Secrets of real BBQ sauce revealed

Former Angel’s BBQ pitmaster explains

IN MY DAYS at the pit, I’ve seen many a great backyard Smoke Master and all things in between. Thing is, great or just-getting-better BBQ takes time.

Why would you take 8-16 hours plus of time and pride to ruin it with commercial BBQ sauce? The sauce is the fun part that lets you be you.

It’s far from being rocket science and allows you to express your quirks and tastes in a beloved American condiment!

Think about it: There you are in the wee hours of the morning, you’ve just fired up the pit and cracked open your first breakfast beer.

Later on when the guests arrive, are they going to appreciate the subtle blend of peach and pecan woods you used, or that crispy bark you babysat all day?

Don’t kid yourself. They’re going to tear into those stupid bottles you set out of KC Passthebuck BBQ sauce and douse everything like pancakes!

It’s akin to going through all the trouble to make a really good pizza dough, then dressing it with Pizza Quick Sauce. 

To make Real BBQ Sauce there are only four ingredients used. These are vinegar/acid, sweet/sugar, salt, and pepper (chili peppers, pepper corns, or a blend of both). That’s it.

Well, the actual art is balancing all those flavors together to enhance the flavor of the BBQ, not cover it up.  

“Can I put in more then four?” you ask. Yes, odds are you will want to anyway.

“Can I put in less?” No, if you don’t use all four flavors it isn’t a real BBQ sauce.

But some people think what you get out of the blue box is real Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Hey, don’t they make “BBQ sauce” too?

The original BBQ sauce was nothing more than a mixture of apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, ground black pepper, and a couple of dried birds-eye peppers. The vinegar would be heated to dissolve the sugar, salt and bring out oils from the peppers.

This sauce would be drizzled over freshly chopped BBQ, mixing with the fat and create a kind of meat salad dressing. This style is still around in parts of North Carolina and is the granddaddy of all American BBQ. 

People in the know talk about tomato base, mustard base,and vinegar base BBQ sauces. These are the three main sauce styles ( mayonnaise and Worcestershire are the two lesser known sauce styles ).

Of the three, there are lapland areas that use a tomato product in vinegar-based sauces and mustard in tomato-based sauces. Every one uses the four building blocks of vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. 

Here’s what BBQ sauce isn’t: A marinade or a basting liquid. Do this and you have a burnt ash-tasting piece of protein.

Why? Mainly because commercial sauces have an enormous  amount of sweetener that will burn over the prolonged cooking time and also because these sauces have large quantities of cornstarch that get tacky like glue and attract all the ash particulates like a magnet.

It is not a simmering sauce that you add a couple of bottles to your crockpot and then slow cook an unfortunate bit of animal in.

Some people call that crockpot BBQ; it isn’t BBQ in any way. In the BBQ world we call it “Faux Q.”

If anyone should ever offer you some just tell them, “Faux Q!”

The sauce is a condiment, also known as a finishing sauce. In the wet school of ribs (two schools here, the wets and drys) a finishing sauce is brushed on to form a glaze about five minutes before they’re plated. 

Here’s what BBQ sauce can be: It can be thick or thin, chunky or smooth. It can be sweet, spicy, smoky, tangy or fruity. That’s for you to decide.

Don’t look on the four required ingredients as a limitation. The traditional vinegar to use is cider, but there is white wine, red wine, malt (made from unhopped beer), sherry, rice wine, palm, coconut, cane, lemon, etc.  

I’ve got a friend in California who uses champagne vinegar and Grey Poupon to make what he calls his SoCal Carolina sauce. For sweetener, you can use sugar, brown sugar, molasses, cane juice, clover honey, sourwood honey, orange blossom honey, buckwheat honey, agave nectar, corn syrup, cane syrup, sorghum, etc.

With the variety of peppers alone, you could fill the page with choice. All you need to decide is how hot, dried or fresh. While I stick to kosher or sea salt, there’s plenty there to explore should the fancy take you.

All in all, just decide on a style you like and go from there. What is the ideal sauce that will compliment your BBQ?

Odds are it hasn’t been made yet and definitely not in a bottle, even at the Pig.


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