While I'm a meat purist when it comes to barbeque, most people like a nice, rich sauce with their meat. Not wanting to disappoint or force my taste on others, I've spent some time researching barbeque sauce and going over the sauces I've liked in the past, and experimenting with ingredients to come up with the basics of a good barbeque sauce, one from which a number of regional variations to suit your taste can be derived.
In my research on sauce I'm indebted to the late C.B. Stubblefield, who I knew when he was just a struggling legend who had moved down to Austin from Lubbock with a sauce and a dream — one which really didn't take off until after he had passed on. Stubbs' sauce really is one of the best sauces I've ever tasted, even in the too thin, too acidic commercial version. If you don't have the time or motivation to make your own, his will do in a pinch.
These ingredients are in amounts to make about three quarts of sauce. It's difficult to make much less than that and get the proportions right. Because of the acid and sugar, barbeque sauce keeps really well, either refrigerated or canned, so I usually make it in batches of more than a gallon at a time, using multiples of the ingredients in this recipe.
- 4 oz pure dark molasses (Bre'er Rabbit or Grandma's)
- 12 oz tomato paste
- 32 oz water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed cayenne pepper (not ground)
- Pan drippings from pork or beef brisket
Start by combining half of the water and all of the tomato paste and molasses in a one-gallon pot and mix it up really well. Put it on a low simmer until it starts to steam, stirring frequently and making sure that nothing accumulates and burns on the bottom of the pot. Add the pepper, cayenne, and salt. Keep stirring and gradually add the rest of the water. Let the whole thing simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the ingredients mixed. Barbeque sauce is basically gravy, so finish it off by adding about eight ounces of pan drippings from your barbeque. Stir that in really well and let it simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir frequently, don't let the sauce come to a boil, and make sure it doesn't separate or stick to the bottom of the pot.
That's your basic sauce. It should be rich, fairly thick, and dark orange in color. It will taste sweet at first with a sharp, spicy secondary flavor.
Starting with the basic sauce, you can create variations to suit your taste or different regional styles.
Kansas City Style: Kansas City sauce is thicker, darker, and sweeter. Use the same recipe, but add another 2-4 ounces of molasses to taste. Slather it on pork ribs to totally overwhelm the flavor of the meat and you can pretend you're at Chilis.
Texas Style: For something very close to Stubbs' style and typical of Texas sauce, add 6 ounces of additional tomato paste, 12 ounces of additional water, and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
Carolina Style: I think southeastern sauce is nasty, but if you like it, take the basic recipe and add a teaspoon of mustard powder, a full 8 ounces of apple vinegar and 12 ounces of water and throw in 8 ounces of finely diced onions at the very start.
Yuppie Style: If you want a fancier sauce which will wow your yuppie friends, add 8 ounces of apple juice (or even better, apple cider) and a tablespoon of orange or lemon peel at the start of the process.
Hawaiian Style: I don't much like this style, but it works very well with pork and has an extra tenderizing effect. Add a 12 ounce can of diced pineapple, including the syrup, to the mix. You can also add a tablespoon of dried, flaked garlic.
Other Good Things to Add: Experiment. Try adding things like a teaspoon of garlic powder, a pinch or two of ground cumin or some ginger, ground mustard or cinnamon. Do not add beer to the sauce. Beer is fantastic for making some types of gravy, but it absolutely kills the flavor of barbeque sauce.
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR SAUCE
Once you've worked out a variation you like, bottle the stuff and give it to friends and relatives for Christmas. It also makes an excellent 'mopping' sauce for painting on your barbeque while it is cooking. The sugar and acids help make the meat tender. I prefer not to serve sauce on my cooked meat, but instead provide it in a little bowl next to the plate for diners to dip in or pour selectively.