Having lived for a few years in Texas, a place that takes its barbecue seriously, I know that every region in the South has a different take on what they barbecue, how they barbecue it, and most important, what sauce (if they use a sauce at all) they put on their barbecue.
From the thick, sweet sauce of Kansas City to the thin, vinegary sauce of East Carolina, to the mustard-spiked sauce of South Carolina, there are as many sauce variations as there are smokers and grills. I thought I’d tasted them all until I ran across a recipe for Alabama White Sauce. At first glance, I assumed it referred to some Southern variation on béchamel sauce, the famous creamy, flour-thickened white sauce used as the basis for any number of other sauces, including cheese sauce. I was wrong. It turns out to be Alabama’s contribution to the Southern barbecue tradition.
While it’s no surprise that Alabama has its own barbecue sauce, its color was unexpected by me. It comes from mayonnaise, with a splash of vinegar and a hint of mustard. While that did not sound at first like an appetizing combination to slather on my grilled food, my barbecue-focused friends were so enamored that it piqued my interest. Now I’m a little bit obsessed.
My beginning foray into white sauce was as a coating for grilled chicken. It was so delicious that my family began requesting it every time the coals were lit. Poultry? White sauce. Fish? White sauce. Grilled corn? White sauce. We’ve particularly come to love it on grilled pork chops, but I’m fairly convinced that if I’d have grilled the phone book and basted it with Alabama White Sauce, my boys would have happily eaten it.
As it was becoming a staple at my house, I needed to find an alternative to the traditional formula, which included full-fat mayo. I experimented with low-fat versions that are kicked up with a hit of fresh garlic and thinned out with a few tablespoons of buttermilk. I didn’t miss the fat and neither did my family. The fact that it can be made in less than 5 minutes only makes it better.
Although it’s certainly not traditional, I often add the bright note of fresh herbs to the sauce. One of my favorites is rosemary, but basil or tarragon will work well, too.
If you happen to be grilling this weekend, put away the traditional red barbecue sauce and whisk up something different. Be careful though, it’s addictive.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.