Thu 13 Dec 2018
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BARBECUE SAUCE BROKEN DOWN
Barbecue is a cooking method that includes smoke vapor for flavoring. This is my pure definition. I won’t go into the controversy over whether grilling is part of barbecue or not. Just know that some type of plant material must combust to produce smoke that produces flavor to what is being cooked.
The resulting food whether an animal protein or some other item, can be finished with various methods. By far, the most popular finish is with a sauce, more commonly known as barbecue sauce.
Let’s dive into what comprises a sauce used for barbecue and how regions are influenced by the ingredients chosen for the sauce.
I’m Talking Sauce Not Mop!
For those that aren’t familiar with the difference, we are talking only about sauces today and not mops. A mop is a thinner liquid that is applied while meats are cooking to keep the protein moist during the cooking process. These are commonly used for open pit barbecue and grilling and are applied while the meat is raw all the way through the cooking process. Like a marinade, once a mop is used for a cooking event, any leftovers need to be discarded to prevent cross contamination of bacteria. The tool used to apply the mop looks like a miniature floor mop.
Sauce is a glazing liquid that is much thicker than a mop and usually contains ingredients that provide a balance of sweet, salty, savory, and spicy. Generally, a sauce is either applied near the end of the cooking or left as a side to be applied by the guest enjoying the barbecue meats.
There are a lot of variations to a sauce which are generally based on regional ingredients and cuisine.
The Carolina states revolve around mustard and vinegar-based sauces. Since pork ribs, whole hog, and pork butt dominate in these regions, the acidity of these ingredients blends perfectly to bring the meats to perfection.
South Carolina: the sauce is yellow, sweet with a tartness commonly found in central South Carolina to the coast of Charleston. The sweetness comes from cane or standard sugar and the tartness from standard yellow mustard paired with a little dried mustard powder.
The western portion of South Carolina tends to lean toward ketchup-based sauces while northwest you’ll find tomato sauce added.
North Carolina: Although commonly associated with North Carolina, vinegar-based sauces are really a central to eastern North Carolina preference. These locations often use the vinegar sauce as both a mop and sauce, starting with naked meat; no rub. Commonly white distilled vinegar is the choice rather than the apple cider variety and this is paired with a little sugar, salt, red pepper flakes or crushed Chipotle, black pepper and hot sauce.
The western portion of the state is more prone to a tomato-based sauce or “dip” as it is called. Like their eastern counterparts, they apply this as a mop and sauce to naked meat. Ingredients generally include distilled white vinegar, ketchup, sugar, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a bit of juice, usually apple.
Used for chicken, this is a mayonnaise-based sauce that has no sweetness at all. Other ingredients include apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, apple juice, garlic powder, horseradish, dry mustard, cayenne pepper.
Kansas City Red
This is likely what most of the sauces sold in grocery stores can be compared to. It is very thick, very sweet, and ketchup or tomato based. Its common ingredients include onion, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, chili powder, spicy mustard, molasses, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, and ketchup.
With beef being king in the state of Texas, their sauce also tends to serve as a mop as well. This sauce tends to be very dark and similar in consistency to gravy. Due to their proximity to the Mexican border, chiles are common in the sauce. As beef takes a long cooking time, this sauce/mop penetrates deep into the meat making it seem less like a sauce.
Known to include vinegar and Worcestershire, this is often referred to as Western Kentucky-Style Barbecue Sauce. It is quite thin due to the amount of water added with only a little bit of ketchup and seasonings that include paprika, dry mustard, onion and garlic powder, and red pepper.
When in Memphis, learn how to order your ribs. They serve them two ways – dry and wet. Dry is just that – dry rubbed only. Wet will give you a saucy rib. Oh, yes, Memphis is all about ribs.
The sauce tends to be a balance of sweet and spicy as they use both vinegar and ketchup in most recipes. Other ingredients include: onion, garlic, Worcestershire, butter, molasses, mustard, paprika, brown sugar, oregano, thyme.
Keep in mind, most natives only like dry ribs but are known to indulge in sauce on their pulled pork and chicken.
Certainly, you will find other sauces available during your travels in North America. Some will be soy sauce based like Hawaiians use while others are fruit rich. I love smoking various fruits while in season and then using their rendered juices in a sauce. Strawberry, raspberry, peach, and cherry work great for this purpose.
To me, a sauce should compliment the protein your serving and not cover it up. It should not be the only flavor you taste. If you can’t decipher the meat under the sauce, then the balance of ingredients is not there.
If you step into the arena of sauce making, here’s some additional information to keep in mind. Always include some level of vinegar, salt, sugar and spice as these have preservative properties that will allow your sauce to stay fresh for a while. Use glass jars for storing your sauce and try to get the sauce in the jars while still hot. Get them to the refrigerator quickly after jarring.
Unopened sauce will last many months while open jars should be used within a month.
Keep in mind that when cooking with hardwood as in traditional hot smoking, it is the ingredients, cut of meat, age of the wood that all factor in to how the wood flavonoids reveal themselves. Don’t let anyone tell you that a fruitwood will always produce a sweet flavor to smoked meats. That is for you to determine through the additional ingredients you use in the meat’s preparation.