Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce

It's important for you to know that I take Barbecue sauce very seriously. Truly. I am extremely particular: I want it to be sweet, but not too sweet, tangy without numbing my taste buds, flavorful without being overpowering. It must be tomatoey but with a good dose of vinegar, thin enough to flow, but thick enough to stick to my meat. Let me say from experience: there is not much barbecue sauce out there that makes me happy.

On our honeymoon, though, Abe and I went to a restaurant in Gatlinburg called Calhoun's. Specializing in ribs, it was an absolute treat; in fact, during the week we were in the Smokies, we ate there three times. Their biscuits were as light as a feather, their corn muffins tender and tasty. Their sides were perfect--not afterthoughts at all, but genuinely good in their own right. And their ribs: oh, their ribs. Falling apart-tender, smokey and flavorful, with that wonderful bit of crisp char on the edges of the plentiful meat, they would have been fantastic on their own. But then they added the sauce. The sauce was an awakening for me: I had been accustomed to sauces like Bull's Eye and Kraft, and even Sweet Baby Ray's, which is pretty good, but Calhoun's tangy combination of flavor and spices, sweet and heat, made it truly memorable. I would bathe in the stuff if I didn't think it might be hard on my eyes. We took home two or three bottles, and when friends went to Gatlinburg on vacation, we commissioned them to bring home several bottles of this mystically tasty sauce.

Sadly, we haven't had any couriers of late. We have run out of Calhoun's sauce, and I do not have the personal strength to call them and have them send some to my house. It somehow seems too desperate.

So I've tried grocery-store sauces: Sweet Baby Ray's, as I mentioned, and even Emeril's. They were...good. But I did not want to bathe in them. And one day, after watching one too many Barbecue specials on the Food Network, wherein people whip up their own award-winning sauces, I thought, why not? I can do that. So I set out to make my own Barbecue sauce, just the way I like it.

I did a fair bit of research into other Barbecue sauce recipes, just to see what types of things people put in them, and after a little tinkering and a batch or three, I think I've got it. We had it the other day on some roasted chicken, and Abe stopped and said, "This is good." It's pretty hard to elicit comments like that from him lately--it's got to be something pretty special.

So after too much ado, here's my recipe for my Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce. It's a long list of ingredients, but assembling it is a snap.

Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce

1/4 lg. sweet onion (Vidalia or Walla Walla, for instance), grated (or very nearly pureed)
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
2 c. ketchup
1/3 c. apple juice
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. molasses
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Saute onion in butter over low heat until onion is very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of ingredients, and whisk together thoroughly. Note: I have found that it's easier to incorporate the spices if they are first whisked into one of the liquids, like the ketchup.

Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

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