I Trapped My Father to Get His Alabama Red Barbecue Sauce Recipe
For Father’s Day this year, I am celebrating my father’s barbecue lineage by complaining about it. See, I have a barbecue bone to pick with all the people pigeonholing barbecue styles into finite regions. If I read one more story about Alabama White Barbecue, I think I might swear off mayonnaise entirely. I am sure that White Barbecue sauce is made in Alabama, and I’m sure that some people in Alabama consider it their finest style of barbecue. But to say that the entire state of Alabama is smothering their barbecue in mayonnaise-based sauce is doing a huge injustice to the rich history of barbecue found all over the state.
Image: Courtesy of It's Not Easy Being Green
If you are lucky enough to have missed the frenzy over white barbecue, then you can check out a description of it here. It is a type of barbecue sauce made with mayonnaise and popular in Decatur, Alabama, because of one or two restaurants.
Alabama is a big state and different regions have different styles of sauce. I can’t speak for much of it; actually I can’t speak for any of it because I’m not from there. My father is, and when he left Alabama in the early 1960s for Baltimore, he took with him a taste for the barbecue sauce that was popular in the small farming town where he grew up in Northwest Alabama. In Fayette the barbecue was predominately pork and the sauce was red. Beside being universally red, most everyone had their own variation. This sauce is his version of the fruity, spicy sauces he grew up with in a barbecue-loving society before there was a food channel telling everyone what type of sauce you are supposed to like. No one cared what other people were doing with their barbecue; they just knew what tasted good to them or cared only for what Momma made.
My dad’s sauce is also the barbecue I grew up with. Every time my dad would fill the grill with ribs, chicken and pork butt, this sauce was at the center of it. Originally he would mix up the vinegars, onions and spices and marinate the meat in it. Then the next day while the meat was slowly cooking on the grill, he would add the tomato and sugars and transform the marinade in to a thick, rich sauce. These days we usually opt for a dry rub to marinate the meat, but the sauce remains the same. When we moved to Texas, the sauce transferred with us. The sauce has no smoke in it at all, which lets the smoke of the meat shine through. So, in Alabama it takes on a hickory flavor from the wood used there. Mesquite was the wood of choice in Texas and it magically transforms to work with mesquite.
Until now my dad’s sauce was just a random list of ingredients that my dad would write down without amounts so he would remember what he put in. From batch to batch the basic flavor would be the same, but the nuances of the sauce would change. One batch would be strong with allspice and orange, and the next batch peppery and full of cinnamon. For years I begged him to write down the amounts, but as one of those cooks that cooks purely from sight, smell and taste, it was hard to pin him down to amounts. So, as any good daughter would do, I trapped him. I knew he was visiting and I lured him in with the promise of a slow-smoked Texas-style brisket made with the unbelievably good grass-fed beef we purchased last fall. Once I had him at the house, and the brisket was six hours into a good smoke, I informed him that we were making his sauce. Working from one of his lists of ingredients, we carefully measured and tasted, smelled and adjusted until we had the sauce just right.
It tastes just as good on pork, chicken and beef. It’s good on chopped brisket sandwiches, it’s good on pulled pork and it’s good on grilled chicken wings. It’s also good on vegetables. I love grilled mushrooms brushed with a little of this sauce, and it makes a very tasty topping for baked potatoes. It’s a little good on anything you put it on. Enjoy!
1950′s Fayette County, Alabama Red Barbecue Sauce
makes about 6 cups
This fruity spicy barbecue sauce is a dark red sauce. It’s sweet without being cloying and spicy with out being fiery. It is an all-purpose sauce that is wonderful on pork, beef, poultry and vegetables. You can play around with the spices of this sauce, adding garlic if you want, pineapple juice instead of orange or a lime instead of a lemon. If you don’t have one of the ingredients, go ahead and substitute something else. Don’t have cinnamon? Then it’s good with a pinch of nutmeg and mace, and it’s really good just as it is!
1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
1 cup vinegar (apple cider or distilled)
1 cup water
2 teaspoon salt
1 cup orange juice
1 cup purple grape juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 whole allspice berries, or 1/4 teaspoon ground
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves
1/8 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon Cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon molasses
Place a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium hat and add the the onion, vinegar, water, salt, orange juice and grape juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and lemon zest, cloves, allspice, ginger, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika and cinnamon. Bring up to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer long enough for the flavors to release from the spices and until the onions are very soft. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook until the tomato paste has melted into the sauce and the sauce is very fragrant, about another 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Remove bay leaves and discard. Working in batches, carefully blend the mixture to a smooth sauce, being sure to vent the top of the blender and covering it with a kitchen towel to prevent the sauce from exploding all over the place. You can also use an immersion blender for this step.
Return the sauce to the stove and add the brown sugar and molasses. Cook for another 10 minutes and taste the sauce. Adjust the salt and cayenne pepper levels allowing the sauce to continue to cook for a few minutes after each addition. Serve warm, room temperature or cold. Can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator.