Most people think the landscape of American barbecue sauce is as flat as the drive from Toledo to Omaha. Their description of it? Rusty red. Decidedly sweet and ketchup-y. Too thick to pour without pounding the bottom of the bottle with the flat of your hand.
The quintessential American barbecue sauce? Not on your life.
In fact, tell me the kind of barbecue sauce YOU like, and I’ll make a pretty accurate guess where you live. There are almost as many unique regional barbecue sauces as there are distinctive accents, y’all. Every aspiring pit master should be familiar with them. Or at least know how spill them strategically on his laminated map of the U.S. of A.
The sauce described above? That’s pure Kansas City. Where ketchup and molasses officially entered into holy matrimony. Sweet with brown sugar, piquant with vinegar, and punctuated with a generous dose of liquid smoke, this popular style of sauce was one of the first barbecue sauces to be sold in stores. (Believe it or not, 100 years ago, you could not buy commercially bottled barbecue sauce.) It has a flavor profile familiar to almost all Americans born after World War II—people who have eaten ribs or chicken grilled in the backyard slathered with KC Masterpiece.
Commercially, it proved to be much more successful than another Davis creation—”Muschup”—a mustard and ketchup blend that did not resonate with the grilling public. Which goes to show that while lightening might strike once, it very rarely strikes twice in the same place.
Are these the only sauces popular in the U.S.? No, and in a future Up in Smoke, we’ll look at the barbecue sauces served in Santa Maria, California, Upstate New York, and my winter stomping grounds, Miami. After that, we’ll take up the barbecue sauces of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. For barbecue sauce is a big subject—so big you could write a book on it. In fact, I did! It’s called Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades (Workman Publishing), available as an e-book, too.
Too tired or busy to make barbecue sauce from scratch? Sometimes you just want to open a bottle. Which is why I created the Best of Barbecue sauce line, loosely based on regional American classics.
Best of Barbecue Lemon Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce is my family’s favorite—a tangy and smoky sweet-lemony sauce in the tradition of KC Masterpiece that goes great on everything from chicken to ribs to pork shoulder. GET IT NOW!
Best of Barbecue Smoky Apple Barbecue Sauce pays homage to Missouri-Indiana apple country barbecue. Apple cider, brown sugar, and a hint of cinnamon make this a perfect sauce for barbecued chicken and baby back ribs. GET IT NOW!
Best of Barbecue Smoky Mustard Sauce is what results when a Yankee takes on South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce. I’ve yet to meet a pork shoulder, whole hog, chicken, or grilled salmon that wasn’t glorified in its presence. GET IT NOW!
Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every month. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!