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 likely 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.