What would grilling or barbecue be without barbecue sauce? Either slowly cooking into the meat in a barbecue, or forming a thick tasty glaze on grilled food, outdoor cooking just would not be the same without a good barbecue sauce.
Barbecue sauces vary from region to region, and from chef to chef. If you go to North Carolina, you’d find a thin, vinegar based sauce, soaking into the thin shreds of pulled pork. In Kansas City, they like their sauce thick and sweet. If you go to Texas, you’ll find a thinner sauce than you’d find in Kansas City, and less sweet. South Carolina? Mustard based to vinegar based to red sauce.
Our preference is the vinegar based sauces as they do not cover the flavor of the meat but offer a bit of “wang” to make it interesting.
Barbecue sauces are usually categorized according to their base. Sauces can be based on ketchup, tomato sauce, mustard, vinegar, even mayonnaise (no way). Depending on the base, and the preference of the cook, they can be thick or thin, sweet, sour, spicy, mild, or any combination.
A basic sauce consists of several elements, each adding another layer of flavor and complexity to the sauce. First of all is the base, as stated above, that can be tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, or mayonnaise. Or if you want to experiment, you can try something different. The next element is the sweetener. Usually, this is brown sugar or molasses, but you can also use fruit juice, or any other sweet flavor. The sweetener helps to take the edge of of the next flavor… sour. Lemon juice and lime juice can be added for a sour tang, or vinegar will do the trick. Aromatics, herbs, and spices add another layer of flavor to the barbecue sauce. Onion and garlic are common aromatics.
You can buy sauces at the store. You’ll probably find at least a dozen brands and flavors at your local grocery store. But nothing beats a good homemade barbecue sauce. If you want to create your own barbecue sauce, it isn’t hard. Just choose your base, and the rest of the flavors that you want, and start experimenting. A good barbecue sauce will have a balanced blend of flavors to it, sweet, sour, smoky, spicy. Just add a little bit of each ingredient at a time until you get the blend that you want. You can always add more, but you can’t take away, so just add a little bit at a time. Feel free to experiment with your sauce, people have added coffee, cola, cherries, and other ingredients that you wouldn’t think to find in a barbecue sauce. If you want, you can buy a sauce at the store, and then doctor the sauce with your own additions, to suit your own tastes.
A quick note on storage. You can store the barbecue sauce in a sealed container in your refrigerator for a few days. If you want to keep the sauce longer than that, you’ll need to learn some canning techniques, to sterilize the food and containers, and properly process the sauce.
How you use the barbecue sauce depends a lot on the sauce itself. Most barbecue sauces can be used at the table as a dipping sauce for food. But different types of sauces are used differently in cooking. Thin sauces can be used as a marinade for the meat before grilling, and can also be applied during the cooking process. Thicker sauces, especially those with a lot of sugar should not be applied to the food until the last few minutes of cooking time, or they could burn. If you are doing a true barbecue, however, cooking the meat slowly for a long time, you can get away with putting some of the sauce on the meat at the beginning of the cooking time, as the lower temperature would be less likely to burn the sauce.
A good outdoor cookout just isn’t the same without a good, flavorful barbecue sauce. Get in the kitchen, and whip up a batch, and brush it on your steaks or chicken for an element of flavor that just screams barbecue.
Visit Patio Grilling for more tips and resources on barbecue and grilling.