Wednesday, October 24

Should You Bottle Your Enthusiasm for Barbecue Sauce?

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller.
How much would you pay for a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce…if it were the last one on Earth? Well, earlier this week, someone shelled out nearly $10,000 in an eBay auction of a "circa-1992 plastic jug of McJordan BBQ sauce." Along with the sauce, the limited-run McJordan burger had a hamburger patty, mustard, cheese, onions, and bacon. This was yet another dab of evidence to me that when it comes to current barbecue culture, barbecue sauce is definitely "on top."  

Barbecue restaurants have long offered a variety of sauces, but they tended to be the same sauce with different amounts of chile powder added or hot sauce mixed in to create mild, medium and hot versions. Nowadays, a typical barbecue restaurant offers a trio or quartet of barbecue sauces that promise to transport your taste buds to a barbecue region of your choice…regardless of what the sauce covers.  In an instant, the distinctive elements that create a traditional regional style—the cuts of meat used, the flavor created from smoking that meat with a specific type of wood, and pairing the smoked meat with a certain sauce—get washed away. You want a "Carolina-style" beef brisket or "Carolina BBQ" Whopper sandwich? No problem! Just pour on this mustard-based sauce over it.
 The "Sample Sauce Plate" at Nordy's Bar-B-Que, Loveland, CO. C=Carolina-style, K=Kansas City style, T=Texas-style, and J=Jalapeno. Photo by Adrian Miller.
On a recent visit to Nordy's Bar-B-Que in Loveland, Colorado, I asked to sample their sauces. To my surprise, my server actually "painted out" the sauces on a plate—explaining each sauce's characteristics as he created this edible art. Putting aside questions of authenticity (e.g. Carolina sauces go beyond mustard, and not all Kansas City sauces are sweet), I was impressed. The sauces were good, but the ribs and brisket were tastier. I wish the server had carved a sampler plate of that before my very eyes! Look, there's nothing wrong with showing barbecue sauce some love, but let's not forget that it's the meat that should really matter.

You can follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar.