06/29/2011 06:46 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

Make Your Own Signature BBQ Sauce


More Authentic Regional BBQ Sauce Recipes

To most Americans, barbecue sauce is red and sweet and it comes from a shelf near the ketchup. To those who travel and would rather lunch in back of a rickety shack under a shade tree rather than under the golden arches, barbecue sauce comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and they are tied to the area of origin. Indeed, barbecue sauce is a cultural phenomenon.

In half of North Carolina barbecue sauce is practically clear with cayenne pepper flakes that flurry in it like a snow globe. In other parts of the state it is practically pink. In much of South Carolina it is yellow. In many dingy brown joints of Texas it is close to brown with big chunks of green peppers and other flotsam in it. And in a corner of North Alabama it is white with black pepper flecks. In Memphis the "sauce" comes from a shaker and is no more liquid than the paprika that is its backbone.

Click here for recipes for other authentic regional barbecue sauce recipes including: South Carolina Mustard Sauce, East Carolina Mop-Sauce, Lexington NC Dip (a.k.a. Western Carolina or Piedmont Dip), Texas Mop-Sauce, Tennessee Whiskey Sauce, Louisiana Hot Sauce, Alabama White Sauce, Memphis Dry Rub, and more.

"Kansas City barbecue goes shamelessly for the sweet tooth." --Meathead

Although there are several distinctly different regional styles of barbecue sauce in the US, the thick red stuff is what most of us reach for when our spouse says "pick up some barbecue sauce, willya?"

If you are no longer living with your parents, you really should have a house sauce made without preservatives, additives, stabilizers, and emulsifiers, so that when your guests ask "what brand of sauce is that?" you can plunk a hand labeled bottle on the table. When they beg you for the recipe, you can then tell them "It's a family secret" and mumble the old saw that ends in "and then I'd have to kill you."

Traditional KC style sauces are always tomato based, and there are a lot of ingredients, but they are easy to assemble and each contributes complexity. The best have multiple sources of sweetness (brown sugar, molasses, honey, and onion - which gets sweet when it is cooked); multiple sources of tartness (vinegar, lemon juice, hot sauce, and steak sauce); multiple sources of heat (chili powder, black pepper, mustard, and hot sauce); and it gets layers of flavor from all the above as well as ketchup, Worcestershire, garlic, and salt. Try it and you'll never use the bottled stuff again. It's not a KC Masterpiece, but it is a KC Classic.

Most Kansas City sauces are brass bands with multiple layers of flavors, sweets, and heats. Because they are thick and tomatoey, they sit on top of the meat, not penetrating very far. For this reason you don't want to use too much. Just one or two layers, max. Let the meat shine through. Don't drown it in sauce.

KC Classic Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Yield. 6 cups. Click here to calculate how much you need and for tips on saucing strategies.
Preparation. 15 minutes

Cooking. 15 minutes

2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon table salt

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup yellow ballpark-style mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup steak sauce
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup dark brown sugar (you can use light brown sugar if that's all you have)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, crushed or minced

Optional. If you are cooking indoors, or if your meat does not have a lot of smoke flavor, or if you just want more smoke flavor, you can add 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke. Attention barbecue snobs: Go ahead and slam me if you want.

About the chili powder. Not all chili powders are created equal. Many of the common grocery store chili powders are lifeless and dumbed down for the Anglo consumer. Buy your chili powder from a Mexican grocer or online, or make your own.

About the vinegar. I like my sauce tart. If you are not big on vinegar, cut it in half.

About the steak sauce. There are many different brands and they all have different flavor profiles, but what we want here is the meaty depth of savoriness that they call umami, so use whatever you have on hand.

About the oil. You my use butter or lard or bacon fat for a bit more flavor, but they can get rancid with time, and they will likely shorten shelf life to about 1 week.

Secret ingredient. Add 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste. This exotic ingredient isn't really that exotic. It shows up on the ingredient lists of a lot of great BBQ sauces. It has a sweet citrusy flavor and really amps up a sauce. If you can't find it in an Indian or Asian grocery, it is available online. Worth looking for.

Do this
2011-06-28-turkey_legs.jpg1) In a small bowl, mix the chili powder, black pepper, and salt. In a large bowl, mix the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, lemon juice, steak sauce, molasses, honey, hot sauce, and brown sugar. Mix them, but you don't have to mix thoroughly.

2) Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and saute until limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Crush the garlic, add it, and cook for another minute. Add the dry spices and stir for about 2 minutes to extract their oil-soluble flavors. Add the wet ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes with the lid off to thicken it a bit.

3) Taste and adjust. Add more of anything that you want a little bit at a time. It may taste a bit vinegary at first, but that will be less obvious when you use it. Remember, it is going on meat and will be cooked again then. Strain it if you don't want the chunks of onion and garlic. I prefer leaving them in. They give the sauce a home-made texture. You can use it immediately, but I think it's better when aged overnight. You can store it into clean bottles in the refrigerator for a month or two.

What is your favorite BBQ sauce?

So from now on you're going to make your own signature BBQ sauce right? But if you're in a pinch, which one will you buy?

All text and photos are Copyright (c) 2011 By Meathead, and all rights are reserved