KC Classic Barbecue Sauce

"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 secret" and mumble the old saw that ends in "and then I'd have to kill you."

Although the original KC sauces were probably vinegary, hot, and not sweet, similar to Arthur Bryant's Original Barbeque Sauce, since the 1970s, the prototype has been KC Masterpiece -- tomato based, and sweet. The style has spread coast to coast and nowadays, when you say "barbecue sauce", although there remain many regional and creative styles, most people think of the KC style.

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 (American 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. 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.

That's the idea behind my recipe. It's not KC Masterpiece, but it is a KC Classic. Try it and you'll never use the bottled stuff again.

Recipe

Makes. 6 cups. Click here to calculate how much you need and for tips on saucing strategies.

Takes. 45 minutes even if you take a phone call.

Keeps. Because it has a high acid and sugar content, it can keep for months in the refrigerator.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons American chili powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons kosher 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 to 3/4 cup honey (see note below)

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.

About the vinegar. I like my sauce tart. Trust me, although it may taste tart from the bottle, it is perfect on meat. If you are not big on vinegar, cut it in half.

About the honey. The recipe above is to my taste but I have found that most people like it better if I add another 1/2 cup of honey for a total of 3/4 cups.

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 hot sauce. A simple sauce like Tabasco is all you need. I like the chipotle flavored version.

About the oil. You may use butter or bacon fat for a bit more flavor, but keep in mind, they can get rancid with time, and they will likely shorten shelf life to about 1 week. Use a bottled vegetable oil and it can keep months.

Secret optional 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. Click the link and order it from Amazon.

Method

1) In a small bowl, mix the American 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 sauté 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 on meat. I recommend you run with my recipe the first time and then you can make it your own. Strain it if you don't want the chunks of onion and garlic. I like 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.

ribs with a good coating of sauce

Barbecue sauce on his chest

A sauce of some substance

Mike was driving home to LA from a business trip to Kansas City. In Arizona he sees an elderly man walking on the side of the road. He stops and asks if he would like a ride.

With a silent nod of thanks, the elder got into the car.

Driving on, Mike tries in vain to make a bit of small talk with the man. The old man just sat silently, looking intently at everything he saw, studying every little detail, until he noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Mike.

"What in bag?" asked the old man.

Mike looked down at the brown bag and said, "It's a bottle of barbecue sauce from Arthur Bryant's. I got it for my wife."

The old timer was silent for another moment or two. Then speaking with quiet wisdom, he said:

"Good trade..."

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