Monday, December 17, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 3, The Sauce

Barbecue styles are not just about the protein, but, also about the sauce (or, in some cases, the lack of sauce).  Many well established barbecue styles have a particular sauce that helps to define that style. The best example of a sauce that defines a barbecue style can be found in northern Alabama. Think Big Bob Gibson's Barbecued Chicken with White Sauce.  Chicken smoked low and slow, finished off in a bath of a barbecue sauce that is part vinegar, part apple juice and part mayonnaise. 

And, in some cases, the sauce can draw the borders of the barbecue. The Carolinas provide the best example of those borders.  Carolina barbecue is pork centric, usually whole hog or pulled pork.  Nevertheless, there is Eastern Carolina barbecue, which is known for its thin, peppery vinegar sauce. If one traveled west toward Lexington, North Carolina, pitmasters add tomatoes to that vinegar sauce or, as they call it, the "dip," That tomato/vinegar sauce is the defining characteristic of Lexington style or Piedmont style barbecue.  And, if that person then travels south, he or she will find that pitmasters use mustard, which is thinned with the vinegar.  That mustard sauce is the cornerstone of South Carolina style barbecue.

Yet, all of the sauces that I have discussed are not even the most well known sauces.  When most people think about barbecue sauce, they think of Kansas City.  A thick sauce, with both sweet and tangy characteristics, that is often slathered on ribs. The sauce is usually made with ketchup, molasses, vinegar, and brown sugar (which gives you an idea where both the sweet and tangy come from), along with a variety of spices to add depth.   A variant of Kansas City style barbecue sauce could be found in Memphis, where the sauce is thinner, and more vinegar based.

With all of this said, the question is, if there was a Maryland style of barbecue, what sauce would be part of that style?

Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce
One would think that, due to its proximity to the Carolinas, a Maryland-style sauce would be, at the very least, influenced by the use of vinegar, if not vinegar based. Vinegar base sauces have made their way, to differing extents, into Virginia.  So, it is not too difficult to imagine vinegar based sauces in Maryland.  Indeed, if one were to check out local BBQ joints in the Delmarva, he or she would probably fine examples of a vinegar BBQ sauce.  The sauce is not a true vinegar sauce as one would find in eastern Carolina.  Rather, it is probably closer to a Lexington barbecue sauce, because there is usually tomato in the sauce.

With the use of tomatoes (whether sauce or ketchup), I think that brings us closer to what the barbecue sauce would be with a Maryland style of barbecue. But, I don't think that the sauce would go so far as to be a thick, sweet or smoky sauce that one would find in Kansas City barbecue, or even in Memphis barbecue.  I think that the sauce would be a little more basic; tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, and spices.  In this regard, I think I would go there and add some Old Bay, because that spice mix is quintessential Maryland.

So, in the end, I decided to make a Maryland barbecue sauce.  I started with a simple sauce from the New York Times.  That sauce had good proportions of tomato (ketchup), vinegar (apple cider) and sugar (I used dark brown sugar, which I prefer in sauces), along with the use of smoked paprika, which gives a little hint of smoke to the finished product. The original recipe also provides for the use of cumin, and, it is a very cumin-forward sauce.  I decided to swap out the cumin with the Old Bay, which, surprisingly enough, does not stick out as much as the cumin did. The end result is pictured below and it worked out very well.

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon Old Bay
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.


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