The amount of sugar in BBQ sauce is directly proportional to the price and availability of sugar. People have always liked sweet foods but only in the last 100 years or so in the U.S. have most people been able to afford sugar in large quantities.
Remember, sugar used to be to the world what oil is today. It was rare and costly and was a symbol of prosperity.
"Old fashioned barbecues" gave way to barbecue and ice cream meetings around the 1890s. That's also when you began to see the hot dog and hamburger stands showing up and even at barbecues. Not long after, barbecue sauces for the masses began to get sweeter and sweeter.
But, wealthy people used sugar on barbecue for decades before others could afford it.
The current central Texas tradition came along almost as its own thing. People working at meat markets in central Texas started cooking meat for themselves to eat for lunch/dinner. They used salt and peper on the meat to cook it because that's all they thought they were doing was cooking lunch and dinner for themselves. Customers found the aroma very appetizing and began asking if they could buy some. Next thing you know, the meat market/butcher was in the barbecue business selling roasted meat. That practice spread throughout the region.
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