will remove the elastic netting from the roast — it’s not necessary, and it got in the way.

North Carolina Vinegar Mop



  1. Aaron Brown
    July 30, 2012 at 5:29 am

    ohh yum!!! That makes my mouth water just looking at it. (I do have a smoker, and it hasn’t been used in a while, maybe it is time)

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

      It’s time, Aaron! It’s time!

  2. Connie Barlow
    July 30, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Deep Roots in North carolina when it comes to BBQ, Carolina tang at its best. Hat off for another wonderful recipe, I can smell the pit fire already.

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

      Thanks, Connie!

  3. Joelle in NC
    July 30, 2012 at 7:13 am

    As a native of Southeastern NC Hog Heaven (a/k/a Duplin County), the sauce looks about right…yum! :). I’ve never seen anyone actually smoke a hog though. Just roast em on the pig cooker (really big grill used for…yup, cooking pig) low and slow for about half a day, basting regularly with the pepper-vinegar sauce. At a traditional pig pickin’, you’d let each guest literally pick from the pig on the grill and serve with barbecued potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, Brunswick Stew, hush puppies and a variety of traditional Southern desserts…pure eatin’ heaven!

    (I’ve used the Boston Butts myself…great sub for a smaller group with less time)

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

      Again…I’m referring to it as smoked because of the charcoal and slow heat involved…but if they call it cooking in NC, that’s good enough for me! LOL

  4. shelly
    July 30, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Being an Alabama girl – we use white sauce on our BBQ. But I have always (secretly) loved the vinegar based NC sauces. Thanks for the chance to make a stash for myself!

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

      I hope you enjoy it Shelly! I saw that white sauce while doing my research…I’ll have to try that one day too!

  5. Arona Haywood
    July 30, 2012 at 10:18 am

    You have the sauce looking just right…..I’m a native of Charlotte, NC and my Daddy and his church buddies won the NC vs. TX BBQ cookoff at the Charlotte Motor Speedway back in ’82, we still claim bragging rights….BBQ is very serious church fundraising business around here……I’m with Joelle though, never known one to be smoked, cooked right in the pit in the ground on rebar or on a big oil drum conversion grill (my Daddy blew one up trying to build one once)…..and it takes all night and a good part of the day to cook……hope you enjoy it, I bet that island you live on wonders what in the world that great smell is…..they’ll be knocking on your door soon! Did you make red vinegar slaw to go with it? (white or red slaw is a whole separate debate) yum!!!!! and we always served baked beans and either rolls (if you order a plate) or hamburger buns if you order a sandwich. I’m hungry just thinking about it….anyway so glad Herself included this little scene between R&R (btw..R&R BBQ is a chain restaurant here and they hold their own pretty well!)……you can’t live in NC and not have an opinion about BBQ!!! Enjoy!

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

      I guess I’m calling its smoked because it is cooked using hickory charcoal. My semantics may be a little off, but if you’re not cooking a full pig in a pit, then probably the closest you can come is to smoke a smaller roast in a smoker or charcoal barbecue. Love hearing even more about people’s own processes and such. I think I need to spend one BBQ season in NC. 😀

    • Joelle in NC
      August 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Well, come on down!

  6. Linda Yates Wilson
    July 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    the barbecue in your picture looks good but cut up in little cubes? perhaps you would like it better cooked longer over that good hard wood coals. it should fall apart. you got the sauce dialed in. i like to pour boiled apple cider vinegar over the hot pepper flakes and let it cool. get that pepper really working.
    i just was re reading that passage last night and thought once again that i agreed with Ronney that she was ruining the pork with that tomato sauce.

    • Joelle in NC
      July 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      I’ve never been a fan of chopped barbecue either…pulled pork for me 🙂

      FWIW…I do actually occasionally enjoy a ketchup-and-sugar-based sauce when I do a shoulder roast. But in general…and especially with a full roast pig…pepper-vinegar is where it’s at!

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 6:55 am

      It’s a long story, Linda…involving a leg roast mislabeled as a butt roast. The leg meat didn’t have enough fat, so it dried out before it got close to fall apart tender. Don’t let this happen to you, people! LOL. Love the tip about heating up the vinegar…thank you!

  7. deniz
    August 1, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Yum yum yum. And I agree with you on the bread – definitely helps to have some good bread to sop up all that sauce with.

    • Theresa
      August 2, 2012 at 6:53 am

      Thanks, Deniz! Happy barbecuing!

