Thursday, November 19, 2015

BBQ 101 - Sauces

This is a topic I have been avoiding. It is very personal and can be very divisive as we have seen in NC. The state is split into two camps, Eastern Carolina Sauce and Western Carolina Sauce, and woe be unto you if you choose either or neither when asked. I will be trying to avoid choosing one over the other but just sharing the differences of our great country's sauces with you.

I know we can get into specifics for each region on flavors and profiles, thickness and consistency but I'm going to write using broad strokes to help those who are just starting out or want to find out about the general differences in sauces around the country are. There are many and I like many of them for various reasons. But for this post I will focus on the five main categories.

Let's start with a quick general overview. There are five main styles:
  1. Vinegar
  2. Tomato and vinegar
  3. Tomato and sugar
  4. Mustard
  5. Mayonnaise (or White sauce)
Each of these is specific to various regions around the USA. The vinegar sauces and mustard sauces are mainly in the Carolina's. The tomato and sugary sauces are pretty much everywhere else but seemed to have started in Kansas City. The mayonnaise sauce started in northern Alabama and has been moving since. With travel and internet it is possible to find these sauces across all fifty sates but each state seems to add their own twist. 

Vinegar Sauce

Basic vinegar sauce (from about food)
  • 1 cup/240 mL butter 
  • 1/2 cup/120 mL vinegar 
  • juice of 1 lemon 
  • 5 teaspoons/50 mL Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL honey 
  • 2 teaspoons/10 mL salt 
  • 1 teaspoon/5 mL black pepper
Vinegar sauce is native to Eastern North Carolina. It is a staple in any NC style BBQ joint and adds a nice tang to any pork.

Tomato and Vinegar Sauce

Basic tomato vinegar sauce (from epicurious)
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes1/2 cup sugar
Tomato and vinegar sauce is native to Western North Carolina. While very similar to its eastern cousin, the tomato ads a different flavor profile bringing a little sweet to the vinegar party. 

As you can see from the ingredients the basic vinegar style sauces are very simple but have good flavor. They are often used as a mop while cooking BBQ also. They are also called dipping sauces, because as you eat your pork you have a small bowl of the sauce so you can dip the meat into it and eat it. 

Tomato and Sugar

Basic KC style sauce (from All Recipes)
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 4 teaspoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  •  1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
When most people think of BBQ sauce this is the style they are thinking of. You can find this in most grocery stores with variations. 

The ingredients for the tomato base sauces is much longer then the vinegar sauces but the flavors tend to be a bit more complex and work well on chicken and other meats also. Often, in this style of sauce, you will find molasses instead of sugar which adds another level of flavor to it. One of my favorite red sauce recipes can be found in the Joy of Cooking. 

This sauce isn't good for mopping as the sugars will burn in it and create some nasty flavors, but it is good for a glaze. Depending on what you're cooking, you can glaze your meat 5-15 minutes before its done on the cooker and it will caramelize and set giving a nice color and flavor to what you cook. 

Mustard Sauce

Basic SC Mustard sauce (from Food.)
  • 3⁄4 cup yellow mustard 
  • 3⁄4 cup cider vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar 
  • 1 1⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper 
  • 2 teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce (to taste)
This is my favorite sauce. I have made it with various mustard and each one brings a different flavor to the party. This is a very South Carolina style sauce and you don't see it as much out side of SC. German immigrants settled in the area of SC where this sauce is from so it is thought they brought the mustard influence. Our neighbors to the North speak of this as the "SC heresy", but once they try it they find it isn't heresy, just another view of the great thing called BBQ. 

This sauce is a great marinade on chicken and to prep your meats with. When it cooks you don't get a lot of the mustard flavor but it helps to break down the meat and hold the rub on. I like to mix a little mustard sauce and vinegar sauce when eating my pork. 

Mayonnaise (or White sauce)

Basic Mayonnaise sauce (from My Recipes)

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise 
  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon Creole mustard 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish 
This sauce is from a small area in Northern Alabama. It has slowly worked its way out from there and started showing up in other areas more and more. Some people love it. Some, not so much. I find it interesting. I still haven't decided if I like it or not. On pork or beef it doesn't do a lot for the meat. It is better on poultry. I have heard that it is best if you dip your chicken in it before cooking it. It adds to the flavor and the skin crisping. 

As you can see there are five main sauces in the BBQ world with variations through them making for a myriad of flavors. Is one true BBQ over the others? I'll let you decide for yourself. Sauce is a very personal choice, so when I cook I leave my meat un-sauced but have at least three of the sauces represented so people can choose their own flavor. If it's truly good BBQ it won't need the sauce. The sauce is just there to enhance the flavor.

Let me know what your favorite style is.

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