We’ve discussed the five French mother sauces and taken a closer look at roux engineering over the past few weeks. This week I thought it would be a good idea to delve into the other mother sauces. The redneck mother sauces, if you will. I’m talking about barbecue sauce.
But wait a minute, Andy. Summer is coming to a close, and therefore barbecue season is waning. Not at my house. Around here it is the exact opposite. I’m not that fond of losing electrolytes cutting the grass only to blow off the driveway and fire up a grill in 90 plus degree weather. Right now is when my barbecue season begins. I can count on one hand how many times I lit the burner this summer, but during football season I go through propane and charcoal like a mad man. Any tailgater worth his salt will tell you the same thing.
From chicken and ribs to butts and brisket I am not partial to any one particular sauce. I’m happy to go South Carolina mustard on you one minute and sweet Kansas City Kitty the next.
It’s whatever mood hits me, whatever veggies I’m serving, and whatever beer is in the fridge that determines my choice of sauce.
I’m far too indecisive to ever have my own barbecue restaurant, for my love of the sauce is vast. Today we will look at my favorites and break them down in their uses.
I am more of a beer fan than anything, but when the door to my liquor cabinet swings open you are sure to find more bourbon than any other spirit. It’s no surprise that I enjoy a bourbon based barbecue sauce, but I use the cheaper stuff such as Evil Willy (Evan Williams) or use a Tennessee whiskey like George Dickel No. 12.
This ketchup-based sauce cooks the alcohol out of the bourbon, so it’s still kid-friendly. Other ingredients include Worcestershire sauce, a little bit of vinegar and molasses to sweeten the pot. Bring it to a boil then lower the heat and reduce it to your desired thickness. No, I don’t measure this one. I taste.
Maybe it’s the Tennessee whiskey or the sweetness, but this is my preference for ribs. Kansas City BBQ Society would kill me for saying I enjoy putting this one on early and letting it burn a little. Meat falling off the bone, crusty sauce, sweet and savory, it’s as American as the Budweiser in my hand. That is, if Budweiser were still American.
Omit the whiskey and experiment with other ideas to make more versatile red sauces.
I mix this one up cold, but it comes out spicy hot! Yellow mustard can have just enough of a kick that my kids don’t enjoy it. Since they aren’t eating this one I take advantage of their non-participation and add hot sauce.
Not unlike ketchup based sauces this one uses a little vinegar and a sweetener (this time sugar) but is augmented with garlic powder and in my case Tabasco. I don’t need this one too thick. It’s going to be painted on or drizzled. It sounds simple because it is. No need to church it up, it really is just sweet heat mustard.
I’ve tried using honey and cayenne pepper with the mustard sauce, but it really just tasted like honey mustard without the mayo (you have to have Hellman’s in your honey mustard). Plus the Tabasco adds a little more vinegar to the mix. Great with pork chops coated on the grill, I also love it with pulled pork or on smoked chicken wings. Use it as a dipping sauce, war paint, whatever.
New Orleans barbecue sauce
So I have mentioned my old man makes some stellar barbecue shrimp. He does a version in the oven with oil and Worcestershire sauce that’s always a big hit when he visits the gulf. It’s kind of his way of showing off, and he only uses shrimp the size of a lobster from a secret location.
I have a version that is a bit different. As a one-time devotee of Emeril Lagasse I am certain this was inspired by him. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years and it hasn’t evolved much. You should know by now that New Orleans barbecue is nothing like the rest of the world. I can eat this with bread or with shrimp and grits. Or drink it.
I start by sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil. I peel shrimp and add the shells, cooking for a couple of minutes. The shells will turn kind of pink the way shrimp do when they are done. I season it with Creole seasoning and add 4:1 water to Worcestershire sauce. If I have a little white wine handy it may find its way into the mix. Lemon juice brings out the New Orleans flavor. Don’t neglect that.
This is my base for my sauce. From here I can reduce it, leave it like it is straining out and discarding the shells, mix it with cream, use it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This has morphed into many things since I discovered it, but the most decadent is finishing it off with butter. I’ve never used it with a tomato base, but maybe that’s in order.
Here’s the deal. There are myriad versions of each of these sauces available on the Internet. If you are a stickler for the measuring cup or the “by weight” method of measurement then I suggest you turn to those. I am not about to regurgitate a Southern Living recipe in these pages, although there are some great ones out there.
My advice is to let your taste buds do the measuring. You have the ingredients. You decide on the amounts.
This isn’t baking, it’s barbecue. We don’t need the chemistry books. If you want pickle juice add pickle juice. Hate sweet stuff? Go all vinegar and pepper flakes. Imagine how boring it would be to go to party after party where the sauce was all the same. I’m not saying you should burn your cookbooks, but I am telling you to let your personality come through. Lord knows I’ve let mine come through over the years. Sometimes it was for better.