  8. The Mom Chef
    August 6, 2012 at 11:52 am

    If you’re having a pig pickin’ you’d want a whole hog and go through that mess. But to that you’d need to invite 60-70 people or you’re stuck with a lot of leftover pig. What you were going for, if the meat had been the correct cut, was pulled pork. I think you did everything perfectly and the sandwich looks fantastic.

    I’ve never seen a hunk of pork cooked with the netting left on either so yeah, that needs to be removed for sure.

    Like you, I’m not fond of the soft white roll and don’t know many down here that use it. Since the vinegar mop is also added to the meat after it’s pulled and it gets things juicy, a lot of people opt for a more sturdy bun.

    As far as the mop sauce goes, the recipes I use do call for it to be heated first. It looks great though. The whole thing looks fantastic.

    As an fyi, if you do end up down here, I’m about three blocks away from downtown Bethania and 20 minutes from Salem. We’re right in the middle of Jamie country.

    • Theresa
      August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Is that an official invite? LOL You know me, I’ll be there!

  9. The Suzzzz
    August 9, 2012 at 9:28 am

    If you want to try a slightly different cut or if Boston Butts aren’t available in your area, ask for a pork picnic roast. Picnic roasts (at least around the western US) are from the joint where the shoulder meets the neck. They smoke or braise beautifully and have a wonderfully rich flavor.

    I love NC BBQ! I’m putting this recipe on the board in my kitchen for the next time I make a pork roast. My brother in law lived in the Raleigh area for a long time and I have a friend who lives in Chapel hill. Both of them have recipes for vinegar sauces and neither one will share their recipe with me, so I devised my own

    If you like dry rub on your smoked meats you should try this one

    My ex-husband insisted on having “thick” bbq sauce, so for him I would add a couple tablespoons of corn starch and cook the sauce until it was the consistency he wanted. It isn’t necessary for for folks who like their sauces on the fat side, it seems to work.

    My mom never liked bbq sauce so whenever we have smoked or roasted meat she makes asks for homemade honey mustard. I think there are as many kinds of bbq condiments as there are people who bbq. Thank heavens for variety!

    • Theresa
      August 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

      Great tips…thank you!

  10. The Suzzzz
    August 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I love pulled pork and vinegar together. I have a brother in law who lived in North Carolina for a while and a friend who lives in Chapel Hill, both make “pig juice” similar to your recipe but would never share their recipes with me. I made my own recipe, based on what I guessed was in theirs, and posted it on tasty kitchen, but I’m going to try yours the next time I roast a pork shoulder.

    • Theresa
      August 14, 2012 at 9:48 am

      What kind of friends and family are they? Won’t share a recipe? MEANIES. LOL

    • The Suzzzz
      August 21, 2012 at 9:52 am

      Hahaha I know what you mean but they participate in BBQ competitions and their recipes are top secret lest I leak them on my blog.

  11. Tina
    June 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    It looks like what I made a few weeks ago! In fact I still have some sauce left over. If the cut of meat had been correct, then it could’ve been shredded. I lived in NC for a total of 11yrs, (we moved last year) and miss having NC BBQ whenever I wanted, that and sweet tea. BTW, if you don’t have a smoker/grill, you can slow roast the meat in the oven on 250F, pretty much all day. I usually put a dry rub on mine the day before I plan to cook it.

    • Theresa
      June 24, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      The cut was definitely mislabeled on this particular night, but, I`ve made many since, with a Pork Butt that really was a Pork Butt, and the meat shredded beautifully. 🙂

  12. Paige Carroll
    June 24, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Also from Charlotte NC (not native to here but to SC) and your recipe is perfect. When I lived in Idaho for a few years, I would roast a pork butt to make BBQ. The cole slaw on the bun with the BBQ always caused a few locals to raise their eyebrows, but once they gave it a try, they loved it!
    BBQ is “big business” here in NC and bragging rights are huge!
    Thanks for sharing!

  13. nicole
    June 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Pork butt is the right one to buy….and you can put a rub on it the night before…smoke it slow with some applewood chips and then use the vinegar sauce….my husband calls it “liquid crack” (like the drug) cause its so good. No extra sauce needed….in a pinch you can buy carolina treat sauce at the store.

    • Theresa
      June 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks, Nicole! I`ve never heard of Carolina Treat sauce…but it sounds quick and easy…which is just what the chef wants sometimes. 🙂

    • Paige Carroll
      June 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Carolina Treat is great too….I always keep it on hand!

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