QUESTION: I’m a fan of Bob Talbert’s Carolina ribs. Do you have the sauce recipe? —Debra Carlin, Harrison Township
REPLY: I searched our archives and found the column and recipe for Free Press columnist Bob Talbert, who died in 1999. In Talbert’s column, he spoke of vacationing in the South and “eating at home. “. He also mentioned Carolina ‘cue, like in the barbecue. Talbert described the differences between barbecue sauces and wrote that “one that really brings pork to life without overwhelming it is a thin but strong pepper and vinegar barbecue sauce that is famous in North Carolina.”
This vinegar-based sauce is native to eastern North Carolina, according to many barbecue sources.
After finding the column and the recipe, which Talbert said was an adaptation of one he found in an article on Southern barbecue in a Playboy magazine, I tried the recipe in the test kitchen at the Free newspaper from the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield.
The sauce is enough for a decent sized pork shoulder or butt if you are making pulled pork. Carlin mentioned in her email that she used the sauce on spare ribs in the country, marinating them there for 24 hours, then slowly roasting them.
I made the sauce and used it on a small plate of ribs – a personal favorite – baked in the oven. But you can easily cook them slowly and slowly on the grill.
Because I was making a slice of ribs, I decided to cut the recipe in half. At first glance, I thought 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground black pepper was way too much (the original called for 3 tablespoons). But when I tasted the sauce, I decided the amount was fine. It has a very good spicy punch, thanks to black pepper and crushed red pepper. But the spiciness does not linger. Ditto with vinegar. The spicy and vinegar flavor is softened by the molasses. So you end up with a thin, almost watery sauce that’s spicy, tangy, and sweet – in that order.
The sauce works great as a marinade, but you can also use it as a basting sauce to continually brush meats while cooking. If you’re making ribs, for example, you can use some of the sauce to marinate the ribs and reserve the rest for basting.
Barbecue, brush or mop sauces have traditionally varied from region to region. Vinegar and mustard-based sauces are preferred in South Carolina, while tomato-based sauces are common in St. Louis. Kansas City, Missouri has a sweeter version of tomato-based sauce, and Alabama even offers a white mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce.
But Jamie Purviance, author of “Weber’s New American Barbecue: A Modern Spin on the Classics” (Hougton Mifflin Harcourt, $ 24.99), says that is changing. “It’s not found in those traditional areas anymore, it’s all over the country as chefs and barbecue cooks put their own spin on the barbecue depending on who they are and where they come from.”
Have a question? Contact Susan M. Selasky Thursdays from noon to 3 p.m. at 313-222-6872 or by email at [email protected] Follow her @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.
Carolina oriental barbecue sauce
Makes: 4 cups / Preparation time: 15 minutes / Total time: 15 minutes
3 tablespoons crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons of freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons of salt
1/4 cup molasses
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 liter of white vinegar
In a large bowl, mash together the crushed red pepper, ground black pepper, salt, molasses and garlic. Incorporate the vinegar and mix. Leave to rest for several hours. Use as a marinade or basting sauce for pork.
From the Detroit Free Press archives. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen at the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield. Nutritional information not available.
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