Thursday, January 2, 2014

Texas BBQ Sauce

The Background

We are about to enter a dangerous topic, barbeque.  There are many debates we could wage over what constitutes barbeque, whether it be about how it is made, at what temperature it is achieved, whether or not it is sauced, whether it's beef or pork, whether or not bologna and hot links belong in the conversation or not... okay, let's just go ahead and assume that one is non-topic. 

I have been blessed to travel all over this great country, and I have sampled some of this country's favorite barbeque joints and pits.  I have done the Memphis thing, sampled Kansas City's finest, sunk my teeth into South Carolina's famed vinegary pork, and savored some of the best Texas has to offer.  I won't beat around the bush, for my money, Texas barbeque rules supreme.

For the purpose of today's recipe, let's first understand the way barbeque is done in Texas.  In the lone star state, sauce is served on the side.  Rarely will you find beef brisket, pulled pork or meaty ribs where they have been sauced as part of the cooking process.  Texas barbeque is also typically a combination of sweet, spicy, tangy and salty.  It is an accoutrement or an accessory.  If your meat can't stand on it's own, the finest sauce in the state won't fix it.  You can't use sauce to cover up the fact that your meat is dry, overcooked or bland.  But if you have taken your time to produce smokey perfection in the form of brisket or pulled pork, then a great sauce will take it to a new level.

So what does good Texas barbeque look like?  It should be a deep mahogany color, flecked with pepper and spice.  It should also be thick enough to coat a spoon (or a piece of meat).  Beyond these basics, there are a world of flavor profiles that can be used to achieve that blend of sweet, tangy, spicy and salty.  I prefer a combination ketchup and mustard (sweet and tangy) as the base.  I like the tang of apple cider vinegar combined with the sweetness of honey.  You can definitely use a different type of vinegar, or use various sweeteners such brown sugar, agave, maple syrup or cane syrup.  For spice, I like to use flavors like cumin and paprika, along with chili powder and black pepper.  I also like garlic and onion along with the salt to bring that earthy and umami flavor to the profile.  And when you are ready for the "advanced" recipe class, swap out some of these flavors or play with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, red wine, smoky chipotle peppers, hatch green chiles or liquid smoke. 

The Ingredients

  • 34oz bottle Ketchup (I use Heinz, this was a "large" bottle)
  • 8oz bottle Mustard (French's standard issue yellow mustard, the "small" bottle)
  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Black Pepper (I used an Orange Pepper blend from Texas Spice Co.)
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Onion Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika (smoked paprika is really great, if you have it handy)

Making It Work

Whisk all your wet ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium to low heat.  You will want to bring the sauce to a low simmer to help dissolve the sugar and heat the spices.

One at a time, stir in each of the dry ingredients, making sure each is fully incorporated before proceeding the next.  This will prevent your spices from lumping together in the mixture.

Simmer the sauce until you reach the desired consistency.

This will make quite a bit of barbeque sauce.  My last batch was right about 45 ounces.  I pour the sauce into squeeze bottles.  To keep the sauce fresh, put a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the bottle, before screwing on the squeeze top.  This sauce will have to be stored in the fridge.  Hopefully, before this summer, I will get a chance to play with canning the sauce for pantry storage.  I will update this recipe accordingly, once I have made it work!

Play with the flavors, find other sweet or tangy ingredients to swap out, make use of some left over wine (if that sort of thing ever happens at your house), play with adding booze such as bourbon or tequila, or use other ethnic spices to create new flavor profiles.  Barbeque sauce should be more of process, rather than exact recipe to follow, once you have mastered the balance between spicy, salty, sweet and tangy.

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