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Your Own Special Barbecue Sauce

by John Raven, Ph.B.

Every griller or barbecuer needs the perfect barbecue sauce to accent his or her cooking skills. There are several thousand flavors of barbecue sauce on the market. I'm sure the majority of them will serve their purpose well, but the serious cook wants to have his own distinct sauce that he alone creates from various ingredients.

For the authentic Texas-style, sweet-and-sour red sauce, ketchup and Lea &Perrins Worcestershire sauce are the main ingredients. Just these two ingredients mixed in proper proportions make a very good sauce, but you know we can't have a "signature" sauce made up of only two ingredients.

Let's see what makes up an authentic Texas-style sauce. I have a pair of recipes that are old enough to draw their retirement checks. The first one is from my Daddy. This recipe was found in a journal that was kept by my Mama's uncle. He kept a journal for many, many years. This recipe is dated March 26, 1939.

Johnnie Raven’s Bar-B-Q Sauce Recipe

  • 2 bottles catsup
  • 1 can tomato juice
  • 1 bottle Worcestershire
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 6 lemons
  • Salt, pepper
No directions for preparation are given. The only question here is the lemons. I think the lemons would have been juiced and only the juice used with perhaps the rind of one lemon in the mix. Everything would have been blended and simmered for 30 minutes to one hour.

The next recipe is from Theddo (Theodore) Kuhl who lived in East Williamson County and had a reputation as a prime barbecuer. This is a big recipe for a big barbecue. It is mentioned in the original recipe that the pit would have been 40 feet long by 4 feet wide and covered with chicken wire. It also notes the meats would have been mutton, chicken and beef.

This recipe is from the 1940’s.

  • 15 gallons catsup
  • 2 gallons vinegar
  • 3 pounds dried mustard
  • 10 pounds onions
  • 2 dozen lemons
  • 50 pounds salt
  • 5 pounds black pepper
  • 1/2 pound red pepper
  • 20 pounds butter
  • 10 gallons lard
I don’t think the amount of salt is correct. This figure more than likely includes salt for salting the meat. This recipe is different from my daddy's recipe in that it has powdered mustard, red pepper and vinegar included. It would have been a tart sauce. It was probably thinned with water and used as a mop during cooking.

When my cousin Floyd and I started grilling, we had a killer sauce. The recipe was never written down, and I doubt it was ever the same twice, but it was outstanding. The base was Kraft Hot & Smoky Sauce. We added ketchup and some other things. We agreed that the way to start a sauce was with sautéed onions.

I am going to see if I can come up with a Texas-style sauce that suits my tastes. We all know that each individual has different preferences in food taste. This is not intended to be an "everyman" sauce; it's going to be one I like. You are welcome to try anything I recommend or alter the recipe to your tastes. Here we go.

For the first trial I reduced my Daddy's recipe to manageable proportions. After all, I don't want to end up with five gallons of experimental sauce after this project. The proportions I used were:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
The ingredients were mixed and brought to a simmer before tasting. To me, this mix was too tart and the lemon taste just a bit overpowering. So I sautéed 1/2 cup of minced purple onion until tender. (I used purple onion because that was what I had on hand. You can use any sweet onion such as TAMU 10-15 or Vidalia.) Adding the onion to the sauce mellowed out the tartness and made a pretty good sauce right there.

This recipe makes a decent Texas-style barbecue sauce. But I kept going. But I kept going. I added to the mix 1/2 cup beef stock and a teaspoon of chipotle powder. The beef stock mellowed the sauce further and the salt contained in it was a "kicker". The chipotle powder was an effort to get a bit of smoke flavor. I ground dried chipotles to get the powder. In actual cooking conditions meat drippings from your cooking would substitute for the beef stock and chipotle. It would be best to de-fat the drippings before adding them to the mix. You can find degreasing or fat-skimming pitchers that allow you to pour off the juice and leave the fat behind.

This recipe makes a decent Texas-style sauce. But I kept going.

My next step was to get in the kitchen and modify the above recipe to my own personal taste. The recipe resulting is this:

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup diced mild onion
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dog bark (half fine grind black pepper and half chile petin powder)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
  • Sprinkle of garlic powder or one clove minced garlic
  • Sprinkle of ground ginger
Sauté the onion in the butter until transparent. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir (more water may be required). Simmer about 30 minutes. As with most compounds, this is better if you let it set overnight.

You can thin the sauce with water to suit your taste. My thinking is to keep it on the thick side for a dipping sauce. You can take half the batch and thin it with an equal amount of water and use it for finishing sauce. The reserved thick sauce is served warm at the table.

Like I said, the above recipe is not intended to be an everyman recipe for barbecue sauce. It is a sauce I like. You can experiment with the basic mix of ketchup and Worcestershire and develop your own signature sauce.

In the future I hope to get in the kitchen again and work with the North Carolina-style sauce to make it good for something other than removing rust from old cattle boats.

Enjoy life; you only get one shot at it.

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