Areference to 'Bama Barbecue Sauce in these pages last month brought in several fired-up e-mails asking for the recipe, and any other novel 'cue sauce would be appreciated, thank you very much.
I understand the passion. Barbecue reigns in my kitchen, too, this time of year, appreciated as much for how the long cooking tenderizes less expensive cuts of meat as for the memories of long-ago festive back-yard cookouts and church picnics.
The sauces varied, though, shaped by the region of the country or the whims of the saucemaker, and that alone makes the world of 'cue so appealing.
For example, barbecue sauces can be either tomato- or vinegar-based, or made with molasses or peaches or crushed pineapple for a delightful burnished flavor. They also are made with mayonnaise and cider vinegar, the base of the 'Bama Barbecue Sauce. This old down-home creamy white barbecue sauce is infused with a little lemon juice, lots of finely ground black pepper, plus a dash of cayenne, but not a speck of tomato or ketchup. And it is not a basting sauce, either, but is slathered on well-seasoned fish, chicken or pork chops just as they are hot off the pit or grill.
Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables are treated around the country almost the same way on the barbecue pit or grill, but when it comes to the sauces, regional variations really kick in, with passion.
For example, when you hold the mayonnaise in 'Bama BBQ sauce, you end up with a slathering that is very similar to the eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce favored by 'cue lovers in that state who shy away from tomato-based sauces.
"I use vinegar, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and a little sugar in my eastern sauce and that's about all," said pit master Ed Mitchell, who specializes in smoking whole hogs at his restaurant in Raleigh, N.C., the Pit.
But there are many variations of the cider-vinegar based barbecue sauce, and some of the additions include mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, chili powder, grated or dried onions, garlic and herbs. And the sauce is often used as a marinade, as a basting sauce, or poured over well-smoked ribs or pulled pork just before serving, at the saucemaker's discretion.
Not surprisingly, this eastern North Carolina sauce is not so different from a basting sauce from Kentucky that is made with vinegar, spices, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce, but no tomato. It is thin and quite dark and is called Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce. It is often used for basting smoked lamb. On the other hand, western North Carolina barbecue sauce is tomato-based, very vinegary, but rather sweet.
And there is nothing quite like Texas barbecue, which often is a slab of beef rather than pork, as I learned years back while visiting my old college friend, Pat Prather, a Houston native. I was treated to smoked beef brisket slathered with a light ketchup-based sauce full of Southwestern flavors: hot chile peppers, cumin, coriander, garlic and onion.
Spareribs and chicken reign at my family gatherings down home in Alabama, and the sauce is fussed over for hours by my brother John, who often stirs in a good slug of the bourbon or beer he is invariably sipping. The 'cue is fired up in a grill with a withered hickory or pecan limb or two that is soaked in water and added to the charcoal fire for a delectable wood flavor.
I have two favorite recipes: One is made with peaches, and the other with molasses. I purloined the molasses recipe from Mama, who created it long ago from the molasses that Daddy helped a neighbor make. And the Georgia Peach Sauce was passed along to me by a 'cue-loving contributor to my cookbook.
Joyce White is the author of "Brown Sugar" and "Soul Food." She can be reached at email@example.com.