BBQ: What's the Secret to Your Sauce?
I am a Yankee girl. My family is from up North, too. When Fourth of July would come 'round, we'd eat burgers and dogs, corn on the cob and potato salad. And if we were good, we'd have "Wooder ice" for dessert.
The word for such a feast was a "cook out, " which was also used as a verb, as in "We're going to cook out tonight." The word "barbecue" was not part of the vernacular, with one exception - when my Dad was feeling adventurous and bought a bottle of Kraft barbecue sauce to brush on chicken breasts.
I'm not complaining, really. But coming from up North, we got the short end of the stick when it came to matters of the grill. In this case, I suppose ignorance is bliss as I had no idea what I was missing. Wasn't chicken on the grill supposed to charred and fossilized? And ribs - that was something we'd eat in a sit-down restaurant like Rib-It (a Philadelphia chain), not anything we'd attempt in the backyard.
Not until I was an adult did I become familiar with this phenomenon known as barbecue, yet I remain a student of what is probably the quintessential American dish, with as many regional-ities (did I just make up a word?) as the French do with wine. Be it from Carolina, Kansas City or Tennessee, barbecue is Greek to me.
I've got a copy of "Peace, Love and Barbecue" by Mike Mills, who's a three-time champion at the Memphis in May International Barbecue Festival. And I sure am excited. But where do I start? I was thinking about making some sauce.
According to Mills, barbecue sauce has "one of four bases: vinegar, tomato, ketchup or mustard." Okay, I got that.
And in "The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining," authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison offer the following tips when making your own sauce:
Almost always include an acid such as vinegar, citrus juice or pickling liquid.
For balance, add "sweetness from sugar, honey, molasses or maybe caane, corn or maple syrup."
"Salt helps with the balancing act, either in granular form or as soy sauce, anchovies or other sodium-rich ingredients."
"Many people, including us, like some heat from fresh or dried chiles, Tabasco or another hot sauce, freshly ground black pepper or perhaps horseradish."
So if I understand this correctly, in order to make a respectable barbecue sauce, I need the following: acid, sweetness, salt and heat.
Now it's your turn. Help a Yankee girl out, why doncha? With Fourth of July weekend just a few days away, I'm desperate to get on the barbecue caravan. Send your sauce ideas and tips in comments area below!
P.S. Stay tuned for Barbecue, Part II, Friday, June 30.
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