I never claimed to be the worlds greatest cook, but I’m lucky enough to have a few kickass ‘signature dishes’ in my arsenal. They include key lime pie, buttermilk biscuits and my BBQ sauce. I most commonly serve it with BBQ (both grilled and smoked) but it can also be used as a a marinade, mop, wet baste etc.
Ask for BBQ sauce in Australia, and you’ll be given a horrid, thick, processed dark brown sauce. Only recently have people been learning that proper BBQ sauce is a rich and smokey tomato based sauce prepared from scratch.
Stateside, the types of BBQ sauce as as diverse as the ‘cue varieties themselves. Some are more vinegar based, some are painfully sweet, and Alabama even boasts a white BBQ sauce with a mayonnaise base (barf).
Rather unpredictably, I prefer the Texas style of BBQ sauce, a tomato based sauce with a tangy rich finish. My sauce starts off sweet, leads into a rich tomato flavor and finishes with a smokey spice at the end. It’s really hard to screw up, and there’s lots of room for customisation. Truth be told, I rarely measure any of the ingredients, preferring to just throw ‘em in and taste as I go.
Most of anything you add can be fixed, just remember this rule: salt will cancel out too much sweetness, and sugar will counteract too much sour or spice heat. So just keep adding sparingly until you get it right!
I recommend that once you get a knack for the base sauce, you re-work it to make it your own. Substitute the brown sugar for honey, or even maple syrup. Add in some garlic powder, or sauté crushed garlic and fresh chile peppers to start the whole sauce off. Experiment with celery seed, sage, lime instead of lemon. Try adding some liquid smoke (but be warned some people consider this blasphemous). Want it a little more tomato-ey? Chuck in a can of crushed tomatoes, or double the tomato paste. Want it smoky-er? Try adding finely chopped bacon. Really, there are so many variations you can try, and each additional ingredient only serves to lend the sauce a deeper complexity of flavor.
As explained above, I rarely measure my ingredients, so the amounts below are a rough guide. Trust me, it’ll still work.
Start by mincing the onion and chipotle peppers (which come whole in the can) in a small blender. You can use a stick blender if you have one. Make sure you get this mix pretty fine, any chunks will end up visible in your finished sauce.
Side note: I happened to find this teeny tiny can of chipotle peppers. It’s exactly the right amount of heat I’m seeking for my sauce. Isn’t it cute?! Even with a bonus “L” in Chipotle.
Back to saucing: put a large saucepan on a stove with a bit of cooking/olive/canola oil in the bottom, and cook off the onion paste mix for a few minutes on medium heat. I took the opportunity to use my shiny new enamelled cast iron pot. Ain’t she pretty?
Add all the other ingredients, starting with the passata which will stop the paste from burning. Stir ingredients and taste, adjusting as necessary. Add salt and pepper.
The sauce will be a bright red hue to start. Reduce to a low simmer, and allow to simmer for a minimum of 30 mins. You can simmer for over an hour if you want, the simmering helps thicken the sauce and intensify the flavours. Taste as you go, you can always adjust again at this late stage, just allow the additions to have some simmer time.
Eventually, the sauce will develop a lovely deep red color. Allow to cool then chuck it in a container. You’re all done!
The sauce is best made a day or two in advance, and will last for ages in your fridge. Best served at room temp, but you can warm it if you wanna.
Let me know if you give this a try, and tell me which ingredients you added to your custom sauce!