In barbecue circles, these two words unmistakably evoke something South Carolinian.
The state’s rich, tangy and slightly sweet barbecue sauce is a hallmark of Palmetto State, and is so prevalent in the area between Interstate 95 below Orangeburg and the junction of Interstates 26 and 385 near from Clinton that the area is called the “Mustard Belt”
I’d love to tell you that my love for gravy goes back to my German heritage from my mom’s side, but it’s actually a lot simpler than that. It just makes me feel like home.
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I’m old enough to remember when home gas grills were new and unusual, and I remember the first in my family. Most of the time, I remember standing outside with my dad by this grill, waiting for what seemed like endless hours before our chicken was ready and we could get into the house.
Daddy’s grilled chicken was pretty straightforward, really. Pieces of bone seasoned with salt and pepper, and that’s it. But he turned off the burners on one side of the grill, put the chicken in there, and REALLY slowed it down. It was good with me. We threw a baseball. And when it was time to flip the chicken, I would pick up a tennis ball and throw it at our barn and line it up until it was ready to throw the baseball back.
I could always tell it was at dinner time that he would stop throwing altogether and focus on painting each piece of chicken with a bright yellow mustard barbecue sauce. It was just late enough in the cooking that the minimum amount of sugar in the sauce would burn a bit in places (I believe the culinary term is “caramelize”) and would make the regular recipe amazing.
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I would like to tell you that this is daddy’s recipe, a precious heirloom, but it is not such a thing. His, while delicious, came from a bottle. When I decided that any Sandlapper who called himself a barbecue cook needed a mustard sauce recipe, I went to find it. I found a bunch that I liked, but nothing that I liked. So I tested different things, combined some of them and added others, and this is what I found.
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My mustard snobbish wife loves it very much, as well as several friends who have tried it. I know it so well that I hardly measure anymore. The end result should almost make you think it’s too sharp, until it evenes out at the end.
To me it tastes like a South Carolina barbecue. It’s almost as good as daddy’s chicken.
Here’s how to make Jed Blackwell’s mustard barbecue sauce
►1 cup mustard (I use up to three different kinds. Granulated, Dijon, Cayenne-Garlic, or something like that. I would avoid horseradish mustard or something similar. Any combination you like, but AT LEAST half should be a solid mustard yellow).
►½ cup apple cider vinegar
►½ cup of brown sugar (light or dark is good), firmly packed
►2 tablespoons of molasses (looking at it is good)
►1 teaspoon onion powder, or to taste
►1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
►Salt and pepper to taste
►Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring JUST to a boil (seriously, a bubble). Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about five minutes. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Jed Blackwell is a high school sports reporter for the Spartanburg-Herald Journal.