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By Rick Browne, Ph.B.
Ah, the essence of barbecue. The glorious thickened liquid (sometimes not-so-thickened) that we gleefully baste, mop and slop with. The delicious mixture we dip, dab and dribble over our meat. And the fragrant, flavorful concoctions we brush on, marinate and slather over our fowl. Oh yeah, fish get their own stuff to swim in too—while they’re being broiled, that is!
"It's the sauce, man, it's the sauce!"
Dracula's Blood Orange Sauce
Key West Citrus Sauce
Beer Butte Ranch Sauce
Horsey Sauce With a Bite
Catfish BBQ Sauce (Marinade)
Sauce. To be specific, barbecue sauce. At the grocery store they come in all shapes and sizes. You have your garlic BBQ sauce, your honey-garlic BBQ sauce, your teriyaki-garlic BBQ sauce, and even your garlic-garlic BBQ sauce. Colorful, ergonomically- and aesthetically-designed bottles of magic elixir that we buy by the gallon give our BBQ’ed creations that final touch of majesty.
In fact, on America’s supermarket shelves you have more than 2,500 commercially bottled sauces available to take home. That’s about 1,996 tomato-, vinegar- and sugar-based sauces, most using (you guessed it) garlic, and almost seasoned with salt and pepper.
The other four sauces use the same ingredients, but add special items to make them “different:” ingredients like Hawaiian lotus position-blossom honey, Tasmanian pink marjoram, freeze-dried Ethiopian cassava root, and Lower Congo River essence of desiccated three-week old shrimp.
By far the greatest majority of store-bought BBQ sauces are pretty much the same. You start out with your tomato sauce, add sugar, add salt, add sugar, add pepper, add sugar, add garlic, add sugar, and, if you’re really daring, add red pepper.
But how, you ask plaintively, do you find the kind of yellow sauce that you dripped on your new shirt in Columbus, Georgia, when you went on the picnic with Uncle Harold and Aunt Rhoda, or that black stuff they dipped their lamb in when you ate over to cousins Jimmy and Lorraine’s in Paducah, Kentucky last May?
Well folks, this may come as a shock, but perhaps you already know the answer. You can make your own sauce! Right ‘chere in your own kitchen. Zounds, what a concept.
You can, of course use tomato sauce, sugar, salt, sugar, pepper, sugar, etc., or you can go out and invent something that suits your own tastes. Zounds again! Actually zounds like a good idea.
Sauces share the rich heritage of the places they came from—Georgia mustard sauce, Kentucky black mutton sauce, Kansas City-style sauce, and even Carolina vinegar sauce. Plus I’m gonna introduce you to a few new sauces keyed to “newly discovered” barbecue regions. First I’ll talk about the regional sauces that have sprung up during the short history of American BBQ. Going from East (or rather South) to West:
Carolina Sauces—There are actually several sauces that can be found in the two Carolinas. East of Raleigh you have your vinegar, black pepper, ground cayenne kinda vinegar sauce. This sauce is slopped on the meat while it’s cookin’, then served up tableside to pour on whatever you wish to pour it on, a BBQ sauce that’s as simple as it is thin.
But over t’other side of the state you have your Piedmont variety of vinegar sauce. They do it up a tad bit different. They take the vinegar, pepper, and red pepper and throw them in a pot, but then they add ketchup, or Worcestershire sauce, or molasses. In some places they even add a bit of sugar to sweeten the pot. Now you have a thin, red-colored sauce.
But then in South Carolina they do it up different again. Around the city of Columbia they whip up a mustardy kinda sauce to serve on their meat, leaving out the tomato—so they have a thin, watery yellow sauce.
Georgia Sauce—While we’re talking about yellow, mustard-based sauces we might as well talk about the Georgians’ variety. Similar to South Carolina, the folks hereabouts think that mustard and pork (ham) go pretty well together, so they stir up a batch using ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar and mustard to make a thicker yellow sauce. You can’t beat this on a slice of fresh ham or a thick piece of pork shoulder.