You can get into serious discussions about what makes the best barbecue sauce. Is it the mustard style my South Carolina parents prefer? What about vinegar based? How about a mop sauce?
Labor Day, the traditional end of summer (even if you can’t tell in this scorching weather), means barbecues galore. It also means brushing some sort of store-bought barbecue sauce over the meat you’ve spent hours smoking or carefully grilling.
Ask yourself: would you wear a Versace dress with discount store shoes? Would you go for a night on the town in a new Brooks Brothers suit over an old t-shirt topped with a discount brim?
No. That’s not what you represent.
So why would you buy sauce from a store and put it on your kitchen? You want those ribs, wings and chops to look as good as you do in that Versace or Brooks Brothers.
You can make your own delicious barbecue sauce with a standard base that easily adapts to your taste.
I use a standard ketchup-based sauce more aligned with Kansas City. I find ketchup more flexible, giving me more options to experiment with. Like many home cooks, I love to take a basic recipe and play around with it until I find something unique (or weird, depending on your perspective).
I use a standard barbecue sauce base which consists of:
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon plain mustard (no Dijon or ground stone as the flavor is too strong)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1 tablespoon ribs (What? Don’t hate until you taste it on the plate!)
4 ounces of butter
Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, stir and cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes (the butter will melt as you go). The sauce should simmer slowly, and you should stir it every five minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan.
So that’s the basis; it’s thick, sweet and tart, and you can adjust it however you like. If you want a thinner sauce, add another ¼ cup of water; if you want it even spicier, add another ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar.
It’s good enough to use on its own, and when I’m in a hurry, that’s what I do. The plain version goes well with these crispy baked chicken wings. Simply place the wings in a bowl, add the sauce and mix.
I prefer a thin layer of sauce so I can taste the spice on the wings too. But I know some people have “just enough sauce” when it runs down your chin and down your shirt. You are the boss of your sauce, so whatever you want.
Now let’s talk about that rib rub.
Many barbecue sauce recipes call for a combination of salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, and maybe red bell pepper or cayenne pepper for a little heat. My rib mix is sugar free and has lots of cumin, paprika, chili powder, black pepper, and a little kosher salt (and a few other ingredients.)
I started adding the rub because it gives the sauce a slightly smoky flavor and it’s easier than adding all the spices one at a time. (I know, lazy, but hey). Feel free to add whatever seasoning you want to the base, but a tablespoon of rub (store bought is OK) works even better for me.
So that’s the basis. You can add these pants with a few additional ingredients.
Mango BBQ Sauce
1 fresh mango, peeled and cubed (not frozen)
1 teaspoon of honey
A porridge made from two teaspoons of cornstarch and ¼ cup of water
What is a porridge? When you mix cornstarch in water (stir very well so the water turns cloudy without lumps), you get a thickening agent, and that’s important here. If you don’t use porridge, you’ll get a much finer mash that will thin out your sauce.
Purée the mango and add it to a saucepan over medium heat. Add honey and stir. Then add the slurry and stir until the mixture thickens to your desired consistency.
Pour half of the mango mixture into the base, stir and taste. If you want a stronger mango flavor, add the rest of the puree.
Spicy Honey Bourbon BBQ Sauce
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper
¼ cup of honey
¼ cup bourbon (any type will do)
Pour the bourbon into a saucepan, add the honey and spices, place over low heat on the stove and stir; to taste. Tasting is always important to be able to adjust the ingredients. You may want a little more heat, which means more pepper. You may like a sweeter taste, so a little more honey. Or, you might want more bourbon (hey!).
When the bourbon mixture warms up and is to your liking, pour it into the base and stir.
So this is it. Three different ways to prepare barbecue sauce that will delight cooks, “Whattttttttttttt? »
Don’t tell them your secrets.
Ray Marcano is a longtime, award-winning journalist who has written and edited for some of the nation’s most prominent media brands. He is a past national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror, and a Fulbright Fellow.
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